Monthly Archives: November 2009

the right kind of tired.

It’s left me queasy in the stomach and cut-up and physically very knackered but I had a brilliant, totally different day today: up on the steep-sloped Sussex downs, clearing back brush and cutting it down to the roots for the Sussex Wildlife Trust. The company for whom I write charidee fundraising guff organises a staff volunteer day and invited me to get in on some rural hard labour action. Couldn’t resist. The SWT also has more seasoned volunteers who work every week on clearing miles of the valley. So far it’s taken four years. But they regularly chuck groups of slack-handed city corporate types and students up there as well for much needed fresh air. Voluntary? If Michael Caine is going to bang on about national service (pay your taxes mate, contribute properly yourself before you start barking opinions on sorting the kids out) then what about making this kind of environmentally sound contribution a compulsory part of the curriculum? Or the whole curriculum? But, in the words of Ronnie Corbett, I digress. Apparently the staff at Brighton Amex went along with a huge Waitrose picnic hamper, packed beer instead of water, were totally fucked up by lunchtime.

Anyway, the work involved chopping and sawing brush away from its roots, creating huge thorny balls of unhooked plant, roughly the size of a small cottage, then rolling them down to the bottom of the slope like a giant snowball, where they were chucked onto a big bonfire. Basically, since the war and mixymatosis in the 50s, no animals have grazed the southern downs properly. Now the whole thing is becoming a National Park, they’re trying to recapture what downland should be like. First get rid of the overgrown nonsense, then bring the animals back to graze. SWT have their own sheep and cattle already on the job – however apparently regular farmers can get paid to allow their livestock to graze on the downs.

If you know Sussex, we were up behind the white cliffs of Lewes.

While I was there, sawing away, the details of next year’s single, album and tour all got remarkably smoothly ironed out and fell into place during an email conversation between the guys at ITB and Xtra Mile. It was weird because the normal music industry organisational discussions all took place with me joining in on email while actually rolling around in sheep shit and getting thorns in places thorns should never ever go. I even got the iPhone covered in rabbit droppings at one point. Although it was tempting just to stop and concentrate on music things, I would’ve looked a right dick sitting on this gorgeous piece of empty downland tapping away at my phone.

Now, I’m the right kind of tired. Don’t get it very much, certainly not at home. 95% of my life, my brain gets tired by the end of the day but I haven’t really exerted myself. Even on tour, when we’re carrying gear around or performing or what not, it’s not truly heavy exercise – and comes in small doses. But spend a day doing reasonable (not even particularly extreme if I’m honest) physical labour and the kind of tired I feel at the end is so much better, so much healthier and more balanced, it’s a stark reminder the depth of the koyaanisqatsi we find ourselves in most of our days. I don’t watch Hugh Fearnley-Wotsit very often because of how much he loves to eat everything alive. But I hadn’t realised he was behind the land-share project, where people who have spare land let other people make positive use of it. Genius. Let’s connect younger, hipper companies and collectives either to the kind of volunteer projects I sweated on today or, even better, get them involved in sharing land and putting it to good use.

A campfire micro-tour circuit. Create a series of spaces across the country where small gatherings take place through summer to share unamplified music, like tiny miniature folk festivals. Keep them responsible, fewer than 50 people, nothing like an actual festival, and base the whole thing around a campfire. Make it a “between ‘proper’ festival” tour circuit. Include stand-up and storytelling and non-stage theatre… but make it tread lightly, take its litter home and don’t fuck up the land. Could be epic.

So anyway, I got home as inspired as I was cream crackered.


why Vauxhall Astras suck arse

I’m hunting for a new car rental place, ever since Brighton Budget on Lewes Road shut down. It’s sad because they were great lads. I got so regular they used to let me grab a car, drive off, no money or paperwork and I’d pay when I got back days or weeks later. They were a touch, um, UKIP, but never minded me. Much missed to be honest, I got cleared by the Sussex cops to join a gun club with one of them (!) but never found the time to go.

