The Storm – A Teen, and a musical poem.

When I was a teen, I wrote poetry. It wasn’t very good poetry. I didn’t know how to write poetry. I was just a teenage boy trying to understand his feelings and putting them on paper. Two things came out of that poetry. I started to enjoy writing. I started to enjoy reading. My English teacher encouraged me to write, I even won and end of year award; a poetry book. The other thing that happened was that I used it to compartmentalise my feelings. If something was bothering me I would write it down and it wouldn’t bother me anymore.

Around the age of 16, I wrote a piece called The Storm. It was included in my poetry collection titled, “I, of the storm”It was my Magnus Opus, it was a poem in 20 parts, 3.7k words, over 12 pages.

It tells the story of a man who decides that he needs to leave his home town. He spends some time thinking about leaving, about why he should leave, until he finally plucks up the courage and convinces himself to go. He then walks alone until he gets to a harbour where he sits and waits hopefully for a ship to take him away. As the ship leaves the harbour he reflects on what he is finally leaving and the hope of the new world that he will be taken too. Only the journey is a difficult one, and a storm erupts and throws everything at him and breaks his ship apart leaving him stranded and fighting for his life in the cold icy waters. Until he is unceremoniously dumped on a beached. Left there. Lost.

In my early 20s my Grandad Pattison died, and I travelled up to Newcastle for the funeral. After the funeral I ended up talking about The Storm with my cousin Gavin. Gavin was interested in reading it and potentially putting it to music. Over the next few years while Gavin was working in Burton-upon-Trent and therefore close enough to me in Manchester that I could drive down at the weekend and listen to what he had and we could do a little work on it.

Both of us moved on and got on with our respective lives but I knew that Gavin kept plugging away on it.

In 2009 Gavin contacted me and said that he was looking at an up beat coda piece to tag on to the end of The Storm. Actually he said, “One thing though. We may need to put a happy ending in as I would wish to finish it on a high (and major key) and give the poor lad some hope.” So one day on a train journey to London I wrote the first draft of Mourning Rain and sent it to him.

Cut to this year just before my birthday and Gavin and I have a chat about songs and maybe collaborating on something. Anyway, Gavin has the “rough mix” of The Storm which he says he will upload to DropBox for me. He has no plans to do anything with it anymore as its a tad dated etc…

So I download the tracks and take a listen.

Ouch. Musically it’s fine. Yes, it’s very much of its time. And it has a style not too dissimilar to 70s and 80s prog rock – music that inspired both of us. I can hear Pink Floyd and Marillion and maybe a little bit of the Small Faces. But I also get some Bowie, some Lou Reed, and a few others.

Lyrically however, there are problems. So many jarring words and phrases. I feel that Gavin was too generous working with my unbalanced lyric style and my teenage flights of fancy. So I agree that it would probably take too much reworking just to get the lyric right and even if I could manage it, it would probably break the soul of the piece. Maybe we should grab some of the best bits to salvage and create a “Songs from the Storm”

So, I spend the next few hours listening to it in order to capture on paper the lyric changes that were made by Gavin and in some places, the singer. The idea being that I would look at all the lyric areas that irked me and see if I could polish off some rough edges. Anyway, something happened. I started listening to it.

I get to one song, The Harbour. It’s a small piece only three verses. Gavin has written a slow piano piece and used the lyric intact. The vocalist sings it with slight emphasis and pauses not quite where I put them. It was never a special piece to me. I never give it a second thought. It’s not in my top ten list of things that I can’t believe I wrote! Only now I do. Only now it is.

Up until this point the music has swept along as the boy wrestles with his decision to leave and then gets on with it. Here Gavin brings it to a halt, removes all the instruments, the noise banging around the boys head; while he sits in peace and looks to the harbour, the piano slowly shows him the new hope for what is about to be the next part of his life.

That one moment is the pivot of The Storm. The boy sits at the harbour and looks at the journey behind him, and where he has come from; the turmoil but necessity of leaving behind his old life. He looks across the harbour watching his salvation in the guise of a ship. The ship that will take him to a new place, a new life. A new bit of hope. But in the calm of that quayside moment, he doesn’t yet know that it isn’t as straight forward as that. The journey across the sea is going to be fraught with peril as the biggest storm he has ever witnessed chew him up and spit him out and leaving him drifting in the dark and cold sea. Strangely, I don’t think I ever understood that when I wrote that piece. It was just three verses that linked poem (viii) to poem (x).

But with the simple melody and piano I suddenly understood. And in that one moment, I got it. You see, I’ve never read The Storm. That is, never actually read it. I experienced it. You see, The Storm isn’t a story about a boy leaving his home town and looking for a new life. That’s what I thought it was about. That’s what I had tried to convince myself, and anyone who asked, that it was about. 

