I Feel Fine

I’m always running. Today, I’m running home for lunch, from my Infants School (St. Christopher’s). I’m in short trousers, school shoes, socks. I’m crossing the Luton Road, running. There’s probably a lollypop man, or woman, even at lunchtime. This is the 60s, the era of full employment under a Labour government. I’m running past Farrow’s the corner shop, and turning into Allenby Avenue, and I’m frozen there. All the way home, in my head, I’m humming the riff from the Beatles’ single “I Feel Fine”, which was released in November 1964, a week or so before my second birthday. I only know the riff, then, the intro, don’t even know the words of the song or what it’s called.

I must be six, seven years old. My big sisters are at Highfields, the junior school. My even bigger sisters are at the local Secondary Modern, and my big brother? Might have been at school, may even have left home by then. I’m the last one at St. Christopher’s. I’m the only one to come home for lunch, I think. If I’m that old, it must be 1969, 1970, so who knows why that riff is in my head. I must have heard it, of course, at some point between 1964 and 1970. I do have a faint memory of being at a party with my older siblings, at a house on the Luton Road, maybe, and I remember being very small and very young and dancing the Twist. So perhaps I heard ‘I Feel Fine’ at that party.

It may even have been in the house, that single, though it wasn’t in the small pile of Beatles singles I co-opted when I hit my teens and became obsessed with them. So if it was ever in the house, it wasn’t anymore. Maybe it left with one of the older siblings, the half siblings. I think my older brother left home for the first time when he was sixteen, so he may already have been gone by then. My oldest sisters, the twins, were both married young, there or thereabouts.

This is a flashbulb memory. Don DeLillo called them that, in his novel Underworld. I don’t remember leaving school, why I was the one going home for lunch. I don’t remember passing Highfields, or whether there really was a lollypop man, or woman, on duty at lunchtime. I don’t remember reaching the top of Allenby Avenue, or getting home, or what I had for lunch, or what I did there at home. I’m frozen in space and time, running posture, feet off the ground, guitar riff in my head.

A moment of sadness

Just spent an odd few minutes looking at my first ever blog, long abandoned, and it made me kind of sad, because it actually was, in many ways, a really special place.

I say that not on my account, but because of the fact that it was a collaborative blog, which at least four other contributors, and, amazingly, regular readers and commenters.

It was 13 years ago that I jacked it in. I don’t exactly regret it (it was definitely time to move on, as I was in full moving-on mode back then) but I did make a bit of a hash of moving on. See, as I was the founding member, I was the one with administrative access, and when I deleted myself, I also made it impossible to, for example, go in and delete a spam comment.

The stopped posting soon after I did, and some of them deleted their posts so they’re not even there any more. We were all coming under pressure at work (the old job) with lots of Clamping Down going on. It was inevitable.

Google should really delete old abandoned blogs because the comment sections are ideal places for people to exchange nefarious messages. You know, like the old computer game chats you see in TV shows like Jack Ryan.

Anyway, it was a lovely blog because of the collaborating, and the way that we each would feed off each other’s posts. It made me sad to go back and see it in effect, and it made this blog feel like an even lonelier place. My posts remain over there, but because I deleted myself, I am designated as bot37363838. As a tribute to that old blog, I am posting this without an image attached to it.

Imaginary Beatles albums

In Stephen Baxter’s 1998 alternate history short story “The Twelfth Album”, there’s an imaginary Beatles album called God. There are twelve tracks:

  1. Give Me Some Truth
  2. It Don’t Come Easy
  3. Every Night
  4. All Things Must Pass
  5. Child of Nature (Jealous Guy)
  6. Back Seat of My Car
  7. Instant Karma!
  8. Isn’t It a Pity
  9. Junk
  10. Wah-Wah
  11. God
  12. Maybe I’m Amazed

There are other aspects to Baxter’s story that lend it a elegaic but creepy atmosphere. The Earth from which God comes has been destroyed by cometary impact, but somehow a copy has crossed through a portal into our world. On this record, it’s John who sings the lead vocal on “Maybe I’m Amazed”. It’s the twelfth album because Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine don’t count.