For my tour I’ve rented a Ford Focus from Brighton Thrifty, paid up-front online. Except when I showed up to collect it, they gave me a Vauxhall Astra. The small print said ‘Ford Focus… or similar’ and I was in a hurry, so I didn’t argue, just took it and hoped for the best. Now I’m sure it is ‘similar’ in stature/price-range to a Focus – and I don’t know much about cars beyond driving them – but the Astra is just total clenching shit by comparison to a Ford, regardless of Henry Ford’s nazi history. Fucks me off! All the things wrong are tiny on their own but add up to a fat whole, especially with a lot of driving to do over a period of weeks.

I can’t see the indicators or fuel gauge because they’re obscured by the steering wheel. Add to this the unreliable indicators that sometimes stay on when you think you’ve switched them off, plus a very quiet ‘tick’ and the result? I continually have to scrunch down, every time I accelerate out of a junction, to check whether I’m still indicating or not.

Because I can’t see the fuel gauge I’m habitually using the ‘miles left to empty’ on the digital display menu instead. On the Astra this display menu is incorporated with the CD/radio information but for some unknown godforsaken reason, you can’t switch between items on the menu when the CD or radio is actually on. Why on earth would they do that? Surely that’s extra work for a programmer / electrician to make something palpably worse!?

So I’ve been using the manual mileometer on the dash rather than the shitty digital display to calculate my total trip mileage – which is fairly important on a tour for accounting. But when I left the car unused for a day off, the motherfucker reset itself to zero. I’ll have to ask Thrifty what the overall mileage is when I take this wheelbarrow back.

The seats are another piss-up-a-rope. It’s a 3-door and the front seats fold down and forward easily enough, however to raise them back up to normal again, you have to lean down and pull the lever under the seat to the front as well as the handle on the side. Talk about finnickity, especially when you’re doing it a lot to get gear/people in/out of the car. The seats are an odd shape for the car too, they don’t seem to fit properly, so sometimes they get caught. An utter fucking pain.

The doors are unwieldy, long and low so that even getting in and out is more effortful than the Focus. I have no scientific comparison but it feels like the blindspots are massive compared to the Focus as well. I’m missing people moving in certain places and having to lean around a lot more often.

Initially I liked the tinted rear windows until I realised they’re not tinted enough to actually conceal anything. wtfp.

And the straw that snaps the camel’s cock is, I can’t even fit my guitars in the boot properly. In a Focus, even in a Fiesta, I can squeeze at least the acoustic in the boot, so it is hidden when I park. This tour, both guitars and my borrowed keyboard are having to come into every hotel and can’t be left even for a few minutes because it’s so obvious there’s gear there.

The drink holder (and there’s only one of course – passengers can hold their own fucking coffee) is in the stupidest place I’ve ever seen, right between the seats but really far back so you have to stretch your arm round at a weird double-jointed angle to grab your latte.

Even the fuel cap is pissing me off: it’s an old fashioned loose screw-up one, so you have to put  on the roof while you’re filling up, inevitably resulting in an embarrassing chase across the forecourt if it’s windy and the risk of just losing the little shit. It’s the 21st century and they’ve got the same fuel cap as a 1970s Renault 4.

There’s more, so much more, but I keep forgetting bits. A general point: every time I’ve driven in the USA the car has a digital compass on the dashboard, so you know what direction you’re going in. This massively helps if you’re navigating through a town, even with maps. I don’t want to SatNav and lose all my (already pissingly small) navigational ability, I want to use maps. If cars had a compass in there too, mapreading would be 10x easier… or is that one just me?

So there you go: give the Vauxhall Astra a miss and get the Ford Focus. I’m not being endorsed by Ford, haven’t talked to them or anything (though hi, fancy giving me a free car to drive around Europe in? I’ll shut up about your founder’s fascist past!) but touring solo in a car, you need a haven as well as just an A-To-B device, you need to love it and feel comfortable whatever the scenario. I’ll never knowingly hire an Astra again and if Thrifty – who were otherwise perfectly charming, efficient and good value – can’t guarantee the car I ask for then they’re off the list.