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repeat notes

The trick to busking isn’t playing well, though that helps, but in staying on the field of play. Whether you play well or not, if you stand there long enough you’ll earn money. Really good buskers can hold a pitch all day.

Me, I last an hour, maybe ninety minutes, before my lip and my diaphragm throw in the towel. And in November, my fingers begin to stop working after a while too. The music is easy but the physical effort is demanding.

Another useful thing is to happen upon an event, as I did last night, and find hundreds of people passing by your pitch, which in my case is usually outside of Venells Cafe on Saddler Street. There’s an alley leading to the cafe that, if I stand just at the end of it, gives great acoustics.

There was some sort of festival of lights going on in Durham. Didn’t quite understand it, but it was busy, people were writing slogans on the glass of Scorpio shoe shop using pens in a box outside the door. There was a huge glowing snow-globe in the market square.

Just when I was finishing up, a lovely American couple stopped me and asked what I’d just been playing. I told them Watermelon Man and he said he thought it was, he’d seen Herbie Hancock a couple of years ago and recognised the tune. Sadly I was chilled to the bone by then and my fingers had frozen solid, so I couldn’t play more than a couple of bars more for them.

Think I’ll do another set tonight.

Stateless – available in print and on kindle


What do you do when the psycho-killer who broke your heart turns up after an eight-year absence? Why is he here? And who has he come to kill?

Spare and contemplative, Stateless is a meditation on loss, violence and redemption. Available in print and on kindle. Click image for link:


Been mulling over what to do next. I think I’ll redraft Jago, then see about getting it published.

on writing

Lishman suggested I do a PhD. That’s the second time in a little over a month I’ve been tempted.

On balance, I’d rather work minimum wage, and write.

meaning and other nonsense

Over the last few years I’ve spent time re-engineering my outlook on life, moving away from the imprinted, self-destructive patterns I acquired as a kid. I can’t claim complete success but I’m getting there. It’s partially an attempt to be a better person but it’s also a way of making my life more efficient and my passage through time more bearable, if that makes sense – you swim better if you’re dolphin-shaped, I guess.

A while back, during my meditations on how to be a better person, I got to a question that I’d struggled to articulate but that if I answered it honestly might suggest a way to an inner balance. The question was What Do You Want?

So I mulled this over for a long time and yesterday I realised two things.

Firstly, I don’t want much, and as my bio already says, if anything I want less. A lot less. But secondly and more importantly, I realised that ‘what I want’ is what I already have, but to the furthest extent, and to the best of my ability.

That is all.



I found myself outside of Sainsbury’s today, when the two-minute silence began. Like everyone else I stood and waited in contemplative silence. By 1918, this country was bled dry, we lost the flower of our youth in a senseless, muddy slaughterhouse. We were the same in 1945, when another generation was dead. It was a thing to consider.

As I stood at the doorway a young bloke with a middle-eastern appearance asked me what was happening. ‘We’re remembering the dead,’ I told him.

‘What dead?’ he asked.

‘Soldiers from the Great War, and World War Two, and other wars.’

‘British soldiers.’

‘Yes,’ I said.

But that isn’t really true.

We remember the dead, all of them. It doesn’t really matter what uniform they wore, or if they were even in uniform. On all sides, what they have in common is they died.

My grandad, a veteran of the desert war, was a POW in Dresden during the allied fire-bombing. He told me they spent days after the raids digging the dead out of cellars and shelters where they’d suffocated from the lack of oxygen, which was burned up by the firestorm. He was a lovely, gentle man, and the war damaged him. My gran said when he returned from war he was not the same man he’d been before.

The people in those Dresden shelters were no more warlike than the people of Coventry or London. They were no more warlike than the people who stood next to me at the doorway of  Sainsbury’s or the citizen soldiers who fought and died to defend our way of life.

We stood quietly, on the shoulders of giants.


Going up to Cresswell in the morning. Going to cycle up the coast a bit and then cycle back. Temperature is around 3-5 degrees. It’s a trial run for some longer expeditions in the future.

This was taken at Alnmouth at low tide. I think at some point I was rolling around on the sand.

all hail

Just experienced the first hailstones of the winter – it’s cold and very dark outside.

Love it.

If I could hibernate, if I could find a warm snug place and switch to standby mode for four months, I would. I’d wake on 23rd December for my birthday, stay awake over Christmas, then I’d be back asleep ’til the beginning of March.

in the moment

When I write, I spend a lot of time editing and redrafting, adding and subtracting, tweaking, polishing, erasing. When I busk on my sax, I don’t. If you like a piece of writing you can go back and reread it as often as you like. Playing live is the opposite, it’s immediate and then it’s gone.

Permanent. Transient.

I like ’em both.

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