Tag Archives: music

The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun.

I’ve been meaning to get around to writing something a bit less ‘oh mama, can this really be the end?’ around here, something rather more reflective of my usual generally pretty chipper life and times. Only, over the last few weeks, life hasn’t been the usual, not really. It’s been just stressful and angry, lonely and hard, missing persons, and pretty awful overall, with bright spots cast by the wonderful people I try to surround myself with and by climbing high enough to get above the fog (literally, but also a painfully obvious metaphor, no?).
Also the damn wind won’t stop blowing, which I hate. It makes cycling, and indeed walking in the ‘wrong’ direction, feel like a chore – it can’t have been like this last April when I first got Leon (yes, I have been a cyclist for one year and one day!), now it just feels awfully inexhaustible, and exhausting. Although I have just recently gone caffeine-neutral as an experiment, so that might also not be helping. It is not good!

Anyway – to write, you need some inspiration, and I’ll be honest, I am truly spoiled for it. It’s spring and I’m springin Edinburgh where so much of the city is bordered in fantastic vivid sap green, everything that was so sad just a few weeks ago, so bleak and dried-up, has come to life and it’s all bursting with newness and potential. I guess that this is almost the best time of the year for that. Bright sunlight streaming dappled through these many leaves feels like a real blessing, all the better for its having been away so long. I hope I never lose the delight of witnessing this annual return to life. I mean, it’s been 25 years and, just as Samir said the other week, it just seems to get more miraculous and joyful each time, not less.

Apart from leaves, there’s friends and art. The quietly wonderful James Robertson, who I’m lucky enough to know in a professional capacity, brought a breath of fresh air, and the word ‘bawheidedness’, into the quiet of the Scottish Poetry Library (which is in itself a very excellent thing) with a bubblingly brilliant reading from the two latest pamphlets from his press, Kettillonia. Again, that warm feeling, like springtime, of newness out of the old, surprises out of the familiar.  Gordon Dargie read powerfully and passionately, and often funnily, of youth and young manhood; James read reflectively and raptly, soft echoes resounding in his words of lives past, glowing, glints.

He was kind enough to insist on presenting me with a copy of his book which I’d expressed an interest in. It’s gorgeous. I probably should read rather more contemporary fiction. Off the top of my head, novels that I’ve read that were originally published in the past ten years: Everything is Illuminated, if nobody speaks of remarkable things, The Good Mayor, and now half of James’ novel The Testament of Gideon Mack. I’ve enjoyed them all, in different ways. I’m sure there must be some others I’m forgetting (oh, something by Will Self, but those are all the same really), but yeah, the point is, I don’t do it much. There’s always just so many books I want to read and most of them aren’t contemporary, not really, now that the twentieth century’s been and gone. I suppose in a way that puts García Márquez, Heller, Kundera into the ever-stretching bracket of [the past] with the classics and epics; what chance do I have against the weight of all the past and all that’s never done nor dusted?

But to get to what was supposed to be the point: now there’s something that’s kept me inspired, kept spinning in my head, filling up those dry old channels which are usually full of crust and crud like thinking about work, conversations I have had, I might have, I didn’t have, wondering what people are doing, thinking, wondering what I’m going to have for tea tonight. These mental arteries like drought-stricken, dusty riverbeds are now green and overgrown (like the fantastic, lush peace of the huge half-forgotten cemetery, full of bluebells and birdsong, that I climbed into on Monday with Sarah) with thoughts of essential music, rhythms and patterns, colours; thoughts of Wounded Knee.

Wounded Knee is a downright incredible dude. For one thing, he’s amazing at communicating – getting across what he’s thinking and feeling to his audience, which is what makes him such a different prospect from an evening with most artists. I think it’s fair to say that the phrase ‘audience participation’ usually strikes a chilling chord of fear and horror in the hearts of all right-minded people (it was ruined at an early age by the multifaceted badness that was schools’ theatre), but somehow WK manages to make this feel like collaboration rather than participation, something much more natural and joyful, like connection. The bowling ball song and the birdsong, and ramsons (one of my favourite words and definitely one of my favourite smells, it’s a long story, but they’re the wonderful smell of the Hermitage in spring and summer, the cycle paths, the burn, the cemetery too, and I’ve long thought they’re the smell I will most miss if I ever go and live elsewhere. I’ve never been anywhere else where it’s so easy to surround yourself with that wonderful fresh greenness in the middle of a real, populated city). The sound, the fury, the sheer cathartic noise of a room full of young people really thinking about testicular cancer; screaming, a gong. Being more than the sum of our parts. The awareness, somewhere in the sidelines, of how odd it might look, if I could be outside looking in at myself, to be so rapt – wrapped – in the depth and sincerity and resonance of the unamplified songs of a man in purple underpants standing by a white wall.

