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The Hathowrn Halls – the review edition

I’m sat watching breakfast television crunching on Aldi’s very own Special K inspired Benefit when one of the dullest questions is put to the once stage diving Nostradamus of all things public order who’s soon to become the new cheeky cross legged chappy of Saturday night TV.

Mr BBC: So why did you decide to do The Voice?

Ricky Wilson: Because everything in my life that’s turned out good started with me saying yes to something!

It’s a good reply and a philosophy I like. Yes we all know the real reason is because the Voice pays loads of money, is watched by millions and, here’s a coincidence, the Kaiser’s have a new album due out in March but, say yes to something, what’s the worst that could happen?

I agree it’s a slightly flawed science, much like the once beleaguered trade union who, trying to prove that a high percentage of their membership died within five years of retiring, found their figures to be slightly flawed after realising that only dead people had been counted (think about it).

So, bizarrely, it was the words of Charles Richard ‘Ricky’ Wilson and my own twenty second rule (more of that later) that led me to say yes to Write Out Loud’s co-founder, Julian Jordan, when the email came asking if I’d consider reviewing some poetry.

It was a step into the unknown.  I rarely buy poetry books – and yes, I do buy poetry books – on the back of reviews as many leave me cold and don’t get under the skin enough to tempt my fingers towards the wonders of PayPal passwords. So, was I selling my soul to dance with the devil for a free book? Well, no, and the twenty second rule sealed it.

Now you might think I’m going slightly off piste but stay with me. We Bought a Zoo is a film that was released in 2011 and was based on the memoir of the same name by Benjamin Mee. Now apart from the fact that both the book and film have, as you might guess, something to do with buying a zoo, that really is where any similarities end. So when in 2013 the DVD finally arrived in our household we had little expectation. Now here’s the claim, if you haven’t seen it, do, it’s brilliant. Directed by Cameron Crowe (who coincidentally made one of the best rock and roll movies of all time with Almost Famous) and featuring the music of Bon Iver and Jónsi (guitarist and vocalist of Sigur Rós) the film is beautifully crafted and has become a let’s watch again family favourite.

Towards the end of the film, Matt Damon, playing a rather more fortunate Benjamin than in the book, suddenly re-tells the story to his children of how he met their mother, Katherine. Without spoiling the film Katherine died of a brain tumour and her absence in the film acts as the tear making factory until the end, that is, when Matt, or Benjamin, explains how he walked past an unknown Katherine sitting in a restaurant and decided that he would be brave for the next twenty seconds of his life and go in and speak with her – it was twenty seconds that would change all their destinies. See, the twenty second rule. So now if I need to decide on something and within twenty seconds I really can’t find a good reason why not then my fate is sealed and the answer is yes.

So, as a result of all this I did review a book and with the help of news editor, Greg Freeman, it eventually made it to the page. It was an interesting and challenging experience and one which I’ll happily repeat. It certainly wasn’t easy and I now take my hat off to those reviewers who really do care about the work. You can read the review of On Light & Carbon by the very talented Mr Duffy here.

January seemed to pass in a blur of birthdays (5 immediate family) and community celebrations following Yorkshire Water’s plans to destroy the only listed spillway in the country being rejected (please see Save Butterley Spillway to add your support) and culminated in a very special weekend away in the fair city of York to celebrate Imbolc by way of the Guardian’s top ten real ale pubs. Also added to the list was the very special Black Swan who were hosting the fabulous ABCtales at York. I’ve been a member of ABCtales for nearly a year but without any excuse had rather neglected my part on the site. This might have caused some embarrassment when I realised after the reading that I was sitting next to new editor, Luke Neima, but his enthusiasm for the project is infectious and simply spurred me on to post more items, one of which, I’m delighted to say, was cherry picked.

The highlight of the weekend came, however, from the most unexpected source out in the sunshine without any real ale or poetry in sight. Twenty Two years ago whilst in between jobs living in an attic bedsit with shared facilities we affectionately called my garret, I was searching around the FM stations trying to find something interesting to listen to. This was a time of no television due to my inability to lie; if I couldn’t afford a licence then I couldn’t have a television, I couldn’t, so I didn’t. It became one of the most enlightening years of my existence. Suddenly I stumbled upon Johnnie (?) Walker who’d invited ex New Model Army stringsman, Ed Alleyne-Johnson in to show off his hand made electric purple violin. What’s not to like. Ed then went on to play the Oxford Suite Part 1 from the aptly named Purple Electric Violin Concerto and it blew me away. Recorded live, played live, the skill and musicianship took me completely by surprise. As did that very same unmistakable sound drifting over Parliament Street on a cold but sunny Saturday afternoon in January.

Unbeknown to me, and despite his success, Ed has continued to busk throughout his career, so although this was the free gig of the century for me, locals as locals do in the UK (see France where if anyone slightly looks at an instrument a crowd appears), simply walked on by, albeit lighter of coins. Ed treated us to a number of tracks from his double CD, Echoes (crowd pleasers) and found time for a quick chat in-between tunes. I treated myself to another CD from the man, well it had been twenty years, I said. Twenty two, he corrected.

So for this week’s musical interlude get your headphones ready and enjoy Oxford Suite Part 1. Afterwards have a look at some of the busking videos, he really is amazing.