Gunther's parents dropped by the other day to say goodbye on their way back to the UK for another few weeks. Daphne was so keen to see her Ridgeback friend that she jumped into their big black van and proceeded to pee on Darryn's jeans.
Darryn was more concerned, I think, that I didn't seem my usual self, whatever that may be. Perhaps I had an air of distraction. I reassured him that it wasn't, touch wood, some life-threatening disease, but simply that I had a bit of paid work last week. Work does terrible things to me: the responsibility of creating something for someone, for money, brings me out all over in stress. It consumes my thoughts and saps my creativity. I just don't know how people do it, week in, week out. Particularly when there's commuting involved. I guess because they have to.
My sister Jo was out here last weekend, another one of the family who was never suited to the world of work. We must have taken our lead from our indolent father. Unfortunately, the spoons in our mouths with which we were born were stainless steel rather than silver. We were therefore obliged to work. I lasted a little longer than she did – clocking up a big 15 years in the Civil Surface, enough to earn a small monthly retirement pension which supplements my career as a dilettante.
Jo managed about a year in a building society in Bath, notable for an implausible sickness record. Then she clocked up another year or so in London at the Ministry of Defence, before finding a thoroughly unsuitable job as a statistics manager for a cosmetics company. Since she had no Maths to speak of, it was an extraordinary appointment that still mystifies her. In those days of blatant sex discrimination, I expect it had something to do with her long blond hair. The business of trying to bluff her way through the role took its toll and brought her out all over in stress. I believe she lasted less than a year.
Fortunately, both of us landed on our feet. She found her Great Provider and I found mine, although in both cases the provision took time and involved some hard times – through which we played our respective parts: she as a mother of two boys and me as a writer without portfolio and an itinerant training and learning thingy in those dark distant days when we were trying to find our feet among the hill people of the Corrèze. Jo's principal occupation now is buzzing about, looking after our father and making sure that her family and friends are all right. It's rare when everyone is all right at the same time, so when someone's not, she tends to break out all over in stress.
Neither of us, unlike our dear father, is lazy. In fact, The Daughter is always telling me to step off the treadmill to 'chill out'. But both my sister and I have to keep moving, have to keep busy. I have no problem with that. Things have to be done and I'm not one to shirk the doing of them. It's just that serious paid work brings me out in a cold sweat, I suppose because I have to justify my enormous fee.
I’m not counting my work as coach of the English women’s football team. I do that on a voluntary basis. Guiding them to the world cup semi-finals is payment enough. Writing an article is fine, too, perhaps because the fee bears so little relation to the time put in that you end up feeling like you’re doing them a favour. After all, newspapers and magazines depend on content for their continued existence.
It's finding the content that's so difficult. There was a case in point during the week. I received an invitation from the assistant editor at Songlines to come up with something for their 'Soapbox' slot. Something, anything. Therein lay the problem. I could rant about environmental destruction, cruelty to animals, political chicanery, corruption, corporate tax avoidance, the ivory trade, Monsanto, iPhones for toddlers etc. till the cows came home, but not about music. Apart from the likes of thrash or death metal and industrial techno (if such a genre exists), it's one of the few consistently positive aspects of life on earth. What could make me remotely angry about it?
Finally, it was my sister who inspired me. In a negative way. In so far as she personifies a complete lack of musical curiosity. When we were growing up in Belfast, she was – and still is – a big fan of Cat Stevens, or Yousuf Whatever, as he now calls himself. One day, some years ago, I happened to mention his Island label stable mate, Nick Drake. She'd never heard of him. What!!? Never heard of the tragic troubadour, who drowned himself as a young man, in despair perhaps at ever finding an audience for his gorgeous melancholic songs. It was a situation to be remedied.!(upload://5n5e9GzSBMGumEL1zWw6Z55uFAp.jpg)
I bought my sister a Best Of one Christmas to introduce her to someone I felt sure she would love. How could she not? Sometime later, I mentioned on the telephone a documentary on Nick Drake that they were showing on BBC Four. She'd still never heard of Nick Drake. Next time, I resolved, I'd buy her something safe – like a bar of fancy soap.
As many do, she fails my Bob Marley test. In other words, someone says they like reggae because they like Bob Marley. But if you mention the likes of Burning Spear or The Mighty Diamonds or even the other two Wailers, you get a blank look. It always works. Anyone can try it; I don't have a patent (yet). Pat Pending.
You might be thinking: Is this really worth ranting about? Isn't it just snobbery or elitism by any other name? In the great run of things, you'd probably be right. Perhaps the editorial team will reach the same conclusion. But it seems to me to be symptomatic of a general lack of curiosity about life itself. How we stick to the safe and familiar, things often associated with our youth, and turn our backs on what's new and different and maybe just a little uncomfortable.
Anyway, I'm going to climb down off my soapbox, because we were all culpable in missing the Fête de Musique last weekend. I got my article written and despatched, but we didn't go to Brive to mingle with the throng in search of sounds unlimited. Shame and scandal in the family. Maybe I for one was too busy mourning the passing of the summer solstice. It's all downhill from here till the fading light of autumn.
Soon after the solstice come the sales. I made my customary biannual pilgrimage to Cultura, where I snaffled another ten CDs to satisfy my musical curiosity. My Great Provider doesn't mind: she knows that it keeps me happy and gives her more material for her daily return journey to Brive. But storage is becoming a problem. There may yet come a time when we have to build a straw-bale extension to the house. A pleasure dome will I decree, with a music room fashioned for its ambient temperature and perfect acoustics...
My paid work went well enough. The client approved. For now, the stress has lifted and I can get back to my perma-pottering. But it may well lead to more, which in some ways is a good thing – if I'm going to build this pleasure dome, for instance – and in some ways not so good, because it will heap on the pressure and lead to another outbreak of 'not my usual self'.
Forty-degree heat is forecast for the week ahead. Somehow my provider will have to find the strength to massage bodies in that kind of temperature. It’s the first week of Wimbledon, too. I watched a fascinating documentary at the end of the week about Arthur Ashe, which brought back wonderful memories of how he slew the obnoxious Jimmy Connors in 1975 with a lethal combination of grace and guile. He was a great guy was Arthur. He spent his brief allotted time campaigning for the underdog. Incredibly, in this era of the fearsome Serena Williams, he remains the only black man ever to have won Wimbledon.
Oh, and I managed to download Windows 8.1 last week quite by accident. My, what a life full of surprises.