Notes from a Fragile Island. 8

18th December 2004 (Croydon)

Pre-gig hot loving. Will fucking on the stairs become blasé in 2005?

The venue is rammed, which only adds to my nerves as all lyrics and chords start to slip away. Try to hide in the far corner. Chat inanely to Joel J and John F, both of whom meet PS for the first time. Lyrics fall worryingly away! Borrow pen from behind the bar and scrawl over my arms. Bizarrely, I drink red wine to try and stave my nerves. The thought being that it is heavier (?).

Tuning up (for the nth time) in the gents – it is the quietest place. John F comes through the door to urinate. “Couldn’t you find somewhere more salubrious than a pissoir?” – being a phrase not often heard from anyone, let alone a retired headmaster. I should get a tattoo. Out of the blue he presents me with a cardboard mask of west country trip-hopper Tricky’s face (??!)

Set is hampered by poor sound (Dr. Strange has deputied to the dreadful boy with long black tie hair). The red wine seems to have had some affect in steadying me, perhaps. Everything… the mics, my fingers, the picks, the words, everything, keeps slipping. I am sweating like a pig and only later realise that I am allergic to South African Merlot – or just drank too much in one sitting?

set: Local Lo-fi Scene/ Superman/ Obligatory Tattoo/ Nothing Strange/ Portland Bill/ King of Carrot Flowers/ Borrowed View/Who Trains The Trainer?

nb: I wasn’t going to play Obligatory Tattoo, but someone shouts out for it! It turns out (I think) to be Other Mick from north London outfit, Delicate Elephant, who I hadn’t seen since 92! This only becomes apparent when a drunken Gavin ‘Delicate’ Elephant staggers front of stage and collapses into the support band’s drum kit!

18th December 2017 (South Shields)

Across the river to meet JL at The Alamo after work. We haven’t seen each other since summer. She looks as ace and beautiful as always, in grey woollen dungarees, brogues, silk blouse with huge collars and obligatory red scarf tied in her hair. I see that she no longer wears her ring and this only makes me feel uncomfortable as I am wearing mine. While she goes to the toilet I slip it onto my right hand, but that feels odd so I put it back on my left hand. I have large G&T and she has lime & soda! She presents her full-on Marxist front (there is no escape from this subject). Everything, she tells me, needs to be hard work; life, thought, ideas, fun, et cetera. We say goodbye at the ferry and I go home feeling quite sad and sorry. But I cannot help but be annoyed at her all consuming socialism. She says that J. Corbyn is all she thinks about and this only makes me giggle and become sadder! As we part I give her a painting and a card for Christmas. She says, “I haven’t done cards this year. It’s such commercial rubbish.” Well, we all know that, dear, I say. A thank you is not forthcoming. On the ferry, South Shields shrinking thankfully into the dark, I think, if this is the face of our future socialist world then, comrade, we are doomed!

18th December 2020 (Whitley Bay)

Knackered. Though inevitable, the Christmas rush at the fringe factory catches me off-guard yet again. One would imagine that after 35 years of chopping hair I would be ready for such a thing – but, not. It’s a slow build with a sudden high rise. I had last Wednesday off – went to town – bought a couple of things and returned home. This was the first day off in over a fortnight. I suppose that I have to admit that age comes into the equation, but on top of this a strong work ethic, a vague preparation for the (uncertain) coming winter months and an emotional heart play into the scenario. It gets to this point in December and I have to stay focused; I tell myself one more week and then I can take some time out. This year is harder for everyone. Also, I have grown used to the sporadic lockdowns – I like them…despite the obvious pitfalls.

“The Chinese definitely manufactured the virus,” says one of my clients. “But it got a little out of hand.” The first part of this I hear on a fairly regular basis. But, “it got a little out of hand” does make me chuckle!

Also at work… Darren Hayman’s ‘1976’ comes on the shuffle. One punter, just picking up on the lyric, says, “Ah, nineteen seventy six is one of my most memorable years.”

“Me, too,” I say. “The summer of 76.”

He looks baffled by this. “No,” he says. “It was the year I lost my leg.”

“Really? I never noticed,” I say. “Which one?”

He is a squat, balding man with English teeth. He smokes Sterling Menthols (“I share them with my missus. She started again after her dad died. You have to squeeze the filter to release the minty” – itself an offence to smoking). He is approximately mid-sixties. Up until this point I had always imagined him to have the requisite two legs… though I’d never enquired.

He taps his right leg.

It was February and the sun was low. He had just purchased a Suzuki 250 and was having a quick burn around the town before heading off to Germany the following day for a bike tour with his mates. He had slowed for a car at a junction, let that one go, but a second car appeared and took him out. “My leg was hanging off just below the knee by a shred of skin.”

“How was Germany?”

“I didn’t go.”


Later, the same track comes up again and another punter says, “Is this Darren Hayman?”

Perhaps, the long time hardest working man in lo-fi show business is finally getting the kudos he deserves?

10 thoughts on “Notes from a Fragile Island. 8

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