My playfully, favourite political news story of the week was when a YouGov poll revealed that, of the entire, influential G-20 nations, only one would support Donald Trump as a presidential candidate: Russia. This news was swiftly followed by the coercive endorsement of Trump’s presidency by a certain Vladimir Putin. And it made me think, what a mindf*ck for the dim-witted Republican demographic to deal with: “We’re supported by communists now?!” In the confusion they might end up shooting themselves in the face.
Relax. In rides one Bobby Knight to introduce Trump at a subsequent Indiana rally, endorsing him during a meandering and befuddled rant as the man to press the nuclear button and become the fourth great president after Truman [the third] did the same … Knight only just pulled up short of the character in The Simpsons who yells “Yee-haw” at the end of each statement before firing two revolvers in the air.
The brilliant mind that is Armando Iannucci writes the acclaimed US political satire, Veep [starring the wonderful Julia Louis-Dreyfus – unapologetic namedrop in a hapless attempt to gain more blog hits! 🙂 ], then, with the advent of Trump, American politics turns reality into pure satire.
I first met Alice when she was a fragile 14-year-old. Her life had become more than a little crazy following the sudden loss of her father at a tragically young age, for both of them.
At the time, Alice’s mother, Linda, was briefly working with my wife, Sue, at the local university. And, unknowingly, it seems the fates had conspired.
Alice had lost her father a few days after Christmas and in the months that followed, as an only child, had understandably lost a bit of faith and belief in the world; her world turned upside down and inside out. It seems neither mother nor Alice were coping with the grief too well. Alice, I’d been told, had yet to cry.
It was early that following summer when Alice came to see a gig with Sue and I and, presumably, having decided I wasn’t wholly unhinged [an early misjudgment], subsequently agreed to come out and have a coffee and a chat with me. [For anyone reading who might not know, although not qualified, I’ve shared a room with a high school counsellor for the past decade. So, used to being around vulnerable teenagers, both Sue and mum thought Alice might open up to me.] Alice had been brought up within a philosophically stiff-upper-lip background. Be strong. It seems emotion wasn’t something she was able to fully express. I’m not sure how long we were in the tiny, crowded coffee shop that day, but at some point the emotional dam burst; many curious heads were turned. Eventually, we were standing outside as the world swirled around us and I offered her a hug. As we stood on the pavement I nodded back in the direction of the coffee-drinkers, many still looking our way … “If you can cry in there, you can cry anywhere!”
Alice has cried quite a lot since then … sitting on the couch; lying on our bed; in the car; while out walking the dog; and in one or two more coffee shops. She’s quite good at it now! But we’ve laughed many times, too. What I hadn’t expected those seven summers ago, was to have made a special little friend – which she’s grown into. There was that slightly uneasy period, for a while, as Alice grew closer to both Sue and I, where I didn’t feel comfortable at the thought of replacing her father. We talked about it and reached the playful compromise of her being my young wife instead … I still attach a delighted mischievousness at some of the expressions such an introductory label engendered from a few; particularly as Alice shares my absurdist sense of humour.
Since then, we’ve passed a number of life milestones and shared many wonderful moments. And I doubt any moved me more than the day I found out – after the event – that in one of her final classes at high school, the teacher had arranged a show and tell: pupils brought in various objects and described their relationship with them to the class. Alice simply took in a photograph of me! I’m told that she had most of the class in tears, including the teacher, vividly describing the sadness behind our meeting before alighting on the significance to her of the next couple of years … a thought that still moves me today.
The following is a video I made for Alice’s 16th birthday that summer after a photographic session in her home. Arguably most remarkable for the fact that I was able to use virtually every image that we shot that day.
I’ve chosen to write this now because today is Alice’s 21st birthday. Another milestone. But it’s become an extra significant milestone, as earlier this week Alice phoned to say she’d just completed a Skype interview with King’s College London and they’d immediately offered her a place on their prestigious MA in Shakespeare Studies“Not only will you draw on the literary expertise of a world-class university, but you’ll be taught within the renowned Globe Theatre, only metres from where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed.”
