I’ve been busy wearing my various creative hats lately: Writer, Singer-Songwriter, would-be-Artist…
I thought I’d share this short story that I performed at Talking Tales in Bristol recently – hope you enjoy it – more to follow!
I’ve been busy wearing my various creative hats lately: Writer, Singer-Songwriter, would-be-Artist…
I thought I’d share this short story that I performed at Talking Tales in Bristol recently – hope you enjoy it – more to follow!
In the wake of all the recent abuse allegations, comedian Sara Silverman posed this question, which was widely reported in the press, and resonated with something I have often felt: Can you (or is it OK to) love someone who did bad things? For me, the answer is always going to be a resounding “yes”. Don’t we try to teach our children that it is their bad behaviour we don’t like, not them? Given how flawed so many of us are, doesn’t it also follow that we still need and want to be loved, even if we’re far from perfect? The demonisation of all of the recent perpetrators of bad behaviour is worrying. Yes, it is absolutely necessary to expose and discourage abusive or unwanted sexual attention and to ensure that abusers face the consequences of their actions – but does bad behaviour make someone a complete monster? Does it mean they have no redeeming features? Are they unlovable? Are we not allowed to love them? That’s what I liked when Sara Silverman’s discussed her love for fellow comedian, Louis CK – her contrasting, but not conflicting, feelings of disapproval and love.
‘Don’t we try to teach our children that it is their bad behaviour we don’t like, not them?’
When I was growing up, I learned early on that many of the ‘responsible adults’ in my life weren’t very reliable, and in some cases, not to be trusted. Yet, in the main, as I got older I was able to separate out my hurt and anger from my need to love those I wished to love. I chose to forgive them, rather than continue to bear the burden of my own rage and pain. Some things (and people) remain unforgiven, because what they did was unforgivable, but that is a choice for each and every victim to make, not the media or the public.
Later this week, at an evening of ‘Memories’ hosted by Bristales in Bristol, I’ll be sharing a memoir about my father that demonstrates the love I felt for him, despite his many failings. I know how greatly loved he was by many, but also, how hurt others have been by his actions. Our story isn’t like the ones at the heart of the current media storm, he was wild and sometimes neglectful, not abusive – although my mother, were she still alive, might not agree. But my relationship with her is a whole other story!
“.. A great big bear hug from my old Dad was the true currency of love.” (Colours – a memoir of my father.)
The key for me has always been, and still is, to follow your own heart and love whomever you love. They may not live up to your expectations, they might let you down, they might even do “bad things” – but no-one can tell you who to love, and, let’s face it – it’s pretty hard to stop loving someone. Does the mother of a killer stop loving her child? The sister of a drunk driver? The friend of a felon?You may not like things about someone, you might even be rightfully angry and judgemental, but yes, of course you can still love them.
An evening of Memories – Bristales, The Room Upstairs, The White Bear, 133 St. Michael’s Hill, BS2 8BS Bristol. Friday 24th November 2017, 7 – 9.30pm. Tickets on the door or book here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/bristales-memories-tickets-39881169652
This question comes up hundreds – no – thousands of times in one lifetime. At parties, walks in the park, from strangers, or new friends. They’ll all ask… “So, what do you do?” I answer as honestly as I can, “I write, I sing, I teach a bit, some volunteering, you know…” What I can’t know is how somebody is receiving this information. Many make it known that they think that this sounds creative, or even exciting. Others might want me to qualify this statement, for instance, to say that I’ve published two novels, or that I only teach part time, usually for agencies and more recently in my own home – TEFL. Nobody asks straight out how much money I earn, but I can see that the ‘value’ of what I do is often judged in monetary terms.
I was rather delighted years ago by a policeman who described my then lack of a full-time job, but busy schedule singing and writing, as “gainfully unemployed”. At the other end of the scale someone close to me recently stated that I’d “never worked” since they’d know me, a devastating blow to my self esteem. A full-time Masters degree; a play; a published novel; a batch of songs; some teaching in secondary and at home; my creative writing class (voluntary) for the homeless – do they all count for nothing? Why? Probably because my efforts don’t always generate an income, and I am not seen to be partaking in the daily grind of a regular job.