This guy’s imaginary album has the title they briefly considered for Abbey Road (Everest). But he’s also made it a double, and I don’t think that’s right.

I’ve tried a couple of times to make a satisfactory compilation, but I always end up disappointed. You really need to use your imagination and hold onto your faith that the Beatles together were greater than the sum of their parts. Because, really? The Beatles solo has always left me a little flat. I used to own Shaved Fish, the mid-70s Lennon compilation, and I did like his Rock ‘n’ Roll record of cover versions. But McCartney? Oh dear. So much dreck. So little quality control. Even “Maybe I’m Amazed” needs an editor (and Ringo). A lot of McCartney’s solo stuff goes on beyond its welcome. Even “With a Little Luck”, which I like, doesn’t know when it’s finished.

My own Imaginary (which doesn’t even have “Imagine” on it):

  1. Instant Karma!
  2. What is Life
  3. Another Day
  4. I Found Out
  5. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
  6. Isn’t It a Pity
  7. It Don’t Come Easy
  8. Remember
  9. My Sweet Lord
  10. Every Night
  11. Wah-Wah
  12. God
  13. Maybe I’m Amazed

At 56 minutes, it’s way too long. Make “My Sweet Lord” a single and take off the lengthy “Isn’t it a Pity” and you’ve got a more manageable 44 minutes and George is down to two songs, instead of the four they kind of agreed in that 1969 board meeting..

But it’s a problem, isn’t it, because even when you put it together and squeeze really hard on your imagination muscles, none of it sounds very Beatleish. Paul’s drumming is wet and sloppy, his bass mixed too high.. George’s voice is buried deep in the mix. Lennon’s turned up the vocal echo to the max.

A 1971 album might have been a bit better, with some of George’s All Things Must Pass and Lennon and Ringo both producing strong songs. But Paul is still noodling around and producing stuff which, with the best will in the world, will take about 40 years to grow on people.

What would have happened? I don’t think Let it Be would have seen the light of day (apart from the single, and “Get Back”, also on a single). So the Beatles would have abandoned it and moved on. Maybe, if not for Klein, they’d have reconvened without suing each other, so another thing I’ve imagined is that 1973/4 era album, the one that has “Band on the Run” on it:

  1. Mind Games
  2. Country Dreamer
  3. Back off Boogaloo
  4. Old Dirt Road
  5. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
  6. Jet
  7. Photograph
  8. Band on the Run
  9. Hi, Hi, Hi
  10. Ding Dong, Ding Dong
  11. Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)
  12. #9 Dream

Again, slightly too long. So maybe lose “Boogaloo” (which, from 1972, is too early, a standalone single), and potentially “Hi Hi Hi” (too glam) and “Nobody Loves You”, just for balance and democracy (and it’s a bit of a downer). Or just leave it at 49 minutes.

I like this album much better. “Band on the Run” is an authentic classic, and I really like “Mind Games”, and Lennon under the influence of Nilsson is interesting. “Country Dreamer” is something like the Beatles for Sale era and “Photograph” is Ringo’s best solo number. I originally included George’s “Dark Horse”, but whereas he was the strongest back in 1970, he was not in a good way by ’74, and his voice sounds broken, whereas Paul’s is reaching its peak. So back to just two George songs. Funny how that always happens.

I don’t think I’ve put enough thought into sequencing. I love “Band on the Run” but it has a bit of a weak ending, so I put “#9 Dream” at the end, but now Lennon both opens and closes the record, so who knows?

Sleep no more

I went to the doctor (again) about my ongoing sleeping issues. In some ways, I always feel a bit of a phoney because it’s not that I have trouble getting to sleep. It’s often head-pillow-gone. But the problem is that I am a very light sleeper and also seem locked in a pattern of waking too early and not being able to get off again. This means I’m “losing” between 90 minutes and two hours of sleep almost every night. Can you really lose what you never had?

