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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
As medical researchers fought hard and long to produce a vaccine against Covid 19, all of us encountered cynics who sneered at the speed it took to develop. Many also voiced concerns whether there is an ulterior motive in its development, citing the insertion of a tracking chip enabling people such as Bill Gates to know the intricacies of our largely humdrum lives.
Personally if Bill (yes, I like to pretend we’re on first name terms) is so keen to know which days I shop at Aldi he only needs to ask. It’s a Saturday by the way, so now you all know. Jab me someone, please.
THE CYNIC WITHIN
Cynics are everywhere, and always ready with an opinion, bless their little hearts. A little cynicism is a good thing, I confess to indulging myself now and then. I’m cynical about energy companies who have burned fossil fuels happily for years but suddenly see a more profitable bottom line in renewables; thus reprogramming their PR machines to paint themselves as saviours of a planet they helped to disfigure for decades.
I’m cynical of the sudden boom in plant based foods, pop-ups on Facebook that coincidentally match a search I’ve just done to a website, people suddenly and fleetingly embracing the zeitgeist of a social injustice they’d previously ignored, and of course, organic banana’s (okay, I made that last one up). Hell, I’m even cynical of myself sometimes.
But when cynicism becomes the go-to, default approach to everything it becomes a joyless, suffocating monster that achieves nothing. So when I saw a recent Twitter post by a writer; a naturally cynical breed if ever there was one, that completely sidestepped the path of cynicism it was a welcoming change. Lets, for the sake of avoiding his embarrassment, call this writer Kevin.
THE RISE OF THE KEVIN
Kevin is, well, more of an acquaintance really, whose online presence makes it quite clear that he is a scriptwriter. Of plays, tv scripts and radio scripts. His Twitter handle gives the impression he jettisons scripts out at an enormous rate and at a continuous upwards trajectory.
His Twitter following is considerable – well way, way bigger than my own which is, admittedly, quite puny – and he uses it regularly to retweet and update on his and other peoples projects.
However, despite the scriptwriting machine persona he has created, this writer friend/acquaintance has never had a script commissioned for radio, television, theatre or film. Not a line on a radio show, nor a final placing on any scriptwriting competition of note.
So is he being deceitful or misleading when he projects himself positively as a writer? He does write scripts and his efforts are considerable in trying to progress. He attends scriptwriting festivals and goes on writing retreats and enters competitions. And despite rejections and knock-backs, he tries again and again, and has been doing so for several years. So, in real terms, he is a writer.
Recently he tweeted, after entering a big writing bursary competition, that even if he doesn’t win, he is proud of his efforts and just wants to improve.
I found this tweet both humbling, and inspirational. It is easy for any writer, or anyone trying to achieve in a creative field, to feel downhearted when receiving regular rejections and just as easy to get cynical about the fairness of it all. We’ve all been there, “what is the point?”, “they obviously mustn’t have read it”, or the absurd “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.
Like the saying goes, you can make progress, or you can make excuses.
CHOOSING THE OPTIMISTS PATH
I did a Screenwriting Masters Degree several years ago and in one session a story-liner from Coronation Street came to talk to us about the process of how each episode was mapped out and gave us a document that each commissioned writer on the show receives. This document gave us an outline of story lines A, B and C, basically a bible that each writer on any soap or Continuing Drama works to.
It was an interesting and informative session from someone who gave up her free time to give us an insight to how the process works on the UK’s longest running TV soap. I was shocked therefore that after the class almost everyone who attended was dismissive of the visit, the process, and soaps in general. All believed film was the Holy Grail and that was where their gloriously creative future lay.
Ironically enough however, none of them have reached that Holy Grail, nor have received payments or commissions for anything they have written.
Which, some would argue, puts them in exactly in the same position of upbeat Kevin on Twitter. The key difference in this case is that Kevin possesses a fundamental quality needed for a writer that those cynics do not, and that is the humility and desire to learn.
He doesn’t believe the industry owes him anything, and will go for it again and again. He is complimentary and pleased when other writers progress and sees them as a benchmark to aspire to. And armed with this approach, he has far more chance of breaking through and staying there. At the very least he will enjoy the journey.
A little cynicism is healthy and can help protect against the whims and the hard-nosed brutalities a writer almost inevitably will face. However, as in life generally, too much cynicism can become a choice for not doing anything at all.
You know what it’s like when your birthday is coming up, part of you wants a fuss and a part of you wants to keep it quiet that you’re yet another year older.
Well, up to maybe the age of 21 you want the fuss full-on, then with each year comes a decreasing willingness to engage. With women this tends to peter out completely after 29, beyond which life is deemed pretty much no longer worth living.
They may be healthy and have a rich life full of friends and holidays and a vibrant social life, but when they’ve been around for all of 30 years, they have convinced themselves that no man will be interested any more, ageing lines will break out all over their face like a street map of Peking, younger women will take their place and everything physically will collapse inwards and downwards.
And woe betide you if you tell them otherwise.
Yet for men, selfish of course by nature, they don’t hit this point until around 50, after which they compensate by trying to look younger, keeping up with the latest ‘bands’, and kid themselves they look great after a sudden burst of three visits to the gym and replacing a take-away with a vegan burger and a protein shake.
But just imagine for a moment if people threw a party for your birthday, but didn’t invite you at all? Say, just for arguments that your name was Chris. “Hey,” the conversation may go, “it’s Chris’s birthday, what present would you like for Chris’s birthday? Let’s take a few days off work, put out the bunting, and get hammered”.
Great idea, count all the family in. But don’t invite Chris.
