Ten Years…

It had come back before.

In 1996, I was 16 and much more excited than my friends seemed to think I should be about a Doctor Who TV movie.

I had just about the whole range of merchandise advertised in the radio times – posters, bag, t-shirt, watch, baseball cap, postcards. I had literally been there and got the t-shirt.

I had videos, of course, which only really brought home how much I missed the series. So I was willing to love the TV movie no matter how bad it might be or how changed it was. And I still do love it a bit.

I realise that stepping back objectively, it’s far from perfect, but I didn’t care then and I don’t really care now. There’s stuff to love in there. And above all else, it’s Doctor Who.

But at the end of the movie, the revival ended (on TV, anyway) and we were back into the wilderness.

So I attempted (and failed) to show a sort of aloof interest in the rumours of a new series. Then it was confirmed, and I still refused to let myself get excited – I’d seen this all before, I thought.

When the trailers hit screens, I gave up the disinterested act – it was real, and it had the right music and everything… this could be good.

On Saturday 26th March 2005, I was sat on the living room floor (the TV was small and the sofa on the other side of the room – it made sense to me, anyway) to watch Rose.

I wasn’t expecting to be blown away. All I was hoping for was something good enough to stick around for a few series at least. I don’t think I was blown away either, but I was hooked all over again, by a single speech (the “world-spinning one” – I wrote about that here).tumblr_lew3ge9UXC1qct9a2o1_400

The next few weeks was a little like reconnecting with a friend you used to love spending time with. And by the time we’d reached the creepy heights of The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances, it felt pretty giddy.

My main thought, I guess, was “how could someone not love this?!” Farting green things and Simon Pegg’s Hungry, Hungry Ceiling (TM) aside, I still think that series has one of the best runs of consistently good, interesting, exciting and watchable TV since the show returned.

And I seem judge all “new” Doctors against the Ninth. He set the template, and those stories showed what the show could still do.

Ten years later, and we’re still watching Doctor Who on Saturday nights. I never thought I’d say that.

Oh, and for the record, I still have the watch, and the posters are (except for one) framed, and hanging on various walls.

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It’s National Poetry Day!

In honour of a couple of things – the wee chap’s birthday in just 2 weeks time (when he’ll turn an incredible 9 years old!) and that I’m going to the setting of this poem in just a couple of days… here is a poem for National Poetry Day.

Memory of Sandy Footprints

“Have I been there before, daddy?”
He looks up at me, impatient.
Of course you have, I tell him. Your first holiday.
You walked your first proper steps there.
I expect astonishment, or pride,
or wide-eyed questioning,
but he just shakes his head slowly.

“I don’t remember that,” he mutters,
It’s true – I promise, and say I have pictures
of him doing it. I dig out my proof.
“That’s not me!” is the claim,
“I’m much more bigger than that!”
You were a baby then, but not anymore.
“Really? But I’m so tall now!”

And he stands,
like a pocket Hercules,
surveying his empire.
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Learning to Love (and other modest poetry adventures)

The last month has been so full of poetry that I feel a bit spoiled…

Attending the CLPE Poetry Award at the House of Illustration was inspirational and a great evening too, with all of the nominees reading from their collections and a chance to explore the HoL’s wonderful Quentin Blake exhibition.

It was a lovely chance to rejunvinate my creative muscles, and out of the five nominated collections, we now have 3 on the shelves of our house – already well-thumbed!  The Blake exhibition is absolutely brilliant too, well-worth visiting if you’re near King’s Cross.  it reminded me of how many of my childhood experiences are framed by his artwork and the stories of Roal Dahl – and made me think about how colour and shape stick with you and trigger memories just like a smell can.

But aside from that, I’ve found myself turning to beautiful poetry almost by accident, re-reading Summoned by Bells and Malcolm Guite’s often-powerful Sounding the Seasons, and a rather random selection of Ted Hughes and Wendy Cope.

And then there’s this:image

Last summer, I answered a submission call from Proost – along with many others…  And now the product of that is in print.  You can find it here.

Here’s what the project’s curator/editor says about the collection on the website:

“What I was looking for was a new kind of Christian poetry – using language set free from the narrow clichés; an honest kind of poetry that arose from a deep well of the Spirit within us. Poetry that did not shrink from pain, from ugliness, from doubt, from anger at God even. Poetry that asked questions more than it answered them. Poetry that held us to account for our actions – particularly those of us who have any kind of power. Poetry that was skewed towards the weak, the broken, the poor (as these were the preoccupations of Jesus).”

There are ten of my poems in there – on the topics of losing, protest, becoming, learning to love, faith/doubt, and the world is beautiful.

