The semi-lockdown semi-continues with still-quite-quiet days and ever more evocative dreamscapes. The latter, sparked I suspect by the becalmed timelessness of the former, seem increasingly to be drawn from my childhood. So this week, again, the inessential journey is essentially backward-looking – but not, now, in a strictly visual sense.
When I was small, we lived in a crumbling ground floor flat on a slanting, curving road on a hill in North London. A new rock group named The Pink Floyd were our very near neighbours and I recall hearing the music most days as my father pushed me past their house on our way to Highgate Woods or Waterlow Park. Towards the end of our stay there, I believe Nick Mason recorded the band’s roadie, Alan, eating his famous Psychedelic Breakfast in the kitchen and I like to think that those ambient sounds – birdsong, a passing jet, pastel-painted traffic echoing in the Archway cutting – I too heard that lazy spring morning in 1970.
Muted, you see. More innocent (if you half-close your eyes, at least). And more than a bit reminiscent of the strange new semi-locked-down world of summer 2020.
When we left London shortly after that, it was to relocate to the suburbs and a new housing estate that had just been built on the Thames, more or less directly on top of the former Hurst Park racecourse. The sounds I summon from that place and time – like the wake of barges slow-clapping on the walls of Fred Karno’s fantasy island in midstream – have fuelled many of the memories that inspired my coming-of-age-(with-possible-alien-invasion) novella, 76.
And now – without relinquishing the vertiginous perspective of loss - what soundtrack best recaptures that first navigation, by canoe, no less, of an adult world log-jammed with the debris of a banjaxed age? (Converted MTBs still lined the banks; Stanley Kubrick’s droogs had just trashed the Karsino, for bog’s sake!) That would be a little instrumental piece by another of our unlikely neighbours.
In the mid-80s, the only member of Pink Floyd who hadn’t lived along from us in Stanhope Gardens came to record his next album directly across the river from us, on what had once been Fred Karno’s houseboat. Ironically, the first Roger Waters-less Floyd album begins with its own watery ambience. On the first track, Signs of Life, Dave Gilmour gives us the pulling of oars on a small river craft, the creak of rowlocks and the lapping of the river. And while those particular samples probably weren’t even taped on the reach outside the Astoria - and with my canoe long gone by then it’s almost certain that it can’t have been me out in a boat on the river that day - all the same, subliminally, serendipitously...
And emotionally, too, because here is a final Pink Floyd connection for you: Syd Barrett chose a quote from The Wind in the Willows for the title of the band’s first album, and I chose this quote from the same, beloved book for my father’s funeral; his name was Alan as well.
The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.
So we beat on.
I've been writing for as long as I can remember (I think my first letter was a P). I got a degree writing about other people's writing and ever since then I've earned a living writing commercially, one way or another. But I never stopped writing and refining my own stuff. I just didn't do anything with it, until now.