The first time I saw Wounded Knee it was like falling down the rabbit-hole. It’s just like that, I guess, with the tangible texture and growth of his sound using loop pedals; the surprise of hearing something I never had heard —

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her, and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything: then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves: here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs.

but this time, at the second Downsizesound, there was no electricity and no loops, it was more level, all of our many feet remaining on the ground, but a feeling more like finding yourself in a secret green glade – a blossoming arbour or a mossy clearing in a vibrant old forest – with one you just realised you love. Tapping in to something bigger and older and darker and more alive than any of us. Sharing time and sounds and silence. And knowing what someone means, or getting the impression that you know, insofar as we ever can know what anyone means, is just unbeatable.

Alasdair Roberts did wonderful things with words. I’m no music critic (as you’ll have noticed) and don’t really know how much I can say about him other than to say it’s really not often I come away from a gig thinking ‘that must be a bit what it must be like if you could be in a very small intimate space with some of the Decemberists’, or ‘that must have been a bit what it was like to see a young Bob Dylan’, and definitely not both at once, but this is what I thought about him. He also seemed to reference Yeats, bringing back welcome echoes of the first poem my mother ever read to me – ‘because a fire was in my blood’, I recalled happily at his tale of the hazel wood, and given the fortnight that had gone before this night, was it ever. I’d been thinking, talking about hazel trees just the other day, I perhaps ascribe too much significance to coincidence sometimes, but if I were you I’d not be surprised to see the image of some lucky Corylus avellana leaf coming soon to a ribcage near you. Alasdair Roberts sang, heartfelt and convincing and light (in the way that insect wings are light and beautiful, not beer or entertainment) songs of dowsing, really quite considerable gore, the three ages of man, sociopathy and saturninity (gosh I love that word. Word of the week, I think), among other things, and that is some feat.

An incredibly vivifying evening was brought to a close by the spirited Issho Taiko drummers – four people, many different drums, accompanied by accordion, flute, guitars played with skewers, xylophone. To say they had impressive technical skills is really not the half of it, the red-blooded forceful drumming coming together with the otherworldly melodies to bring about a breathtaking, haunting happening in the room. A deep, vital,  feeling suffused me, deep in my belly, the same place as sex or somewhere very near it. Joyous and uplifting, it just physically got to me: made me stand up straight, made me feel taller and kind of better, grounded, self-aware. It also underlined, or was, the reason for seeing this sort of thing (and no, I have no idea what ‘this sort of thing’ is either) live because recorded it’s like losing a dimension or two or three. Sometimes gigs can just be adding vision to sound, seeing people play songs you’ve heard before; this couldn’t have been much more different. It was adding vision and touch and experience to sound; feeling and hearing and doing something totally new – it was collective, people joining and working wonderfully together – which I think is both necessary and inspiring; exaltant, and in truth, revolutionary.
(And for more on that note: Nowtopia, which I should write more about but don’t have time because the Edinburgh book launch is happening right now! Read and learn and be the change.)

News from nowhere

Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimming
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

over

“My point would be that there’s nothing in the ice core that gives us any cause for comfort,” said Dr Eric Wolff from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
“There’s nothing that suggests that the Earth will take care of the increase in carbon dioxide.
The ice core suggests that the increase in carbon dioxide will definitely give us a climate change that will be dangerous.”

I don’t know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I’ve been afraid
That I might drift away

[“A]nd while you live you will see all round you people engaged in making others live lives which are not their own, while they themselves care nothing for their own real lives – men who hate life though they fear death. Go back and be the happier for having seen us, for having added a little hope to your struggle. Go on living while you may, striving, with whatsoever pain and labour needs must be, to build up little by little the new day of fellowship, and rest, and happiness.”

Yes, surely! and if others can see it as I have seen it, then it may be called a vision rather than a dream.



It is because everything I have fought for and that all campaigners for social justice have ever fought for – food, clean water, shelter, security – is jeopardised by climate change. Those who claim to identify a conflict between environmentalism and humanitarianism have either failed to read the science or have refused to understand it.