I’m very proud to be part of it all – there’s an amazing range of work there from people all over the place (geographically as well as every other way), and I’ve loved seeing what others have produced too.

If you’re interested, please do go an have a look -it’s available as an ebook download and in print through an on-demand website: http://proost.co.uk/learning-love

and if you’re in North America, here – http://proost.us/learning-love

In which I am sort-of-resolute about things

I haven’t done new year’s resolutions for a long time – and mainly because I am terrible at a) remembering I’ve even made them and b) keeping them.

Admittedly, that’s just the cause and effect of the same reason, but there were go.

There are always things I want to explore, experience, research, write about, but these aren’t helpful stuff to put in resolutions (as far as I am concerned), unless you have a level of understanding etc. you are aiming for.

But this year, I find myself wanting to make “resolutions”.  I want to challenge myself in a lot of ways that I think I’m being lazy, and I want to let that help me to be more mindful of the way I am living.

So, in 2014, I want to try and do the following:

• Challenge my choices more often and more rigourously.
And when I say choices, I mean EVERYTHING. How I spend money, what I eat, where I go, what I do, when I do it and all aspects aside that.

• I want to appreciate and use what is already around me – and get rid of things that don’t serve a purpose.

• I want to let go (difficult one, this) of friendships that I feel I’m clinging onto.
Just accept that life works that way – people change and move along, friendships evolve, grow and contract in the same way too.

• I want to not feel obliged to respond to things that irritate or upset me unless it involves views that should be challenged (especially on the internet).

• I want to stop more – and find new places to stop.

And just to put something more easily quantifiable on the list:

• I want to go walking in the countryside more often – at least once a month.

You never know, I might even blog about how this is going from time-to-time.  There are plenty of points along the way which might easily cross-over with the interests I’ve wanted to explore for a while, particularly with stopping more, appreciating what is around me and walking – a lot of which has something to do with faith, and my *very* amateur interest in nature, monasticism and church architecture as well as the regular writing and general geekery that generally rules my life, but we’ll see.

Patient charm vs. Convenience?

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Some of my spoken word cassettes – on their new shelf

I’ve just sorted through, rearranged and put away my spoken word cassettes. I’m quite proud of them, really.

Last year, I completed a collection of BBC Radio Collection cassettes on cricket, which is something I’d wanted to do as a cricket-obsessed 12 year old, but was hopeless at saving my pocket money for long enough.  They’re on a new shelf, and it’s nice to see them somewhere that isn’t a darkened corner.

It’s mostly a dead format. I accept that. But I have a fondness for them that I find hard to explain.

Cassette tapes started to die a slow, painful death the moment the shiny-discs of the CD format began to take off in the 80s. This made me a little sad, if I’m honest – I had a good collection of cassette audiobooks from my late childhood onwards, and the first time I’d owned my own music that I could listen to whenever I wanted and lend to other people was on cassette.

One of my all-time favourite Christmas presents was my first radio with a cassette player.  It was basic, sure – but it was mine.  I used it for almost ten years, and even then it hung around in a cupboard for a few more years because it had been like an old friend to me.  We’d discovered music and stories together, listened to Test Match Special on many summer afternoons together.

I’d even done my own repairs on it – when the play button mysteriously became dislodged and went missing, I put some serious thought into which of the other buttons I didn’t need anymore.  Eventually, I decided that the pause button was my least favourite (the stop/eject button did the same thing, AND opened the deck), and it became the play button.  I can’t imagine doing that to a CD player.

There is a sort of functional inelegance in a CD. They don’t hold as long as a cassette in terms of content, and you are no longer forced to consume an entire product to hear the bits you wanted the most. You could now skip straight to those sections without sitting there for ten minutes constantly checking if you’d fast-forwarded far enough.  It is certainly efficient, and there is less danger in terms of the quality being affected by faulty players or over-playing.  You could even put things on to repeat for as long as you wanted.  Something the cassette couldn’t really compete with.  After all, you still need to turn the tape over – although the first time I got a walkman which eliminated even the need to do that, I was astonished.

But how was I supposed to appreciate the “less good” tracks on an album? I could simply skip past them – something I now find I have to forcibly avoid doing.

The first music tape I was given, to go with my first walkman, was a Greatest Hits of the Monkees.  I clearly remember going into

This one!

This one!

the garden of the house we lived in, sitting on a sun lounger and closing my eyes to listen to it in the sun. And I fell in love with tracks that now don’t seem to get anywhere near the Definitive Collections record companies seem to like releasing now.

I started off knowing that I just had to get through songs like D.W. Washburn to get to Words; Teardrop City to get to Valleri; both Someday Man and Tapioca Tundra to get to What Am I Doing Hangin’ Around. That was just how tapes worked – and I grew fonder of those songs than some of the ones I endured them to reach.

