Sunday, 30 September 2012

September days

Take a walk by yourself down an old English lane
Blackberry picking, wild fennel and sage
Hear for yourself all the memories she's saved
As you follow her down to the sea

She'll tell you a story of travelling fairs
Highways and byways and folk settled there
Hear for yourself all the memories she'll share
As you follow her down to the sea

And those September days are the last of the summer
Your lips smack the air at the gate in the wall
And those September days are the last before winter
And the wind chills your bones cos you know
You know you'll remember them all

Your footsteps are falling where dozens have trod
Ancient and modern man closer to god
With a wrap of tobacco and two ounces of tea
As you follow her down to the sea

And those September days...

Some walk to remember some walk to forget
The once loved and loved ones that swim in your head
Sometimes summertime's the last path that you'll tread
As you follow her down to the sea

And those September days are the last of the summer
Your lips smack the air at the gate in the wall
And those September days are the last before winter
And the wind chills your bones cos you know
You know you'll remember them all
You know you'll remember
know you'll remember
know you'll remember them all

Shared from the SoundCloud iPad app. Get it for free here:

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Painted Ladies

Next installment of the Nest coming soon. But back to the songwriting, here's a little ditty that came from the riff.

I was wondering as the night came down
How much wandering's going to bring me round
to the tables and clean white tiles
with the ladies and their painted smiles

I was wondering and the night turned black
It's hard to dance upon a devil's back
Danced till morning on the clean white tiles
With the ladies and their painted smiles

Heaven help a little wandering mind
Can't believe I was the wondering kind
Wont be dancing here for a while
with the ladies and their painted smiles

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Nest

My bedclothes are soaked with sweat. Every creak draws another bead from my pores. A squeak, a flicker. This is ridiculous. A grown man with his duvet wrapped around him like a sleeping bag. But I daren't lift the covers. The scratching starts again.

It had looked a respectable B&B from the road. It was late and I needed somewhere to stay.

Ok it was a bit League of Gentlemen, house on the hill, but this was Somerset not Psychoville. 197Os d├ęcor - orange and green wallpaper. We had a family tent that looked like that, and always had the same dank smell after a winter in the attic. China tea sets in the cabinet, miniature cottages on the windowsill. Ducks on the walls, with no irony whatsoever. Wait till I blog about this, I thought.

The landlady took me through the living room. It was getting dark outside and I was exhausted.
Her husband was asleep on the armchair. A photograph of himself, wife on arm, looked down at his sleeping body. Or he seemed asleep. Eyes closed, mouth half open, the home-knitted tanktop twitched around his barrel stomach.
"His favourite chair. Never moves from it."
A teddy bear sat on the chaise long. Was it my eyes or did its chest make the same movements?

We climbed the stairs, the landlady letting me go on ahead.
“Just there, dear.”
“This one? Room 10?”
“Yes dear. I must get the number fixed. I'll lock this door - my husband’s a terrible sleepwalker. If you want to get out, use the fire exit from your room. I'll open this one at dawn.”

I was too tired to argue. Bed, rest, sleep was all I wanted.
“You should be alright dear. Are you a light sleeper? Just don't sleep in one spot, ‘cause of the rats.”
Rats? She smiled and locked the door. I scanned the room. She was joking. Bloody locals. Who'd say a thing like that, to a paying guest? Actually, come to think of it, to a guest who has just paid. Don't pay the ferryman, isn't that what they say? Paranoid and tired. Get to sleep.

The room seemed OK. Green wallpaper, a white wicker chair next to the sink. Bit of a funny smell. Two pictures on the walls. One of a raven in profile, a study of the bird's proud head. Its black eye caught the light. The other picture seemed to be a charcoal sketch. A chocolate box village scene - a dark figure skipping up the street with shadows closing behind him. Who's he? The Pied Piper?
The Pied Piper...