When I first met Alice it seemed she was destined to become a barrister or lawyer; something her father had potentially wanted for her. Since meeting me I’ve wholly supported her in her will to simply become … Alice. And as a Shakespearean heathen myself I’m happy to clarify this direction has garnered absolutely no coercive prompting on my part! However, if there’s one thing I hope that Adrian [if he is able to look down from somewhere] and I both share in this notable of week’s … it’s a sense of pride at seeing Alice finding her way with such intelligence and passion.
There’s a place I go
When I’m alone
Do anything I want
Be anyone I wanna be
– Newton ‘Shakespeare’ Faulkner
Who knows or even begins to understand why people come and go in our lives on this earth? The only thing I do know is that people occasionally swing into each other’s orbits for myriad of inexplicable fateful reason. And, undoubtedly, the best thing is being able to recognise the special ones when they do … and cherishing the journey you share.
This blog wouldn’t be complete without my favourite Shakespearean quotation: “I thought I’d [finish] by reading a poem by Shakespeare, but then I thought, why should I? He never reads any of mine.” – Spike Milligan.
For my special girl. For my special friend. To the future. Happy 21st Alice. x x x
Music is emotion. Music has often sustained me during my lowest ebbs, when a pulse of rhythm, anthemic soar or lyrical flourish can lift me up and even give me the belief I could build a ladder to the stars.
Music itself has suffered its own high profile tragedies in recent months. And although I knew this was coming, it’s been an extraordinary couple of days…
I first saw School of Seven Bells live on a boat permanently moored in the harbour of my home town during the summer of 2010. It wholly cemented my affection for the band. A couple of summers later and Benjamin Curtis, the multifaceted driving force behind the band, began writing their fourth album with Alejandra Deheza [and soul mate]. But as time ticked into 2013 Curtis was suddenly diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. In November, the usually private Curtis confirmed via an open message on the band’s Facebook page that the initial diagnosis had since progressed to leukemia. He signed off with a determined “In the meantime, please know that life is amazing, and I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.”
Curtis remained resolutely creative throughout the intensive treatment, even in his hospital bed – a recording of Joey Ramone’s I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up) was made entirely on his laptop in the room with Deheza later recording her vocal in a nearby studio with him directing via Skype! – fighting the aggressive cancer with equally aggressive spirit until his untimely death four days after Christmas. Benjamin Curtis was 35-years-old.
Finally, early last year, Alejandra Deheza found her own resolve and reopened Curtis’s laptop of demos and archives. And with the help of M83 and Beck producer, Justin Meldal-Johnsen, completed the love letter from start to finish that became SVIIB and finally released a couple of days ago.
With its release, alongside Bowie’s posthumous Blackstar, they share the passionate living embodiment of the emotive, lingering power of music. SVIIB is a joyously life affirming triumph over life’s innate and ultimate adversity.
I’ll leave you with the heartfelt words of Alejandra Deheza:
Friends, Benjamin and I wrote this record during a tour break in the summer of 2012. I can easily say that it was one of the most creative and inspired summers of our lives. What followed was the most tragic, soul shaking tidal wave that life could deliver, but even that wouldn’t stop the vision for this record from being realized. This is a love letter from start to finish. It’s the story of us starting from that first day we met in 2004, and that’s the story of School of Seven Bells. So much love to all of you. Thank you for being a constant light in our lives. This record is for you.
It’s Friday 8th January 2016. David Bowie is 69. Hylda Payne is 84. They share a birthday. A few days pass and other common threads reveal themselves.
I wrote this on my Instagram feed the morning I wake to the shock of David Bowie’s death: ‘I think many people believe I possess a questionable sense of humour, at the best of times. But, I don’t know, sometimes my humour can go where even angels fear to tread. And you can find laughter in darkness. I have a family friend who I’ve known for more than 30 years; she’s dying of cancer; initially liver but now significantly metastasized and told last week she might have weeks not months. She was finally at peace with the diagnosis, both relieved at having had a very good reason for feeling so lousy recently but also content that she’s had a good life.
It was her birthday on Friday [the same as David Bowie!]. There was much fun and laughter on the ward … and many tears; not from her, she kept up the laughter.
