THE DOMINO EFFECT OF FALLING FRIENDSHIPS

Friendships are part of the bedrock of life.

Even the more casual friendships can bring colour and humour and help with perspective. The banter (the type that is convivial and teasing and not the Yorkshire Cricket Club racist brand), can help us to not take ourselves too seriously and lighten our moods amid the stresses and strains of everyday life.

The deeper, long-term friendships can get us through the rockier periods; grief, physical, emotional and psychological hurt, periods of self-doubt, fear and anxiety. They can also be a voice of balance when we veer too far from reason and into a potential path of harm or self-indulgence.

A good friend is someone we build shared memories with and also share our closest confidences, and is ready to forgive when we occasionally take them for granted or step too far across the boundary. A friendship that encapsulates all of those ingredients is priceless and needs to be cherished.

What happens then when a cherished friendship suddenly gets damaged beyond repair?

Indeed, what happens when, as in my recent experience, three of my friendships implode over a relatively short period of a couple of years?

Have those friendships, all long-term and therefore seemingly strong and familiar, simply all ran their course at coincidentally a similar time?

It’s right to acknowledge straight off, that I am the common denominator in all three cases, and all three friends don’t know one another. Just me. So be free to make up your own mind on that one! But it is a serious jolt to the psyche, to think a trio of invested friendships have all stopped in their tracks.

SHOUT IT OUT OR STEW IN SILENCE?

Only one of my three friendship breakdowns have had the drama of argument, of throwing back the shackles on a to and fro of disagreement to a divide that can’t be bridged.

So is argument better, even if it leads to separation? Does it at least feel as though we were both passionate enough to shout/talk it through? Does that have more value than something that just fades away, or, as in one case, closes the door immediately after an apparent line has been drawn?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Writer Mariam Khan wrote recently in the i Newspaper that during Covid lockdown she lost a long- term friendship not due to a big, anger filled argument but because of a series of small misunderstandings that grew bigger due to not being able to see one another face-to-face in an attempt to talk things through.

And the lack of face-to-face conversations that Covid has enforced has had an increased negative impact on friendships, with the University College of London reporting more than 20% of people have had some kind of relationship breakdown during the pandemic.

THE DESTABILIZING SHIFT

Friendships are built very much on balance. Sometimes that can mean a balance that leans slightly in one direction and it can operate somewhat successfully on that level for years. However, when suddenly, or even gradually, the equilibrium is shifted back even slightly it can expose crack lines beneath the surface that may not have anything directly to do with the friendship but can have a massive impact upon it.

In my experience a movement in one direction can unintentionally cause someone to feel more acutely aware of frustrations in their own life that the friendship had previously served in some way to balance out.

But the notion that anyone’s life needs to stand still or keep quiet about changes and/or progress we make doesn’t serve anybody well. Eventually those changes will out and the relationship can be the casualty.

As I try to reconcile myself with the loss of these friendship’s I am grateful for their place in my life and I don’t regret them for a second. And I am fortunate enough to have other attachments with people that are still standing the test of time.

However I have also become more increasingly aware how quickly things can change, and how much importance should be placed on their preservation.

THE FEAR OF SELF-PROMOTION FOR THE CONSTANTLY NERVOUS

One of the downsides to having to promote my songs or blogs is the need to do exactly that – promote.

I’m not a promote type person. My moniker is not Promotion Paul. At school my fellow pupils would never have voted me as Pupil Most Likely to Promote.

SOCIAL MEDIA SUPERMAN? OR JUST A SHY BOY IN A CAPE?

However, since I somewhat accidentally started song-writing again I have needed to stand up and shout; just a little, to get my songs heard. And believe me, there are a lot of artists out there doing a lot of shouting, on a multitude of platforms, be it streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Soundcloud, or video channels like YouTube and Tik Tok. So much shouting and of course, so much singing. And so many, many songs.

DRESSING UP FOR A PARTY OF ONE

I spend a great deal of time developing a song, making it as strong as I can, and spend hours and expense in a studio getting it as close as possible to how I’ve heard it in my head. I’ll spend considerable time on a video, an essential element for any new song to attract people to it. I’ll put the video on You Tube, and the song released on all major streaming platforms.