It sat there, watching. The uninvited guest.
What the..? Is that a..? I looked again. It was.
Two hours later, it still is.
Sitting there, watching, twitching. I move a muffled hand through the duvet to shoo it away. It turns as if to go, then changes its mind. Nothing happened, why should it?

If there's one thing, one thing in the world, I can't stand - it's rats.
Even driving past a dead one at the side of the road sends shivers down my spine. The thought of driving past a dead one at the side of the road gives me that leg shake vertigo. I don't mind heights, spiders, snakes, lizards, whatever, just not rats.

It's not an unnatural fear. It can't be. These vermin have been plaguing man since he dropped a half eaten apple core on the ground.
Diseased, vile, twitching, devils.

Their tails, their eyes. Even dead, their black eyes bore into you. You are prey. They will eat you from the inside out. And they know you know it.
Never corner a rat; they will go for your eyes, that's what I've always said. I have a pretty good idea of what a rat flying at my face looks like. I have imagined it over and over again. Opening the compost bin, spade in my free hand, opening the chicken coop, grabbing a paint pot from the darkest corner of the shed - all potential rat-flying-into-face situations. All envisaged beforehand, but none arising.

"They're a lot more scared of you," they say. I don't think so. Cold sweat paralysis is pretty scared.
"You're like a big giant to him, imagine you were his size."

It might as well be. Fear makes mice of us all - bad choice of words in the circumstances. But where there's one, there's more. The unseen army creeping in the shadows, in the skirting, under the floorboards, in your mattresses. I jump, a little. The bed just moved. They are in the mattress.
Perhaps it was a spring. I shifted my weight and the spring moved. That's it. Not in the mattress.

I hook the bottom of the duvet tighter under my feet and tighter over my head. It's how I've always slept, since a child. My parents say they had to peel back the duvet to check I was still breathing in there. It wasn’t a fear thing, just a snug, warm way to sleep. Still, I know someone who slept with his hands round his throat -"so that if anyone came to strangle me in the night, I'd know".. That's paranoia.
Why won't it go? Please go. She wasn't joking, the old crone.

Perhaps it isn't really there. Perhaps I am asleep and this is vivid nightmare. Dream 101. Paul Merton is about to pop up.
“So jubbily jubble jubble what do you want to put in Room 101?”
“I'm afraid they can’t go in. They're far too cute. Where would we be without rats? The Nutcracker, Roland Rat, Ratatouille, The Pied Piper, the Talons of Weng Chiang, Room 101. You have to take them home. Mwahahahahaha.”
Maybe that's it. I've been drip-fed rat images all my life, none of them pleasant.
Maybe it's revenge: The poison in the shed. The sixth form crucifixion of its white vacuum-packed brethren. All in the name of science, of course. Perhaps this is my Room 101.
Oh no, Room 10- fix the number. Great!

1984. I don't really remember reading the book. I must have picked it up at school, heard it on the radio, seen the film.
I don't remember actually sitting down with it like you do some books. I can picture my younger self reading some books. In a polished mahogany library with The Hobbit - a painting of the fellowship of the ring crossing the mountain pass on the wall. Drinking in Laurie Lee's cider summers and long trek to the Pyrenees as I shared the same countryside as a wanderlust teenager. The dragon tattoo tube journeys. Months of them, accompanied by Blomkvist and Salander.

But 1984? I don't remember, lost in the cloud of literature and languages. A tick-off book. Everyone's read 1984. Big Brother. Room 101 - the thing you fear most. Rats.

I always say "never corner a rat, they'll jump at your neck, your eyes, to escape." Or had my dad always said it?
Now, in the dark, the words of the thought police interrogator O’Brien come back to me. I must have read it. The words are alive.
"You understand the construction of this cage. The mask will fit over your head, leaving no exit. When I press this other lever, the door of the cage will slide up. These starving brutes will shoot out of it like bullets. Have you ever seen a rat leap through the air? They will leap on to your face and bore straight into it. Sometimes they attack the eyes first. Sometimes they burrow through the cheeks and devour the tongue."

