Notes From a Fragile Island. 20

April 12 2016 (North Shields)

6am. Cycle to the lighthouse. The tide is low and it is a bright morning. Photograph the seals and some rocks and come home. Breakfast and play guitar all morning – After The Gold Rush, We Three, Starlings On the Slipstream and my new one (Jackdaws & Witches). I wonder if I have reached a plateau with my playing.

6pm. Dinner and pack and walk to the venue. Mike W is on holiday. Set up in the corner of the pub on the little makeshift stage. Alan Mc., George, The 2 Johns, Mike P and me. The pub fills up. George plays well, as does Mike P. My set is marred by a bad case of nerves brought on by not being able to find a sound. My voice is thin.

Because there are fewer of us playing this week Alan Mc. suggests that we all go round again and play another couple of songs. I feel that I will sit this out but when the call comes I take to the stage and plug in. Alan Mc. joins on drums and this settles me. For some reason I ditch my plectrum and play through a relaxed Tangled Up In Blue, Receipts, After The Gold Rush (again) and debut Jackdaws & Witches – which, taken by a great wave of calm, I begin in the chapel style!? This time around I am more relaxed; my breathing is easy and I have control of the mic.

Alan Mc., what a great guy: kind and professional and talented. He is always very encouraging. We chat briefly between sets about work and holidays and aches and pains! He talks quite freely about his two sons’ plights (divorce & drunkenness). He is very complimentary about Jackdaws & Witches and suggests that I try it with a capo on the 2nd fret as I may find my voice settles in a little better.

Midnight. Home and happy: the second set saving the first! Glass of wine. I play around with a capo and the whole thing shifts into a more pleasing shape. It is the sound of bronze (?). I think about the upcoming Onomatopoeia 10th anniversary gig in New Cross. It’ll be good to catch up with all those old faces.

jackdaws and witches/ cassettes

April 12 2019 (Banstead)

Queen Elisabeth Foundation. It is a great shock to see dad. The door to his room has a sign that reads William. I have never heard him referred to by this name, but the nurse tells me that he insists. He is so thin and is scrunched up in a ball at the wrong end of the bed-cum-cot. His legs poke through the slats and his feet look soft. He wears a nappy and a nightshirt. The bedsheets are spread with ripped up pieces of a calendar, the curly spine of which remains on the wall above his pillows. I think he recognises me.

His words are slow and jumbled. He tries to explain that he wants me to pull his legs further through the slats. But to what end? After some minutes I try to help him back up the ‘right’ way of the bed, but this makes him angry and confused. Sometimes his no means yes. Eventually, a nurse comes in. He pleads with her in a strange, alien voice – “Please. I beg…” His nappy is wet. “I will change him,” says the nurse. It is all very upsetting and I leave. She will not be able to change him back to how I remember him. As I pull the door behind me I hear him say (to her? Of me?), “What a waste.”

There is only so much to say in the car back to Whyteleafe. I am, I suppose, in shock. Mum turns on the radio and R. Stewart’s Maggie May begins. We both start to sing. Quietly at first. I ask her to turn it and soon we are singing at the tops of our voices.

April 12 2021 (Penn Beacon)

Back to work for the first time since late December. I am booked solid for the coming fortnight. It is always a surprise to me, a delight, that people, making quite an effort, return to have me cut their hair. Matt X is first at 8am. It feels odd to be back in my shop. Odd to be the hairdresser again after so long being…not.

There is a tone of voice, confessional, guilty, that people employ…”My partner cut my hair during lockdown…” It does make me giggle. Clipper sales must have gone through the roof this last year. I will see many disasters over the coming days. Generally, home haircuts have a spirit to them (in my eyes) that I admire or at least find reassuring in their shittiness. Sides are shaved, never balanced. Fringes are brutalised. Napes and hairlines dug like graves. Whole areas are completely missed or abandoned in panic.

One woman arrives and quite boldly announces that she will only need half a haircut as she has managed it herself. This kind of nonsense has to be quashed immediately. “Can you just fix the hairline for me at the back. I couldn’t quite do it myself.” A cursory inspection reveals a red and sore looking line, poker straight, running at a 45 degree angle from her nape to her occipital. Beneath the line her skin has been razored to resemble a chicken’s, above it is as if chewed by rodents. I laugh.

She tells me (in all seriousness) that she applies a strip of masking tape to her neck and that this enables her to use a razor/clipper to create a straight line. I have to admire the DIY nature of the English cheapskate. Of course, I tell her that I only do full haircuts as there is no way I could equal her work!