But that seems to be increasingly the approach to Christmas. Though not a devotedly religious person I can’t help but notice that Jesus Christ seems to feature less and less in most images of Christmas.
THE CHURCH OF SANTA CLAUS?
Santa on the other hand must have got himself a great agent because he’s everywhere. I really mean, everywhere. Christmas cards, wrapping paper, films from 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street to 1994’s Bad Santa, anyplace you care to look in December you’ll come to face to face with Mr Claus. However, here’s the thing – and keep this away from the innocent view of anyone under the age of 7 – Santa ain’t flesh and blood. Not now, not ever.
To give an example of how the lines have become worryingly blurred, about three years ago I was asked to write a short piece for a charity advertising their Christmas card range coming out in August. Yes, that’s right, August. With it still being summer, in that piece I made a joke about Santa hanging around the bars of Magaluf. When the joke was left out of the piece I asked why and was told that it was omitted as it may offend people of a religious nature.
When I pointed out that Santa was not a religious character and therefore couldn’t offend anyone, I didn’t receive a response. I couldn’t help but ask myself if the fully grown adults who censored the line actually new who Christmas is really about?
I mean, the clue is kind of in the title.
However, does this even matter anymore? Have we now completely surrendered Christmas to be a commercial, fully consumer driven occasion and involving the birth of Jesus is no longer a sellable asset? With only 39% of Britons believing in God, should we even care?
Well that still suggests that 4 in 10 Christmas images should give at least give a nod to the man for whom it bears the name, but in the pack of 12 assorted Christmas cards I bought this week he didn’t feature in any. I think that is kind of odd, and a little bit sad.
I always had a distinct and clear view of how it would be when I finally made it to California.
I’d be driving, or would be being driven, along a freeway heading towards LA. From the car stereo, nice and suitably loud, would be the Beach Boys. Of course. It mattered not which track, Wouldn’t It Be Nice, God Only Knows, Surfin’ USA…. any track from the Beach Boys would work for such an occasion, right?
The sun of course, would be high and magnificent on the California skyline. My shades would be on. I’d wave to some people in a passing soft top Cadillac, they would wave back. Everything would be right with the world.
BAD MOON RISING
However, dreams and reality don’t always meet on the same street. When I actually did enter for California for the first time, the moon was somewhere behind a cloudy sky late on a Saturday evening of October 31st. We’d just had a rest stop and a distinct chill was in the air. More Creedance Clearwater Revival than Beach Boys.
I didn’t even know we’d crossed the border from Arizona until an official with just three fingers on one hand entered our bus to check none of us were carrying plants deemed incompatible to the native plants of the state.
And then we were off, due to hit Los Angeles around 3am where I would meet another bus for my destination of San Francisco. I was tired and slightly irritable after a bus drive that had begun seven hours earlier and had already involved a switch in Phoenix.
The guy sitting directly behind me wasn’t helping my mood. He hadn’t stop talking for the last couple of hours, regaling the girl next to him about his exploits in various bands. I had no idea whether these stories were impressing her because he wasn’t drawing in breath long enough for her to speak.
HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THE RAIN…
Around twenty minutes into the next leg of the journey rain started to beat onto the windows of the bus. Great, not only was the sun asleep, it was also raining. Where’s a Beach Boy when you needed one?
Still the guy kept talking. The rain was getting heavier. And now, from the slight rocking of the bus, the wind was also picking up.
My nerves were now getting frayed. I looked over to Lillian, the woman I’d been happily chatting to an hour earlier and she was, incredibly, fast asleep, her head on her coat acting as a makeshift pillow.
Then, from out in the distance, a streak of lightening like no streak of lightening I’d ever seen before, hit the desert floor.
I gripped the arm of my seat for dear life. The guy behind went noticeably quiet. This was serious.
The rain was now biblical, hitting the windshield of the bus with a such a force that it would have been no surprise if the glass smashed and the wind pulled the driver straight out into the night.
From out in the deep black nothingness of either side of the highway the lightening was putting on a show that felt orchestrated by the devil itself. The bus veered first one way then the other in the wind and visibility was down to nothing, the driver relying on little more than instinct as he gallantly continued his battle with the elements.
Would we get through this? If we veered off the highway, which seemed likely at any given moment, who would get to us out here, wherever here was?
I thought of home, of my family soundly asleep blissfully unaware on the other side of the Atlantic. I looked at my watch to calculate what time it was for them before I noticed the time it was for us. Twelve o’clock. Twelve o’clock on October 31st.
Midnight on Halloween.
“I don’t think we’re gonna make it.”
The guy behind repeated his declaration of our impending demise as we crept over into November. The driver had now been fighting to keep us on the road for at least half an hour. Could he keep up the fight?
Gradually, pretty much minute by minute, the rain began to ease. The wind dipped. Out in the unbreachable darkness lightening still reached out it’s stabbing fingers of fear but more sporadically now, and a little further off.
…COMIN’ DOWN ON A SUNNY DAY
Within fifteen minutes the storm was behind us, the road was clear and forgiving, the chatter in the bus began to build. But not from the self-anointed rock God behind me, his bluster had well and truly blown out.
By the time we reached Los Angeles bus station me and Lillian had a mad dash to meet our San Francisco connection. Within a couple of hours Lillian, who incredulously had slept through the whole nightmare evening, had disembarked at her home in Salinas.
I had originally been heading to ‘Frisco but decided I needed a little more of a calming destination and instead stopped off at beautiful Monterey, a town more Cornwall than California.
A week after my Halloween from hell I was flying eastwards across America and onwards to England, wondering if I could ever have the enthusiasm to listen to the Beach Boys again.