Yet when I announce the song on my song-writing Facebook page I’m tentative, almost apologetic. I limit the number of posts about a new song, worried in case the people who have liked or followed my Facebook page get sick of hearing about it. There is actually some sense to that, even though I’m trying to reach new audiences.

But it’s also counter intuitive; if people have signed up for my Facebook page it’s because they are happy to hear about my songs, right? Nope, not in my head. In my head they are simply being polite – even though most people who now follow me don’t actually know me and therefore have made the decision to follow me for the simple reason they like my music. But try telling that to my mixed-up sense of logic.

Doubt concept.

THE WHISPERING BLOGGER

Similarly with blogging there is also the need to get your blog read among all the others saying ‘read me, read me!’ – though usually a lot more politely than that. Blogs don’t tend to shout; they suggest, which suits me better.

But still there is a need to let people know you have published a new blog and for the likes of myself there is the constant voice in my head asking; are people going to be interested in what I have to say? Indeed, what do I have to say? And who do I think I am, thinking people would spend several minutes throughout the noise of a day reading my words, considering my opinion, reading about my life?

But if I’m sure about one thing, it’s that I’m not the only one who has misgivings every time they publish a blog, post a song into the world or give out a part of themselves out for praise, criticism or indifference.

THE POWER OF THE ALTER EGO

It’s almost a prerequisite of anybody who writes to be somewhat introverted, living life from the outside looking in. And so stepping into the limelight and actually saying ‘hey, look what I’ve done, look what I have to say’ is sometimes a strain. A big strain. And if this is met by disinterest then it is even more keenly felt, it just underlines the voice of doubt.

In Susan Cains book Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she refers to a college lecturer who lives an out-going, constantly conversational life but who is, by nature, introverted. His gregarious persona is actually that – a persona. He finds his required way of engaging with the world exhausting, yet to do his job successfully he knows he needs to engage, not withdraw. In fact, he does it so well most people who knew his true nature would, he says, be shocked.

Maybe there is something to be said for developing an online identity that’s more about confidence with just a hint of brashness. There is certainly enough advice out there about how to target song audiences and get more streams and You Tube views, should anyone choose to get strategic about it.

But for me, authenticity and a nice dose of doubt feel more comfortable. Certainly, in the blogging community my experience so far is of a lot of people just helping each other out and there is a virtue in developing a following organically and in smaller degrees. This can work for music as well as blogs.

It would appear then that I have talked myself into continued reservation and tortured hesitancy. Maybe I’m just addicted to it.

Or maybe I should write a blog about it, and wonder whether or not to tell anyone…

MY TRUEST FAITH IN THE CALIFORNIA DREAM THAT’S QUIETLY COME TRUE

A song of mine, Your Truest Faith, has just been selected for the playlist of internet radio station South California Singer-Songwriter Radio based in Rosemead, near Los Angeles. It’s probably not a career-changing moment but for myself, who saw the California singer-songwriter scene of the late 70’s and 80’s as the holy grail for anyone with enough ambition and musical snobbery to be a ‘real’ songwriter, it’s a significant thrill.

As the rest of the UK, went from Punk to New Wave, I, never a compass towards rock ‘n roll cool at the time (except for a growing obsession with the East Coast hard-edged grittier sound of Bruce Springsteen) absorbed myself in artists such as Jackson Browne, John David Souther and Dan Fogelberg who represented the high temple of introspective, melody driven songwriters.

Along with these came Don Henley and Glen Frey, the creative driving force of The Eagles, the band who eclipsed everybody from the area in terms of global identity and record sales.

Glenn Frey and Don Henley

My romantic notion of Los Angeles took in warm summer evenings and endless highways, the perfectly pitched harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and even my favourite British singer-songwriter at the time, Elton John, sang songs of the American west penned by the lyrics of his musical partner Bernie Taupin.

Indeed, Elton’s American breakthrough came at a run of gigs at the LA Troubadour in 1970, heavily featuring songs from his recently released Tumbleweed Connection album. It was actually at the Troubadour that Elton shed his skin as a folk singer-songwriter, kicking away his piano stool to leap into the air on the song Burn Down The Mission, thus reincarnating himself as the rock performer that would go on to fill huge stadiums to this day.

Well I’m no Elton John. Or Jackson Bowne. My little song will be played three times daily for the next week in the International Section of the show, it will no doubt then disappear into the ether filled with independent artists trying to get their songs heard amongst the powerhouse of streaming madness.

