Did you know that [counter] people have been having a skeg at my little autonomous region?



Ten weeks today will be my first full day living in my new house in the fashionable Malki Chiflik district of Veliko Tarnovo.

I’ve been told by many a Brit expatriate that when I emigrate to Bulgaria I will only survive if I turn off my English head and turn on a Bulgarian one. The country that I am going to make my new home is a beautiful, interesting and friendly place but I’ve oft heard it described as being ‘a bit rough round the edges’. So if I’m really going to feel at peace there I need to accept that I won’t have access to many of the things that I have become accustomed to here in Gross Britain.

I can boast, however, that I have been training hard for the ‘big push’ when it eventually comes (with a little help from easyJet) on 25th June. I have been having Bulgarian language lessons, I have saved all my Easter eggs for the Christian Orthodox Easter on 1st May, I have been following the Bulgarian national football team’s progress (they recently beat Portugal in Lisbon … ha ha Ronaldo) and I have had an image of St George (Bulgaria’s patron saint) tattooed on my left buttock in readiness for the huge party that takes place on St George’s Day on 6th May. I’m even going to my house over there for a nearly a fortnight at the beginning of next month to have a crack at celebrating these two rakia-fuelled traditional holidays so I can hit the ground running, or more likely just hit the ground.

I’ve also been trying to get used to living without some of the things that are a part of my English lifestyle but which won’t be available in Veliko Tarnovo. Things like tomato ketchup, Coronation Street, Sunday roasts, traffic pollution, cold and grey summer days, Tesco, the British Government, cards shoved through my letter box by the gas people to say that they called during the thirty seconds that I was unable to answer the front door because I needed to go and have a wee, the Sun and the Daily Mail, people who read the Sun and the Daily Mail, Jeremy Clarkson and weak coffee. How will I ever manage without these things? Hard going, I know, but I’ve got to become much less English.

Last night I had what I considered to be my ‘Last Supper’ of Englishness. I went to see Ken Dodd on stage in Birmingham. There aren’t many things that I care about that are typically English but ooh I do love Doddy.


Ooh we do love Doddy.

Ooh we do love Doddy.


I was delighted when he mentioned Bulgaria, without any prompting from me. He said he went there once but didn’t stay long because everything they said to him ended with ‘off’. I would have loved to have been sitting near enough to the stage to have been able to tell him about my plans. I could have even invited him to come and stay with me over there, as I have done with just about everybody else that I know.

His act was very entertaining. He told long rambling jokes that I have heard a million times before but all his little detours along the meandering route to the punchlines were hilarious. He talks absolute rubbish but very funny rubbish and I admire him, for that is what I aspire to but I don’t do it well enough to earn a living from it like he does.

From the start of the show to the end, five hours and twenty minutes passed by. He wasn’t on stage the whole time as there was an interval and a folly of other acts came on for twenty minutes or so to give the poor fella a breather. The other acts were a bit crap really but just the sort of thing you’d expect to see performing on the end of a pier in Blackpool or Scarborough or somewhere else beside the seaside, so that really added to the old fashioned English feel of the entertainment. There was a bloke that played 1950s rock ‘n’ roll classics on a ukulele and sang Heartbreak Hotel in a George Formby voice. A woman the size of six Karen Carpenters played the organ and sang Yesterday Once More before blowing out catchy renditions of popular old tunes from around the British Isles on her flute. And then there was a juggler but not a juggler like all the other jugglers I have seen in my life. No, this bloke kept dropping the things that he was juggling with which was something I had never seen in a juggler’s act before. I didn’t enjoy any of these turns but the vast majority of the audience did and it was the sort of stuff that Ken Dodd must have had supporting him for decades. Although very wrong, they seemed right, so I clapped them off at the end anyway.

Ken, this dear eighty-eight year old complete and utter legend of a comedian, who I have loved since I was a young kid, laughed and smiled throughout his marathon performance. Taking his final standing ovation, long after midnight, he was still smiling as he looked around at the audience and the lovely Alexandra Theatre where he had told us he had performed many times in his long career. To me, the look on his face seemed to suggest that he was taking it all in for a final time. He calls his show the Happiness Show but I’m sure the final few minutes were tinged with a little sadness behind the smile that didn’t fully disguise a look of resignation.

I’ve seen many comedians in the flesh so it was strange that it had taken fifty odd years for Doddy and me to meet in this way. I’m sure he’ll go on for a good bit longer yet but the lions’ share of his incredible working life is behind him. Much of his material had been about him and his audience being allowed out of the care home for the evening. He said that, of his famous Diddy Men, only Dicky Mint was still fit enough to work but when he did his ventriloquist act with his Dicky Mint puppet, Dicky too announced his retirement. All subtle suggestions that it wouldn’t be long until they lowered Doddy’s final final curtain.

And my life in England is very nearly behind me too, though I’m hoping for a long stretch in the Balkans … ooh missus! Last night was the last opportunity I would ever have to be entertained by this national treasure. I always knew I would get round to it eventually but I, or we, only just made it by the skin of the teeth. And I felt that by seeing him during my final weeks here I was drawing a line under my time as a resident of England to a degree that just giving up fish and chips and Ant and Dec could never match.

Last night was a wonderful night, a night that I will never forget, a milestone in my life and a night that could only have been better if Birmingham had had a pier.

 Happiness. Happiness. The greatest gift that I possess.

Happiness. Happiness. The greatest gift that I possess.


Baba Marta

I love the fact that Bulgarian people put so much effort into marking the end of winter. In fact they can’t even wait to the end of winter to start celebrating so on the first of March each year they rejoice because it is almost the end of the winter.

I detest winter and for the last fifty or so years I have started to look forward to spring arriving from round about the first week in September. Winters are harsh in the part of Bulgaria where I am going to live but they are usually followed by long hot summers. I can cope with the former if I can count on the latter. So when I get there I will take enormous pleasure from joining in with their anti-freeze customs.

Literally translated, Baba Marta means Grandma March and this is the day that Bulgarians start to feel that the worst of the winter is behind them, as I do myself. Legend has it that Baba Marta is a bad tempered lady who continually bickers with her two brothers but when the sun comes out she smiles. On the first day of March she starts her spring cleaning and when she shakes her mattress the feathers that come out of it fall on Earth like snow – this being the final snowfall of the winter.

On the day of Baba Marta, Bulgarians give each other red and white coloured plaits of wool, ribbons or dolls as a lucky charm to bring good fortune and ward off evil spirits. These are called Martenitsas and they are worn on the clothes or hung in the trees until another sign of spring appears such as the first sighting of a stork, the first blossom, the first new born lamb or the Eurovision Song Contest.

I have noticed that Bulgarian people tend to drink rakia, an often homemade fruit brandy with a high alcohol content, to celebrate this heart-warming day. Just before I bought my house in Malki Chiflik I asked one of the locals what sort of winter I could expect if I went to live there. He told me that they are bitterly cold but they are a very sociable time of year as people gather in each other’s houses and drink rakia to keep warm. He went on to say that the summers are unbearably hot but people gather together on each other’s porches and drink rakia to keep cool. He also told me that in each village as soon as the first stork of the spring is seen everybody stops what they are doing and drinks rakia to celebrate the end of the cold period. In autumn they drink rakia to celebrate the crops having been gathered in and the production of another fine batch of rakia having got underway.

I got the impression that rakia, like the man who told me about these rituals, is drunk every day of the year. I’m sure I will dabble in the traditions of my new country but the celebration of the end of the cold dark winter months is something that I will embrace in full. I would gladly have done the same in Britain but I have never been able to tell when the cold dark winter months have come to an end. I think it was on the twenty seventh of July last year.


A martenitsa moment.

A martenitsa moment.

Red Lorry Yellow Lorry

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before but I’ve bought a house in Bulgaria. In this respect I’m rather pleased with myself. The palatial farmhouse only a few kilometres from Veliko Tarnovo, the medieval capital of Bulgaria, has been mine since seven minutes past three on Wednesday 7th October 2015 which, although a very dull day at work in Wiltshire, was probably one of the most momentous days of my life.

I went to see it, nay caress it, last November. I stayed there a week and I loved it to bits. As I left to return to my rented house in England I apologised to it for leaving it behind but promised that I would eventually be back to stay and that we would have some wonderful times together. I’m absolutely certain of this so I’ve bought some Bulgarian party poppers, a big bag of goat flavoured crisps and a bottle of Rakia for when the glorious day of the completion of my glorious five year plan arrives. I think about my lovely house every day. It is my house. Every last stone, tile, drainpipe, dried up dead woodlouse and empty Rakia bottle of it belongs to me. Because of the capitalist bastard mortgage lenders and landlords that have blighted my life for the last thirty odd years, I have never been able to say this before.  

Now I have to plan for my next momentous day, that being the day that I actually move lock, stock and beer barrel to my new Balkan abode. I have many things to do but they will all take me another step towards attaining enlightenment and full Rakia bottles, which just makes each individual chore a tiny bit exciting.


Goodbye GB. Hello BG.

Goodbye GB. Hello BG.


This week I have been mostly getting quotes from international removal companies. Nothing has been moved yet, apart from my bowels when I heard details of the prices and plans that these people had for me. Some of them have really come up with a load of old whatever the Bulgarian word for bollocks is.

The first one was very friendly and efficient and thorough and expensive. He quoted me £9,000. I quoted some words from the Bible. If you fly from Bristol to Sofia with Wizzair (an airline that is as pink as easyJet is orange) you get a baggage allowance of 32kg so I estimated that it would be cheaper to get my treasured belongings over there by flying with them ninety times. The only thing that put me off about this idea was that I might have trouble getting my settee off the luggage carousel at the destination airport.

The second removal firm experience was rather amusing but at least I didn’t have to think long about whether or not I gave them the job. I waited at home for their man to come and assess the scale of what I needed moving but he didn’t turn up. I rang him on his mobile phone but there was no answer. I rang him again the next day and he said that he had tried to keep our appointment but he had not been able to find my house. If he couldn’t find my house in Devizes, what chance was there of him finding my house in a village in Bulgaria?

Number three was a bloke I have had dealings with before and he is very good but unfortunately he said he couldn’t do my move for me because he himself is moving to Canada. We had a good old chat on the phone about emigrating. I offered to do his packing for him at a competitive rate and I told him which removal firms to avoid. He already knew about these!