CONTENTS:

Bob DYLAN, The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1963). Alice ROSS, photograph: Kingsnorth coal and oil-fired power station, England (2008). Yoshitomo NARA, sprout the ambassador (2001). Dougie MACLEAN, Caledonia (1979). William MORRIS, Acanthus wallpaper (1875). William MORRIS, News from Nowhere (1890). Alice ROSS, photograph: skies above Kingsnorth crossed by power lines (2008). George MONBIOT, The stakes could not be higher. Everything hinges on stopping coal (2008).

I know what you talk about in your sleep.

A quick note of some things that have been happening: I look out of windows. I go to parties. I enjoy the kind warm light of summer evenings and I stay up late. I write letters. I go for walks, I go for bike rides, I try to capture little moments and pieces of things. I try to hold on. I smile, I grin, I laugh, and I make other people laugh. I kiss. I remember.

I went to the zoo in the course of my voluntary work (meaning I didn’t have my camera) and I saw a black jaguar. It was just insanely beautiful. I will have to go back.

I grow beans! P gave me a scarlet runner bean one night, I planted it in my kitchen and was enchanted, thrilled, delighted to see it grow.

weekend
So then I asked him for another one for my office and he gave me three so my colleagues could join the fun – ‘in the spirit of competition’, he said. The race is on. D’s is the tallest and mine is the smallest, right now, which is sort of like our bodies as well. Slow and steady. The one in the kitchen is huge and it’s tying itself in knots, but I think in a happy way.

I went to a party and met lots of people, some of whom were lovely; I talked to people I’d met before and people I only ever see at parties. In the morning, a boy who is an experimental physicist at CERN sat and kindly explained to me about subatomic particles, and the large hadron collider, and the Higgs boson, and why it was important. He wanted to know why I was interested, and seemed happy with my explanation. Behind him, the large kitchen window treated us to a view of the gradually changing sky as the sun came up, from darkness into the most beautiful, bright, pure, sunny day I’ve seen in ages. Conor brought up Richard P. Feynman, quoted something from What Do You Care What Other People Think?. He seemed pleased that I’d heard of him before, knew something about him, as with Murray Gell-Mann, Max Planck, ALICE, singularities and everything else for which I have Laurence to thank. In RPF’s case, actually, it is not L but my parents, I read a book or two of his from their shelves when I was younger, I feel I should state this, I don’t know why.

Here’s one of my favourite things he wrote, on the same note:

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is “mere”. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination — stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part… What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?
(The Feynman Lectures on Physics, 1964)

I walked on home through the morning and everything shone. With dew and new sunlight, but also with something else, I think.

Last night I went to Medina with P and we heard the most amazing thing, a lean man in a check shirt and black beard stepped up on to the modest little stage and he sang; in the yellow and red light he made a thousand wonderful sounds using only his voice, with a loop pedal gently stroking layers upon layers of resonant rhythms, of murmurs and howls… There’s no way that words are ever going to get close to explaining it. And yeah, there were other performers, there was other music as well. But Wounded Knee and his wondrous wandering lament for Phil O’Donnell blew my tiny mind.
I talked to Simon Kirby who is one of my most admired living people and I hadn’t seen him for ages. I hugged him, in fact. I hope I did not make a fool of myself. Si told us about an upcoming installation he’s working on, where bamboo robots will make traditional Chinese music float in and out of home-grown Scottish leaves and blossoms, echoes fading through the midsummer night’s air. Sometimes, I think I must have dreamed things but actually they were real. I can’t wait.
We stayed out late and lay in the grass in the big dark park because we didn’t feel like going home yet; it was a school night but fuck it, I wanted to see stars. Then as I walked home, savouring again the strange bluish quiet of a deserted Princes Street, I listened to my mp3 player and it played (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding? What, indeed.

In the morning I had an email, a sort of free-association free-verse, from Rémy who was one of the loveliest people I’d met at the party; we’d bonded over our mutual love of notes and notebooks, and I’d hoped I’d hear from him again sometime.

alice's afternoon off
It was strictly too sunny to be at work, and I felt funny and fuzzy from lack of sleep, so I just took the afternoon off and rode my bike around in Holyrood Park and it looked like this.

This is my life and it’s pretty fucking incredible, you know.

A shell is nicer when there’s somebody to show it to as well.