But for a few days the song will be heard in a smattering of homes and on phones and maybe the odd car stereo system in California. And for the kid from a small town in northern town in England who used to look to the far away golden horizon of the musical canyons of LA, the feeling will be sweet. 

FROM SCRIBBLES TO SPOTIFY – THE UNCOMFORTABLE BIRTH OF A SONG

The insecurity around releasing a song can be creatively traumatic. What if it’s rubbish? What if I’ve inadvertently stolen it? What if I love it and no-one else does? Can I still change my name and live in an igloo without any internet connection?

Putting a song onto streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music and possibly an accompanying video is the somewhat glossy, shiny end of an often uncomfortable process filled with errors and doubt punctuated with shots of exhilaration. My new song ‘New Day Coming’ took ten months from conception to release and is a perfect example of such a process.

The structure of the song changed several times. I loved it then abandoned it. The theme was clear then I felt like it needed more ambiguity. The lyric got written then re-written several times. Crossing out and insane scribbling that meant nothing to anyone but me became my mad creative template.

The original and later much changed lyric scribbled and altered by a madman…yours truly

Then two nights before the recording my mood was low and something didn’t feel right. The lyric to the third verse and second bridge got radically re-written. Then the original third verse remained but I keep faith with the new second bridge.

Going into the studio the middle-eight section of the song that I was never quite happy with gets quickly re-written in the studio with guidance from producer and musical magician John Kettle.

Then the recording begins and the doubts fall away. The sound of guitars and drums bounce and crash around the studio walls. Unusually for me I start texting people about how well it’s going. The song that started as a melody in my head on the motorway several miles from home in early September 2020, is suddenly coming alive on 4th June 2021.

Over the next few days my initial euphoria gets dampened then re-lit again. I decide to release it on my birthday, July 5th. I work on 13 versions of a video to accompany its release, artwork for streaming platforms, social media.

Of course all of this and the song may be a damp squib, met with indifference. I’m a tiny tiddler trying not get swallowed up by the sharks. And with anything that is personal to yourself, emotions are fragile.

But now it’s out there, fending for itself in the crazy world of streaming and promotion, just trying not to be ignored. And if it’s not ignored by too many people, and is liked by some, it has all been worthwhile.

So here is the video. It’s unlikely it will cause Ed Sheeran to lose any sleep but it’s come a long way from the crazed scribbles of a few months ago. Hope you enjoy.

LOOKING AHEAD TO THOSE POST-PANDEMIC RUBBERNECK DAYS

Sitting in traffic on Tuesday morning it was hard not to get lockdown nostalgia. The hour- long delay to my journey brought about a reminder of a world it was easy to think lay in the distant past. It was my first traffic jam for over a year. Yet it felt so depressingly familiar.

The day before another, shorter delay had been brought about by three cars involved in a triple prang. No more than that, no gore or blood-fest, just three drivers walking round frustrated that the day ahead they thought would be straightforward would now involve police statements, undriveable cars and swapping insurance details with people who otherwise would have been strangers zipping alongside them at sixty-plus miles an hour.

Yet the delay wasn’t caused by the physical intrusion of the cars involved, but by the dozens of cars slowing down to get a better look at the unremarkable sight of smashed- in headlights and crumpled bonnets and boots. Despite a year of millions of lives lost, jobs and businesses being destroyed and the heroism of the few to protect the many, it seems it hasn’t quenched the thirst of drivers slowing down to get a good eyeful of other people’s misfortunes.

In someways it seems already that not every outlook has been changed or perspective realigned.

JETLAG DEPRIVATION

On the BBC last week I saw a young man being interviewed at an airport as his expected holiday had been curtailed by the government deciding to put his country of destination on the amber list. “I believe you haven’t been on a plane for two years?” asked the reporter in a tone that suggested a hardship equivalent to incarceration in a Turkish prison cell. “That’s right”, replied the young man solemnly. A nation wept…

These still are of course, relatively early days. Much of a return to our previous lives are to be celebrated. Seeing family and friends is wonderful and makes us feel more complete. Little things like going for a coffee somewhere and watching the world go by. I’ve just bought tickets for my first gig for this coming December and I relish the thought of seeing the first outdoor performance of the local theatre group Imaginarium Theatre in early July.