It made me think of all of my friends who are creative – singers, musicians, writers, actors – are they not allowed to describe themselves as ‘actor’ or ‘writer’ if they’re not currently in paid work, or generating money somehow? What about the legions of artists who have gone before – Keats, Van Gogh, Dickenson, Kafka, Poe… all died undiscovered as great artists, many in poverty, and often ridiculed when they were alive. For every one of these, there are thousands more who will remain forever unsung – talented, in every sense of the word, but maybe not at promoting themselves or making money. The lesson, if there is one, is to accept that the creative urge is an essential part of human experience and expression. We write and sing and ‘make’ because we must, because we are gifted (or cursed) with something within us that seeks the light. A bud that struggles through the dark winter soil to greet the first rays of spring and then blooms in the wasteland or the depths of a cruel season doesn’t care about the environment, or whether you buy it and put it in a vase. It just blooms.
Glastonbury festival occupies a unique space in the national psyche as a mass haven for hippies, revellers and music lovers. For almost 50 years, festival goers, old and young, have flocked to Worthy Farm to let their hair down and party like its 1969. This year was my first visit ever. I went as a volunteer for Shelter, working in the Meeting Place bar run by Avalon, a busy, noisy, fun-filled space where people came to drink and dance their socks off until the wee hours. My learning curve was steep – no bar experience in over 30 years to professional mojito and cocktails mixer who could juggle a frozen margarita, a couple of real ales and four pints of cider on the side. No problem.
When I wasn’t working ( 3 x 8 hour shifts over 5 days), I was immersing myself in the fantastic, friendly atmosphere and catching some of my favorite acts: Radiohead (awesome), Rag n Bone man (heart and soul), Biffy Clyro (spent too much time ogling tattooed body to really listen), London Grammar (exquisite). In addition to the big stages, Glastonbury offers a host of smaller size venues with an eclectic mix of bands and artists. I was delighted to catch 2 bands who hail from Bristol – The Peoples String Foundation, maestros of gypsy jazz and marvelous smiles, and and Cut Capers, whose fusion of swing jazz and rap kept us all jumping. If I’d had more time I’d have explored the circus and comedy tents, spent longer in the healing and Green fields (where my old Friend Steve Murrell was doing the sound for Speakers’ Forum – when he wasn’t accompanying me to gigs and events and shooting the breeze!)
On my second night I joined a throng of friendly,energised people up in the field by the ‘sacred stones’ for the annual Summer Solstice celebrations. They didn’t disappoint. A giant wooden phoenix ready to be lit, drummers in fluorescent body paint, hordes of fire twirlers, an opera singer in angel wings, a choir, incarnations, and… fireworks! It felt as if a whole nation’s budget for the year was being let off in one night – fantastic.
The only negative I have to report is that the amazingly dry weather led to a bit of a dust storm during the first few days and I suffered from a tight chest and scratchy voice for the whole week- no singing for me 😦 Since returning home I’ve been exhausted and my symptoms have mushroomed into a hacking cough which makes it hard to sleep and still no singing voice! But would I go again? Would I !!!
Ps No, I’m not going to discuss the toilets. Unmentionable.
It’s so hard to say goodbye to something or someone you’ve loved – a person, a pet, a boat – a VW camper van (!!!) – it’s always sad to think they’re leaving your life for good. Even inanimate objects can provoke feelings of loss and regret – think of that feeling when you misplace a treasured piece of jewelry or a gift from someone special. So, it’s with a big bag full of memories and a sad heart that I bid farewell to Dawn Chorus, the yacht that Martin and I made our second Atlantic crossing in, along with dogs Bonny and Buzz, and where I heard the news my Mum had died (mid-Atlantic). It seems life is always tinged with sadness, even when we have our happiest times.
The year Martin and I got married (2008), my beloved camper van, Daisy, was stolen and then never seen again. I remember all the joy and laughter in that van from when my daughter Eve was small enough to sleep across the front seats to the hilarious trip to Ireland for the wedding carrying four dogs and a couple of bridesmaids, including the then teenage Eve. My heart still stops if I see one like it.