One rainy night in Edinburgh:

I met K tonight, for what she calls in her inviting text ‘post-work brunch (?) like proper grown-ups’. After the ‘brunch’ (at Biblos in a comfy corner sofa), we moved on to Sandy Bell’s, where I’d never been before but, being situated in the middle of student-pubs-ville, have been drunk within a few yards of its doors scores of times. It’s really refreshingly unstudenty; we bought our pints and snuggled in to a wobbly little table that’s almost in its own tiny room, deep-pinkly walled on three sides away from the world. I don’t need to write what we talked about, that is for us and nobody else and it wouldn’t get across how much it means, how much she means, there’s no way that words ever could, no way that I ever could, no way that writing this will, but I do it anyway – I’m trying, struggling to catch it and put my fingers on it, to hold on to something that can never be held on to. I just don’t want future-me to forget this, this night and this time in my life, this girl who is so much more than a girl, this remarkable one, so wise and so beautiful, this… little human being who is everything. As always I’m struck by the frequency and accuracy of her knowing exactly what I mean when I can’t express it, and by knowing what she means before she does; she never fails to amaze me. As always I love her on the surface, as well, I love her eyes and her beauty and her speech and her idioms, so close to the ones that anyone else would use but with her own Finnish twists; ‘but it just slips through your hands, all this time’, she laments. I want to never let her slip through my hands. At the same time I know that she won’t be here for ever, and whatever happens I will always be so, so lucky to have known her.

At the pub there was a little loose group of musicians sitting around a nearby table and playing unpretentious folk music, looking as though they were doing it for themselves and for the fun of it rather than for the benefit of the few people who politely, quietly clapped at the end of songs: playing, not performing. A plain-looking, middle-aged woman sat with them and sang one song, in a voice so lovely that it stopped me in mid-sentence to gaze at her as though by watching her I could work out where it was coming from. Her voice was like driftwood or sea-glass, something weathered, worn and softened by time and elements, only to become more and more beautiful. A man was playing what looked like a little tiny guitar, but with decorative little curlicues on the corners of the body and the top bit where the tuning pegs go, which gave it a delightfully organic look as though he’d just found it growing like that and plucked it one day, perhaps at the top of a magic beanstalk. Actually what it reminded me most of was this little fellow, even if that is pretty geeky. Afterwards we went out and stood under an archway to shelter from that very Edinburgh type of rain that seems so light and fine but makes you very wet very quickly, while she smoked. Behind her there was a very pretty old switch that said ‘FIRE SWITCH’ but all the letters were peeling off and higgledy-piggledy. The switches were bright blue, like her hair. (What do those things do, anyway?) We talked about friendship. I wanted to take her hands, her elegant porcelain hands, half-hidden in loose turquoise fingerless warmers like extra sleeves, and never let go.

These words are to remind me. I want to keep moments, keep things that can never be kept and have already gone. I take photographs sometimes. Today I write this down instead. It’s like a sigh.
Snowflakes on my tongue, rain in her eyelashes, post-coital sweat on his skin, sand in your shoes, wind in our hair: things that can never be kept. Time with her, her voice, her gaze, her laugh: things that can never be kept. This feeling, or more accurately all these feelings, including but not limited to devotion, relief, awe, tenderness, peace: things I hope to feel again.

Promises

We go to Francis’ and Mattia’s farewell drink, planning to drop in on our way to A’s, so we’re unfashionably on time and only the two celebrants are there when we arrive – they’re sitting outside on this slightly chilly, bright evening and looking even younger without their aprons or their shirts and ties, their uniforms. We get our drinks and go and sit inside in the section they’ve reserved; I remark that the barman looks as if he’s in a band, not realising that Francis knows him, and ‘he is’, he agrees, wide-eyed, ‘…they’re rubbish’. He’s obviously younger than me as well, which makes me feel funny.

Francis phones our mutual friend P, gets me to talk to him to convince him to come along, but he’s not co-operating, and when F realises that P and I have just got into one of our interminable chats (apparently he’s got a great story for me about a swing) instead he snatches the phone back: ‘Stop stealing my minutes!’ We agree that P’s action – or lack of – is lame, but really I wish he were there because I feel so unselfconscious when I talk to him; it’s just familiarity, I guess, he’s part of my comfort zone. Soon we’re joined by Lewis, who was such a sweetheart and who I haven’t seen since he left, maybe six months ago; and some more friends of Francis’, a girl and a boy who are laden down with instruments, they have been out busking. She greets him as Frangipane, which makes me smile because it reminds me of my and P’s (but mostly my) many silly nicknames for him – Mad Frankie Lister, Francesco, General Franco, Frankenstein, Bacon, Teenage Kicks, Assissi. Obviously, he’s just an inherently nicknamable lad. We all talk about this and that – work, people we know or used to, summer, Italy, Portnoy’s Complaint (I’ve bought a copy for Francis, wrapped it in bright tissue paper and curly, lustrous scarlet ribbon which I find myself looking at, bunched up on the table in a little spray, when I’m too shy for eye contact) – with a slightly polite, slightly restrained enthusiasm, as befits the group. We all laugh when Lewis and F, like a tag team, tell us a funny story about a woman asking for squid in the deli where L works now; the laughter is uproarious, mostly because it’s a funny story and they tell it well, partly because laughing is free and easy and come-as-you-please, it’s a release, or a relief, or probably both.