Next up was a firm who seemed to know roughly what they were on about but seemed even more interested in helping me transfer currency from Britain to Bulgaria. I asked their sales lady if they were planning on shipping my money over in a truck but she didn’t laugh. I told her I’ve already got money laundering arrangements in place so thank you very much and goodbye.

The next one was too sickly and smarmy to warrant even a paragraph to himself in this bit of scribble and the one after that was the most expensive of them all. I asked this chap why his quote was so much higher than all the others and he explained that Bulgaria is a long way from Britain. This made me wonder if all the other companies I had spoken to were only going to take my stuff as far as France.

The last one was the one I should have rung first. They only work between Britain and Bulgaria, they’ve been sending an articulated truck twice a month for fifteen years, the bloke on the phone said he had once in the recent past delivered a load to the village I’m going to live in, their price was a good one, and they are based in Bulgaria but come from Sheffield which is in Yorkshire (by the skin of its teeth) so I knew exactly what I was dealing with. The only problem I can envisage is with the language … in Sheffield that is, not Bulgaria.

So there you go. All I’ve got to do now is sift through my belongings, ring Sotheby’s to come and take away the things I don’t need, carefully pack up what’s left, book a flight on the right day to ensure that I arrive at my final destination sometime slightly before the lorry containing my entire worldy goods and raise a parting glass.

Target date: As soon as possible!

WOMAD Friday

Morning Has Broken (The Tiny Tea Tent)

This is one of the rare jaunts on which I have been where I have sufficient time on my hands to write about my adventures, or misadventures, live as they happen. Though this is always my intention at least up to the point where I leave my house but it never quite works out the way I planned it. Normally I write accounts from rough notes taken during the day just passed while I sit on a balcony late at night with a bottle of the local wine, or three weeks after I have got home whilst sitting at my kitchen table as the instruments of my trade bubble and hiss in the autoclaving machine. In the latter case, it has to be said, that there is little else for me to do while my tackle is being sterilised. I have travelled the world late on many a weekday evening to escape the monotony of the alternative which amounts to little more than picking my nose and staring at the pop up toaster (which never pops up) during those dull, dull hours. In fact my mind is constantly travelling the world in an attempt to distance myself from the reality of the endless drudgery that tries to consume me. As I write many a piece I am thinking about a livestock market in Bolivia and the lady who runs the greasy spoon café that I am sure will exist there.

At the moment, however, I am sitting in the Tiny Tea Tent surrounded by people drinking a mugs of Positivitea, a herbal infusion based item because that’s what festival goers drink before the sun has set beneath the guy rope. This place is beautifully scruffy in a festival sort of way. Basically it is little more than a standard kebab van, the likes of which you would find in the car park of any half decent British retail park, but it has been tarted up with a thousand enhancements. The rusty bare metal scaffolding that supports the awning has been wrapped in multi coloured rags and ribbons, old wooden trestle tables have been splattered with coats of paint of many colours, no two chairs are the same, there are a couple of old charity shop settees with people sitting on them who were probably also picked up cheaply at a War On Want outlet, rusty rustic candle holders and Moroccan style lamps made from recycled tomato tins illuminate the space under the Bedouin canopy as the fine folk of WOMAD wake up with one of the million flavours and blends of tea on sale.  Being a bit of an awkward git I asked for coffee. This is a new angle on my requesting lager in a real ale pub method of irritating people.

The nomadic Saharan atmosphere is further enriched by the music of the Kinks, the Clash and Madness.

Try the house of fun.

It’s quicker if you run.

This is a tea tent

Not a joker’s shop.

Beyond my temporary desert home I see a field full of puddles. The rain continues to pour down as it has done since the early hours of the morning. A young man with a sledgehammer (could this be Peter Gabriel’s very own sledgehammer that he sang about in his song of the same name, I wonder) comes to the place where I am sitting every ten minutes. He uses the shaft of his blunt instrument to poke the sagging bits of the canopy where rainwater has collected so that it cascades onto the ground outside. At first when I saw him approaching me with his implement in his hand I had flashbacks to the 1980s and terrible times so I thought he must have recognised me as a Glory Glory Leeds United fan so I was ready for him the sharp edge of my bone dry piece of biscotti. That may sound a bit pretentious but even hand to hand combat has moved on into a more sophisticated age.


My lethal lump of razor sharp biscotti. The edges on it were even sharper than my tongue.

My lethal lump of razor sharp biscotti.

The edges on it were even sharper than my tongue.


The rain stopped long enough for me to dash across the swamp to go to complete one of my morning ablutions. The facilities don’t provide for a bloke to ablute more than one ablution. There must be about a thousand of these portaloo devices on the WOMAD site but somehow I managed to pick the one with a leaking roof which makes me think that perhaps there is some sort of almighty omnipresence up there and he (or she) hates me and watches me even when I go for a poo. Consequently this was the first time ever that I have sat on the toilet with the hood up on my storm force, Arctic standard, reinforced, hurricane-proof, intrepid explorer style, Gore-Tex pac-a-mac garment.

As it happens, the above paragraph hasn’t been written live as it happens. I had other paperwork to concentrate on.

So back to the tea tents which are the only places where you can get a half decent cup of coffee unless you are prepared to queue for an hour at a coffee tent. I considered doing that and then asking for a cup of Earl Grey, to be awkward. Isn’t awkward and awkward word to spell? It just doesn’t look right. Any road, bored of my first tea tent I set off in search for another. En route I saw three kids dressed as Paraguayan alpaca herdsmen dancing in the rain to Let’s Face the Music and Dance which blared out from a nearby trade tent. Obviously the wet weather had damaged their X Box so they had nothing better to do. This gave me a good idea for something for me and my own lovely children to do on Boxing Day afternoon when there’s nothing on the telly. It’s sure to be raining.

Also on my tent to tent travels I saw a retail outlet bearing the sign ‘Ethical Artists Co-op’ which struck be as being a tad elitist. At the Co-op near where I live, anybody can go in to buy a pint of milk and a loaf of bread. I was surprised that the WOMAD Foundation could allow such blatant discrimination.

My second tea tent of the day is actually a falafel tent but nevertheless it sells coffee and, no matter what else, it is a shelter from the downpour of Biblical proportions that is causing sogginess everywhere in Biblical proportions. Things that you would never imagine as being likely to go soggy are now well and truly so. I wonder will I be the first person ever to die in a falafel tent. At least they are playing reggae at its best which is just the sort of music I would like at my funeral.

But then the live music started. The rain doesn’t matter when there’s fine music to be heard.


Sona Jobarteh (The Gambia)

I was about forty minutes early for the start of Sona’s session so I was standing right at the front, touching the stage, ages before any other members of the audience turned up. Ten minutes before the kick off a lady who had parked up in her collapsible garden chair about ten metres behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to sit down because she, being an ‘older person’, couldn’t stand for the sixty minute duration of the performance. I was just about to tell her to sod off when another lady sitting adjacent to where I was standing beat me to it, pointing out that when a band comes on stage everybody stands up. I was pleased that she had been on my side but sorry that I hadn’t had the opportunity to express my opinion myself. The ‘older’ woman didn’t even look as old as me. As the band struck up I looked around to see where she was but she had gone. She would have had a miserable weekend if she had been planning on sitting so close to the stage for every performance and expecting a clear view.

Sona with her kora didn’t say anything about the fussy woman but I could tell that she was thinking “knobhead”. Sona was from a family of master kora musicians in a land where traditionally only men  take up this beautiful instrument. I love kora music but this was a bit special as she cranked up the tempo a bit more than I would have expected for this type of music, and she had a lovely voice too.


Kapela Maliszów (Poland)

Since my trip to Hungary a couple of years ago the muse of North and Eastern Europe has really got to me in an irresistible sort of way. Kapela Maliszów’s music was a mixture of the haunting and the sombre played on traditional stringed instruments and had a bit of an Irish cèilidh feel to it. So much so that I fancied a pint of Guinness, but sadly that’s one thing that WOMAD doesn’t do. But even if there had been it would have been no good because I was standing out in the pouring rain to watch these fellas and Guinness is no good if it gets wet. Perhaps if I had had the foresight to learn to play a cello like a mad Polish cellist they would have let me stand on the stage with them and my Guinness wouldn’t have been dampened. A lesson learned!


Totó La Momposina (Colombia)

This amazing lady was the Omara Portuondo of Cumbia music. At the age of seventy-four she has been around a fair old while, produced a string of huge hit albums and attained legend status amongst her fans. She was utterly lovely in a matriarchal kind of way, and also lovely was her granddaughter Maria del Mar who was one of the backing singers and Totó’s translator. This was hot, sunny Caribbean music on a wet, miserable English day and my admiration grew even more when the dear lady waded in her wellies through the mud to the merchandise tent to sign my copy of her CD. If I had known how to say it in Spanish I would have offered to buy her a pint of Guinness. A lesson learned!


My lovely new friend Totó La Momposina signing my lovely new CD.

My lovely new friend Totó La Momposina

signing my lovely new CD. 


Pascuala Ilabaca (Chile)

I’m not sure if this is the name of the whole band or just the incredibly entertaining front woman. This was the nice little surprise of an act that always turns up in my list of people seen at a WOMAD festival. They were like a cross between Santana and Skinny Lister. If you don’t know who Skinny Lister are you’ll have to go rooting about on my blog because they’re a cracking band who I have seen at a festival before and they are still a cracking band. Pascuala even wore red shoes just like Lorna in Skinny Lister does and as well as having a strangely wonderful singing voice she gyrated like Gyrating Jenny and was very funny when she was introducing songs. She told us that she didn’t care about the crap weather because she and her band were flying off to do another festival in Spain at 2:00 am and that St Lawrence was the patron saint of people who depend too much on alcohol. A lesson learned!


Count Drachma (South Africa)

I read about these in the programme and thought ‘yak’ (an expression of dislike rather than a long haired bovid from Central Asia) but for some strange reason I went along to see them and they were brilliant. They seemed to lack confidence a bit and were startled by the appreciative response they got from the crowd. They performed traditional Zulu songs and music on western instruments and they told stories that made me smile. The front man said that in South Africa it was winter at the moment and that in South Africa there was a town called Malmesbury and although it was winter it was a very warm sunny day in Malmesbury in South Africa.