Am I like Mrs Thatcher, the tyrant, who reportedly didn’t need much sleep? I don’t think so. I often feel zonked throughout the day, and after two or three bad nights I am sometimes muddled in my head and make uncharacteristic mistakes.

What’s behind all this? A side-effect of age? Anxiety? Depression? I think I am tightly wound. And my sleep is always much, much worse if I have something, no matter how minor, on my mind.

This week, for example, I was taking the car in for a Big Service. I knew how much it was going to cost. I knew all the things that needed doing. I knew I could drop it off at 8, and that a friend would pick me up and would never let me down. I knew I was not going to be late to work, although a bit later than usual, and that I had no reason to be there so early anyway. And yet, my sleep was disrupted and I had a terrible night, worse even than usual.

As to the light sleeper part, just about anything in the night will wake me. The pitter patter of tiny cat feet. Hissing in the pipes. My youngest, up and down all night with her own sleep problems. The fucking milkman turning up at the fucking school next door at fucking 4 a.m. and leaving his fucking engine running while he clanks the fucking gate open. This last is an almost daily occurrence.

So I went to the doctor (again) and she asked, how long has this been going on? A couple of years, at least, I estimated. She looked at my records. Well, you were here about it in 2015, she said. Oh, right. So four years. And a year or so before that, because what man goes to the doctor straight away?

Back then, I had a couple of courses of sleeping tablets, and these sort of worked, but nobody wants you to have them full time. Then (ano)the(r) doctor put me on Sertraline, antidepressants, and these did not work, although they seemed to trigger something, which is eczema, which I have had ever since, even though I stopped taking the Sertraline. 

And the eczema was a side-quest all by itself, leading me into a glutard diet (which worked until it didn’t) and  all kinds of other symptoms, such as my eczema related watering eyes.

My suspicion? Eczema and sleeplessness both stress related, always worse when the pressure ramps up at work. I’m a teacher and the main source of stress is not the students but management, who can’t watch you constantly in the classroom being good at your job and instead want to measure your performance by piling on pointless but quantifiable admin tasks.

So I went to the doctor (again), and she suggested CBT, which I did suspect might be my long-term solution. There’s an online app called Sleepio, which asks you a bunch of questions, and then (as a first step) asks you to keep a sleep diary.

A sleep diary.

Something to do.

Something on my mind.

So of course, first night, I’m tightly wound, ready to record, make note of, clock, the comings and goings of my sleep. 

Which doesn’t come. Went to bed, early, to read. Read for about 45 minutes. Tried to sleep. How long does it take you to fall asleep? Five minutes? Fifteen? Ninety minutes later, I give up and get up and go downstairs to sleep on the couch. This often works. Because the bedroom is associated with not sleeping, but the couch is associated with lovely afternoon naps to the soporific drift of Melvin Bragg’s voice. Two hours later, I give up and go back to bed.

Throughout all this, my mind is racing, tumbling through pointless pinballing ponderings, and my body starts itching all over, attack of the 50-foot eczema. None of this, of course, is unusual when you start keeping your Sleep Diary. Because keeping a sleep diary means that you milk your sleep dairy dry.

Finally, I suspect a good while after 3 a.m., I am asleep until the alarm goes off at six. I had intended to go to work, but no. Three rough nights in a row. My eyes are gritty and I feel as if I’ve been kicked in the head. Three hours sleep.

Day two…

Generation Moi

I often think about the generations thing. For marketing and media purposes, we always hear a lot about Millenniums and Gen Z etc., and our culture war is everybody against the boomers. But what really is a generation? Does the concept really exist beyond the media? For me, trying to work it all out by dates doesn’t work.