When Martin and I first saw a Southerly 42 RST at the 2007 Southampton boat show this glamorous, high end yacht was something we wished we could have but knew we couldn’t afford. We had a little Westerly Centaur 26 at the time and were just learning to sail. In 2012 we bought a Northshore Vancouver 36 in America, built by the same company as the Southerly, but over 20 years old. It was beautifully made and sailed like a dream. Alice in Red took good care of us all around America, Cuba, the Bahamas and across the Atlantic to home. When she was sold, we rushed to the marina in Portishead where she was stored to see her being hoisted on a lorry for the journey to her new home on the east coast of England. Alas, we were too late, and when we got to the boatyard, she was gone. I remember both of us looking dewy eyed as we stared at the spot where she used to be. aliceinred2013.wordpress.com
Last Friday I saw Dawn Chorus for the last time in a remote marina in Venice, Louisiana at the foot of the Mississippi river. It took Martin’s retirement and selling his business, (and selling our house in Cliftonwood, Bristol) to finally be able to have the dream boat we’d wished for nearly 7 years earlier. A new one was still out of the question, but we managed to find the lovely ‘Bubbles’ as she used to be called, in France, and after a complete overhaul by the Northshore boatyard we set sail in September 2015. I’ve written a lot about that journey and all of the ups and downs along the way, but now it’s time to say goodbye. We’ve benefited from selling in dollars rather than pounds, and Martin and I feel it’s time to step back and think about our next adventure, and to enjoy time with our family and friends.
Dawn Chorus has been bought by a Texan couple, Darren and Detje, and Martin and I (with Buzz) will be flying home from Houston on May 2nd. We did our best to help deliver the boat from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Galveston, Texas, but we fell at the last hurdle when uncertain weather and shortage of time meant we had to part company with Darren and his friend Ron, who’d been sailing with us for 700 miles of the roughly 1000 mile journey. Another bittersweet moment, because they were disappointed that we wouldn’t press on across the second half of the Gulf of Mexico, although we’d worked really well together to get the boat that far. If Martin and I have learned anything, it’s that you can’t work to a fixed timescale when you’re sailing. Flying a dog home takes a bit of organization too, and we were desperately in need of a little time to ourselves before returning to the UK, so, we made the decision to jump ship… (or were we pushed?!) How strange it was to find ourselves on the dock with a heap of luggage in a tiny place called Venice with no taxis, public transport or car hire, and on first asking, nowhere to stay with a dog! We now know why they call it “The End of the World” locally! But to the rescue came Tiffany, who works in a nearby (no dogs) hotel and who drove us and our luggage to one where the dog was allowed – phew! A couple of days later, she and her husband and son took us to New Orleans, an hour and a half away, so that we could rent a car. Oh, the kindness of strangers!!! (Turns out Tiffany is the daughter of local celebrity, Captain Timothy “Blimp” Cheramie: http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/ragin-cajuns/videos/blimps-shrimp-dance/)
A bittersweet memento of the trip was a visit while crossing the Gulf of Mexico by a very tired little swallow-like bird. It rested up with us for a whole day and a night, took a little water, but was dead by daybreak the next day. We hope it’s last hours were more comfortable than drowning in the ocean. On a happier note, we had no less than 3 pods of dolphins come and play with the boat – great entertainment for us all – and Buzz!!
We’ve now spent a few fun-filled days in New Orleans, a true feast of architecture, good music and tasty creole food; I met James Woods, a pet portrait artist, in Jackson Square and he painted our beloved pooches, Buzz and Bonny for us; we spent one evening in rowdy Bourbon street where we listened to great Blues musicians and then another in legendary Frenchman Street where the Jazz was literally spilling out onto the street. Bye bye Gumbo and red beans with rice and blackened catfish, hello soon to Tex-Mex in the lone star state where we’ll board our plane home. Meanwhile, we’re chilling out on the banks of Lake Ponchatrain just north of New Orleans, listening to the House of the rising Sun and the wonderful Paul Brady singing his version of the Lakes of Ponchatrain, a very old traditional song from somewhere round here, composer unknown…
Together with nine other writers, I’ll be reading my short story on the theme of ‘Another Country’. I’ll post the story (“No Place”) here after the event! Performing a few songs too – should be a fun evening 🙂
In years gone by I’ve taken the notion of resolutions very seriously, agonising over which ones to commit to, and then painstakingly drawing up a list with steps to follow to achieve my goals. In truth, by Easter, they’re usually forgotten.