They had a choir performing on stage with them. The choir were from Oxford and it seemed like they had never met the band before prior to the festival. The woman standing behind me had been a member of the choir in the past (her very loud American friend announced this fact to the whole of WOMAD) but seemed a bit nervous about admitting to it and even more nervous when I asked her if she would be signing CDs at the end of the gig.


Ibeyi (France and Cuba)

Before and after their performance, everybody at WOMAD was saying how marvellous and gifted these two women were but despite them being the daughters of former Buena Vista Social Club conga player Miguel ‘Anga’ Diaz, I thought they were a bit dull and over produced. Sorry.


Sheelanagig (Britain)

These people are one of the best bands I have ever seen. They are all from the West Country of England (apart from the Mancunian flautist … and for those who don’t know, flautist isn’t a term of abuse) but the music they play is fast and furious Balkan Gypsy folk with a hint of the Hungarian Circus act thrown in for good measure.

They get their name from old Celtic and Briton symbols of welcome in the form of figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva. I always find that these make me feel more at home than a coconut door mat.

I’ve seen them perform live on four previous occasions and they have never failed to amaze. The only thing I don’t like about them is that their frantic dancing, prancing and madcap, slapstick leaping about approach to entertaining a crowd always fills me with dread that one of them might have a heart attack. They have recently acquired a new bass player. I have no idea what happened to the old one.


A Short Aside (Devizes)

As a short aside I would like to mention that I am writing this bit in a café near my home in Devizes two weeks after the event. I ran out of time, energy and dry paper so I failed to scribble away as I had hoped at WOMAD, and since I have returned I have tried to write at home but struggled. It seems that I am much better at this sort of thing if I am sitting in a place where drinks can be bought, even though I live in a house full of hot and cold drinks, beers, wines and spirits and a selection of savoury snacks. Outside of this delightful cuppa tea and a scone emporium where I am currently seated it is pouring down with rain which recreates the festival spirit impeccably. When I ask for my next drink I’m going to request a side order of mud.


The Cambodian Space Project (Cambodia)

This cracking little band reminded me of a thousand nights in seedy bars in South East Asia in a time before CD bars were invented. I was expecting at any minute to be dragged up on stage to whine out a karaoke version of I Will Survive or Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Although this seemed like happy, jolly party music Srey Thy, the nice Cambodian lady singer (the rest of the band appearing quite western), told us that her songs were about abject poverty, the horror of life under the Khmer Rouge regime and genocide. She still managed to get everyone to clap their hands and sing along though. She also sang Cher’s Bang Bang in Khmer, finishing off coldly with the line ‘my baby shot me down’ in English which was sadly very appropriate.

And I watched this band whilst exposed to the elements in the middle of the Malmesbury monsoon, which was nice.

She also sang about Whisky Cambodia which is a drink, apparently. This made me think of those hilarious hot nights out in small towns in Thailand a couple of years ago when me and my Exodus Travels chums sat up drinking Hong Thong whisky flavoured fluid well into the wee wee small hours.

Strangely, Srey Thy seemed as happy to be in England as I had been to be in Indo-China. Extremes of climate have strange effects on people.


Kassé Mady Diabéte (Mali)

Bedecked in all the African clobber with a band playing traditional instruments, with a wonderful soulful voice, with all the lights and atmosphere that I have come to expect from the late night performances in the Siam Tent, and in the driest place in the entire arena, this wonderful man still didn’t manage to warm me up and keep me awake.

Feeling I had let myself down, the festival down and my inflatable mattress down, I toddled off back to my tent (in the hope that it had not been blown or washed away) feeling as tired and cold as a badger’s tired and cold bits.

I’m very sorry Kassé. Perhaps our paths will cross again on a better day my friend.

I wonder if Kassé Mady Diabéte has a son who is a boxer and is called Sugar.


My Tent (Festival Camping South)

The twenty minute walk back to my tent from the performance arena turned into a thirty-five minute splodge through the thin and sloppy diarrhoea-esque mud. Everywhere and everything and everybody was muddy. There was no way of avoiding it.

At a time well after midnight people were still arriving. It was miserable enough having to crawl into a rain lashed tent and trying to go to sleep with your flaps a fluttering in the wind but to have to try to put up a tent in such conditions would have made me want to blow my head off with the foot pump that I use to inflate my inflatable mattress. I went to sleep, eventually, wondering if there was money to be made from selling foot pumps to my customers who come to me with flat feet. 

I hope you're reading this Pearl Simpkins. There'll be a written test at the end of the week! 


 Pascuala Ilabaca, from Chile ... now that's what I call Latin music!

WOMAD Thursday

Camping It Up (Wiltshire Wilderness)

The last time I slept in a tent there was a family of ring tailed lemurs waiting outside to come in and steal my chocolate biscuits. That was in a gorge somewhere in the middle of Madagascar somewhere in the middle of last year, but here at the WOMAD music festival in the middle of the Wiltshire Wilderness the crowd outside is even more peculiar than my little endemic friends from that paradise isle in the Indian Ocean.

I find that putting my tent up these days is a piece of green runny stuff. I’ve been to three WOMAD festivals and I’ve put the tent up three times so I reckon I’ve got it sussed now. Already I can’t wait for next year’s WOMAD to see if I can beat my twenty two minute record. I hope Cheryl Baker is reading this, partly because she knows a world record when she sees one and partly because she has had experience of events where music from a multitude of nations is performed. I wonder if the Eurovision Song Contest will ever be held in a field in the Wiltshire Wilderness.

A few metres from my own encampment were three men who were all older, balder and fatter than me but, unlike me, they were crap at putting up their tents. They stopped work every five minutes to have a swig from their cans of beer and ask each other if they were having trouble with their erection. Oh such an old joke this is amongst those who camp. I was tempted to join in their witty banter session by telling them to make sure that they had tight guys at bedtime tonight. Rather than run the risk of not having a sense of humour and of me getting my teeth broken, I kept my teeth concealed behind firmly closed lips.

In normal everyday life I feel that my interests and opinions vary greatly from those of the people I mix with. I feel that they think that I am a little on the strange side, even eccentric. So when I come to WOMAD I, for a few days in the year, feel strangely normal.

Here I feel quite mainstream and conformist because I am one of the few people that hasn’t got a ZZ Top beard, a wheelbarrow for shifting camping gear and children from the car park to the campsite, a headband or a top hat, or a guitar that was bought in Woolworth’s twenty odd years ago that I try to play Hey Mr Tambourine Man on despite the fact that all the strings are made from nylon fishing line. I don’t practise juggling outside of my tent, I’m not loud, I do talk bollocks but unlike the hordes I try to make my talking bollocks sound funny, I don’t let people do henna tattoos of druid symbols on my face, I don’t get my tits out, and I spend my money on the CDs of the artists I have seen performing rather than on soft furnishings for my yurt because apparently you just can’t get those things in Basingstoke. I bet!

In an attempt to blend in I had a plate of Caribbean goat curry, a pint of cider and a wander round. I revelled in the knowledge that I would be spending the whole of the next four days in a field with no stress, no hassle, no work and absolutely nothing at all to worry about apart from the approaching almighty tempest.


My first Caribbean goat curry of the 2015 WOMAD campaign.

My first Caribbean goat curry

of the 2015 WOMAD campaign.


The curry and the strong drink and the treacherous forty kilometre journey from home had taken their toll on my energy levels so I had a late afternoon siesta, as people in the Malmesbury area do. In fact, from what I have seen from previous visits to the town, I would wager that the town has been asleep for the best part of six hundred years. Four days of World Music would hopefully wake them, and me, up.

When I re-emerged from the opulent surroundings of my magnificent four man marquee my fat neighbours had expanded, but in number rather than in girth. Their whole family had arrived and put up tents all around my pitch making me feel like a stranger in town in a field. Their family was so big that they didn’t know where it began and ended.

Young Olly came over and introduced himself. He asked me how I knew his dad. I said I didn’t even know who his dad was. And then I asked him if he knew who his dad was. He looked quite puzzled as I walked away towards the festival arena.

“Have a good ‘un”, he shouted after me and looking as though he had hoped that I would stay there and be his dad.

Soon I was back where the action was and the real action was just about to start i.e. the music of the world. My 361 day wait was over at last.


The Malmesbury Project with Tomorrow’s Warriors (Britain)

This was a sort of opening ceremony type thing. They were alright but I just hope that Malmesbury never gets to host the Olympic Games. This was the cream of the country’s young jazz musicians performing jazz music incredibly well and accompanied by kids from local schools that sang and danced to their music. The thanks from the organiser lady at the end went on a bit too long though, rather like a proud headmistress after the final curtain at a primary school nativity play.


Kala Chethena Kathakali Company (India)

Rooted in Hindu mythology, Kathakali is a multi-level performance of sacred theatre that’s equal parts dance, drama and visual art … but they didn’t turn up.


Shantel and Bucovina Club Orkestar (Germany)

A German band playing jazzed up Eastern European Gypsy music. Brilliant! A mad front man with a guitar and a mad drummer who wanted to be the mad front man. They also had a stunningly good brass section. This was full on Gypsy music with a constant demand from the band for the members of the audience to hold their arms aloft and clap. They forget I’m a pensioner and my arms aren’t what they used to be. For their final song the mad drummer picked twenty or thirty of the most attractive young women from the crowd to join them on stage to dance and sing. I was glad they were sexist because I really didn’t fancy going up there myself. Arms aloft clapping is the limit of my audience participation.


Lull Before the Storm (Sea of Tents)

As I walked back to a tent lost in the reservation of my surrogate festival family, I marvelled at the size that the area occupied by tents had become since I had arrived ten hours earlier. Even more surprising was that people were still arriving and pitching up at that late hour. And this wasn’t even the main day for arriving. I considered what the surge of human traffic would be like the following day. Already it was like a Middle Eastern refugee camp but for the fact that Palestinians don’t have to pay £4.50 per pint for shit cider.

Hair Peace

Today I made my first visit of the twenty first century to the barber’s to have my haircut.

This may shock you a bit but it’s perfectly true and I can assure you that I have been less lax in other aspects of my personal grooming. The thing is, for about seventeen years I shaved my head twice a week in a vain attempt to disguise the fact that I was going bald. If you have a bald patch in your crown or you have a receding hairline people will point out to you that you are going bald but if you are completely bald they don’t seem mention it.