The Storm is a story about a teenage boy’s depression. A teenage boy trying to understand his life and trying to find a way out of, or through a difficult period in his life. I never got that. Because I never had that problem. I wrote it down. I compartmentalised it and moved on. Only I know now how people around me were worried for me at that time in my life. People have read The Storm and said to me, man you were in a dark place when you wrote this! I’ve always just trivialised it. I never felt like that. This is just a poem I wrote. I was never in that dark place. Was I?

Now as I’m listening to it I become a bit more forgiving. I stop listening to it as something I wrote. I stop listening to it as something that has to stand as modern music. I listen to it under the title of the DropBox folder that Gavin gave It “The Storm, Musical Poem” I Listen to it like it’s an experimental art piece. Like it’s something the Small Faces did when they wrote Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Marillion: Misplaced Childhood. Would those quirky lyrics bother me if it had been Lou Reed singing, or David Bowie, or David Byrne.

So I’ve finished up my editorial markup for the potential changes I require, but rather than type it up, I decide to go for a walk. The whole piece is an hour and ten minutes, so I take it for a longer walk. I press play on track one and start walking, and I listen all the way through in one piece without distraction and without thinking about it as something I was involved in. It’s just a concept album that someone has handed to me to listen to.

A number of the lyrics that I hadn’t liked, I don’t mind so much now. Because they work in the context of the piece. Gavin has woven his music around my quirky, unorthodox lyric style (read – unstructured and amateur) and the singer brings them to life. There are so many little bits that I love musically and lyrically.

And there it is, by the time I hit the up beat Mourning Rain, and we have given the poor lad some hope, I’m crying. A 50 year old man, walking down the street with tears in his eyes, brought on by one of the most powerful pieces of music I have listened to.

You see. It’s all there. From beginning to end, captured in 70 minutes of Gavin’s music, and almost 3.5k of words that I wrote when I was 16. A teenage boys struggle with Depression. My struggle.

This is Mourning Rain. This is the lyric I wrote almost 20 years after writing The Storm.

Mourning Rain
I opened my eyes to see
a rainbow in the distance,
I looked to the skies to watch
the clouds burn on the horizon,
A fresh wind blew,
waking me from my burden,
And somehow I knew
that the worst was behind me.
(Was behind me)

Tasted the freshness of a new day,
Felt that something had been washed away.
Went to wipe the tears from my face,
And realised I was in a better place.
I never knew that I'd been gone so long,
Never thought that I'd survive the storm,
And now I feel my wet clothes dry
Let the dark clouds just pass me by,
I'm mourning rain....
I'm mourning rain....
I'm mourning rain....

Looking back I had made
the right choice to provoke the storm,
I had to find the calm inside
to understand where it all went wrong,
But everything feels alright now,

See the future before me
clear of doubt and clear of pain,
Embrace the life afforded me,
now that I've been cleansed by this mourning rain. 
And everything feels alright now

When you listen to The Storm, and I hope one day that you can, it’s hard work. It’s emotional. It is not a cheery piece by any stretch of the imagination, but as the first bars of Mourning Rain kick in, you are uplifted. That boy, struggling to understand himself. Struggling to get out of the deep hole he found himself at the bottom of. Struggling to understand his place in life. Struggling to understand his past and his future, well he made it. At some point in his life; somehow he knew that the worst was behind him. And as he went to wipe the tears from his face, he realised he was in a better place. And everything felt alright now.

You see, the mistake I made when I started listening to The Storm was that I was reading my poem. The poem I wrote when I was 16. You don’t read The Storm, you experience it, you feel it. And Gavin, by adding the music, allowed me to feel it. I just had to open myself up to that thing that I had written on 12 pieces of paper, compartmentalised, and moved on from.

I am so grateful to have this after all this time.

Gavin has brought my Magnus Opus to life and more importantly given it context, and context that I’m not sure I could do alone. It deserves to be heard by as many people as possible – as he worked over many years on it and crafted, in my mind at least, a masterpiece. Even if we don’t make any tweaks, and we don’t polish the final mix. I love it. And I am very proud of what we did with it.

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Ain’t ya got no gingerbread

I think it’s fair to say that 2020 has been a rough year for most; for me, the problems of 2020 actually began back in November, November the 2nd 2019 with my introduction to Flora Walsh. I think you all know the circumstances of what happened that day. The knock on effect was that over the next couple of months, I became anxious about going out. Found myself jumping at the slightest of winds. Looking at every tree that I came near. There was at least one occasion when I woke for work and the prospect of a forty minute drive through the New Forest, when the sound of the wind ripping through the trees in my garden was enough for me to abort, go back to bed, and hide away. Every drive that I took at night became difficult and extremely tiring. And it’s not that the accident happened at night, it’s just that I knew the trees were there moving around in the wind, and I couldn’t see them, I could respond or react to them. The one thing that kept both me and Jacob safe that day was the fact that I saw that oak tree fall, and was able to react to it. The one thing that all my “what ifs” hang on, is the one thing that haunts me. 

