Thurs 5th April 2018. 7.36 am - computer at home

Ranch


I've been awake since dawn. I couldn't sleep. I watched the clear bright light slowly grow. It's a time of change. It's a time when an outer shell sheds and something a bit brighter is born - essentially the same as before but with some of the chaff dropped away. It means moving on a bit - changing location in some way. I'm sitting at the computer where I've spent countless hours writing and editing. It's not a bad place. It's a good place. It's just that there's room for improvement. It's the first sunny day in ages. I'm on the west side of the house with my back to the window and the clear early morning sky. The hum of the computer is more irritating than it used to be. There's no reason why I can't do it comfortably up there (on the ranch) - the completed demi-shed section soon warms up in the Sun. I can charge my phone and laptop and listen to the radio (solar panel innit).

As ever we're behind with planting. Sometimes I'm so slow. How could I even think of trying to grow large amounts of stuff successfully in that harsh environment without a greenhouse or polytunnel? We've made some progress with the greenhouse that we started a couple of years ago. The foundations were sinking so we've underpinned them with loads of concrete mixed by the mixer on the back of the tractor. Garlic and onion sets are in and coming through. We've potted up loads of native wild plants in anticipation of doing a sale and every propagator is full of seed trays. It's still too wet to put the potatoes in.



The wet winter has turned the main thoroughfare into the field into a mud-bath. There's a patch of Yellow Flag Iris further down and I've noticed that it's like a living road - the tractor wheels don't sink into it at all - its dense fibrous rhizomes form a thick tough mat. It typically grows on the edge of ponds and in boggy areas. It's well-suited to the claggy soul up there. Based on that observation, we've dug up all the plants growing elsewhere and planted them in the mud-bath to hopefully form a track - if it works it will have a big advantage over concrete as it will help with the drainage. This is an example of permaculture - observing how something occurs naturally, then adapting it for a useful purpose.

On my way to work yesterday, as usual I listened to Womans Hour. The Fifteen Minute Drama was about cooking - in particular, refugees and migrants preparing dishes that reminded them of home. The tenacious gathering of recipes leads to a book and eventually a livelihood. That's what it's all about - building slowly - in my case, a place to grow food and plants that can help humans - how fine.

Any shift worked in an emergency department these days is relentlessly demanding and mentally exhausting. Yesterday's was no exception. It was so overwhelmingly busy - we were grid-locked. We had a flurry when we had 14 sick patients in our 8-bedded resusc. There was a moment when I thought 'We're up shit creek'. I almost froze thinking 'what next'. Experienced sister Lesley juggled the bays with lightning speed and thankfully Caroletta arrived at two. At one point I was seeing 3 sick patients at once. It's scary when it gets like that and it's becoming a daily occurrence. We're good at what we do and it's desperately frustrating when we have no room left to do it. It's impossible to convey what a triumph of teamwork a busy emergency department is.



Our management is excellent, but every so often we get a patronising pep talk from a 'newish' manager. The formula is always the same - suggestions for ways of doing things differently from somebody who has spent no time on our harrowingly relentless battle front. (We are constantly looking at ways of improving things based on our considerable front-line experience.) Last time, it was some bollocks about a 'drum and rope.' Whilst Caroletta asked pragmatic evidence-based incisive questions, I couldn't resist asking a couple of naughty-boy twat questions. It was weeks later with hindsight, that my wicked imagination came up with a more well-formed question.

'Er does it matter what kind of drum it is? It's just that we have two professors and they might not be satisfied with bongos.'

The beds in the main allotment were a complete washout last year. I think it's because the drainage is rubbish so we're extending them upwards with two additional layers of brick and drilling loads of drainage holes. I've abandoned the no-dig and started again from scratch, adding some old compost and a layer of fresh mulch. The long bed on the right-hand side is going to be just for collecting seed from native wild plants.

Rock & Roll


We've been going out doing little gigs to promote the book - half a dozen so far. It's going well. The original idea of just playing the songs on the album has gone out of the window. It soon gets boring. I've got a vast back-catalogue to call on. There's so much music in the book - I decided that it's all fair came.