But then in December 2013 I decided that enough was enough when it came to mowing the bonce so I had a crack at cultivating some hair, because I’m worth it. So I let it grow and grow until today. In those thirteen months it has amused me enormously to hear all the people who had moaned for years about me not having any hair suddenly start moaning because I needed a haircut.

It amused me even more to hear people telling me who I looked like with my new look mane. These look alike characters of mine included Albert Einstein, George Washington, Peter Stringfellow, Gerry Francis, Carlos Valderrama, the Wild Man of Borneo, Nanook of the North, Roy Wood and Penelope Cruz, though the latter was more to do with my slim figure and my striking facial features. My favourite comparison character was Father Jack, the whiskey soaked priest from Craggy Island and what pleased me even more was that no one told me that I looked like Kevin Keegan. Arse!


How my flowing locks appeared prior to the adjustments made by barber Chris.

How my flowing locks appeared prior to the adjustments

made by barber Chris.


So to shut everybody up, apart from the Wild Man of Borneo’s adoring mum, and get a bit of peace I went and had a trim. I’ve been listening to my customers for the last few weeks and taking note of what they have done in terms of a hair do themselves but Chris, the bloke who did mine, said he hadn’t a clue where to even start with a shampoo and set or a blue rinse or a Brazilian. So we agreed that he should just keep hacking until the point where my ears might be revealed, rather like when the American historian Hiram Bingham chopped back the Andean forest to rediscover the long abandoned Machu Picchu in 1911. Chris was disappointed not to find untold amounts of treasure beneath the dense undergrowth, as Bingham had, but I did give him a quid as a tip so we both went home happy.

My flowing locks had been causing problems in other ways in recent months. For example, when the hair of a Foot Health Practitioner is a bit long and thick the Foot Health Practitioner might find a piece of stray toenail lodged in it when he scratches his head long after the working day has ended. But where there is little hair, such offending article is more likely to just ping off the head and land elsewhere in the owner’s home.

Another problem is that when the hair of an intrepid traveller is a bit long and thick and the intrepid traveller is trekking through a hot country such as Madagascar and is having to make do with wild camping with no bathroom facilities for several nights on the trot and the weather is very hot and the breeze blows up a lot of dust, the intrepid traveller is apt to find that his hair has become a greasy, gritty clod of matted fibre. In fact this particular intrepid traveller felt quite Rastafarian back in September.

The expense is even more problematic. When you have managed to go seventeen years without having to buy shampoo, conditioner, a comb, a hairbrush, a hairnet, Carmen heated rollers or a sink plunger to unblock the plug hole in your bath, suddenly having to fork out for such extravagances is quite a strain on the purse strings.

I’ll probably go and have my hair cut again in the next few weeks. It wasn’t all that bad an experience really. It seemed strange to think though that the fifteen year old Saturday boy who was sweeping up all the dead hair (for making up underwear … poor little Genie) wasn’t even born the last time I sat in a barber’s chair. Another strange thought was that the last time I went through this palaver Leeds United were being beaten by a team that had no right to challenge the mighty, and the same thing was happening again today.


How my flowing locks appeared after barber Chris had fashioned them into a trendy modern hair do.

How my flowing locks appeared after barber Chris had fashioned them into a trendy modern hair do.


It was a cold day so it was quite noticeable as stepped outside in my newly acquired shawn state. I needed to either buy a hat or grow some hair. So I went to the pub to grow some hair before walking home. I’m not quite sure exactly how much hair I grew but I certainly felt a lot warmer after a few pints.

Ding Dong Ding Dong

Did you hear the Christmas music on the radio today? No, me neither. That’s because there wasn’t any. It’s finished. All done and dusted. This is an ex Christmas. Hallelujah!

Now we can get on with our lives again without having to worry if just six big boxes of Quality Street will be sufficient to constipate us until Easter, if anyone in a street on the outer limits of our town was missed in our blanket Christmas carding operation, and if we’ll have time to watch the blockbuster film Harry Potter and the Paedophile Ring on telly in the afternoon on Christmas Day or will we still be trying to find homes for the bushels of leftover turkey, Brussels sprouts, pigs in Ikea duvets, soggy crispy roast potatoes and Paxo cookies and cream flavour stuffing.

With 358 days to go we can almost relax about meeting the strict deadlines for next Christmas. Though I expect there are some people who are already in a blind panic about it, especially when you consider that all the shops are closed on Easter Sunday so really we’ve only got 357 shopping days to go.

I love January, partly because it’s a time when our resurgence from the dark days of mid-winter starts to show up a bit in the evening skies and on the branches of trees, but mostly because all the crappy, tacky Christmas crappy crap is out of the way. We no longer have to listen to the moronic muse of Wizzard and Paul McCartney in every shop we enter. I’m sure I heard a chorus of Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time wafting out of our local funeral directors’ premises as I walked by the other day. We no longer have to drive down streets where every house is lit up with neon inane grinning elves and Santas to a degree that would make Las Vegas look a bit dim. We no longer have to listen to people banging on about how ‘Christmas isn’t as good as it used to be’ and that it’s become too commercialised as they frantically flick through the Argos catalogue to see if there is any item of stock that they haven’t yet bought to stick under their plastic, fibre optic illuminated tree.

I wonder what the people who live in Las Vegas do to decorate their house fronts at Christmas. Are there negative numbers on the festive tat scale?

This may shock you but once the shops had shut at the end of months of consumerism hell and I was in my wilderness retreat with my lovely family, I really enjoyed Christmas. It was nice to see my grown up kids still get excited about opening presents and tucking into a tasty festive feast and playing games and saying ‘thank you’ and genuinely meaning it. It was nice not having to think about anything other than dishing up food and drink. It really was wonderful to see everybody there enjoying themselves. And I particularly enjoyed the gallons of alcohol that gushed down my gullet.

Last night in the Three Swans pub in Frome, with my mate Angela, I had a pint of Guinness. I have thoroughly enjoyed the vast array of drinks I have sampled, indulged in or even overindulged in over the course of the last week but that pint of Guinness at 10:19 pm on the last day of the stuffing yourself stupid season was particularly good. It was cool and refreshing. It was a simple, back to normal sort of a drink and it made me think of summer. It marked a significant point in the year, not just in chronological terms but in the way the people in the greedy western world behave. It’s hard to explain but there was something remarkably exquisite and meaningful about it, and the next one. In fact there were several pints of Guinness last night but only because I am a native of the greedy western world.

The landlady gave us each a free glass of celebratory Prosecco which was bloody vile so I immediately decided that my resolution for 2015 would be to drink Guinness all the time, thus alleviating the risk of having future glasses of fizzy shit forced upon me. Giving up Prosecco for a year shouldn’t be all that difficult so I’m quite pleased with myself and my cast iron willpower. In fact that’s my resolution for 2016 and 2017 as well.


The black liquidation with the foam on the top. How could I ever give up Guinness?

The black liquidation with the foam on the top.

How could I ever give up Guinness?


At midnight the CD player behind the bar finally gave up on Wham’s Last Christmas (oh how I wish it was) and we were subjected to five minutes of Andy Stewart and Abba (not at the same time, though it might do them both some good if only it was possible) but I could cope with five minutes. New Year songs go on for five minutes whereas Christmas songs go on for three months or more.

The people who say ‘Bah humbug’ to me, often with an element of aggression in their voices, when I suggest that I am not 200% enthusiastic about celebrating the anniversary of the alleged birth of the infant Jesus also go on for three months. But now it’s my turn. I love January but far too many people around me moan and groan about it far more than I ever complain about December. So I say ‘Bah humbug’ now to everybody who can’t appreciate that our northern half of this planet is about to be brightened up by real life natural sunlight rather than by Wilkinson’s cheap and nasty Christmas lights.

People saying ‘Happy Christmas’ never seems all that sincere to me. People saying ‘Bah humbug’ does sound sincere but not in a nice way. The words ‘Happy New Year’ always strike me as being more meaningful. There are a lot of people around who, like me, aren’t all that keen on Christmas and only wish you a happy one because it’s the done thing whilst deep inside they can’t wait for it to be finished. With a New Year, however, no matter what their circumstances, almost everybody wishes for a happy one, even if only for their selves.

For me, the only sad thing about New Year is that people forget to play George Harrison’s New Year song from 1974. I know Ding Dong Ding Dong is a bit of a rubbish title for a record but it’s a really happy sing along sort of a tune and the video he made to go with it (in the days when not many people made pop videos) is a happy sing along job too. Seeing George smile has always made me smile. Forty years ago last night, me and my mates sang this at the top of our voices at midnight at a party in Leeds but never again since. Such a shame!


Yesterday, today was tomorrow and

tomorrow, today will be yesterday.

The Earth Moved!

It’s at a different time every year. Did you know that? I didn’t until a couple of years ago.

At 23:03 UTC tonight (UTC stands for Coordinated Universal Time, which is a sort of GMT but more astronomically accurate and which was acronymised by someone who I suspect suffers from dyslexia) I celebrated the arrival of the Winter Solstice for it was at this time that the Earth reached its maximum declination of 23.5° away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere. At this point each December, nowhere north of the Arctic Circle sees daylight for an entire twenty four hours and we have reached the darkest point of our northern year.

This means that today has been as dark as it’s ever going to get. Today has been darker than a pint of Guinness, darker than the thoughts that go on in my head and darker than the British Government’s plans for the National Health Service. Actually, the latter of those three is a bit of an exaggeration as there was a bit of daylight in my lovely town of Devizes for a few hours but Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, seems today to be determined to turn off the machinery that supports the life of the NHS.

Normally I sink into an abyss of depression if my day isn’t filled with sunshine from the minute I wake up until the minute I collapse into my pit at the end of a busy day but, rather strangely, I enjoy the Winter Solstice a lot more if it is really miserable as it just enhances the joy I get from thinking about the beautiful summer that is at last on its way.

So at 23:03 tonight the Earth really did move as though some big gearbox deep in its inner core shifted from reverse to first. Just thinking about the fact that during the next few weeks we’ll be moving up the ratios, making the nights lighter and our soil warmer, gives me a real, deeply satisfying buzz. So you could say that when the Earth moved, the Earth moved for me.