Yet what of those things we’d forgotten about that we’d like to see confined to a previous life? Will those lessons we should have learned about out the need to curb our manic, all-encompassing mass consumer-driven indulgences and the need to protect the vulnerable be slowly swallowed up as we hunger for a full and expansive life again?

Have enough of us learned the hard, fundamental truth of our own fragility?

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

It would be of course, unrealistic to expect a global, complete epiphany were every soul we meet is changed and chastened sufficiently to radically change their lifestyle. And certainly many are facing genuine reopening anxiety regarding the gradual return of post pandemic life,and the calm public acceptance of the government’s decision to delay full reopening of society does point towards a shift in people’s outlook.

It will be interesting therefore to see how many of us in a few months’ time; should the control of the virus continue well enough to allow such freedoms to unfold, feel the urge to hark back to this calmer, overall more reflective period we have all been tiptoeing through.

Lockdown nostalgia. Whoever thought that could be a thing?

WORDS AND ALCOHOL: THE BOOZE-FUELLED ROUTE TO CREATIVE HEAVEN?

I came late to alcohol. Domestic circumstances, of which I won’t bore you to drink with, meant I was 25 before I was hit with the pile driver of my first hangover.

I was the lyricist in a two-man song writing partnership with composer Bob Mouat, and we had generated interest from a couple of London publishers and a young band from the Sunderland area. The publishers, eager to hear our songs in front of a live audience decided to travel to the north-east to the band’s local sell-out gig.

So, there I was, a deep-thinking, sensitive lad who’s previous drinking indulgence had been two pints in the local that had left me unreservedly giggly, suddenly being pumped with pints of Guinness simply for being ‘with the band’.

This was followed by a long and winding road trip to the after-show party in a packed car that included two pot smoking publishers and me with a liver trying desperately to process vast amounts of alcohol it was ill-equipped to deal with.

Long story short, my after-show party was spent face down on the lawn vomiting for Olympic Gold while praying for the blessed release of death. Thankfully, God wasn’t listening.

Ever since I’ve had an uncomfortable relationship with drink. We’re a little like cousins who see each other at family funerals and christenings and like to stay friendly but know essentially they have nothing in common.

But I’m a writer. Booze and the tortured soul of the writer go hand in hand, surely? Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Dylan Thomas, the list goes on, and on.

Novelist supreme William Faulkner. Don’t let the pipe and the ex-Army style moustache fool you – this guy could seriously put it away
SOZZLED WITH THE ‘IN’ CROWD

However slow alcoholic saturation does not, most free drinking writers agree, make for great work. Even that great literary lush Earnest Hemingway declared of alcohol ‘the only time it isn’t good for you is when you are to write or fight’. Does it however, oil the wheels that lead to commission heaven?

A good writer friend of mine from TV and radio once conceded she had got at least one job through “getting bladdered with the right people”. Indeed, when attending a meeting for finalists in the Red Planet Prize I recall Tony Jordan; writer and co-creator of shows such as Eastenders, Life on Mars, Hustle, declaring that he only wanted to work with writers he could ‘get pissed with’.

Maybe drinking stamina is subconsciously linked to a greater understanding of the excesses and vices of the human psyche, suggesting an ability to write flawed and ultimately more interesting characters. Conversely it could be argued that astute observation can benefit from social distance, a sense of looking in from the outside.

LIGHTWEIGHT AND LONELY

So, what about someone like myself, who is to drinking excess what Piers Morgan is to subtlety and sensitivity? Should I feel left out? Should those of us with a proud lightweight drinking status ever fear that it hampers our chance of a commission?

Well only if you’re looking for an excuse. Because ultimately all that matters is what we put on the page. Of course it does.

But then the cold, hard sober truth is that some extreme networking doesn’t do you any harm. Beat ’em or join ’em, one way or another.

Right, there’s a shandy over there with my name on it. Time to mingle.

In the meantime, a link to a Paul Ariss and Bob Mouat song from back in the day, written, as I recall, stone cold sober.

WHETHER BOOKS OR VINYL, THE MORE TORN AND TATTERED THE BETTER

There’s a school of thought that says a that a book should look like it’s been read. By that I mean read and downright enjoyed. As a consequence, any tea, coffee or general everyday stains and physical scars are merely evidence that the book was a constant daily companion, treated like a friend and had access to all areas. Yes, including the bathroom.