George bloody Orwell. A fine time for your words to come back to me. Why not the diaries? Down and out, hop picking with gypsies, living as a tramp, fighting in the Spanish civil war, even the clergyman's daughter? But no. Engrained, embedded and scratching through my sub conscience is Winston Smith's fear of getting a faceful of snarling, starving yellow-toothed, white-muzzled rodent. Two of them, in a mask, strapped to your head.

Perhaps it is just his fear, that of a character from a long-dusty novel by a bored former BBC employee.
Come on, kick off the duvet get the light on and get rid of this thing.
Yes, not my fear, Winston's,
I'm not 6079 Smith W, I'm me. I'm not scared of rats. I'm not scared of rats. I'm not.

I lift my head a little and look at the bed stand. It's not there. The light switch is just by the book. The rat has gone. The moonlight dims a little, then brightens. It is not there, perhaps it never was. But there, on the book is a small oval dropping.

My gut wrenches so hard my foot twitches out of the duvet. Cold air, bare flesh, exposed. It's what they want. I kick it back in and under the duvet. Nothing got in. Safe. Now I have to put my hand out there.

I grab for the light switch and press it. The light flashes on, I breathe, then a great tail slinks down from behind the book, the light flashes again and goes out with a soft pop. Darkness and a rat’s tail.
Back under the covers.

It's the tails. Always the tails.
Guinea pigs are bigger than rats and they are bearable, apart from the smell, but that's because they have no tails. And there is a decent Peruvian reason for keeping Guinea pigs. It involves herbs, spices and a large pot.
But rats, with their teeth, eyes and tails. Maybe it's because it's what you see out of the corner of your eye – a quick shadow then tail.
What was in front of the tail? What's dragging it around? What will use the tail to spring through the air and latch onto your face?

There is no God given reason for rats. Except population control - bringers of death, the plague.
Creeping through the sewers - God knows what giants are down there. There was a photo in the paper of one a metre long once. Found in New York. It would have just looked like a dog or a capybara if hadn't been for the whip-like tail.
They say they can climb up your drains and out of your toilet bowl - now try reading the paper on the loo.

There was also the film of Mexican migrants trying to get to the US crawling through tunnels under the border when hoards of rats come the other way. Nowhere to turn, they are overrun, bitten and shrieking but have to keep going. All to get to America?!

I must have dozed off, those poor people, shit, what's that in my hair? Shit! I sweep my hand over my head. It is. It's pulling at my hair. A squeal like braking tyres pierces the darkness. I'm so panicked I'm not sure if it's it or me.
Get off get off get off. My hands scrabble at my head and thrashing fur as paws scratch back and the shrieks continue. Its foot is caught in my hair. The tail flicks onto my face, my cheeks. It hits my mouth, a cold dry flick.

I get both hands around the body and heave it off my head, a good chunk of hair tearing out in the process. I don't see where it lands but I hear it scuttle.
In the dark I sit panting to get my breath, shaking cold fear, eyes wide and heart racing.

"They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles"
Pied Piper.
And O’Brien:
"The rat.. although a rodent, is carnivorous... a woman dare not leave her baby alone in the house, even for five minutes. The rats... attack... Within quite a small time.. strip it to bones. Sick or dying people. They show astonishing intelligence in knowing when a human being is helpless."

Snatches of the book return to me, flashes of rats in tunnels, red-eyed creatures on book covers, giant sewer rats. What am I? Bloody Wikipedia? I'm going nuts. I'll go mad if I stay here.

That's it I'm out of here. I move to get out of bed - my feet. Bare feet. My clothes are over there on the chair. Bare feet onto the rat shadows. I can't. But I can't stay here.

Just get to the fire door and get out. It can't be any more than four paces. Jump, hit the floor, handle down and out. I look around the room, there's a twitch under my shirt. Not my clothes. Shirt, trousers, twitch as shapes move beneath them.
I don't care if I have to run down the street in my boxers, I'm out of here.