When I first read Coupland’s Generation X in 1992, I thought it spoke to me directly. I really felt keenly that sense of invisibility that Coupland captured with the capital X. That invisibility has been borne out in the years since. The culture war is presented as Millenniums vs The Boomers, for example, with the intervening X ignored, as ever. The boomers cling on to their privilege, and take it upon themselves to attack youngsters like Greta Thunberg as a threat to their way of life. So that’s now Boomers vs. Gen Z, if the Millenniums are Y. And nobody, as ever, really notices X.

Let’s look at those dates. I’m going to arbitrarily (?) assume a generation is 16 years, because, well. My mum was knocked up at 15 and had her first at 16, so I guess that’s why. 16 is an age at which people can/could join the army, get knocked up consensually etc.

  • Baby Boomers: 1946–1962
  • Generation: X 1963–1979
  • Gen Y/Millenniums: 1980–1996
  • Gen Z, Greta’s people: 1997–2013
  • Gen ᚦ, the people of the Runic Thorn: 2014–

I said above it doesn’t work for me. This is for a couple of reasons. First, I strongly identify with Gen X, and yet my year of birth (1962) places me at the arse end of the boomers. And, self-evidently, December of 1962 is a grey area of transition, and there’s no real reason that generations have to be measured in whole years, especially as the (VE-day) post-war baby boom necessarily would have started around February of 1946, or a bit later in the case of the Pacific theatre, or even earlier in the case of premature births.

The water gets even murkier when you want to pin-point cultural moments. Sexual intercourse began, says Larkin, in 1963. So how old did you have to be in 1963 for that to be the beginning of your kingfisher days? If we say 16, then, sure, bang on the Baby Boom time-line. But when did you first get massively into music? 14? 13? In other words, we could push the Boomers into 1950 and assign everything before “the Beatles’ first LP” to the previous generation, the War Babies. Lennon was 16 in 1956 and no way were he and Ringo Boomers, born as they were in 1940, the last year of the 1930s.

And what do we call the generation before the Boomers? “War Babies” seems inadequate. But “Greatest Generation” were the ones fighting the war, often the parents of both the “War Babies” and the Boomers. It’s all very confusing.

A second reason I object to these dates is that, according to them, within my own family I have older siblings who are Boomers and a younger sibling who is (firmly) Gen X, and I’m somehow stuck in the middle.

Which leads me to my further thought, that which generation you are depends not on dates but on your parents. After all, the only context in which the word makes sense is to do with parents and their children.

If your parents were old enough to be making babies as soon as WW2 ended, then you’re a Boomer. But my parents most definitely were not. My mother, who started early, was knocked up, I think, in 1952. So she’s neither a Boomer nor a Greatest Generation, but some other, weird, missing demographic, Generation V (making the Boomers W, natch). All of which is terrible because I’m sure Coupland wasn’t really thinking of the letter X but rather of the xxx of an overtyped mistake, an elision.

Generation V = Generation elVis, or Vanished, as they’re another invisible one, like their children. Hmm… It seems that the noisy and visible generations beget noisy and visible generations (Boomers to Millenniums), whereas the quietly despairing invisible generations beget more invisibles (V to X; vanished to elided).

So my parents were Gen V, making me Gen X. Whereas if your parents were Gen U (Greatest Generation, U for Uniform), then you are a Boomer (Gen W). And if your parents are Boomers, then you’re a Millennium (Gen WhY); whereas if your parents are Gen X, like my kids, then you’re Gen Zed.

All of this makes perfect sense, and I’m happy to have cleared up any confusion. I feel this is important sociological work.

Band Made – part 1

Stevie with the MD441

I’ve been reading Mark Lewisohn’s book Tune In, the first in a planned trilogy about the Beatles, which takes the story up to 1962, the year I was born. I’ll have more to say on that later, but it surfaced a lot of memories for me, which were sharpened by this week’s Roderick on the Line podcast, in which John talks about his own experience of starting bands.

One of the things Roderick says is that boys who think playing a guitar will get them the girls are wrong. As Bruce Springsteen himself points out in his autobiography, it was the dance moves that counted for much much more than the guitars.