She’s still doing pretty well; the pain is being managed. I glance at my watch as my wife leaves for a visit “Tell her she might not want to hang about. She could be on the same coach as Bowie!”
I last saw Hylda on Friday [15th January] afternoon. She’d been granted her wish a couple of days earlier and been moved to an end-of-life bed in a beautiful care facility run by St Monica Trust.
It was just Hylda and I, revisiting old memories and laying down some new. Her infamous smile, laugh and notoriously expressive face were never more than a moment away. As I went to leave she puckered up. I don’t think I’ve ever kissed an 84-year-old woman on the lips before. “No tongues!” I said sternly. “And I don’t want to hear you’ve been running up and down the ward as soon as I’m gone either.” As last words go they’re not exactly up there with the most memorable, but I’ll cherish that final memory and that look upon her face.
Hylda went downhill surprisingly quickly the following day. And at about 12:40am on Monday 18th January she slipped quietly away surrounded by her daughter, two granddaughters and my wife, Sue. ‘Her skin went pale, like porcelain, and as her final breath rose to her mouth she opened her eyes briefly before gently closing them again … and was gone. It was so peaceful.’
A fittingly beautiful end for a beautiful soul. And typically of Hylda she had captured the hearts of the nursing and care staff at Garden House in just a few days, as she had done from her admission to the Bristol Royal Infirmary on New Years Day. It essentially speaks volumes for the cheeky, warm personality it’s been a pleasure to have known for 34 years.
Hylda Payne 1932-2016 RIP.
It’s been a curious symbiosis, of sorts, living through the infamous Hylda’s passing alongside that of the slightly more famous David Bowie. We are all so human, so fragile. The world keeps spinning and you’re left caught in this limbo state and the sense that our time here on earth is so relatively fleeting; specks of stardust, we come and we go.
I would never have classed myself as a huge Bowie fan – let’s say he didn’t always take me with him. [Although Heroes is one of my absolute favourite songs by anyone.] But as an artist and a creative he’s had nothing but my complete admiration. And witnessing the release of the Lazarus video early last week [and that extraordinarily apt opening line: “Look up here, I’m in heaven…”] … not only will it live in my memory forever as a testament to his genius right until the end, like Hylda, it serves as a reminder to not waste time: the end will come and there will never be enough.
In his passing the Lazarus video is as compelling as it is mesmerising in its potential symbolism. And there’s that moment at about 2’45” …
…where the pace has quickened and he grabs his pen. He begins to write animatedly. Ideas and thoughts begin to pour onto the page … I’ve so much more to say, so much more to do … until the moment is snatched from him by time; the pen trails off and down the face of the desk. And he’s gone. You’re gone.
Perhaps Bowie offered a final salutary warning, a potential gift to those of us left behind. There will never be enough time … get busy with living.
Where are we now? Where are we now? The moment you know You know, you know
As long as there’s sun As long as there’s sun As long as there’s rain As long as there’s rain As long as there’s fire As long as there’s fire As long as there’s me As long as there’s you
G’day folks. The final post and the final day of bidding for The Auction of my 2016 calendar of street photography with, as I write, approximately 36 hours of time remaining to make a bid…
Note: You can see the images for January-June here.
Just a reminder that there will be just ONE of these objects circulating in the proverbial wild and will probably set to become one of the most collectible objects since a car made from cheese was bought by an obsessive cheese enthusiast. [Although, in a moment of weakness, I understand he subsequently ate his investment.]
I will be posting any relevant updates on the bidding process at the foot of this post and via Instagram, Flickr, F*c*book and Twitter. You can make bids in any location or via email and text and I will keep all locations up to date with the prevailing highest bid.
I propose to end bidding at 11:59pm GMT on 21st Decemberand will ship the calendar with its heartfelt personal message the following day – hopefully this should ensure delivery by the New Year anywhere in the world.
Current Highest Bid: US $150
[Approx. conversion: Euros 138 and UKP 101]
[Bid by Christa in America… Note: If you’d rather not have your name publicly announced with any bid please let me know.]