Call me an eternal optimist (for the next six months at least) but even though it is still very dark I don’t think it would do any harm to put on a pair of shorts, tie some knots in the corners of my hanky to wear on my head, pop down to B&Q to buy a barbeque, sit in my garden with a bottle of chilled wine until ten o’clock at night and start my Christmas shopping (because the shops in Britain fill up with festive tat for sale by mid-summer).  

Whatever I do I will do it feeling happier because our darkest moment is behind us. Now is the time to celebrate. Other things that we celebrate at this time of the year are a bit ambiguous because we don’t know for sure that they really happened. For example, it is written that Leeds United beat Oldham Athletic five nil on Boxing Day in 1923 but there is no real evidence that this miracle actually happened. No one can dispute, however, the fact that the Earth has begun to tilt the other way tonight. I’m not sure if it was Big Jack Charlton or our Lord Buddha who said, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

It has become customary for me to do my celebrating of the rebirth of the sun with a small glass of port, topped up with port, with a port chaser and then another one for the road, until I too begin to tilt the other way. It’s what Big Jack would have wanted.

Happy Yuletide to you!


The rebirth of the sun.

The rebirth of the sun.

Black Friday

I had never heard of Black Friday until earlier this week so I typed the words into the Google search engine and this is what it came up with:

The very first Black Friday, on 24th September 1869, was caused by the efforts of two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, to corner the gold market on the New York Gold Exchange. The scheme was thwarted by President Ulysses S. Grant's release of government gold for sale, making gold prices plummet and creating a panic in the stock market. It became one of several scandals that rocked his presidency.

This little explanation made the whole thing quite clear to me and I could immediately understand why Asda in Guildford had found it necessary to knock 20% of the price off a tin of Whiskas with sardine and aardvark flavour cat food.

Then I read on to discover that, in the modern consumer age, Black Friday is the first day after American Thanksgiving Day, marking the day when all Americans can stop doing their Thanksgiving Day shopping and set about the task of doing their Christmas shopping.

So what has this got to do with Britain? Why has the whole advertising world gone mad this week telling us about a special day that doesn’t seem to have even existed here before today? Why does the retail sector of our economy find it necessary to tempt us into their shops with promises of price reductions at a time of year when we are already spending more money than we have actually got? What sort of world are we living in when a fight breaks out in Morrison’s over a packet of custard powder that has been reduced by fourpence? Why does it matter?

The answer is that we are living in a world of greed and gluttony. The big shops are greedy for our money and we are greedy for whatever we can get; and all in the name of the birth of the Infant Jesus, who I am fairly sure would have be extremely unhappy about all this had he been here now. But the economic world of greed and gluttony, like the real planet Earth, has two poles and at the other end of this world from our affluent pole are places where Waitrose or Tesco aren’t open all the hours that their god sends. They certainly won’t have been having a Black Friday in Malawi or Bangladesh or Bolivia today and if they were fighting over food there it will have more likely been because they were desperate to find enough of it to feed themselves and their families than because they were planning a dinner party.

Christmas and the vulgar consumerism that goes with it in Britain is bad enough at the best of times but to introduce another ‘special’ day to encourage us to wander like brainwashed moronic sheep-based zombies into shopping centres to spend yet more money that we can’t afford on yet more goods that we don’t really need is, in my opinion, utterly immoral and disgusting and I feel quite ashamed of myself to be a citizen of a country that embraces it so freely. Things are going from bad to worse. We didn’t need the Americans to give us a day to fill the shops with over indulgent crap and mark the kick-off to the Christmas shopping season. We’ve already got one. It’s called Easter Monday.

But fair’s fair, and I must admit that all the hype around Black Friday saved me a fortune because it made me stay away from the shops altogether and at the same time I found a better use for my hard earned dough.

So if you have saved any cash today, could you please bear in mind this recent disaster?

During the days from 22nd to 24th November, Central Morocco was ravaged by storms the likes of which have not been seen there for decades. This has left the remote villages of the Tijhza valley in the Atlas Mountains devastated. Buildings made mainly of mud have been washed away, agriculture has been destroyed and livestock killed. The immediate needs of the villagers are plastic sheeting to weather-proof their homes, blankets and non-perishable food i.e. the basic requirements to keep human beings alive.

The Tijhza Emergency Relief Fund is working with my good friends at Exodus Travels to raise awareness of this disaster. In the medium term the villagers will need to rebuild homes, infrastructure and income generating schemes. They would greatly appreciate any donations to this urgent appeal and will keep you updated as their work takes effect.

If you have any money at all to spare, please remember that the plight of the poor homeless people of Tijhza is a much more worthwhile cause than a packet of Marks & Spencer mince pies.

Please click here to donate to the Tijhza Emergency Relief Fund.


Storm ravaged Southern Morocco.

Storm ravaged Southern Morocco.


My two favourite things are travelling, music and ruthless efficiency. So I’m sure you can understand the buzz I get when one of my great loves leads me by surprise into an element of the other.

For example, had it not been for seeing my childhood heart throb, songstress Nana Mouskouri, on Saturday night prime time telly in the 1960s I doubt if I would ever have bothered going to visit the sun-kissed Mediterranean island of Crete where she was born and where she first went to Specsavers. Similarly, without having travelled extensively through Japan, I might never have discovered David Sylvian (the only member of the Sylvanian Families to have made it big on the rock stage).

Wherever I go in the world I make a point of investigating the local music, both traditional and modern, the results of which have inspired me to carry on investigating World Music incessantly, even while I am at home in Britain. As a consequence of this, it was at the WOMAD Festival of World Music (my own personal Nirvana) in July this year that I discovered a cracking little six-piece band that I had never heard of before, called 9Bach.

Their material is a mixture of updated versions of traditional Welsh folk songs and new tracks wonderfully crafted by Lisa Jên, the group’s singer-songwriter. They perform all of their material on modern instruments, giving it a laid back Indie atmosphere, but the inclusion of a Celtic harp together with the fact that all the lyrics are sung in Welsh give it a mystical, worldy feel too. This combination of contemporary music and an old language works exceptionally well to produce hauntingly beautiful results that make the hairs stand up on the back of my Celtic neck.

Front lady Lisa grew up in the village of Bethesda in North Wales, a place long dominated by its massive slate quarry which was once the world’s largest and which remains the site of Britain’s longest running industrial dispute, the Great Strike of Penrhyn, which began on 22 November 1900 and continued for three years. The quarry, the strike and the people of Bethesda have influenced the words of most of their songs which are consequently performed with a great deal of passion. This might make you think of them as an old fashioned ‘finger in the ear’ type folk band but they certainly are not. 9Bach are definitely a band of the twenty first century and their unique style makes them well worth going to see.


9Bach on stage at the Lantern in Bristol.

9Bach on stage at the Lantern in Bristol.


In fact, I went to see them again tonight but this time at the Lantern (the smaller hall within Bristol’s Colston Hall complex) which was quite a contrast to the festival field full of festival people on a balmy summer’s eve in rural Wiltshire. A different setting but still incredibly good as their material, delivered with the seriousness that the subject matter demands, was broken up with interludes of friendly, chatty, jokey bits which I always enjoy as they give a little insight into the performers’ character and demonstrate their appreciation of the people who have turned up to see them.

I find it really refreshing to know that good quality new music is still being made within our islands. 9Bach can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the acts I have seen or heard since I immersed myself into the world of World Music but, relatively speaking, you could say that they are a local band and because of this I was able to go to see them playing live just down the road from where I live. Much as I love the fervent and febrile beat of the Abatimbo Burundi Drummers, they’re never going to turn out on a cold and wet November night in England’s West Country.

9Bach’s latest album is called Tincian (a Welsh word, in this case meaning the clanking industrial background noise you constantly get from living near a vast quarry) and you can buy it on the World Wide Web thing and they do lots of touring and festivals and they’re well worth a listen. So … go and give them a listen!

As a footnote I would like to express the immense feeling of joy I experienced when, whilst doing a tiny bit of research for this piece, I came across the Welsh phrase ‘Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod’ which of course means ‘My hovercraft is full of eels’.


Busy Doing Nothing

Today it dawned on me that my glorious five year plan, which I drew up on Sunday 15th November 2009 while I was waiting for the population of Africa to reach one billion (it turned out that I had to wait until Wednesday 18th November), was at last bearing fruit.

I won’t bore you with the details but many moons ago I resolved to sell up and move abode to somewhere smaller and cheaper and, to cut a long story into a medium sized one, have more time on my hands to do the things that make me happy.

So today, apart from the usual Saturday morning tasks that we all have to do like draining the pus from the carbuncle on the hamster’s arse, sorting the week’s empty whiskey bottles into alphabetical order, oiling the moving parts on the medieval torture rack in my bedroom and telling all my Facebook friends what I spread on my toast at breakfast time (which was more time consuming than you might imagine because I chose to write to them all individually on lavender scented notepaper), I had very little to do.

So I went out.

I hadn’t planned to go out as I hadn’t really expected to have so much free time so it took me an hour to decide where to go and what to do.

I drove to Salisbury which is about twenty five miles over the heath from where I now live. It’s a lovely old city with big pointy churches and old winding streets filled with pokey little interesting shops and lots of nice little gardens where you can sit on a bench all day drinking Carlsberg Special Brew and shouting at the space bats that flutter about so annoyingly behind you when you’re not looking.

Even when I got to Salisbury I didn’t have a plan, so I just wandered. It’s a very photogenic city (though you need a periscopic telephoto lens to capture images of the space bats) but it was too grey a day to take any decent pictures and they would have been cluttered up with premature Christmas shoppers pushing and shoving each other about so I didn’t even bother taking my proper camera like I normally would on a day away from the Mullan maelstrom.

I went into a café for a cup of a coffee but they’d sold out so I found myself buying myself a pot of tea for the first time in my life. The idea of a hot cup of infused leaves served up in the finest china in a twee little tea shop sounds very nice but it tasted like the urine of Beelezebub so as soon as I was finished I whizzed round the corner for a jar o’ stout to take away the taste and eliminate the risk of regurgitation. Guinness, I find, is the ideal cure for any digestive malady and, in Salisbury, it’s cheaper than a pot of tea for two too. However, I would advise that if you’re going to go dipping your ginger nuts in anything wet, tea could well be a better option than Guinness.