When I think back to my own teenage years, the picking up of the guitar, I don’t believe I was thinking at all about girls. I just wanted to be in a band. But unlike anyone who ever made a success of it, I clearly didn’t have the drive or ambition to make it happen, not properly. My first guitar was purchased on the front doorstep for £10. It was a made-in-Japan classical acoustic, which ought to have had nylon strings, but which arrived with steel strings fitted. Concerned these would warp the neck, I soon replaced them with nylons, but this “Woolies special” was never particularly easy to play. It had been advertised in the local paper, and a phonecall later, the owner – having run all the way down our road with it – was at the front door. A cursory inspection (what did I know?) and it was mine.

It wasn’t worth £10.

I had a learn-to-play book, which encouraged you to paint your fingernails with different coloured polish so as to get the positioning right. I never did succeed in playing any of the songs in the book, but after a short time started to write my own. I would say I probably mastered the open chord shapes but never did manage to play a bar chord without buzzing.

My best friend Jim and I had always dreamed of having a band, which was never quite as great as our vision for it. It was only when he came round one evening with a song he’d written that things kicked off. Jim would go through periods of coming round with regularity – on a Wednesday evening, say – and then after a while he’d stop for some reason, and I might not see him for months on end. Usually, to be fair, when he had a new girlfriend to entertain. In terms of the band, it was always important to me that he was the first to write a song, but I was disappointed ever-afterwards because he never wrote any more, and we weren’t able to collaborate together like the songwriting duo I wished we were.

Once he’d written one, and I realised what was possible, I quickly started writing my own. And one of the reasons I couldn’t collaborate was that I worked too quickly. By the following week, I’d written my first (‘In My Heart’), and a week after that, my second (‘Is It Any Wonder?’). I would present these to him on a Wednesday evening, desperate for his approval, never sure I’d created anything as good as his first song. This was around the turn of 1982 to 1983. I was in the full throes of my affair with Kim, on an emotional rollercoaster that moved so rapidly that I was going from ‘The Girl in White Tights’ to ‘The Remembering Song’, which is to say from the excitement of initial attraction to the despair of a break-up, in the space of a fortnight (and back and forth again, and again, for about a year).

Some writing sessions are such vivid flashbulb memories that I don’t think I’ll ever forget them. ‘The Remembering Song’ was written, more or less, in the time it took to play it through once. Sure, I paused to scribble down the lyrics in an illegible scrawl, but that took almost no time at all. I was sitting on the edge of my bed, pad of paper to my right, guitar across my knees, and the perfume-imbued scarf (referred to in the song) behind me.

In 1982, Springsteen released Nebraska, his home-recorded album of what might have been demos for a full studio record, and the existence of home 4-track recorders was known. It was known. And, after a while, it turned out that my future brother-in-law Pete had somehow got hold of one. Springsteen’s was a TEAC, I believe, and Pete had a Fostex. Already in a band, he had connections with a music shop and a lot of ‘demo’ kit passed through his hands. So he had an early drum machine as well as the 4-track cassette recorder, and a decent selection of microphones, including a Sennheiser MD 441, which was and is a pretty fucking good dynamic microphone with a unique appearance – a legend, in fact, considered by some to be the finest vocal and instrument dynamic mic ever made. It wasn’t a condenser microphone, not a Neumann, but it had a clarity and accuracy that made it really special, far superior to the Shure SM 58 which is the most commonly used dynamic vocal microphone.

I’ve had a fetish for microphones ever since.

The 4-track cassette recorder was a work of genius, using a technology that came and went in a period of 40 years, and has since been replaced with the smartphone/iPod generation of gadgets. Cassettes came in a variety of capacities, but the most useful was the 90-minute version. The 120-minute tapes were generally unreliable (was the tape physically thinner? It broke easily) and the 60 minute variety too short to fit an album on each side. The sweet spot, mixtape central, was 90 minutes: 45 minutes per side, good enough to fit two vinyl albums, or a lovingly composed compilation, painstakingly recorded from individual tracks on your vinyl collection. You would sit for hours with LP sleeves spread around you on the floor, composing song sequences that were more than mere playlists.