I even held off getting a CD player until it was relatively pointless doing so – and I do appreciate the versatility of it all. It’s really not me being a needless luddite.

I’ve reflected on this often, coming to the conclusion that I’m just hopelessly attached to cassettes in some strange nostalgic addiction.

Like many people of my generation, the cassette was an easily-recordable and re-useable format, and I took good advantage of that. I recorded the chart show off Radio 1, made mixtapes of my favourite songs for friends… Only I was still doing this into the 2000s, mainly because I didn’t own a computer that could burn a CD…

Teaching myself how to repair broken tapes in the last few years (well after it was a skill useful to anyone but myself, I guess) is still something I’m very proud of.

But I do think the appreciating-an-album-as-one-whole-work angle has a lot going for it. The death of the music cassette as a format seems to reflect a loss of attention span in the western world, as well as the development of better technology. Patience is a good practice, and something I’ve discovered is more important than I realised. MP3 downloads are popular in part because we can get what we want as soon as we think of it.

And the idea of having to sit through Someday Man AND Tapioca Tundra to get to that is just appalling to a lot of people.

Thank you, Mick.

In the early 1990s, I was pretty much unsure about what I wanted to do and what I was interested in. As far as I can remember, I had a handful of things that I could say that I loved giving my attention to: Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, cricket and music.
But then Channel 4 started showing a series that blew me away. And it was completely real.

Time Team was a discovery that I will never forget. It wasn’t high-octane, fast-moving television, but it was interesting, always informative, and often exciting in its own unique way.

I clearly remember the moment I was thoroughly hooked – midway through part two of the very first episode – when the geophysics survey results revealed the layout of Alfred the Great’s abbey at Athelney in Somerset for the very first time. It was incredible to think we were seeing this for the first time in hundreds of years.

It inspired me. I started digging holes in flower beds in various family members’ and friends’ gardens (my proudest moment was digging up a 1901 penny with Queen Victoria on, and a 1932 farthing – both in my own back garden).

Country walks used to (and still do, quietly) feature me carefully examining the surrounding landscape for any footprints of past structures or boundaries, and field-walking my way across farm land, claiming that any terracotta-coloured stone I found was very probably Roman pottery. A fact I was even more convinced of, seeing as we walked very often near a roman site in northern Kent.

I loved the idea of being able to interpret landscapes like Stewart Ainsworth, carefully uncover unseen treasures like Phil Harding or lug around the geophys machines and then astound the whole team with the results like John & Chris.

Mick Aston

Mick Aston

But eventually, it was Professor Mick Aston who influenced me more thoroughly than most. I’m sure there are many who have more direct and plentiful reasons for being grateful to him, but it was his thoughtful enthusiasm which inspired me into actually investigating some of the things I was seeing on my television screen. This was a direct influence on why for my first office job, I was delighted to be able to work in heritage, and why I’ve kept up my interest ever since.

He’s also a big part in why Luke, as a four-year-old, was able to stun some experts from the local museum at a family archaeology day by explaining what finds he had to the very people who were supposed to be identifying them for him.  (I talked about this before, here)  And why last week, we thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon out at Crofton Roman Villa, learning about how his life would be different if he’d been born in Roman Britain.

Time Team changed the way I look at things around me forever. I never reach any firm conclusions, and it’s almost always in fun, but I study things now. Earthworks, buildings, field boundaries, stones on paths. I notice much more about the landscape and my surroundings than I ever did before.

And that’s entirely down to Professor Mick Aston. Thanks Mick. Rest in peace.

A new chapter opens

I’ve given up my job in the civil service. I actually made that decision back in March/April, and signed the papers to make it final in June, but decided to not officially declare this until it happened (although I told a lot of friends excitedly along the way).

Now it has actually happened, I may well be on here a lot more… and to mark the moment, here’s a poem I wrote a few months ago – after working on a little project with Katie Green and having read an article by the poet Andrea Leighton…

I Am Not An Artist

You try to paint the sound,
just as I try to write the strokes
of your brush on the canvas.
The detail of each colour trail
inviting metaphors,
yet finding none better than
scratched vinyl memory.

You try to paint the scent
as I try to write the feeling.
Or give words to the touch.
But I want to write of the grooves,
the complex nobodies
between vivid someones.

I long to explore the wastes:
water the brush is dipped in,
blank spaces, unused pallettes.
The ununsed paint – life
waiting to be unleashed
on a new, open world.

Each scene in front of me,
every instance you create,
is full of these depths.
A phrase unuttered between
characters, passing from
expression to eye.