Three. Two. One. Breathe. I leap from the bed, one foot on floor, reach for handle and rip. Paper. Back foot down and pain. Foot sinks through the wood like wax in a bear trap. I sink to the floor. Paper. Pain foot. Paper?

The door disappeared - ripped down the middle. A poster? Just plasterboard behind. Scratches dragged into it. A poster? My foot burns; shards of floorboard dig in as I twist to get it free. Scratching and twitching all around. They're coming. Got to get my foot free. The scuttling, scratching is getting closer, below me, in the walls.. they're coming.

I drag my foot free tearing skin from bone I twist towards the bed, quick, now. Somehow I get to the bed, onto the mattress and into the duvet. What is this place?
Exhausted I reform the duvet into a sleeping bag. My leg is throbbing. Bastard, bastard rats.

Do they smell blood? They do. They do. Sharks of the vermin world.

The rattling seems to subside and I melt, sweating, into the duvet cover.
I must have closed my eyes for a second, before I hear the door handle. I hadn't heard footsteps; perhaps I'd drifted off. At last I can get out of this crazy hellhole.

I twist to face the door. It doesn't open and the handle stops moving. A shadow at the base of the door catches my eye. Someone is poking something through the gap. From the corridor, light creeping through the gap, it looks like, chocolate?
I'm about to get up and ease my injured foot doorwards when shadows move from inside the room.

One, three, five, seven shadows going for the chocolate. I try to shout out but nothing comes. I am frozen. At the precipice, fingernails holding you from the urge to go over. The numbers grow till there's a heaving mass of fur gathered around the base of the door. Noses and whiskers twitch in the light nibbling, snatching, grabbing. This is too much. I daren't move, let alone breathe. I pull the duvet tighter and tighter over my face when all at once they stop, turn and stare.

Two hundred black eyes from the souls of Hades. They are all focused on one thing. Me.
The rat.. although a rodent, is carnivorous. The rat.. although a rodent, is carnivorous. The rat. The rats. In a second, they are flying at my face. I put my hands up to fight them off but the torrent keeps coming. Slashing, shrieking, biting. I fall back onto the bed and they are below me, above me, ripping through the mattress, through my shirt and shorts, feasting on my bleeding foot and gnawing into my stomach and face. I fight until I can fight no more and the searing pain ends in a flash of white light.

“Sleep well dear?”
The landlady was standing over me. She was carrying an orange and brown paisley-patterned tray with a china cup and saucer in her hands.
“What happened?”
“What was that?”
“Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?”
I am dazed. What about.. I feel my far, nothing my stomach, nothing. My foot has a few scratches. I look up and see the torn poster.
"Just our little joke dear. This door was open all along."
I shake my head. My hands are also shaking and I ease myself up.
"No, thanks."

She tuts, smiles and goes back downstairs. As she leaves I see the number on the door - 10 with the outline of a 1 at the end. Must get that fixed, I hear her mutter.

I get dressed and limp towards the door. My stomach is churning, really churning. And I haven't eaten anything. I put my hand on my belly to steady it. The churning stops. Then slowly the skin starts to stretch into lump. I stare at the shape. Can't believe.. Slowly the lump forms into a shape, the shape of a rat.

The end

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

One for the night

the tune brought the lyrics with it somehow - a sort of desert nightscape. I've always liked the idea of pouring a drink for the earth first as you take one. It can be a bit tricky indoors and you wouldn't want to do it too much with your best islay malt. but there you go.