The 4-track recorder worked like this. Take a 90 minute tape: it plays 45 minutes of stereo per side, but what if you played both sides all at once, in one direction? Then you could record 4 tracks for 45 minutes. But tape was a hissy medium. The sound the tape made as it moved over the playhead couldn’t be entirely eliminated. The Dolby system (B or C) removed some of the hiss but not all of it, and if used too aggressively could remove some of the ‘brightness’ or ‘presence’ of the vocals and instruments. You could mitigate some of the noise/hiss problems by recording on the tape at double its normal speed: 15 inches per second instead of 7.5. This reduced the length you could record to 22.5 minutes, but that was still enough to record up to seven 3-minute pop songs, one track at a time, which you could then mix down onto a regular tape recorder, and duplicate. So you’d end up with a master cassette of 4-track recordings, plus a stereo mixdown, and then second generation duplicates that you could distribute at gigs or give to your friends.

So Pete had a range of useful kit, but what he didn’t have, really, was a songwriter who was available on a regular basis on weekday nights to do a little bit of recording. And so it started, in 1984, the first recording sessions of Go Dog Go!, our band named after a P D Eastman (Dr Seuss) book, but with the punctuation removed for convenience.

(There was, much later, an American band called Go Dog Go, just as there was an American band called Toad The Wet Sprocket – the name of Pete’s original, heavy metal band – but fuck ‘em all. We were first.)

Jim and I had been using a double cassette boom box up till that point, and had in fact recorded his song on it, which was already circulating among our friends. Our first performance was in fact of that song, as unofficial support for another band who were playing at a club in Luton. I keep calling it his song or that song because I can’t remember its title. I know it had three chords and it started, ‘When I first saw you, I knew this time it was gonna be love…’ Not the most sophisticated lyrics, but it had a good melody and it made a virtue of its simplicity. Even after I’d written 50 other songs, I didn’t think any of them were as good as that. I really looked up to him for it, but (to my knowledge at least) he wrote no more.

Time for Bed, Boys

He and I started turning up at Pete’s house on a Wednesday evening for recording sessions. Jim didn’t want us to record his song, so we simply started with the most recent one I’d written, and over a few more weeks we recorded several others. My Woolies special wasn’t much cop for recording, so we borrowed a Fender acoustic for me to play, which eventually became mine by default. I think I paid a nominal fiver for it and I wish I still had it. I mean, it wasn’t brilliant, but it was better than anything else I had available. We’d recorded about five songs, including my earliest classic, ‘Like Natalie Wood’, when Jim just stopped turning up. The truth was, he wasn’t contributing much. As I was writing all the songs, I was playing the acoustic guitar, Pete supplied the bass and the drum programming, and all Jim had to do was sing with me. At first, I didn’t want to sing alone, and I guess neither did Jim. But when you hear our two voices blended together, you can’t tell us apart. When he stopped coming, I insisted for a while on being double-tracked, because I didn’t like the sound of my voice on its own. But after a while, I realised it sounded okay, and over many years I came to accept that my voice is perfectly pleasant.

If emotionless.

I don’t have a lot of range, and I always felt I went off pitch if I tried too hard, didn’t have the control, so that’s one reason I didn’t put a lot of emotion in my singing. The other reason was contextual, so it bears explaining.

Where I did struggle was with playing my guitar in time with the backing track supplied by the drum machine. The arguments have been well rehearsed over thirty years: it ain’t natural to play at exactly, say, 120 beats per minute for the whole length of a song. There’s a natural swing, a natural variation in tempo, that the metronomic drum machine stifles. I struggled then, and I still struggle now, though I’ve learned what you have to do. I still cringe when I hear my rhythm guitar drift slightly out of time on a couple of the tracks. So the guitar was wobbly, but the vocals, well, they were all right.

