Friday, August 27, 2010


Having not played much music recently, this week was a blast - two opportuinties to play and enjoy myself!

The first was on Monday night at a pub in Waltham Abbey. The acoustic evening is run by a nice guy called Keith and I surprised him by turning up to play - for the first time in about six months. I was on my own as my music partner now works in London and can't do weekday gigs, but I didn't mind.

But, there I was, in a rough (almost London) pub, on my own. OK, I know Keith, and a couple of other musicians to smile and wave at - but that was about it. However, the last time I had played I had briefly chatted to one of the bar's locals. A gentleman we shall call 'Mr F'. I remembered him from last time - a tough guy, probably about 60, with grey hair and a criminal record (he'd told me before that he'd been inside). He was a man no one messed with - he has a reputation.

He remembered me, and was the most charming, polite and careful companion for the evening. He didn't want me to sit on my own, asked me to join him at the bar along with Bear (who was a very tall and quite large guy). We chatted quite a bit, about different types of music and the like, very amiably.

Keith sang his songs, then one of the others got up with a cut finger so he karaoke-d his way through some pub standards. Another lad got up and sang my favourite 'Hey There Deliliah' as well as some other good standards. So, noisy, pubby type music - but when I got up to sing, I did my usual quiet folksy stuff. They listened. Keith said to me 'you want someone to hear you, whisper'. He was right.

At the end of the evening Mr F saw me out to the car, carried some of my gear for me and gave me a polite and friendly peck on the cheek goodnight. We'd had some interesting conversations where I'd learned a bit more about his life. He was a man who had lived violently - where survival was directly related to strength. But the interesting thing was I saw something different, I saw a man who looked back on his life and wished that he could have done it differently. Maybe I am wrong, but even if the hard nuts of Waltham Abbey are afraid of him, I felt completely safe.

Last night (Thursday) I played at the Corner House in Cambridge following a quick plea over Facebook. When I got there the pub was quiet, but soon two other performers arrived too (Meg and Mark). Oh, and about five other people in the pub including the barman, the sound engineer and his girlfriend. We three musicians chatted easily, all different but it was very amiable.

I was due to go on first at 8.30 but there was still hardly anyone there. Mark suggested that we wait a bit longer as he had some friends coming - which we did and they duly arrived. So I managed to perform my half hour spot to a slightly fuller room than I first feared. I nattered with Tim and Cheryl, two of Mark's friends, and then more of his friends came too - and earlier he'd moaned how no one came to see him. 'Can't be a prophet in your own land' I said, when he told us how he played to packed houses in Manchester and Liverpool.

My performance was, again, very folky - but I actually got them singing choruses! It was a lovely atmosphere, friendly and - due to the lack of huge numbers - quite intimate. After my performance Meg went on - she has a lovely voice and writes fun, quirky songs. After Meg was Mark and I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. He engaged the audience with engaging casual chat, and sang some really nice songs.

So, all three of us were singer/songwriters with guitar. But the combination of the three styles was actually complementary - working excellently together. The audience were appreciative and the evening relaxed and pleasant.

I couldn't find Meg's myspace page, but you can hear Mark here:

The Corner House is a nice venue - with a mix of clientele and nice food (I'm told) and a good place to play or listen to a variety of music. I certainly enjoyed my evening there.

(PS: photo is not taken at either of these two venues, but I didn't have any appropriate ones)

Monday, August 23, 2010

I'm not a burglar

I do have strange dreams - picture this, I'm in my dressing gown in a house in New York. I've broken into the house as I need somewhere to stay with two other people (one of whom is a friend's daughter, and is about 10 years old instead of her actual 15). And my cat Toby (who has in fact been dead around 15 years).

I'm in the kitchen looking for something to eat when the owners of the house come in. "I'm not a burglar, this is a banana". I say, holding up the banana. The owners have children, four boys I can tell from their family photographs, but they are older and the children left home.

The family are understanding, and wait while I go and get things packed so we can leave. We need to find a vet though. The cat needs to be treated.

The whole story is very vivid and I can picture the people, the cat, the banana... I guess it's no wonder I wake up so tired!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Trains and stations

This morning I was reading a book on the train. I was on a chapter called 'attention' and I thought how the many things I'd noticed about the trains and my journey go unremarked except in my skull. There's no need to share my observations, but there's no harm in paying attention.

Today I was on the 'Buddah' train. This particular train, when idle, makes a soft bell-like noise similar to that of a wooden mallet being gently tapped against the side of a brass prayer bowl. It's quite a restful noise compared to the rest of the squeaks, groans and grinding noises it also makes.

I was on a singing train the other day. In London, the underground train made a squealing noise as it hurtled down the tracks that was light and musical as opposed to harsh and irritating. I christened it the 'singing train' in my mind. You don't talk to people on the underground (well, sometimes I do and I am always amused by the look of panic on their faces). But on this journey, I remember, I was talking to a family from Hungary who had enjoyed a tremendous day in London. They were glowing with fun and delight and the daughter, who was about 15, enjoyed translating for her happy parents and siblings. So, sometimes talking on the underground does work; but I still enjoy freaking out the regulars occasionally by offering a small mote of conversation.