I was once offered a book to borrow that looked like twenty-four hours in Chernobyl would make it more user-friendly. Damn good read though.

The opposite view is that any book needs to be revered and protected with obsessive zeal. The spine of a book, whether hardback or paperback, shouldn’t be bent further than is absolutely necessary to read the text and should never, ever, be read whilst eating or drinking.

I’m not sure what the rule is regarding reading in the bath or seated on the toilet but I would imagine such a prospect would lead book purists to justify lynching without trial.

AND THE VERDICT IS…

Of the two I probably lean towards the first point of view. I have a small cloth cover which is ideal for placing the book in when I take it on a journey, but generally I don’t stress if a corner of a paperback has become a little bent or the cover of my hardback is a little frayed.

A little chocolate on a preface? Not a problem. A little jam in a crucial chapter? Bring it on. The only hard and fast rule I have is against turning over the corner of a page as a marker. That’s why God gave us book markers people. It’s what separates us from the animals.

THE VINYL COUNTDOWN

People used to have a similar approach to vinyl album covers. There were those who frankly used to treat the gatefold albums with artwork by the likes of Roger Dean better than their girlfriend.

Every inch of the cover would be analysed like religious text, and thanks would be given to the Gods of Progressive Rock, at whose high temple would sit Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Genesis, among many others.

The album itself; maybe an hour later, would be lifted from the cover slowly and reverentially, using just the tips of the fingers and the inside of the thumb and placed on the turntable (after the gentle dusting from a suitable cloth) with a surgeon’s precision.

Then the needle would be placed on the vinyl at absolutely just the right place. All put together it was basically an audio version of foreplay (something else the girlfriends probably rarely got).

For me however, the ultimate expression that an album was loved was when it looked like it had been around the block a few times. Admittedly I did have plastic covers for many but mostly these would tear on the seams and only gave token protection.

SISTERS ARE PLAYING IT FOR THEMSELVES

This was especially true for me, with two younger sisters with similar tastes in music who would regularly ‘borrow’ my albums. Often these would be recovered days later amongst the debris of discarded make-up, blouses and skirts. I still have to this day an album by Bad Company that is virtually unplayable due to hairspray contamination. Still got it though. Happy days.

But then again, I favour the lived-with album sleeve. I was reminded of this recently when I got out my copy of The River from Bruce Springsteen. I recall vividly the day I got it home, with all the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning.

It was new, crisp, unblemished and beautiful. And, best of all, it was a double album. Oh my God, a double feast of new Springsteen songs!

I turned it around looking down the track listing of songs I’d not yet heard, but knew they were going to be friends I would travel down the road with, both in a metaphorical and actual sense. ‘Ties That Bind’, ‘Sherry Darlin’, ‘Two Hearts Are Better Than One’, ‘Independence Day’, the list went on. And on.

Forty-one years later and we’re still travelling down that long, adventure filled road. The album cover betrays the years; frayed, torn, the inside covers coming away despite the odd repair attempt with a Pritt stick. A couple of tracks have jumps on I still expect and would somehow miss if they were no longer there.

Yet somehow this all fits for an artist from urban New Jersey championing characters damaged and flawed, patched up yet somehow ready to go again. This was not an album made to be looked at and admired like a piece of art, it was street tough and built for whatever the journey threw at it.

But whatever your point of view, whether you like your books and old vinyl tattered and torn or pampered and pristine, unlike the soulless world of Kindle or music streaming, at least you own something worth caring enough about to keep.

HOW ANXIETY FOR HONG KONG’S FUTURE PULLS ME CLOSER TO MY PAST

When I was three months old my parents boarded a BOAC flight at the notoriously dangerous Kai Tak International Airport to take the three of us to England from Hong Kong where they had been living for two years. My mother and father may have been going home, but I was travelling to a foreign country, 6000 miles from my birth place. At that time, I was the youngest child to fly this distance on BOAC Airlines.

My father was serving in the RAF and was stationed in Hong Kong, flying there a short time after the wedding in their home town of Prescot, Lancashire (now Merseyside). My mother joined him a short time later.