The Easter weekend heralded the new time of change and our gig on Easter Sunday was the best so far. There's a little Boho cafe down town and it too has a new skin - new management and a few subtle changes. Instead of just our three-piece, we had Ruth and Tricia doing poetry then Karl and Joe doing some guitar instrumental stuff, then The Weregulls then us - all sandwiched between 7" vinyl. I took all my best records and Sam and Bryn DJed. it was a fantastic night with lots of threads of serendipity weaving together. Joe who also plays guitar with Wolfpeople, commented that my guitar sound was almost identical to Neil Young's on Cinnamon Girl. Like many guitarists, I am uncompromisingly fussy and puritan about sound. I spent a long time researching and building the perfect amp. Now Sam is going into business building them.



In the first couple of months that the book came back from the printer's, I sold about 150 copies, then it just fizzled out. I got despondent. I sent out loads of nice hand-written letters and signed books to national journalists. Not one of the rude fuckers replied. I've got the notion that I have some kind of promotional dyslexia. A couple of my kind friends told me to stop worrying about it - 'You've done it, you've written a book - it's out there - that's all that matters.' That's not the point - it's a project that I have to see through to completion and that means getting rid of the 1000 copies that I've had printed. My despondency lasted a couple of days then I snapped out of it. I realised that I just had to work harder and get better at promotion - investigate more. I came up with a more focussed campaign and resolved to quietly potter away at it.

One of my songs (In From The Sidelines) is about perseverance in the face of obscurity - believing in oneself:

Sewing in the crevices
Throwing on stony ground.
Studying the form.
Shall we enter in?
At least as good as some of them,
Wrong time, wrong place, wrong age.
But out will out, and songs will sing
In time to make the fete.



Then, one of the many obscure threads of serendipity that I typically follow came to fruition. Someone I know had got their latest record reviewed by an American website Twenty-two Twenty-eight. It's a multi-media and publishing website. I e-mailed them and asked them if they'd review my book - they said yes. The lady who runs it Jennifer Barnick gave it a wonderful review . (it's on the blog link). Not only that, on Easter Monday she phoned me and we talked for nearly one-and-a-half hours. We both agree that the higher values of human decency transcend the shallowness of politics. She couldn't have been more encouraging. She clearly knows a lot about publishing and gave me lots of tips. She advised me to join IngramSpark which prints books on an 'on demand' basis in all English language speaking countries. Lots of bookshops use it to order books. Realising that I needed to make a few tweaks to the barcode and so on, I decided to have the IngramSpark version as a second edition and keep the first edition for UK independent bookshops and selling through the website and at gigs. The first edition is more or less a solo effort - an example of investigating how the world of bringing out a book works. Been there, done that, but clearly there's far too much for one person to do single-handedly - I need to move out into the world and find other people. I'm even writing my own HTML & PHP code for the website - it's all far too time-consuming. Jennifer also advised me to change the cover - include a short synopsis on the back along with a photo. She suggested changing the front cover and using the woodcut of the tree of life that I used on the CD sleeve - except in black. She said it was reminiscent of the Crass emblem, giving it a more punky feel. She's also asked me to chose an extract from the book for another blog piece on her website. That gives me plenty to keep me busy and is the change of tack on the promotion front that I needed.



I wanted to make a live video. We recorded Ulysses in Bish's music shed. It's turned out a bit grim so I decided to go back to the humour of the JOHN LEE HARTLEY videos - I was reminded of the importance of humour when ruminating on Mark E Smith and Stephen Hawking. The Fall were seeped into our psyche in the days of NOTSENSIBLES - we bought their records from day 1 as soon as they came out. At least 3 of my songs have references to The Fall.

Before we mixed the concrete for the foundations, I got Bryn to do a quick bit of filming. I wore a mullet wig and some daft glasses and drove the tractor round the field. I'm going to use the footage for one of the songs off the album.


Wheels


I had a week off at the end of Feb and the beginning of March. I was using up some annual leave before the year end. I tend to take it at the arsehole end of the year when no-one else is interested in being off. The joy of having a week of no plans is enormous. It just happened to be the week when it snowed and unfortunately I'd agreed to cover a shift for a colleague on the 1st March. It was proper snow and I missed a 14 car pile-up on the motorway by a hair's breadth. there were dicks tail-gating and trying to overtake. A blizzarding flurry of snow caused a few second period of complete loss of visibility. It was VERY frightening. Thank goodness I was in my Smithymobile. On Thursday Bryn, Sam and I took the van to the garden centre to stock up on compost. The battery was flat and we had to bump-start it. We had a run up to the windmills to charge up the battery. For months it's sat forlorn and neglected outside the house. Nevertheless it sprang into life and ran beautifully. For a hundred different reasons it is the most superlative of vehicles.





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