I was a teenager during the punk era, and I never did warm to the exceedingly angry style of singing of most punk singers. So for a start, I was singing with a smile on my face, which I think you can hear in my voice. There’s a kind of knowing wink there: doesn’t matter how sad or upset the words are, let’s not be one of those angry young people.

I loved Jonathan Richman’s sunny outlook and matter-of-fact expression. He never screamed or sounded mean. He was probably my main musical influence: not the Beatles, not the Stones, the Who, not Dylan or Bruce. Jonathan Richman is where I’m coming from.

So my affectless tone was a mixture of knowing my limitations and wanting things to be that way. Singing with emotion is a little like speaking French with a proper accent: couldn’t take it seriously enough to do it. 

Then there was the circumstances of the recording: usually in a room in a house where there were people downstairs, and so I felt properly inhibited and always self-conscious. Overall, I kind of wanted a neutral tone, so that the meaning of the song resided in the words themselves rather than in my performance. Which of course more or less goes against the whole history of popular music and I’m not pretending for a moment that I was onto something. It was an online review (written years after the fact of it) of our EP release, Welcome to Weston-Super-Mare, that described me as a ‘slightly emotionless singer’ – and that stings, it does, but I also own it. And even now whenever I listen to my old recordings, the bits I like the least are the moments when I allowed some emotion to enter my voice. That said, the tone is less neutral than, as I said above, knowing wink, and there was often a smile on my face as I recorded the vocal.

I wanted, really, for people to pay attention to the lyrics, which is hypocritical of me, as I rarely bother to do this nowadays myself. But I am proud of some of the songs I wrote, and some of the lines. I still hear them and think, that’s quite clever.

Though I probably peaked too early with, Operator, get me Weston-Super-Mare… Which was in one of the earliest songs I wrote.

So I continued to turn up on Wednesdays, and me and Pete continued to record, and he got his bandmate Curly (Mark Ridout) to come round to add some nice guitar on a couple of tracks (and Curly’s younger brother added piano to one), and after a few months, we started rehearsing together as a band, with a drummer (Olivier, who was half French, from Calais).

And, somehow, we got some gigs and played them.

(Part 2)

The water diviner

My brother-in-law has bought some land near to us here in France, and this is not his first rodeo. One of the things he did with his first house, built eighteen years ago in the village down the hill, was put in a geothermal heating system. Back then, there was almost no information about how to do this, and very little expertise, so he relied heavily on his own engineering genius, and succeeded in putting in a system that heats his home (with underfloor heating, natch) for a fraction of the price of a conventional boiler.

Nowadays, French building regulations have caught up with him, and everybody needs to build to a certain level of energy efficiency.

One of the things you need for a geothermal heating system is a source of water. 

When you have a plot of land and you want to know where to dig for water, you need a water diviner.

This guy, the guy we’re talking about, doesn’t use a switch of willow or dowsing rods. He uses his hands.

Before he became a water diviner, he was working for one of the large employers around here, and it came to pass that he got a new position with a new office. He moved into the office and started his new job, but he didn’t feel happy. He started to get depressed. Really depressed. It was something to do with the office, he thought, a bad vibe.

It turned out that the two previous occupants of that same office had also got depressed. And both of them had committed suicide.

The guy who would become a water diviner rearranged the furniture in the office, and things seemed to improve. The bad vibe was less present, but it didn’t go entirely away. So he quit, and decided to, ahem, try his hand at water divining.

So he came around to my brother-in-law’s new bit of land the other day, and suggested two places to dig. He’d brought his son with him. Just for fun, he got his son to see if he could work out where water was. The son said, “I feel something here, and I feel something stronger over here.”

He said it in French, obviously.

The water diviner suggested two places to dig. He said one was about eight meters down, and the other was deeper. He charges fees based on how far you have to dig. And if you find nothing, you just pay his expenses.

So we’ll see if he’s right about where to dig, but I’ve got a feeling in my own water that he almost certainly was.