This year, I want to keep it simple:
Here’s a little wake up tune called Awake! to ring in the New Year 🙂
Special thanks to Adam Pettick on percussion, Dig Pimblett on bass, Paul Hill on banjo and Jason Flinter at The Song Diner for recording and mixing.
It’s hard to believe that one whole year has passed by since Martin and I, together with collie dogs Bonny and Buzz, sailed away from England in pursuit of our dream to live aboard our new yacht, Dawn Chorus, cross the Atlantic and explore the Caribbean and America. Plans seem to be designed to remind us that you cannot always direct the course of life, and just like a boat at the mercy of the weather and the sea, we have been blown in many directions we weren’t expecting, including our recent return home to the UK. I’ve had a few weeks to reflect on our journey, so here’s some of what I’ve been thinking…
Anchored in a picturesque creek, in calm, sunny weather, it would be easy to forget that on the way to it we were hit by squalls of thirty-five knots of wind on the nose, were forced to plough through choppy, seething water (even though we were in the supposedly protected Chesapeake) and endured being soaked to the skin by wave after wave of torrential rain. Before that, on the Delaware, there was a mass attack of killer flies – well, biting flies, actually – that look just like domestic flies but pack a nasty, painful bite and leave an agonizingly itchy lump behind. A few of those still lurked on board on our arrival, always ready to sneak out and nip our ankles. In the evenings mosquitos visited and unless you’re sprayed with a noxious combination of chemicals and oils, they too will dine on your blood and cause an altogether itchier reaction, in me anyway. During the day, unless there’s a cooling breeze, temperatures can hit 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity, so you won’t be doing anything too energetic. So while a photograph shows a truly ‘golden moment’, the picture hides the fact that “living the dream” comes with a price.
The same can be said of the whole Dawn Chorus adventure – I believe we have paid a high price, in so many ways, for the privilege of sailing away from our everyday lives, even though I know how lucky we are to have been able to go. I’ve discovered that there can be a fine line between pursuing a dream and getting caught in a nightmare. Yes, we have had the pleasure of owning a truly beautiful boat, meeting some wonderful people and visiting some spectacular places, but on the other side of the balance, we have had to sell our lovely home in Clifton Wood to buy the boat, I almost lost my lower leg in a terrifying accident in Portugal that has left me disfigured, and my mother died while we were mid Atlantic, which meant it was impossible for me to go to her wake and funeral in Ireland. My relationship has suffered too. Tensions that would dissipate naturally if we were at home were instead magnified on the boat. Martin and I have always had a sparky relationship at the best of times, but in the close confines of a yacht, and so far away from the support of family and friends (and with no referees), the fights can be, and have been, downright nasty.
The marvelous thing about memory is that it can be so selective. Even though I have grievances about certain aspects of the trip, my memories are still largely positive. I can recall the jittery excitement of sailing out of Plymouth with Martin and the two dogs, knowing that we were leaving our familiar, everyday lives behind us indefinitely, and embarking on an adventure where we would have to rely on our own skills and abilities entirely. The individual places that we stopped off at all down through France, Spain and Portugal have become blurred in my mind, but stand out moments were: watching fireworks in Camaret, France, our first stop across the Channel; having my first tattoo in beautiful La Coruna, Spain, and admiring the lovely city of Lagos, Portugal, from the vantage point of a romantic riverboat cruise. The Atlantic crossing was made so much more bearable and enjoyable by the presence of our crew members Debbie and Stephen. Debs flew from Colorado to join us in the Canaries and brought a host of skills from seamanship to surgery (even on sails!) and she played bass and sang! Stephen had just passed his yachtmaster exam in the UK, and apart from being great company, proved invaluable in helping us set up the poling-out rig for downwind sailing. He was also the hero of the hour when we got a line tangled around one of the rudders, tying himself securely to the boat and then swimming down to free the line. Some of my happiest memories of the trip were when all four of us were patiently crossing that great ocean together and knocking up an inventive shared meal every evening. Arriving to find my daughter, Eve, waiting for us in St Lucia, was the best surprise imaginable.