One for the night

One for the road by dombailed

Pours one for the road
And one for the earth as she grows cold
As the light fades from the sun
There's cracks like fault lines
On my mouth as my lips dry
And so it's begun
The night

Look down at the sand
Footsteps lost where they fall
And I understand
What's right
I howl at the moons scowl
And the wind in the rocks keeps tune
And so it's begun
The night

How could i turn
My back on the sun
And chase those fault lines
For a fight?
Pours one for the road
And one for the earth
As she grows cold
In the night

Monday, 28 November 2011

Black tobacco (she tastes like)

No one in particular really. But what if a smell or taste could bring something or someone back - really bring them back rather than just a memory of them. So an unrequited ghost voodoo love song. I think the idea comes from a few candomble sessions I attended in Brazil a while ago. Cigarettes and rum play a large part in the ceremony and woe betide anyone crossing their arms and legs. The guitar was quite tricky even though I made it up myself but finally think I nailed it - although this is just a rough recording.

She tastes like black tobacco

A taste, a kiss unlocks the mind
Puts skin and flesh upon the bones of time
The light plays tricks and dances on the floor
Then she is standing there once more

She tastes like black tobacco
black tobacco
Her heart is black tobacco
black tobacco

I'd watched and caught her eye sometimes
I've caught my breath as hers met mine
A smile that dances on those lips devine
She shakes her head, it's so unkind

She tastes like black tobacco
black tobacco
Her heart is black tobacco
black tobacco

Don't cross your arms before me child
Don't cross your heart and hope to die
We all fade through the rolling mists of time
But breath is blessed and love is blind

She tastes like black tobacco
black tobacco
Her heart is black tobacco
black tobacco

Friday, 11 November 2011

Homecoming: a song for remembrance day

There was a very good Panorama on a while back called Forgotten heroes - what happens to soldiers when they leave the army. It was a candid look at their lives and how their experiences of training , the army and war had affected them. Coupled with reading reports of other inquests of bomb disposal experts killed in Afghanistan, a few phrases and images stuck in mind mind and I wrote this.


I should've stood in the doorway and shaken the sand from my boots
Got a kiss from my wife and my kid as he fumbles and roots
for the presents he knows that I've stored
In the Bergen a few days before,
Before my homecoming,
Last days of the tour.

I should've stood on the pavement,
my heart beating time with the crowds
Pressed my hand to the glass and wondered aloud
Just who why and what is it for?
Or at we just settling scores?
Before my homecoming,
Last days of the tour.

And there's no sand in the valley still
And there's no sand in the valley still
Just a little boy standing alone
And his voice on a satellite phone
"take your time daddy
But it's time to come home"

I should have turned out the lights and retreated into my shell
Faced the demons, the vampires the blood and the hell
But every man's trying to hide
the child that is hiding inside
Before my homecoming, last days of the tour.

I should have stood in the doorway and shaken the sand from my boots
Took the praise and the medal, all the salutes.
But a shadow moves over the shire
I'm freed just by cutting the wire
Its my homecoming, last days of the tour.

And there's no sand in the valley still
And there's no sand in the valley still
Just a little boy standing alone
And his voice on a satellite phone
"take your time daddy
But it's time to come home"


Monday, 12 September 2011

Westward sunrise

Written on a train heading back from the west country when I'd rather be hanging back to it.
Looking out the window is a good way to pass the time.
Westward sunrise by dombailed

Facing backwards on the train
Gives me headaches, all the same
At least I'll see the sunrise
At least I'll see the sunrise
See your face among the clouds
Like a friend lost in a crowd
I'm blinded by the sunrise
blinded by the sunrise

And I'm westward ho
Snaking back across forgotten moors
Just a one man show
I'll be left bereft, becalmed, unburdened in the arms of, well, who knows?

Kite gets hounded by the crowds
A taw cross twisted by the blows
Bloodied in the sunrise
Bloodied in the sunrise
Swifts go screaming down the lanes
Silent shadows through the pane
Like kisses in the sunrise
Like kisses in the sunrise

left my book upon the floor
Of your bedroom as you swore
We'd never see the sunrise
We'd never see the sunrise, again
So I don't know how the story ends
Happy endings just depend
On how you see the sunrise
On how you see the sunrise