Both would have been leaving a grey homeland, still yet recovering from the ravages of WW2. In 1956, few ordinary people flew, let alone fly to the Far East. For them both, culturally; and to all intents and purposes geographically, this would have been like flying to a different planet.

THE TWO-YEAR-LONG HONEYMOON

In Hong Kong, life was wonderfully rich and diverse. Based at RAF Little Sai Wan they were given an upstairs apartment in a block housed by fellow servicemen and their wives. Both still in their early 20’s they fully embraced the social opportunities afforded to them, and in particular grew to love mixing with the local population.

Gordon and Jean Ariss, fresh faced in Hong KonG

They would make regular trips throughout the island and take in ferry rides around the insanely busy Hong Kong Harbour. Normally used to visiting corner shops for milk and butter back home, they soon got into the habit of haggling at street markets for the latest camera tech, clothes, jazz albums, or else searching for ingredients for curries, a ‘delicacy’ that wouldn’t ingest itself fully into every day British culture for another two decades.

Life was a daily adventure; the horizons wide and exciting. This was enhanced further by my mother’s pregnancy in late 1957. On the 5th July 1958 at the British Military Hospital in Kowloon, kicking; and most probably screaming, I was born.

WITH MY DAD IN HONG KONG
HOME TO STAY

Once back in England, neither of my parents returned to this land of Asian adventure. The practicalities of raising a growing family rightfully took precedent; the closest prospect of another life-changing adventure being an attempt at immigration to New Zealand in 1975 that fell just short of fruition. Had this application been realised, this possibly would have made a visit to Hong Kong a little more likely.

Within months of immigration falling through, my mother passed away quite suddenly to lung cancer. Although in later years myself and my father tentatively raised the prospect of us returning to holiday, financial restraints never really brought this close to happening. My father died in 2018, aged 85.

For myself however, Hong Kong still feels like unfinished business.

THE GRADUAL ANNEXING OF HONG KONG

In 1997 Britain’s lease on the island ran out and it returned; with great reluctance on the part of its native population, to the control of the Chinese government. An agreement was signed between Britain and China to introduce a ‘one country/two systems’ state; allowing greater cultural and financial freedoms to Hong Kong than operates in mainland China, until 2047.

Like spoiled children eager to get hands on their presents before Christmas arrives, the Chinese government have progressively trespassed on the terms and spirit of this agreement.

Since 2019 there have been protests over extradition plans for criminals; since abandoned, from Hong Kong to mainland China. From individuals to the press, there has been a general creeping intention to curb freedom of speech. People of intellectual influence have disappeared, only to re-emerge under incarceration in mainland China.

LOCAL SUPPORT FOR ACTIVISTS SHOWING SUPPORT FOR JAILED ACTIVISTS 01/03/21. PHOTO REPRODUCED FROM BBC NEWS.

The land that had been a peaceful and thriving base of financial and democratic equilibrium has been imploding. I’ve watched in despair as the island has been savaged by social disruption spilling over into violence. Businesses have been attacked, muddying the waters between legitimate protest and wanton destruction. Heavy-handed authorities have regularly dragged away protestors, and, it has been heavily claimed, employed local triads to incite unrest.

THE SPIRIT STILL IN PLACE

The rapid development of Hong Kong since the late 1950’s would make it unlikely either of my parents would have recognised the streets they walked down, if indeed many of them still exist at all. However, I would be hopeful that much of the essential soul of the place my mother and father had grown to love is still remaining.

For how much longer, only time will reveal. The people of Hong Kong are fiercely proud and resilient. This is still the only place where the events of Tiananmen Square are commemorated. Hong Kong may well turn out to be a hornet’s nest the Chinese will continually be attacked and stung by the more often they try to poke away at it.

If, indeed, I ever return to Hong Kong I know in spirit my parents would return with me. In Little Sai Wan and in Kowloon particularly, I know how close to them I would feel. More than anything, these are the sentiments that would inspire me to return to the place a small but significant part of me still thinks of as home.

WHY THERE’S SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL ABOUT AN OLD NOTEBOOK

I’ve never considered myself a hoarder as such, but then again I don’t expect a hoarder would recognise him or herself as a hoarder anyway. They would probably prefer to be described as passionate or a collector.

