With the solstice passing thoughts turn to new growth and light. I’m speaking about daylight, of course, the type of daylight that will soon begin to stretch into the weak hours of the day and, if you can shelter from the cutting North Easterlies that will slowly begin to warm the skin and the soul.
There is always an amount of optimism for the new at this time of year, albeit that the view from the window does detract me from my plans a little. With the house hanging to the edge of Wessenden Moor, we spent yesterday watching horizontal rain whilst entertaining friends. Today it’s a case of surveying the damage after last night’s terrifying 100 mph winds before venturing for a hill walk with George (George is the eldest who happens to be an Explorer Scout and in charge of today’s walk – I’ve just declined Black Hill).
Thank goodness for the bottles of Black Sheep and red wine otherwise last night’s sleep may have been little more difficult. Although the roof sounded to be taking flight at several points throughout the night I’m quite amazed to find that it’s only the smaller chicken hut (empty) in the garden that seems to have suffered any lasting damage. This hut is used as field hospital should any of the birds start feeling sorry for themselves but I’m pleased to say that together with Carsten the Cockerel, they all seem well in their larger home, albeit a bit moody in the wet.
I say amazed by the lack of damage because I’m constantly surprised by my own building skills when it comes to the roof. I’m sure that if I’d taken the usual steps of paying builders large amounts of money to re-build and re-slate the roof then I wouldn’t give it a second thought but because a) I don’t have any money and b) I like a challenge, then the roof is like a fourth child; something that I nurtured into life and, like a child, constantly worry about. No doubt in thirty years when it’s time to re-do the roof then I’ll have become a little more relaxed about the whole thing.
So let’s return to the start. Whilst this is a time for new plans and setting personal challenges for the year ahead, it’s also a good point in the proceedings to take time out and reflect over the year that is beginning to fade away. I don’t like lists or top tens or what was best as generally they are meaningless – just look at the music charts – but I do like to look back and consider what’s been good and perhaps, not so good.
Outside of the normal humdrum there are aspects of life and culture that, let’s face it, make life and culture worthwhile. The focus of this site does give some clues but in the main it’s art, literature and music. So, in no particularly order, here are some of the highs of the year.
In early December I began to notice a curious thing: the emergence of a favourite publisher. Stuck between the Fabers and Penguins on the shelves usually reserved for ‘keepers’ were spines adorned with the letter S. It’s possibly no surprise that Salt has begun to take up more and more room on my bookshelves with the release of John Siddique’s excellent Full Blood in 2011 followed this year by John McCullough’s moving poetry collection, The Frost Fairs, Helen Ivory and George Szirtes fascinating collection, In Their Own Words and, last but not least the novel that demands to be read in one sitting and then read again, Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse. I need a bigger shelf!
Other highlights on paper included Simon Armitage’s Walking Home and the poignant and sometime heartbreaking poetic sequence, Black Roses.
Late summer saw The Rialto publication of Jen Campbell’s bridge pamphlet, The Hungry Ghost Festival which quickly became one of my favourite collections as did Sam Riviere’s startling 81 Austerities. Other highlights in the poetic world included Glyn Maxwell’s original master class, On Poetry, Tom Chivers’ hugely entertaining, Adventures in Form and Jo Haslam’s new collection, On the Kiso Road published by Templar Poetry.
Away from the mysterious world of black form on white page I stumbled across the one that nearly got way. Found hiding in a long lost packing box marked, ‘Books from Bedroom’, I was delighted to re-discover Markus Zusak’s breathtaking novel, The Book Thief. I would urge anyone to read this novel.
Finally in the book world, Mike Scotts’s engaging ramble through a life in music in Adventures of a Waterboy brought back some fabulous memories, including hiring This Is the Sea for 25 pence from Marsden Library in 1985. Strangely, through reading the book it dawned on me that Mike Scott had pretty much sound tracked my life. From the illicit press to play recording of The Pan Within (don’t worry, I’ve since bought it on three separate formats) that wafted through the studios at Highfields Art College to a wedding blessed with the raggle taggle of, A Man is in Love and then to the now with the foolhardy heart of poet writing to the songs of Mr Yeats, The Waterboys have been a constant, albeit unassuming, companion.
An Evening with Mr Yeats by The Waterboys was one of the live music highlights of the year. To be fair, there wasn’t that many. It seems the thirst for cider and festivals is becoming unquenchable to a point that unless you like standing alongside one hundred thousand other people in a muddy field then between June and September, sorry, no show. We did, however, succumb to Mumford and Sons, Gentlemen of the Road stopover in Huddersfield and were surprised by how much better they played in a muddy field as opposed to the Academy where we last saw them.
We like to see acts before they get too big for their boots and in February we fluked it again. It’s what we call our Damien Rice moment. The moment is named from a Valentine gift I gave to Amanda some years ago to see a little known singer/song writer in Manchester. It was February the 14 and the show was, you guessed, Damien Rice. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of seeing Damien since will know what happened. Our socks where lost, our heads a shed. This year Ben Howard took the mantle at the Leeds Met. The album was good – the show was great. It was the highlight of the year until we got a strange call from our friends, Rosie and Steve.
Abigail Washburn would be doing a small show in the barn at their Marsden farm and would we like to come. Now to put things in perspective, Abigail plays cities and festivals not Pennine villages. But Rosie had hit on the great idea of offering her favourite musicians board and lodgings amongst all the totally locally permaculture goodness whilst on tour to stave off the hotel demons in return for a little fund raiser. The show was magical and afterwards Abigail and Kai where joined by members of Bellowhead and Lady Maisery on the hay bales where, beneath a full August moon, folk music fiddled out into the air to mix with the wood smoke from the pizza ovens until each of our children finally gave in and we walked home through the late summer morning. Magical.
Lady Maisery headlined in a similar fashion later in November and suddenly we felt like we were beginning to witness part of folk history. Cue, Dylan.
Other musical highlights released this year (and in no particular order) include:
The Maccabees – Given to the Wild
Andy Burrows – Company
Tim Burgess – Oh no I Love You
Kate Rusby – 20
Beach House – Bloom
Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge
We Are Augustines – Rise Ye Sunken Ships
First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Band of Horses – Mirage Rock
Calexico – Spiritoso
Dry the River – Shallow Bed
Mumford and Sons – Babel
The Lumineers – The Lumineers
And looking forward with an uneasy eye on the credit card to Fossil Collective, Kodaline and back again for 2013, Embrace!
The keener eyed observers will notice that there has been no mention of films or theatre in this cultural round up of good things. Well, so be it. But just for some balance I’m staring at an unopened DVD of Searching for Sugar Man. It’s an uplifting and astonishing piece of poetics retelling an amazing musical. I can’t wait!
Finally, special mention for the Reflected Lines project at Hebden Bridge. Here, John Siddique has written a series of thought provoking Haiku that are displayed in thirteen locations around the town. Hebden Bridge suffered devastating floods in late summer and with most shops being small and independent the effects were far reaching. The trail aims to encourage visitors back to the town to see for themselves how the shops are bouncing back. The trail runs up to the 6 January, take a visit if you can.
Still in the Pennines, another special mention for Andy Hemingway at ahgphotography.co.uk. Andy’s landscape images of the Pennines and the Dark Peak provide a magical window that so few people experience. Please take a look at the galleries on his web site.
So, with light and magic we proceed.
All the best,