I’ve been promising an update on the bizarre leg accident in Portugal, so, for those who find it hard to picture what happened, I’ve made a mock-up of my trapped leg, with a backdrop of the actual marina were the accident happened. The boat we got pushed onto is marked by a red arrow, as is the anchor that cut into my leg. The other pictures show the damage – if you’re squeamish, don’t look!
We were reversing our boat out of a tight spot in a busy marina in Lisbon when disaster struck. A strong current pushed Dawn Chorus sideways and, hoping to avert a crash, I sprang into action with a large fender. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized how big the motor yacht was that we were about to get pushed onto, so when I took a large, round fender and tried to wedge it between the boats, it was pushed aside. The anchor at the front of the other boat hit me on the leg, knocking me over, but because I’d been standing just in front of the winch on our own boat, I got pinned between two metal objects with the full force of several tons of Dawn Chorus and a strong current pushing me onto the anchor. It began to cut into my leg. Thankfully, despite my piercing screams, or maybe because of them, Martin kept his wits about him and gave the boat a quick thrust in reverse to release me and then hauled me free. Good job for me it worked first time, because when he tried to help separate the boats afterwards, the throttle handle was broken and hanging limp and useless. A second attempt at freeing me would have been impossible. It took a team of helpers, including some of the crew of a huge Challenge boat nearby, to winch Dawn Chorus off the motorboat, meanwhile I was ferried off to hospital.
Because we were on a fairly tight timetable, and I was probably in shock, we ignored the advice of the hospital doctors who told me that in order to keep the swelling down I had to keep my leg elevated for a few weeks, and instead, sailed on another hundred miles to Lagos the very next day. I soon realized I’d have to rest if I was going to get better so I flew home for a few weeks and rejoined the trip in Las Palmas in the Canaries. My leg has gradually improved and although it is still a little misshapen, I’m very glad to have it!
Looking back over our trip, which took about a year in total, I realise I have accumulated a kaleidoscope of fond memories: the mesmerizing Atlantic crossing and the paper birds we made and launched into the sea to remember our lost ones; parking our boat among the giant cruise ships in lively St John’s in Antigua; the pristine beaches and powerful surf on secluded Barbuda; the carnival atmosphere of St Patrick’s Day in Monserrat; our first glimpse of the iconic buildings of New York city and then sailing under the towering Statue Of Liberty and mooring Dawn Chorus right in the Hudson River, a stone’s throw from Central Park. And what of Martin and I, and the strains and tensions of being together all the time in the confines of a boat? We live to fight another day!
I must have been about twenty-five or six, living in London and spending most of my waking hours eating, sleeping and dreaming music. My day job as a sales representative gave me the freedom to disappear off the radar (on a sales call – not!) and grab whatever free studio time I could for myself. Nights found me in sweaty rehearsal studios or on stage at venues as diverse as Gossips in Dean St Soho with an enthusiastic crowd, or in a dodgy pub somewhere in South London with no punters, the landlord and his dog. A beautiful friend, Vanessa (now deceased), worked for Virgin Records and she was a great fan and supporter. “Go to New York!”, she’d say – “they’ll love you there!” She gave me contacts, rang them for me and encouraged me in every way possible. But my moods used to swing wildly in those days and I could get set on a very different train so easily… Enter one “boring old hippie”, as his housemate, Victor, a musician friend used to call him.
The first day we met I invited both Gary the Hippie and Victor the Mod Muso along on a surprise summer ‘picnic’ in the country, which was in fact a nudist holiday camp in Kent that my pal Helen, a young journalist, was reviewing. The guys knew nothing until we turned into the gate and encountered some middle-aged tennis players in white trainers and socks – and nothing else. Meltdown! By the end of that golden day of sunshine, snorts of laughter and shy glimpses of naked flesh, I was smitten. Gary was a tall, quiet, gentle musician and painter – penniless, but lovely. A Canadian friend called Ed the Cowboy sent me a message saying, ‘Hey! If you’re planning to go to New York, why don’t you come here? It’s my school reunion…” The heady mix of new love, the long, hot summer and the feeling of freedom to go anywhere and do anything led to me changing my plans entirely. I booked a trip to Canada. I then had a major meltdown and refused to go unless Gary came with me. So, the dream of being ‘found’ as a budding music talent in New York gave way to a chaotic, and wonderful, trip through Calgary, The Rockies and Vancouver with Gary – hitch-hiking, camping, busking, playing small gigs for money, working under assumed names and discovering the incredible kindness of strangers. We got free lifts, free accommodation, were taken in by students in Lake Louise and by a wonderful old lady in the Okanagan Valley. And we played music, music, music – not for success, but for the sheer fun of it. At the time I didn’t give the missed ‘opportunity’ in New York a second thought. My motto, if I had one, was “life gets in the way”.