Each morning when I get on the commuter train to Cambridge there is a woman I have known for 14 years. She steadfastly ignores me - has form the first friendly smile I gave her when I knew she was on the same commuter run as me. I don't know why. Perhaps I committed some grave offence, perhaps she'd just like her mornings quiet, and to herself please. Either way that's ok with me, I enjoy the opportunity to read in the bright morning sunshine, lulled by the rocking (and sometimes belling) of the train.

When we get to Cambridge there's a struggle to get past the bikes stacked at the doors, some folding some not. Then there's the sheep-like trail as we head from the platform to the exit, funnelling through the 'dip' (exit gates) dutifully and emerging into a crowded main hall. It's not a big hall, and not always crowded, but most mornings it's a throng of people headed into London or to Kings Lynn, or arriving at Cambridge.

Then I walk up Station Road towards my place of work. And the faces coming towards me are a mix of excitement (off for a day out?) and panic (my train leaves any moment...) and intense concentration (I am a commuter, don't bug me!). Sometimes I notice odd things about people.

For example, the impossibly muscular calves on that woman walking ahead of me - and her nice black skirt and... total lack of hips. Long blonde hair, feminine walk, but in a hurry. She stayed ahead of me. And the cyclists who think that riding on the narrow pavement is safer than the road. Well, it's not safer for the pedestrians. The confused tourists who don't understand the bus stops (actually, they change so often no one understands the bus stops any more). The tall, incredibly student looking guy who, when he turns around, is probably at least 40.

Cambridge is stuffed with youth and life. There are hordes of language students chattering away in various tongues, all 'cool' with eachother and their temporary displacement. There are business people in suits (and some really bad mixes of stripes!) and the wonderful eclectix mix that is Cambridge - from floppy hats to sandals, kaftans to kilts. You will, if you stand at Cambridge Station long enough, see just about every kind of person it is possible to imagine.

So my day starts out with a visual and auditory feast. Perhaps that's why I like to delve into my book. But more often than not I'll be distracted by the view as we trundle along - watching the fields turn from green to gold, from gold to brown, and eventually to white (when the winter comes). Being a commuter is not so bad.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tiger Day

Yesterday was the 12th birthday of a captive tiger called Amba. She was born in captivity, probably the descendant of circus animals. She shares her enclosure with a male tiger called Rana. They are the most amazing, beautiful and impressive creatures ever!

The reason we (my colleague and I) were there was for Shepreth's 'Tiger Day' - a day spent celebrating these amazing animals (and Amba's birthday) but, most importantly, raising funds for work with tigers in the wild.

Shepreth rehomed the tigers from Paradise Wildlife Park, several years ago, and though locals were somewhat dubious at having these huge predators in the neighbourhood at first, they have proved to be a great attraction. And seeing them - who can but be moved to want to preserve this wonderful great cat in it's native home? The nice thing about Shepreth is they are not only a visitor attraction, but they are active in conservation work in the field too.

FFI work with tigers in Sumatra and Becca, from Shepreth, had spent five weeks out there recently. She didn't see any wild tigers, even though she was with our top tiger team (the rangers do an amazing job out there, protecting the tigers from poachers and protecting their habitat from illeagal logging and agricultural encroachment). Rob, however, my colleague who went out for a week earlier in March, saw one more or less on his first day!

I think I'd like to see a tiger in the wild - provided there was suitable distance or protection; those teeth are huge! Whilst the environmental enrichment (hide the tiger food) programme was underway in their enclosure, the tigers were briefly locked into their night dens. We were situated right next to one of the dens and could look through the window at the tiger. He would often come up to the window and look out at us, just inches away (reinforced glass, of course).

There were a number of events, most of which we didn't get to see as we were on our stand (actually a little table under a kindly loaned gazebo - it rained and rained!), and I got to meet wildlife vet John Lewis who was a very interesting guy to talk to indeed. I first saw him on Monkey World on TV many years ago - but his main interest now is big cats. He's invented a field anaethstics kit (probably a much better technical name for it than that) and soon he's going out to work in Russia.

I asked him if he'd ended up doing wildlife veterinary work by accident or on purpose - he said as he'd started out in zoos, it was a natural progression. He also mentioned how many children die because of rabies, and how veterinary care of domestic/working dogs could so reduce this. Simple things we can do that could change the world. We didn't talk for long, but he covered a lot of ground in a short space of time.

We had a successful day, lots of visitors, a very happy child who won our toy tiger, and some really good contacts. We talked to one of the keepers who'd been out in Africa and found a human foot in a wellington boot the morning after some lions visited. He doesn't like lions so much... but the little mountain lion at the park purrs as soon as she sees him (or is it the green uniform = food response?).

It was a different day to working in the office - spending the day next to tigers, talking to people about our charity, and watching kids look in awe at these beautiful cats. Oh, and at the end of the day, there was a kerfuffle over at one of the monkey enclosures. Some bright spark had put his posh mobile phone out really close to get a good photo (over the barrier) and smart monkey thought 'oy! I'll ave some o that' and grabbed said fruity mobile phone (which did not taste as delectable as the fruit which gives it name) and chewed it up.

The phone-owner was furious (but insured), the phone was retrieved (broken), but more to the point, the monkey was ok (the batteries are poisonous).

All in all, a successful and pleasant day, despite the rain.

Click here to see some great tiger pictures

Click here to sponsor Becca on her 'Tiger Swim'

Top photo of tiger eyes (C) Fauna & Flora International