f
Eventually the conversation will turn to music and the many instruments of the two (are they a couple, or just friends? I can’t tell) who arrived with Lewis, the two who I forget the names of almost as soon as I’m told. She’s the wind section, plays a mouth organ and a penny whistle; she can do guitar too though, and something else, flute perhaps? but she doesn’t have one on her. He can play guitar too, and most excitingly, sitar; he takes it from its case to show it to us, quiet, careful, not so much proud as reverent. He’s slim, this boy, and he gives the impression of slightness and delicacy, though he must be taller than me in my boots and I’m sure he’s not actually unusual in proportions or dimensions at all. Perhaps it’s his facial features that are delicate, softly sculpted; his hair is wavy and overgrown, his gaze is shyly averted and his lashes long. There’s something coltish about him, something not awkward, but not quite yet grown into his skin, a looseness of limb, maybe, and something hushed, it’s as though the unkempt fringe is there to shade or veil him from the world, or it from the intensity of him.

He’s eloquent when he plays, he’s at his best then; when his eyes are fixed on his own fingers and his face is relaxed and peaceful. The sitar is a remarkable object, the body, he tells us, fashioned from half a pumpkin or gourd and the neck incredibly, disproportionately long and covered in little tuning knobs all the way up; it looks as though there are more strings, many many of them, at the bottom and then some of them are shorter and the ends wind round these little turnable keys halfway up and further, by the time you get to the actual head of the thing there are only four or six left.

We go outside where it’s quiet to listen to him play. He sits down on the corner, on the little bit of wall at the bottom of the railings and he touches, tickles the sitar and these amazing sounds come out and ripple around us, caressing us, and spill raucous into the broad New Town street and the deepening blue air. It’s so beautiful that I want to laugh. The music strokes everything, touches everything like light does and stains it with beauty; there’s a full moon and the sky’s getting inky now and the clouds are scudding by fast and it makes me feel small to look up at them; the world is spinning around and untiringly around and the big bright moon is spinning around it and the whole thing is spinning around the hidden vital sun and here we all are, on the street corner, listening to this boy and his sitar. He’ll do requests. Someone says ‘paint it black’ and he can’t remember how it goes, so someone, the girl I think, sings ‘do do do do-do do do do-do do-do doo’ and he does it, plays the intro and then some improvised little curls and some of the middle in a way we’ve never heard and this time I think we do laugh a little, not an amused laugh but a delighted one, as though we’re surprised, like when you see a magic trick. Music is like magic, sometimes, for me; I don’t know how it’s done and I don’t really want to, I like the way it’s beyond my experience and perhaps I just want to think it comes from somewhere else, somewhere outside the quotidian and what humans do, that it’s… real.

This boy had been a bit down on himself, before, inside; not in a dramatic or attention-seeking way, not in a compliment-fishing way but genuinely, slightly embarrassed because he’d finished (or left?) sixth-form and hadn’t got a job yet and had been looking for a month. He’d talked about coming to work at V&C and I tried to warn him, and of course he knew all that from Francis, but said to e-mail me if he really wanted to, but we might not get it because of the spam filter being broken so he should come in, I guess. He was casual about it and he didn’t get upset, but I knew how he felt, I remembered it; he laughingly said something about just being a bum, and sleeping too much, and having to busk for his supper before too long.