Feeling liberated at last from the stressful burdens that accompany the status of home owner and self-employed businessman that had rendered me in the past far too busy to even find the time to fart, I decided that I might like to spend the evening in Salisbury too. Having driven there and having had one pint already, a skin full of strong drink was completely out of the question so I enquired at the Tourist Information Office about what other entertainment might be on offer. The options available were a Freddie & the Dreamers tribute band, a stage production of Dracula performed entirely in the medium of dance or a lecture on the local custom of seeking carnal knowledge of root vegetables.

So I went home and read my book, because I now have plenty of time to read books … even thick ones with small writing and no pictures.


One of the few space bat free zones in the lovely city of Salisbury.

One of the few space bat free zones in the lovely city of Salisbury.


That'll Be the Day

I was nominated by my friend and travelling companion, Lesley ‘Legs’ Pearson, to list the ten music tracks that have inspired me the most in my life. The idea was that these would not necessarily be my ten favourite tracks or ones that I listen to every day, just the ones that have had the greatest effect on me.

The plan was that everyone on Facebook would have a read of this and add their comments. Additionally I had to nominate five other people to do the same thing and keep the ball rolling. As far as I am aware, hardly anybody looked at my musical heart pouring out and only my friend and fellow Leeds United supporter, Joy Shaw, took the trouble to compile her own list.

So I’d like to say thank you to those people who had a quick butcher’s, a big thank you to Lesley for prompting me to do this and a massive thank you to Joy for revealing her inner musical passions.

Facebook, in my opinion, is a waste of time despite the fact that I’m addicted to it. I spent over an hour typing out details of my ten inspirational songs and the tales behind them. My efforts appeared on my Facebook page for the whole world to see and within a few hours they had disappeared beneath a load of pictures of people’s cats in compromising situations, requests to share my dislike for terminal illnesses and cartoon drawings of 1930s ladies putting the hoover on whilst holding a glass of wine in their hand. I enjoyed writing about my musical roots but I was disappointed that so few people paid any attention to what I produced.

I like to think that my own bloggeriness website thang is a bit more permanent than Facebook and for this reason I put a lot more effort into the drivel I post on here. Drivel is so much better than crap. It may well appear as something on the borderline between frivolous nonsense and complete bollocks but I can assure you that every word of it is torn from my heart and is an accurate representation of the real life me. So with this in mind I am going to rescue my account of my great musical influences from the barren wasteland of Facebook and preserve them for ever in the literary paradise of Terry’s Terrific Travel Tales, or Tx4 as the critics in the popular press call it.

So here goes, my ten tracks are …

1. Buddy Holly & the Crickets – That’ll Be The Day: My introduction to 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. I’d heard the song before but when I bought the soundtrack to the film of the same name when I was in my early teens it rammed it home to me what a brilliant track it was and sent me off searching for more stuff from the same era. I later discovered that it was No 1 in the music charts in the week of my birth … That’ll be the day, I was born!

2. The Dubliners – Seven Drunken Nights: Although we didn’t have a record player to play it on (we sold all our electrical devices to raise money to buy potatoes and Guinness) I seem to remember hearing this loads and loads in our house when I was a kid. It made me aware that I was half Irish and started my love affair with Irish music that has now reached such a pitch that I feel more like I am nine tenths Irish. I saw the Dubliners in their original line up live a couple of times in the early 1980s. They were so pissed on stage that I knew the words to their songs better than they did. Now I’m pissed and they’re all dead … how time moves on!

3. The Kinks – Well Respected Man: I loved the Beatles and the Stones and the Who and all that 1960s stuff but it was always in the back of my mind that what they were singing about was a bit too American for kids who had never been away from Britain. On Seacroft estate in East Leeds we didn’t know where Sheffield was, let alone Paris and the Amsterdam Hilton. The Kinks were the first band whose lyrics I could understand and see as a reflection of bits of my own life. From this song I love the words, “And he plays the stocks and shares. And he goes to the regatta. He adores the girl next door. And he’s dying to get at her.” Saw them live in Bradford in 1980 and I squirm with pleasure every time I hear them sing ‘Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station, every Friday night’ … as does Julie … outrageously good … as was Julie!

4. David Bowie – Star Man: I’d already dabbled in Glam Rock with yer Slade and yer T Rex but David Bowie for me was more rock than glam and he opened the door to my love for the music of the Velvet Underground who had come before and punk rock that came afterwards. I first heard this song in Woolworth’s in the fashionable Seacroft district of Leeds in the summer of 1972. I asked the girl behind the record counter who it was, I immediately bought it and I still have the seven inch single today. He’s gone on to make dozens of albums of different styles but always of very good quality and without selling out or watering down his ideas. The cherry on the David Bowie cake for me though is the fact that he turned down the offer of a knighthood from the Queen. He remains to be a star man in my eyes. I went to see him at Glasgow Apollo in 1978. I wish now that I’d put a bit more effort in and seen him again since. I’d love it even more if he were to come and see me. The kettle will always be on for you David mate.

5. The Saints – This Perfect Day: When I went off to join the merchant navy in 1976 everybody in England was listening to the Eagles or Leo Sayer or the Rubettes. When I came home from my first ship in 1977 Punk Rock had arrived. I wasn’t sure about it at first but my first Friday night at home I was in the General Wade pub just outside the Merrion Centre in Leeds and someone put this record on the juke box. I instantly loved it and put it on again five or six more times. I bought loads of punk music during the course of the next couple of years but not even the Sex Pistols could match the raw energy and power of the Saints. Oh perfect day. What more to say? Don't need no one to tell me what I don't already know.

6. Doctor Ross – Chicago Breakdown: The first Blues album I ever bought. This is the proper acoustic blues of the 1940s. I just don’t go for that mamby pamby electric blues stuff that has taken over since then. For me blues music has to be performed with acoustic instruments, on the veranda of a shack in a swamp, late on a feverously hot night in the southern states of America. If they’ve got enough money to buy an electric guitar and an amplifier then they can’t really have the blues and they can’t perform their music with the passion of legends like Doctor Ross or Robert Johnson or Charlie Patton.

7. Stakker Humanoid – Humanoid: When punk and new wave music drifted into a state of mainstream tedium in the mid-1980s I was hopelessly lost. Then in the late 1980s Acid House poked its head up for a while and I was delighted that there was at last something new and original and exciting. All the other new music around at the time (and ever since, in my opinion) has either been utter crap or not bad but it sounds like something else from the past.

8. Kirsty MacColl – My Affair: I love all of lovely Kirsty’s music but her Cuban based stuff set me off on a journey into the unknown world of World Music where I am still, to this day, happily lost. The music that we hear on the television and radio in Britain today only scratches the surface of the music that is made around the world. There is so much stuff out there that there has got to be something to suit everybody no matter what their current musical tastes are. I’ve more or less abandoned the popular music scene of the Western World and I am happy and for that I will be eternally grateful to Kirsty MacColl. I just wish she was here today to enjoy it with me. There are very few musicians in the world that I think are nice enough people for me to get on with but Kirsty was an absolutely lovely person and I’m sure we would have got on. I’ve got a framed picture of her on my wall and I talk to her every day when I walk past it. Es un escandolo!


Who I see is up to me!

Who I see is up to me!


9. Manolis Theodorakis & Kiriakos Theodorakis - Ehasa Tin Agapi Mou: Dance music from Crete to make you dance your socks off. A lady at a market stall in Chania, who spoke no English, came up to me and forced a CD of modern versions of traditional Cretan music on me. I said ‘no’ but she persisted … as if she mysteriously knew what was going on inside of me. So I bought it and it turned out to be the best €5 I have ever spent. It’s amazing music and this is the best track on the CD. When I listen to this track I always have to repeat it two or three times. This inspired me to always buy a few cheap CDs from local market stalls when I am away on my overseas trips and I have found that there is nearly always at least one gem on every purchase. It’s as if the lady in Chania was Kirsty MacColl’s Cretan sister.

10. Dakha Brakha - Sho Z-pod Duba: I saw this band almost by accident at this year’s WOMAD Festival. On paper in the official programme they sounded a bit naff but there was no one else performing at the same time who appealed to me so I gave them a whirl. They are without a doubt the best, most exciting, atmospheric and refreshingly new band I have ever seen performing live in all my living days. They are from Ukraine and their music is like a cross between Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cocteau Twins and the dawn chorus. Look up this track on You Tube … it’s brilliant!



So there you go. That’s me and my musical world. I’d love it if you would share your influences with me, no matter who you are and even if I don’t know who you are. Go on Mrs Dodson and Mr Ridge … give it a whirl! Please!


In June and July the English weather lulled me into a false sense of security. I got used to hot sunny days and balmy evenings. I got used to not needing to wear a coat or socks and not having to smear goose fat all over my body to keep me warm and dry every time I left the house. I even considered that I might have to admit for the first time since the long hot summer of 1976 that living in England with its pleasant climate might be acceptable.

Today was August Bank Holiday Monday. A day for trips to the seaside. A day for barbeques and paddling pools and ice cream vans and running around in just your knickers. Well it would have been if the weather hadn’t got all nasty and spiteful. Pardon my meteorological terminology but today the weather was shit with a capital effing. Today it rained cats and dogs and the entire population of Noah’s ark. Noah definitely had the right idea, you know. When the rains came he built a big boat and sailed off to somewhere warm and sunny but, if I have understood my bible readings correctly, he got a bit of warning and plenty of time to prepare for his alternative lifestyle. It would appear, therefore, that chapters six to nine in the book of Genesis are a more reliable source of information than the Radio Five Live weather updates on the BBC.

The good thing about our twenty four hour, non-stop, biblical style deluge today was that it reminded me that I am living in the wrong country and that I need to do something about it. I have, in fact, taken immediate remedial action by turning up the central heating to the max, pouring myself a large glass of Ambre Solaire with a plastic umbrella and a cherry on top, and employing my entire vocal range to belt out Wham’s Club Tropicana rock anthem. Although my kitchen now resembles a tropical paradise I feel I need to do a bit more and the bit more has kicked off with a bit more deep thinking and soul searching about where I really want to finally lay my hat. I’ve only been thinking deeply for just over an hour and already I’ve managed to cross Syria, Las Vegas and England off the list of possibilities, though only in the latter of those three do you need to put your wellies on to go to the front door to pay the milkman.

