The Unlikely Lad

In the week when Rodney Bewes died, just a few days shy of his 80th birthday, I find myself turning 63.
In a kind of “Oh what happened to you? Whatever happened to me?” way, it’s a time of weird observations and realisations. Sitting up in bed at 04:20, with nothing really planned beyond making that first cuppa, I think about my legs. How many miles have they carried me? My Eyes. How much have they seen? My ears. How much have they heard?  This is the 63rd anniversary of the day I was born. So many birthdays celebrated. So few that stand out, shouting me! me! me!
My tenth is one I recall in some detail. The first in double figures, the third with what family was left intact after my parents’ divorce. The first since we were evicted from a tied house, after my father gave up delivering bread and cakes, for a more adventurous career delivering letters and parcels for Royal Mail. The first birthday living in my grandparents’ house.
That year I gratefully received a book – A Pageant of History. My mother made a great fuss about how the title was embossed in gold. I was fascinated by how different our kings looked in the olden days. I also got a leather football, and some red and white striped football socks. Not because they were the colours of the team I supported, but because Rex Martin wore red and white striped socks, and he was the best football player in the school.
I haven’t made that cuppa yet. I am actually standing by the bed, but my attention is drawn to my legs once more. Hmm, no veins sticking out. Knees not too knobbly. I convince myself that if legs needed an annual MOT, mine would sail through, with no welding required.
As I make my way to the kitchen, I reflect on the way my knees changed colour more than half a century ago. When they weren’t covered in mud, they were usually purple from the cold, or covered with vivid orange/red patches from shinning up trees. Now they appear to pale at the mere thought of getting damaged, in any way.
The Unlikely Lad.
Me, as Terry, trapped inside Bob’s body.
People tell me not to keep looking back, but there are some places in our past that we ignore at our peril. I am attached to those places. All those years ago, as I marched out of childhood, and through adolescence, I put markers down. I unwound a string of memories as I travelled, and I won’t be put off  feeling my way back and revisiting, occasionally.
Perhaps innocent reminiscing is what some have identified as a symptom of a second childhood. The retrogenesis theory that we are once a man/woman, twice a child. I would argue that the inner child never leaves us. Instead, it’s likely to be off playing hide and seek, enjoying the freedom that comes from shouldering grown ups with the burden of responsibility.

A lesson that comes easier to some than others is this: the years gently twist the lenses of experience, bringing into sharp focus all the things that are truly important. Love. Respect. Kindness. I’ll let the Big Yin have the last word. He sums it all up much better than I can.

Popular Poetic and Peculiar

I’ve just finished David Hepworth’s excellent book, “Uncommon People: the rise and fall of the rock stars”. I mean, I read it from cover to cover, but it’s one of those rare books that you don’t want to shelve in a hurry. So you find yourself reading three chapters forward and two back. It’s stuffed with bitesize, quirky accounts of rock luminaries that will have you blurting out aloud, snippets and revelations, with annoying regularity.
Meanwhile, Sky Arts are offering “Rock and Roll”, a documentary series with ten themed episodes. I’m only up to number four, but so far there’s a reading of zero on the disappointment scale. 
Having been through ‘Death’, ‘Pain’, and ‘Love’, I guess ‘Poetry’ was inevitable. After watching and listening to various stars offering some context to their lyrical expression, a realisation dawned on me. Apart from the fallings out with disgruntled band members, record labels, etc. Apart from the drugs, booze, depression and money troubles, almost every interviewee could be said to have left a substantial part of themselves in their work. I don’t mean that they’d paid their dues, in the hard-life-on-the-road sense, although they probably had – some individuals, now in their 70s, are not wearing their years too well. Neither am I referring to the long, arduous business of musical composition. No, it’s the words and how they’re arranged and, ultimately, delivered.

The power is invariably in the message, and producing a poetic parcel for the point you want to make and, most importantly, make stick, is exhausting. Every letter has a piece of the poet attached. A piece that only travels one way. Little wonder, after years of treating us to new ways of viewing the oldest and most common human passions, puzzles, and predicaments, the best songwriters stand well apart from the rest. They have given so much of themselves, so much of their humanity, that they are clearly identifiable, not necessarily by a familiar face, but by shape and demeanour beyond the mere physical.

Maybe not poetic. But absolutely ‘Rock and Roll’.

Surely You Remember Me?

As undergraduates with the OU, a friend and I followed the same route for five of our six years journey. We both had an interest in European Humanities, although we went walkabout in 1993, to explore the world of Social Sciences, and in our final year, we went our separate ways. I took Philosophy of the Arts (Aesthetics) and he took the more dramatically entitled, Life and Death (Ethics).
One day, when we were exchanging thoughts on our respective courses, my friend said something along these lines: “You know, I have an identity. I have a name. I have family and friends, and they all know me by my name and by my past. I have a history. I have a sense of self.”
I remember how he paused at this point. The declaration of his sense of self hung a little uneasily in the air.
“But when I’m dead,” he continued, “when I’m dead, I’ll become a statistic, first and foremost. A number on a toe-tag will be how I’m known; at least to the mortuary staff, despite the intimacy of our newly formed relationship.”
That rather morbid part of our otherwise stimulating conversation has stayed with me. At the time, I was glad to be wrestling with questions about when music actually becomes music. Is it in the composer’s mind, manuscript, the rendition, the ears of an audience? You get the picture.
The thing is, once a solemn thought about personal identity has been planted, it doesn’t matter how much your head gets crammed with Barthes and Derrida, the question, “What about me?” begins to override all others. Clive Bell’s “significant form” morphs into “significant me”. I guess a psychologist might suggest that I’m just readjusting the frilly edges of my survival instinct, after having had them ruffled by the draught of mortality. Actually no psychologist would couch such a serious possibility in such flowery terms. But again, you get the picture?
I recently turned up to see a consultant at the hospital, only to be told that my appointment had been cancelled. That my local GP’s practice had screwed up the paperwork, and I would need to get another referral. “Don’t do your head in, trying to work it all out,” chirped the outpatients receptionist, “you’ll just end up going round in circles and get nowhere.”
For a brief moment, before leaving for home, I re-read the letter I had been sent. Yes, my name was clearly printed on the paper. It had been addressed to me, to myself. I had been identified, albeit via a cold and remote medical record. But it got me thinking, as I made my way out through the incoming human traffic. So many faces, so many lives, so many histories. Yet, in spite of a genuine willingness to connect, to empathise, to love, even; most of us are drastically relegated to mere statistical fodder as soon as we step beyond the circle of family and friends. I try not to take it to the introspective conclusion my old friend reached, way back. But I do try to remember that we are all names first. Numbers second.