Then when we were outside, in the fresh air, a cold little wind blew and I wrapped my dark red coat around myself and stuck my hands in my pockets, but I wanted to hug him, I wanted to say ‘don’t be mad, a month is just a month, you’re so young and you’ve got forever to work for other people and feel compressed, opressed and tired of taking their shit; a day is just a day but for you it’s a chance, a chance to do this and make this music and make people happy, make them peaceful, make every bad thing melt away, even just for a few minutes while they listen to you. You’ve got something so awesome here, so special, and you make everyone richer, and you just do it and look so natural and perfect and you’re just a child; you’ve practically seduced a woman five years your senior here, if you wanted to, do you realise?, and fuck, if I could have done that when I was eighteen – well, let’s just say I’d be proud. And you’re not proud, I can tell, not cocky at all and I guess that’s one of the things that’s great about you, and I’m just so happy to be here now tonight with the sky so blue and the air so crisp and the music so perfect I want to stop time for this moment, not with my camera like I always do, but just want to catch it with my hands and scrunch it and roll it, fold it up into a little mass that feels like clouds and smells like springtime, and I’d lock it up to keep it clean and fresh in a tiny blue box with a silver key with a heart for a handle, and I’d take it out again and stretch it over my hands and my face, soft like silk and light like feathers, when I felt cynical and tired, and I’d look at it sometimes before I went to sleep so that I’d dream good dreams, and maybe I’d look at it again before I die.’

But I didn’t, I said ‘Nice to meet you, good luck, maybe see you again some time’ and then we were off.

On the way up the street we saw Monika but I didn’t recognise her at first, I was glad that someone else was going to see them, for every reason.

Easter Sunday.

A small, spread out ‘congregation’ hardly congregates, more politely distributing itself evenly among the sparse, simple wooden chairs in Old Saint Paul’s tonight, high-ceilinged, candlelit and draughty. More people are there alone, and there’s perhaps a slightly younger average age than I’d expected – it’s not just little old ladies, in other words, though there are also no children and I may in fact be the youngest person outside of the choir. The choir in their white robes with red bits at the collars: what are they thinking, I idly wonder during the quiet bits. They are equal-opportunitiesishly pick-and-mixed in terms of height, age, gender and skin tone, complete with the requisite big girl who sings like a little girl (she does some bits solo, and she’s got an amazingly high, delicate soprano voice, floaty like dandelion clocks and dragonfly wings), several earnest-looking prettyboys who remind me of a question that occurred to me once, way back in the mists of time, while watching the boy I liked in my primary school choir: does raising your eyebrows make your singing sound better? (well, does it? I’ve never been able to check because I’ve never been able to sing either way). My other favourite is the small, bald, slightly spooky one who looks a bit like Pierluigi Collina.
There’re some ritualistic goings-on, lots of gilded ornaments and the covering and revealing and re-covering of something called ‘the Sacrament’ – it’s something small that I can’t really see. Hand gestures, mumbled responses that I’m not familiar enough to get to in time, and what the order of service calls ‘censing’, which seems to be the act of spreading sweet smoke everywhere by swinging a gold cage that hangs from a chain like a holy nunchaku. A man without any special dress steps up and reads a couple of passages from the Bible, elongating word-final consonants and pausing emphatically just like the priest in The Simpsons. In John 20:19, he seems to especially enunciate the bit where the doors were locked “for fear of the JEWS” and I look at the floor, then feel silly and paranoid for thinking so.
The choir dwells incessantly on the line “see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently”, repeating it ever-changingly over and over. In the emotionally weakened, open, unstable state I’ve got myself into it brings tears to my eyes and I let them flow and fall, wondering, if anybody notices, what they’ll think my story is. A pure, devout and blameless soul who’s undergone some undeserved and traumatic persecution and identifies her Semitic little self with old Joshua ben Joseph; the new Jesus in a double-D cup, Jesus in her cowboy boots and her mineral make-up? Or do I look more like a penitent sinner, a glamorous murderess perhaps, humbly kneeling on the hard wooden floor to beg of your Christian charity, to receive the forgiveness that comes clouding in the sweet smoke, ready for redemption this Eastertide, for a fresh start, a little resurrection of her own?
I’m somewhere in between, I suppose, but definitely a lot more the latter; far from glamour and Gabriel Garcia Márquez on this blustery night in Scotland in almost-spring, far from Jesus and Saint Paul and all the saints and angels, and also far from, but drifting ever-so-slowly toward, peace.

Outside, as I sit on the steps waiting for my man, a little white feather floats down out of nowhere into my field of vision and I watch it as the wind buffets it bouncingly along down the street, past the clicking stilettos and the unmistakable rivers of last night’s urine, until it blows into the gutter and there it stays. Or to be more optimistic about it, there it is hidden by the kerb from my view, and it goes ahead where I can’t follow. There’s always more than one way of looking at these things.