I have all intention of keeping back an hour for my lunch, but sometime around mid morning Janet arrives on a brief and rare visit to the town and wonders if I have a space for her. I tell her to come back at 1pm – thus cancelling my own lunch. Blahblahblah. I leave for home sometime around 8pm. This will become the pattern for the near future. It may not be the popular opinion but I look forward to the next wave…

40 thoughts on “Notes From a Fragile Island. 20

  1. thanks for the song and waste what does it mean? so many things, but how we see not through the eye but the ticker a son never a waste a waste that we cant be with our sons forever. great song M Reeves keep em coming xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 6am must be a nice but chilly cycle; I’m rarely out of bed at that time, although I had a night in my tent last week, that was chilly.

    Your tale about your dad reminds me somewhat of visiting my grandads, but singing with your mum seems like quite a nice moment to share, all considering, and a way to deal with your experience, together.

    I had a shock visiting one particular client during lockdown. I was used to him looking all prim and proper but he’d clearly given up and I think not even allowed his wife to give his hair a trim. I started growing mine long over ten years ago (an English cheapskate if you will), so I was ahead of everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I had to read that twice myself! Must’ve been a rare wholesome period for me! It’s pretty well served by cycle path/promenade (as you probably are no doubt aware with your UK tour?). The St Mary’s lighthouse is something of a draw for me – as with lighthouses generally. Portland Bill was my local as a kid, but on a stretch of about 10 miles here there are a handful. At certain points on the front 5 can be spotted, lending the coastline something of a chessboard effect.

      Yes, that was nice as that song is significant to the both of us from long ago. Thanks.

      Uh huh, I saw that your tresses were well established! Well done. I rather hope these times will bring back longer hair for men. I so detest the brutalist look of the many.

      Thanks for dropping by, Brian. A real treat.


    1. Will you be able to watch the Lyrids today, MM? I had all good intentions – well, vague intentions – of getting up before dawn to have a look, but obviously that didn’t happen! I was quite hopeful this time as the sky was clear – and then I read that the moon this time is too bright! LOL. Thank you. have a great day. xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Rick. First day back in the saddle – glad to be writing again. Hm, that last point – perhaps a little cavalier on my behalf! But I did take to the quieter, more productive days! Oh, well. Onwards. Have a great day.


  3. 8:10 pm
    I like jackdaws and witches. Well sung indeed. 🙂
    I’m glad that you and your mum could sing, after the moment with your dad. I’ve had a few of those. They stay with you.
    Sounds like you’ll be living plenty of stories being back at work now. 🙂
    Take care, suzanne x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That new song of yours is lovely. _(I am very fond of my capo too..).Ouch to the hair cutting disasters…I hope you managed to fix the damage. Not sure what anyone could do with a skinned chicken though…Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think you’ve posted “Jackdaws and Witches” before? It was good to listen to it again. I’m sorry you had to go through that with your dad. It’s just heart-wrenching to watch a parent decline.

    It must not be fun to try and fix someone else’s bad haircut, particularly if they did it themselves. I’m very persnickety about whom I let cut my hair, the last person to do it being me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well spotted! I think I have several different recordings of J&W – a symptom of my editing/returning twitch!

      re: decline. Yes, a lot to take onboard; a new spiritual problem to unravel – reminding, at once, that we are all children. Children with adult conundrums.

      In a strange way I quite enjoy fixing DIY cuts – a form of editing? – There is a certain thrill and joy in seeing someone cutting their own hair – if only because it reminds me that I have developed many skills over several decades: an arcana! 🙂 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The song played in my head until I went to bed in the wee hours of the morning, a testament to its staying power!

        When my parents became so ill at the last, my inner child couldn’t help but feel betrayed.

        Isn’t that funny that you think of fixing DIY haircuts as editing! The reason I don’t take scissors to my own hair is that I know how much skill it takes to do it well–and I don’t have it!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. So loved reading this post Nick; funny, deeply moving, very human, And great to hear the sound recording, it’s a terrific song to accompany my breakfast-making this morning 😀.
    My partner cut my hair during lockdown , I’m sorry 😆. Glad to hear it’s busy again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Phil!
      Please don’t apologise! I find some odd thrill in seeing other people’s attempts at haircutting – they only reinforce and remind me of skills that become, not forgotten about, but taken for granted.

      Yes, busy! It’s a, ahem, growing business 😉
      Have a lovely Sunday!

      Liked by 1 person

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