I came home to the UK, travelled in India for a while and then married Gary and we had a much wanted baby. My moods became even more ‘labile’ or unstable. In one of my darkest hours, I found myself detained in hospital and served with papers for divorce and sole custody of my daughter from my then ex-husband. I got better, fought back and managed to stop proceedings even going to court, but I became terrified that too much excitement or stress could put me in hospital again or lead to me losing my child. I had already experienced the pain of the loss of my first daughter through adoption when I was a schoolgirl – I couldn’t go through it again. Music settled into a hobby, but always more than a hobby, because some part of me was still that girl, young woman, young mother who had dreams, and who wanted to be the best version of her creative self she could possibly be. Perhaps part of me will always need to sabotage the chance to really succeed. I’ve written and recorded two albums with my good friend and producer Pete Ardron in London, and a third co-written with Simon Ferrigno and the wonderful Rainbow Nation, but none of those albums ever got the push they deserved. After each album I suddenly felt the urge to disappear to another continent – Canada, India and Australia – so far!!! Recently I started recording again, but managed to leave things so late I didn’t have time to even print a few CDs before I left on the latest sailing trip, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. I’ve switched some of my focus to writing in recent years – two novels published so far – and I wrote and produced a play, Moodswings. But singing is like breathing to me, and when I get a chance to shine, I still desperately want to, even if I’m crippled with nerves and self doubt, or worries about being too old or not good enough. I’ll sing anywhere – a bar, a boat, a street corner, a shop window (!) Wherever, whenever – still I sing.
Last night, thirty years after my original plan to sing in New York, I sang in New York! It was only an open-mic – but what an open-mic! Ashford and Simpson’s Sugar Bar in the Upper West Side was absolutely buzzing. Valerie Simpson sang super cool harmonies from the floor and the host for the evening was Chaz Lemar Shepard, a fantastic singer and and actor. The level of the performers was way, way higher than anything I’ve ever heard anywhere else. The band could have been my dream band, with stunning guitar, drums, keyboards and bass – they were on fire. There was a moment when I wanted to just slip out with my guitar before my name was called and disappear into the night. But I didn’t. I knew I wasn’t going to set the place on fire with a self-penned folk song no-one knew, including the musicians, but I wanted to do my best. I could have copped out and sang a well known classic, but that wasn’t the dream… Later, when several members of the band came to talk to me and say how much they enjoyed my song (one of them has co-written with Gary Barlow), it dawned on me that sometimes, to make your dreams come true, even if it’s only a baby part of your dream, you just have to have a little faith – and do it.
Around five years ago Martin and I flew into New York for the first leg of a USA holiday
taking in the Big Apple, Grand Canyon, San Francisco and a long stretch of the Ocean Highway in an open top car (oh, the rows about whether we could close the top and use air conditioning when it got over 100 degrees!!!) Unknown to us, friends of Martin’s had just sailed into the Hudson River, New York and we ended up joining them aboard their boat for a drink, just a short walk from our hotel on the Upper West Side. The seed was sown…
Today, at 1.30pm local time, having sailed under the enormous Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which joins Staten Island to Manhattan, then right up close to the iconic Statue of Liberty and past the towering skyscrapers that define New York (including the new One World Trade Centre – to be visited asap), we turned Dawn Chorus’s nose into the West 79th St Basin, right where we’d met Martin’s friends all those years ago. After a celebratory cold beer aboard, we took Buzz for a walk in nearby Riverside Park – tomorrow, it will be Grand Central Park,
just another few blocks further. Tonight, we’ll be stepping out to celebrate some more, and no doubt discovering once again that New York bartenders take no prisoners! It’s so exciting to know we got here under our own steam and that all the wonderful sights and attractions of this teeming city are just a stone’s throw away. Yeah!!!