An Announcement

Hi Everyone.

I don’t know how you all feel, but I think it is time for us to start writing here again as a tribute to Paul.

Let me know what you think, or just start posting.

Much love.

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Don’t Look Back

Don’t Look Back

There was a Peach Melba once that has never been equalled. I had it as a boy during a Christmas trip to Paris. The details of the drive to Paris, the hotel, the shops, The Mona Lisa in the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and Midnight Mass at The Notre Dame Cathedral are all as nothing compared to that sumptuous ice cream and fruit dessert. Ever since, I have been disappointed by so-called Peach Melbas which fail to live up to that memory.

However, I try to keep memories in perspective. ‘At least I’ve got my memories,’ is a common piece of self-consolation. But the knowledge that those events and people are all in the past and physically irretrievable seems to me an acute reason for wistfulness. And I have no desire to make myself any more wistful than usual.
Memories, though, are unavoidable little mental phantoms that seem to have lives of their own. So, even though you may not be searching the cerebral databanks, images and words may still be mysteriously downloaded into your consciousness while you are on a train, eating your cereal or even while enjoying unbridled sex (with a horse).

My earliest memory is of the blazing neon sign ‘ODEON’ which I could see through the window of Great Ormond Street Hospital where I was, for a short while, as a toddler. To this very day, a sight of that cinema brings back the atmosphere of that mysterious time. I can recall my bed in the corner of the ward with its thick brown blankets, the soup which, I was assured, was ‘making me better’ and my parents’ visits.

Everyone’s teenage years are rich with experiences. Dances and discos were the preoccupation of every teenager from Friday to Sunday every week. I remember meeting my first ‘girlfriend’ at a school disco where the naive and rather over-ambitious disc-jockey thought that ‘Twenty-First Century Schizoid Man’ by the underground, Tolkeinesque electro-progressive rock group, King Crimson, was a suitable choice for dancing to (it isn’t, despite being a great piece of music). This was an old-fashioned relationship in that it was mostly a weekly liaison on a sort of hand-holding level. This wasn’t first love or even, first lust. It was more like first curiosity. A curiosity which was well past its sell-by date three months later when we mutually agreed to call it off. I wanted to talk about UFOs, time travel, the occult and rock music but she kept banging on about the three-day week and the power- cuts. The irony is that she’s now a well-respected magazine editor at Condé Nast, while I’m, well, not.

As a keen people watcher, I have seen things that would raise more than an eyebrow.

The shabby vagrant emitting a powerful fountain of urine in the middle of a crowded Charing Cross Road. The refined-looking lady responding with a laugh and a ‘Good Lord!’

On a bus , there was a strange thin woman with no hair or eyelashes. Her eyes were peculiarly colourless and there was a definite smell of fish. She was dressed in some sort of loose fitting overalls a bit like a uniform. During my days of alien-investigating this seemed like proof positive that extra-terrestrials had landed and were now trying to take over without being spotted.

On a train, the young woman in tight denims stood to leave and, in doing so, firmly placed her hands on my knees whilst looking me directly in the eyes. As a gawky teenager, I had no idea what this meant (despite the fact that I had been reading my biology textbook at the time) but I have spent many an idle second or two since then speculating on what might have happened if I’d got up and followed her. She’d have probably reported me to the police – whose story would they have been likely to believe?

In the sea, off Cyprus, I came across a drowned woman. I had been exploring the shallows with my goggles and snorkel and then, there she was. At first, it looked like her hands were moving in some conscious motion, but I soon realised all was not well. I grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her over to be greeted by a violent spurt of foam and saliva from her nostrils and mouth. Her skin was ice-cold and the palest shade of violet. By this time, the boat hire men had spotted the scene and raced to be of assistance. She was given mouth-to-mouth and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and was eventually taken to hospital. To this day, I do not know whether she survived.

And what about the time I was stabbed in the neck by leather-jacketed thugs? Almost went through the artery. That brings back a shudder.

Oh yes, adventures, romances, disappointments, triumphs, tragedies, mysteries, fights and illnesses. They’re all there in the biological RAM but it’s not a territory I am keen to linger in for long. Except, perhaps, for that Peach Melba.

Dust To Dust

When I gaze at the stars I realise how significant I am. A well-known comedian’s banter, perhaps, but, nonetheless all too true. It is the small things which have the most impact. It’s amazing how fast hard skin forms on feet. Out of the many useless projects undertaken by scientists the most endearing was one in which they discovered that human feet tastes like limburger cheese. I live in hope that pasta lovers suddenly convert from parmesan to limburger. With my limitless supply I’ll be quids in.

There are other things on the carpet apart from several piles of foot shavings. And not only on the bathroom floor. On tables, shelves, the computer monitor, the keyboard. The accumulation of dust proceeds at a pace that is in inverse proportion to one’s inclination to wipe it away. The shelf I spent half an hour (well, fifteen minutes, actually, oh alright five minutes) dusting, washing and polishing just two days ago is now under a completely smooth veneer of dull dust. You never see it happening. Despite best efforts to cut it off at source by hoovering carpets, curtains and under sofa cushions, this silent, marauding army of nomadic molecules descends, from nowhere, onto all horizontal surfaces like a population of microscopic travelling tinkers.

Dust is mostly the remnants of human skin. But don’t worry. All that dust is not just from you and your family. Some of it belongs to strangers who once lived and, possibly, died in your house. A lot of it just wanders in through the cracks around your windows, so you are sharing your house with a lot of squatters, dead and alive. Although you wouldn’t know it, your house could be home to some celebrated remains.

That’s why I never wipe Frank Zappa off my guitar. He was one type of star who made me feel insignificant, yet enriched by the boundless virtuosity of his musicianship and lyric writing. When asked, in an interview, how he would like to be remembered, he gave the completely characteristic and awe-inspiring reply, ‘I don’t give a fuck if I’m remembered or not.’

Such scorn in the face of mortality is unnerving. And you realise how close you are with the knowledge that you carry death with you wherever you go. The top layer of your skin, your hair, your nails, corns and bunions have actually shuffled off their mortal coils. One begins to see even more meaning in Leonard Cohen’s song “Dress Rehearsal Rag” in which he describes the experience of a bleary-eyed shave: ‘That’s a funeral in the mirror and it’s stopping at your face.’ Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.