Well if that is the case I am a passionate collector of notebooks. But then, who doesn’t love a notebook? You see, I’m already trying to justify it by making a generalised assumption that everyone loves them, the subtle suggestion being that anyone who doesn’t is in the minority.

Anyway, I’m going off in a tangent, which I’m sure I have a notebook about.

IN IT FOR THE LONG RUN

I have notebooks going back some 30 years that are partly filled. In fact, in most cases I don’t complete notebooks, but that’s no reason to throw them away. Usually, I’ll find some nugget entry that gives me enough justification to keep it even if I don’t use it for anything else.

I have several shorthand notebooks which are, on average, around half used. So far however, I’ve only thrown one out. It was painful. Sleep was lost. Self-recrimination followed.

You would understandably assume that with all of these half-filled notebooks I wouldn’t be in the slightest way tempted to buy another, right? Depressingly, no. When I see a new style notebook in the stationery section of a shop, I’m worryingly and hopelessly drawn to it.

Not long ago I saw one called ‘Things To Do Today’ and I just had to have it. It’s a brilliantly simple concept that shouts out at me in the way a caramel chocolate covered bar screams out at a chocoholic. A daily list of things to do. What, as they say, is there not to love?

And I’ve been using it; though not every day. In fact not even most days but I loved it so much that I bought another in case it went out of print even though I’ve only completed 23 pages since my first entry on the 24th October. Okay, so the lettering on the front looks like To and Do have been oddly pushed together to look like a single word but for me that just makes it quirky and fun. What that makes me I’ll allow you to decide.

THE CLUE’S IN THE TITLE

The sole purposes of a notebook, is there in the title. A book for taking notes. Jottings. Thoughts and insights. Its a journal to help carve a path to something bigger and more complete. Got an idea for a story? Jot it down. Heard something useful or interesting you wish to recall later? Make a note of it. Got a random stream of ideas you wish to shape into something more cohesive at a better time? Grab that notebook.

It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else, or if only the author can decipher the excited scribble, once it is down it’s saved because those thoughts could be gold dust. Or they could be just dust. Until they are read back at a time where they can be more objectively considered why take the risk in losing them?

LAST NIGHT A NOTEBOOK SAVED MY (FINANCIAL) LIFE

You may, or indeed may not, be wondering which is my favourite notebook. Well I’ll tell you anyway. It’s an exercise book (you’ve got to love an exercise book, they are quite literally the epitome of ‘old school’) on which I scribbled on the cover in black felt tip pen the barely legible title of ‘How To Get Out of Financial Shit As Quick As I Can Journal’. Snappy, eh?

It simply got my thought processes onto the page and kicked off a successful campaign that got me out of the deep and suffocating credit card crisis I had been in for years.

So this is a notebook that will remind me to take heed, to not allow myself to get in such a mess again. Maybe something similarly beautiful could work for you.

So go on, buy a notebook for yourself, just in case…

THE WIDE OPEN SPACES BETWEEN TALENT AND FAME

One of the great joys and advantages of writing is coming across enormously talented people that I wouldn’t otherwise be aware of; be it other writers, songwriters or in the performing arts as a whole.

Many, particularly in this difficult time for performers to ply their skills in front of a live audience, have had to work even harder than normal just to be seen and heard. In song-writing I’ve become aware of musicians, singers and song-writers with tremendous talent that isn’t necessarily met by a level of fame that matches their abilities.

An example of such an artist is singer/song-writer Jenny Colquitt. I know very little about Jenny other than she is in her 20’s and hails from Widnes in north-west England.

With songs inspired greatly by reflection Jenny writes with a depth and awareness that, at the sake of sounding patronising, go beyond her years. The first time I became aware of her was when she covered the song ‘We All Need Each Other Now‘, written by the brilliant songwriter/producer/musician John Kettle of folk-rock band Merry Hell. I am lucky enough to work with John as producer of my own songs.

Jenny’s voice is effortlessly powerful and emotive, and has a wonderful maturity matched by the quality of her songs. An example of this is in the video below, a performance of her song ‘Wide Open Spaces’. Although written 7 years ago, given the awful events that have evolved in Washington this week the song has taken on a stunning resonance and present day clarity. If you do nothing else today, please give it a listen.

I’ve not met Jenny but have become a big fan. Hopefully she, and others like her going under the radar, will one day find the exposure and recognition their talent deserves.