I went to see a Peruvian band today. They were called the Cumbian All Stars and they were performing live in Devizes Market Place as part of the town’s annual international street festival. I’ve known their music for quite some time now so I wouldn’t have missed them even if it had been snowing. They were exceptionally good but sadly, because it was precipitating it down, there were nearly as many people on the stage as there were in the crowd. These fine musicians have been entertaining people all over the world for more than forty years but I bet their piss wet Bank Holiday afternoon in Wiltshire is one gig that they’ll never forget.

Just as illegal immigrants hang on to the undersides of big lorries to get into Britain, I considered strapping myself to the underside of the Cumbia All Stars’ tour bus to escape to somewhere where the weather suits my clothes, but then I discovered that tomorrow they’re playing in Guildford.


The Cumbian All Stars performing in Devizes Market Place ... wishing they'd brought their brollies.

The Cumbian All Stars performing in Devizes Market Place ...

wishing they'd brought their brollies.

Altitude Training

On Saturday 20th September 2014, round about mid-morning, just before Soccer AM starts, I will have trekked to the summit of Peak Boby, the second highest point in Madagascar. The highest point, I have reason to believe, is Peak Jackie, which is about three inches taller and is rock solid.

Peak Boby rises to a height of 2,658 metres above sea level and I’ve got to walk up there without my Mum. It’s nothing really when you consider that two years ago I got to the top of the Inca Chiriasqa Pass in Peru, which was about a Rizla’s thickness short of 5,000 metres but then that was two years ago and I did spend four months training for it beforehand and my body back then was a temple. This time round I’ve got less than a month to train and my body, although still a temple, is more of a ruined Inca temple than a Shwedagon Pagoda.

So, just as I did in 2012, today I started my altitude training on Cherhill Down, out in the wild and windy Wiltshire wilderness, which rises to a lofty 250 metres. This, you may think, bears little resemblance to the rugged heights of the Andes or even Madagascar’s Andringitra Massif but I have found that I have been able to simulate the toughest of conditions by ascending the chalk upland with my backpack filled with bottles of Guinness, the laces of my walking boots tied together and wine bottle corks shoved up my nostrils. The later stages of my preparation for the hardship and pain endured on a trekking expedition see the addition of a nun thrashing my bare buttocks with birch branches. Actually that’s not strictly accurate and it’s the sort of thing that might happen for thirty quid, a Cinzano and lemonade and a bag of pork scratchings on any Saturday night in the nearby town of Calne, even when I’m not training for the mountains. However, no pain no gain, as they say.

Joking aside, and rather reassuringly, I managed to walk more than eleven miles (or eighteen kilogrammes) in under four hours without a blister or an aching muscle, so I was pretty well pleased with myself considering it was my first attempt in a long time to walk any distance.

So, filled with confidence, it is my aim next weekend to walk a few miles further and I’m going to go to Swindon, another nearby town, to acclimatize myself to the poor sanitary conditions and crime that I might expect to be confronted by in a country as poor and undeveloped as Madagascar.

Joking aside again, I really can’t wait to get on that plane to the far away city of Antananarivo with its lemurs and its baobab trees and its orchids and its locally produced rum and its Third Worldliness that I just adore.


Cherhill Down and the Lansdowne Monument from not far from my house in Devizes.

Cherhill Down and the Lansdowne Monument

from not far from my house in Devizes.

Making Do With Madagascar

On Saturday 1st June 2013 at 10:15 in the morning, I booked up to go on my trip of a lifetime so far. I’ve booked up on a few trips of a lifetime but this one was going to be the big one … the hyena’s bollocks! I was going for the best part of a month on a Dragoman truck drive through the remote bits of Ghana, Togo and Benin … the land of the Ashanti people with their Voodoo customs, their wonderful music and their horrific history which saw them stuck in the thick of the European colonials’ slave trade. This was going to be full on, no nonsense, off the beaten track stuff with no sign of hotels, electricity, bathroom facilities, people wearing English Premier League football shirts, fridge magnets, all you can eat buffet breakfasts and possibly even beer. This was going to be living with the native people in native accommodation and I couldn’t wait for the fifteen and a half months to pass to the date of my departure this September.

With less than two months to go, disaster struck. It’s nobody’s fault but I’m not going. The trip has been cancelled, my dream has been shattered, my heart has been broken, my travel bag has been unpacked, my Lonely Planet guide book has been fed to the gerbil and my metaphoric parrot is nowhere near as sick as I have been. The reason for this desperate news is the recent spread of the Ebola virus which has so far killed well over a thousand people in West Africa. I won’t complain as many people have suffered far worse than a cancelled holiday but I will mutter under my breath in a disgruntled sort of way.

Three weeks after my coconut mat was pulled from underneath me I have now got over the disappointment, written off all the countless hours of wasted effort I had put into the planning and I’ve put behind me the fact that I had wasted ten times as much time just daydreaming about how good it was going to be. One day I will go there. I will not be beaten. Just you wait and see. So, West Africa, I hope you get well soon and Mr and Mrs Ashanti, please save me a seat.

I couldn’t find another four week long trip to fit into the time I had arranged to be off work and it was a struggle to find another trip where I wouldn’t have to start from scratch with the long drawn out process of applying for visas. Also, with my heart still set on Africa, it was difficult to find another trip that wasn’t all about standing about all day and every day looking for big animals or climbing Kilimanjaro, neither of which appeal to me … apart from climbing Kilimanjaro, that is, but not just yet. I love rooting around on the internet in search of exotic and exciting holidays but it wasn’t anywhere near as much fun doing this with time constraints in place and with what would have been the perfect adventure still gnawing at my brain like a deadly virus.

Madagascar turned out to be the answer. The lovely people at Exodus Travels (Zanahary bless them) came to my rescue with a trekking trip that involves not just trekking but also just about every aspect of a paradise island’s culture. There’s scenery, seafood, spices, sunshine, music, rare flora and fauna, sandy beaches and, probably best of all, it’s famous for its rum. Although an island in the Indian Ocean, technically it’s Africa, and although it’s Africa, technically I won’t need a visa.

It sounds perfect to me but for the fact that I’ll only be going for two weeks instead of four and I might end up with a cameo role in a Disney cartoon but, under the circumstances, I’m happy to make do with Madagascar.


The sort of thing I'm going to have to put up with on my trip to Madagascar.

The sort of thing I'm going to have to put up with

on my trip to Madagascar.


Arab Ella

If you’ve never spent a Sunday afternoon in Devizes Town Hall then you should. I was there for an hour and a half today and I can think of no better way to pass the time between Lidl shutting its doors to the public and Evensong’s evening kick off.

What made today’s post meridian fun even more splendid was the presence of comedienne, actress, author and love of my life, Arabella Weir who read some passages from her first two books, gave witty and spontaneous answers to questions and made me really, really laugh. She’s probably best known for the character that she played in The Fast Show that coined the phrase ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ but there’s such a lot more to her than that. She is one of those people who are just naturally funny and able to entertain a crowd without a comedy script. I really admire people like that.

The trouble is that her books and her talk this afternoon were about how her battle with an obsession for food and a desire to be ‘slim and gorgeous’ have caused emotional scarring down the years from her being a child. I loved the fact that she could talk in such an amusing way about something that has so obviously been extremely difficult to deal with. People always laugh at me when I’m describing incidents that have caused me distress, even when I don’t expect them to. I wonder if Ms Weir and I are related.

Her life’s tale is retold with women in mind, the vast majority of who go through their lives worrying about their size and shape. She apologised to the large male presence amongst the audience on the assumption that we wouldn’t understand what she was on about but what she said sparked in my mind too. Bits of my life have been very similar to hers. She described at length the constant need to be eating and how she struggled with her Scottish Presbyterian parents’ theory that food was only there to keep you alive and not to be enjoyed, but she never mentioned a twenty four hour a day desire for a pint of Guinness such as the one that blights my life and pushes the tensile strength of the elastic in my skiddies to its limits.

She said something that I have always thought but have never dared to say for appearing to challenge the adoring masses. She said “Delia is brain dead” referring to the way Delia Smith knocks out recipe after recipe after recipe on the telly without displaying even a glimmer of humour or charisma, and she said “All that stuff Nigella says is bollocks. Cooking on a day to day basis to feed and nourish your family isn’t fun, it’s just drudgery”.

But Arabella talked about other aspects of her life and career too which were interesting as well as comical. She said that the funniest people that she had ever met were Simon Day (Dave Angel Eco-Warrior being one of the characters he played in The Fast Show) and Bob Mortimer, and that it was my all-time hero, Alexei Sayle, who had told her twenty five years ago that she herself was funny enough to be writing comedy material for a living.

Arabella is exactly one month younger than I am. After the gig we had a little chat for a minute while she signed a copy of her latest book for me and my heart fluttered. And her bum isn’t all that big really you know!


Be still my fluttering heart!

Be still my fluttering heart!


In the post today I received from my trusty solicitor lady a copy of my new Last Will and Testament. We’ll just call it the New Testament to keep it short, shall we? Now I’m not feeling ill or miserable but there have been a few changes in my life since I last made a will and I hope that there will be a few more before it needs to be read so adjustments to my requirements needed to be made.

I don’t own a house anymore but I do own a business. Some people have gone out of my life and new people have come into it. The last time the final division and distribution or my estate was considered, Pokémon cards hadn’t been invented. When I wrote my previous will I had a pile of financial documents bearing details of vast sums of money but now my credit card bills have all been paid off. I’m pretty sure that I’ve finished having children, amongst whom I shall divide my possessions, but you never know what might happen on a balmy Wiltshire summer’s evening such as this so I’ve left a tenner and a crate of Guinness in the cupboard under the stairs so that any future additions to my team of offspring don’t feel left out.

I’ve also recently renewed my annual ‘no matter what shit happens’ travel insurance largely because I find that since I have moved house I often find myself journeying through the darker and scarier outposts of Melksham on my way home from work. Also I have a number of intrepid travel adventures looming and the one in Ghana, Togo and Benin might just be a little more challenging than my previous jollies have been. I’m sure the pilot of our aeroplane will have an adequate A to Z of Africa but if he doesn’t we may have to deal with the likes of big mountains, dense forests, fierce beasts, warring factions, tropical diseases, spiders and snakes, and Ant and Dec. Where I am going, apparently, is less than a thousand miles from places where cannibalism is said to be still on the menu and as I’ve been marinating my body in red wine for the last forty years I feel a comprehensive policy against such risks will be worth every Togolese franc that I have parted with. I love all foreign food except myself.

Hopefully I won’t need to make a claim on the travel insurance. Hopefully, if I do need to make a claim, it will mean that such measures are taken to render the reading of my will unnecessary. However, if all else fails and my assets and chattels need to be shared between those who love me I would like to take this opportunity to add a few features that the solicitor guffawed at when I suggested including them in the document of death.

In this connection my additional legacies and legatees are as follows. My vast and ever expanding collection of high quality music CDs is to be sold and the proceeds of the sale are to be used either to finance Leeds United’s meteoric rise to world supremacy or to buy all my friends a pint and a pasty, whichever is the more viable venture. My collection of virulent bacteria samples is to be left to the Right Honourable Mr David Cameron MP, preferably on his pillow as he sleeps. My collection of empty bottles is to be left out for the bin men on Tuesday. My Subbuteo Dukla Prague away kit is to be left to my good friend Malcolm. My Subbuteo The Ramones are to be left to my good friend Rigger. My Subbuteo Andy Murray is to be left to my good friend Ian. All my green possessions are to be left to my Dutch good friend Paulien who loves green things. As soon as the Coroner has finished doing what he needs to do with them I’m sure she would soon develop a fondness for mushy peas and Crème de Menthe, though probably not in the same glass.

Now I’m not feeling ill or miserable but death has been on my mind quite a bit this week. A canister of slug pellets has caused utter carnage in and around the garden pot in which my dahlias are fighting for their lives. I thought slug pellets only worked if you fired them from a slug gun but apparently not.

Being serious for a moment, though he never was himself, I was deeply saddened by the passing of comic actor Rick Mayall earlier this week. The fact that he was the same age as me, that his character, The Young Ones’ Rick, considered himself the ‘people’s poet’, just as I do, and that I too have a massive spot on my chin scared me as much as his death saddened me.

What made me even sadder was the demise of three of my very good customers. Before you start thinking the worst I would point out that they had all been suffering poor health and they were all quite elderly and that their journeys to a better place were definitely not as a result of something that I had done to their feet in my working capacity, or any other capacity for that matter.

On Thursday one of my clients cancelled their appointment with me at short notice so I thought I would put the vacant slot to good use. I went into the greetings card shop in the fashionable Phelps Parade shopping mall in Calne and bought three bereavement cards to send to the grieving partners of my former customers. The lady in the card shop looked a bit worried by my bulk purchase until I explained to her that I wasn’t an axe-wielding maniac and that I wouldn’t need a bag because I was going to write in them straight away. Sadly my sad tale gets even sadder here as, while I was sitting in a sad café (my, oh my) having a brew and composing messages of sympathy, my mobile phone buzzed into life with a call from another client to tell me that her husband had recently died. This made me sit for a few minutes in a sombre silence as I reflected upon life and how I should have bought four bereavement cards.

Now I’m not feeling ill or miserable but I did feel the need to tell the world how my life has been touched by death during the last few days. It’s probably also worth mentioning that in the last few days, most notably Sunday morning, although I wasn’t feeling ill or miserable I was feeling a bit fragile. So I’ll leave my collection of Anadin Extra tablets to anyone who wants them … if there are any left.


Now I'm not feeling ill or miserable but ...

Now I'm not feeling ill or miserable but ...


Back on Track

My life during the first five months of this year has been in a state of complete and utter turmoil. In that time I have completed what was probably the hardest journey of my life. In terms of distance it was only eleven miles but in terms of stress, anxiety, fatigue, cardboard boxes, fighting on the phone with admin imbeciles at a variety of utility companies, de-cluttering a lifetime’s accumulation of clutter, emotion and cheap red wine I feel like I have been twice round the world in just my flip-flops.

But now I am in my new home and I am happy. I’d be a lot happier if it was in Bolivia instead of Devizes but I’ve accepted that I’ve got to make these big changes to my life gradually and although I’m not in Bolivia it has at least appeared on the horizon. My new house is much nicer than the old one, my new town is much nicer than dreary old Chippenham and my new life is beginning to take shape and should eventually be much nicer than it has been too.

All of my children (well at least the ones I know about) have visited the new abode and each has given it their seal of approval. Our Rose’s exact words were, “This place shits on Wicks Drive (i.e. the old house)” so no ambiguity there. It’s old and full of character on the outside and modern and full of character on the inside (just like me I suppose) and it’s the sort of house I’ve always yearned for.

Devizes is a charming little traditional market town, nowhere near as tarted up and run down at the same time as most small Wiltshire towns tend to be. It oozes history, culture and good taste but without being pretentious or twee. And it’s got several thousand very good and relatively unspoilt pubs which make it better than heaven, a place where I suspect there are no pubs at all.

My life is still awash with far more work than the most hopelessly addicted workaholic could cope with but I am taking steps to correct my habit. It’s very hard for self-employed people to give up any part of a successful business as in the backs of our minds the words ‘failure, food bank and driven to a life of prostitution’ are always lurking about, but this week I have made great leaps forward in my plan to reduce my workload and increase the time I have available to do something more interesting than hacking lumps off old girls’ feet while they tell me about their hospital appointments, their medication, their blood test results and the lumps that need hacking off other parts of their bodies.

So now my life is almost back on track. I haven’t been out of Britain since November last year and my withdrawal symptoms are intense. I go into spasms every time I look at the life size framed photograph of the intrepid explorer, Judith Chalmers, on the wall above my bed. This time last year I was just embarking on my third overseas sortie of the year so for months I have been looking back and pining for the rest of the world. The heartache is coming to an end though as I now find myself in the thick of preparations for three upcoming and very exciting trips.

My website currently looks more bare and neglected than Bognor Regis seafront as the time and facilities for blogging have just not been available during my period of flux. However, in the new base camp from which a thousand adventures will be embarked upon, I also have a new desk by a window which opens wide to fill my lungs with fresh country air, my ears with the song of the tit, the chough and the turdus, and my eyes with the sight of the nearby Kennet & Avon Canal and the distant Salisbury Plain. Here I have everything I need to inspire me to crack on with my travels and my travel tales.

So I will!

It’s nice to be back, I’ve missed you and I will try to go back and fill in some of the gaps with some of the significant events of the past few months for anyone who’s been wondering what I’ve been up to. 


Mission Control, Devizes.

 Mission Control, Devizes.

John & Terry

I bet you would never have expected to see John Betjeman and me in the same film now would you? No, me neither but it has happened.

We are Seacroft, a short documentary made by raw young talent and local boy Ian Roden, looks at the lives of residents in the fashionable Seacroft district of Leeds and the demise of the 1960s built shopping centre that once stood there.

Betjeman’s words to describe the place are, I feel, rather harsh. Especially when you consider that he came from North East London which isn’t a part of the world that I would boast about living in. However, the film set in the land of my roots features Dorothy from the Seacroft Gate block of flats speaking very warmly about her life there, some very moving music by Andrew Edge and a bit of a poetry recital and a few photographs by me.

 Dorothy (in the middle) and some of the residents of Seacroft Gate.

 Dorothy (in the middle) and some of the residents of Seacroft Gate.


This is a lovely film which has left me with a feeling of pride each time I have watched it. This is partly because during the years that I lived in Seacroft the area and its people made an everlasting mark on me in a very good way, despite its reputation and problems, and partly because I got to read one of my poems in it whereas former Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, didn’t. That’ll teach him to go slagging us off!

Please give it a whirl. I'm sure you'll enjoy it even if you're not one of the chosen few that comes from Seacroft. 


We are Seacroft from Manook5productions on Vimeo.

Going, going, gone!

It took six hours and ten minutes. My house was sort of on the market at 9:00 a.m. on Monday 24th February, though not officially listed or advertised anywhere. By 10:00 a.m. I had had a reasonable offer and by 3:10 p.m. I had haggled like a Marrakech fridge magnet salesman and agreed a more than satisfactory price with the family who were to become the fourth set of occupants in the turbulent history of la Casa De La Revolución Gloriosa in the fashionable Pewsham district of Chippenham. Little did they know about the Leeds United slogans daubed on the walls beneath the wallpaper in the bedrooms or the gruesome manifestations of the tormented non-dead that take place in the downstairs lavvy when the moon is fat.

So, another massive hurdle behind me in my world of hurdles of varying sizes. Once the gargantuan mission of tarting the place up that had taken over my life for the whole of the year so far had been accomplished I thought I would be able to relax a little and get my breath back for a few weeks, or even months, whilst yer man the estate agent traipsed a thousand splendid nosey parkers round in the hope that one would buy. Just over six hours was all that I got to resuscitate myself and really I was out on the road plying my trade during all of them. Consequently I am now still very breathless. Breathless on one count because of the effort required over the last couple of months to get my humble abode straight and on a second count, at the speed with which it was snapped up.

I now have a new agenda with three things on it:

1) To find somewhere else to live, but not just yet. My next dwelling place will be of a rented nature but there is no point starting the search until the sale of this house is almost cut and dry. I don’t want to be stuck with rent to pay as well as a mortgage in the event of the deal falling flat. This does present a hint of anxiety as in an effort to avoid having two places to live I may end up with none.

2) To pack my belongings. This shouldn’t be too difficult as I have already sifted through most of it and given the surplus to requirements bits to the poor and the needy and the man at the tip and neighbours who have paid a lot of money to have rubbish skips in their drives and people who genuinely believe that Lynyrd Skynyrd CDs will be worth something one day.


Things I mustn't forget to take with me when I move house.

Things I mustn't forget to take with me when I move house.


3) To restart my life as Terry Mullan the party animal, mineral or vegetable. My social life for the last two months had comprised of little more than a walk round to Tesco’s for a Satsuma and a natter on the phone to a very friendly chap in New Delhi who had some double glazing he was trying to get rid of. So I’ve booked up to go to some gigs (in England, not New Delhi) and the travel plans are whirling around in my head a bit more rapidly than they had been before Monday afternoon’s momentous achievement.

The bottom line (which I will endeavour to write on the bottom line of this blog piece but I can’t promise) is that, barring a complete disaster, this house is sold and I’m on my way. I’m sorry if you wanted to buy it but missed out. I did warn you that you should log on to eBay as quickly as possible but even if you had done I think you’d have found that the transaction was completed on more of a ‘Buy Now’ basis than an auction.

Click on the link below to see what you could have won: 

Desperately Seeking la Casa de la Revolución Gloriosa