Something that took me by surprise in the first few months after Flora’s death was how sensitive I became to my emotions. I’ve always been a closet film cryer. I’m a sucker for a sad movie, that moment when the lump grows in my throat, and that little bit of salty water escapes from the corner of an eye. However that has become so intense for me recently, and not just films, but music too. I seem to constantly be on the state of near hysterical teary breakdown. There was one evening when a Dolly Parton song “Me and little Andy” came on the goggle box… and I just blubbered, out and out broke down and wept…. I don’t know why, but I can’t even read the lyrics for it now without welling up.

Bizarrely enough, lockdown kind of put and end to that. I threw myself into work, it allowed me to concentrate, and push away the unimaginable. I obviously didn’t go out so much. I almost forgot about the whole process. It just slowly slipped to the back of my mind. But, as we head back in to the winter, the winds are picking up, and Flora is on my mind a lot. The last week I have been on edge with everything going on outside my window. Events of that day remain with me as they probably will for the rest of my life.

“Death doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes”

I’ve been relatively lucky with death. If lucky is the correct word to use in this situation. I’ve always said that the reaper hasn’t taken from me directly. Sure, I have lost grandparents, I’ve lost Aunts,  I’ve lost work colleagues, and I’ve lost friends. So yes, I have been around death lurking at the fringes, and I think a lot about it…

I think about a lot about a friend who lost her child to Cystic Fibrosis at young age. I think about my cousins who have lost their mother. I think a lot about my wife who’s mum was taken away from her way too early.I think about my parents who have lost their parents. But I generally don’t have to spend time thinking about my loss.

“There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down”

The death of Mike Singleton shook me, I wasn’t very close to Mike, but we were at the stage where we talked online most days, so I missed him, I missed his conversations, I missed having someone to talk with, and question about his game. The death of Flora has been completely different. I didn’t know her. The only link we have is that we were on the same road, around the same place, when that old oak tree was brought down by winds apparently from the fringes of Hurricane Pablo.

“I have to say that although it broke my heart, I was, and still am, glad I was there.”  – I am the sole chronicler of that moment, and it’s important that the family had the option to know what happened. But being that chronicler has taken its toll.

“Life doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes.”

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“It’s the most excellent cats that are missed the most”

About 14 years ago Rebekah and Jacob visited the Eden Animal Rescue in Cumbria with their Grandparents and picked out two brother and sister kittens, who they named Timmy and Tilly.
I’ve never really been bothered about pets since leaving my parents home, but when we moved house in 2012 I felt that the house needed a cat, but it wasn’t until early the following year that we managed to get one. Bob and Joyce moved from their home in Cumbria and Timmy moved ‘down south’ to join our family.
Sadly today he passed. He has had a heart condition for a long time, but as a result of that two weeks ago he very suddenly had a blood clot which temporarily robbed him of the use of his back legs. Over the following few days he became more mobile and appeared to be having a miraculous recovery, however he stopped eating and became even more withdrawn; he was in Kidney failure. In the end only his heart or his kidneys could be treated, not both, and treating one would cause the other to fail.
He’s stumbled through the last few days but was a shadow of himself.
We were preparing for today, and am so grateful that despite the subdued nature of this Christmas period we were able to spend it with him.
He was a loving cat, friendly, and funny. Extremely picky about his food, and always overly interested in whatever you were doing. Often a pain in the arse when he would choose to sit on you as soon as you sat down, even if he was quite comfy where he was already; frustrated the hell out of me many times. But I don’t think I really understood the bond between human and pet until Timmy. Last night, I sat watching TV until the early hours of the morning, just so that he could deaden my legs for the last time.
Taking him to the Vet this morning with Rebekah was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.
I know I will miss him terribly. The house already seems empty with out him.

Full gallery of Timmy pictures…

*Thanks to Fergus for the post title.

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Into your hands, we commend…

Today I attended the funeral of a woman that I never knew in life. In fact the first time I met Flora Margaret Walsh, she had been dead for mere seconds. Flora was killed in a tragic accident when the forces of nature reasserted its dominance over our modern way of life. A forty tonne Oak tree, that likely started its life as a discarded acorn many years before Flora’s birth almost seventy years ago, was uprooted by freak 80mph winds, the roots gave way in soil, waterlogged from weeks of un seasonal rain, and the tree crushed the car of the unsuspecting Flora, taking a life, and blocking a road for almost twenty four hours.

The medics assured me that Flora was killed instantly and likely knew nothing about it, and as reassuring as this is, it does mean that the horrific sound of the tree crunching the car, will toll as a death bell in my mind for the rest of my life.

Since witnessing the accident I have found myself thinking, “was there anymore I could have done?” I know for sure, that there wasn’t. I watched two fire engines full of firemen, unable to do any more over the following hour, than support the tree and make the car safe for the other emergency services. It would be hours later before Flora could be removed from the car after a team of specialised tree surgeons dismantled the oak with a series of very calculated cuts. But still, time and time again I come back to that moment and examine every decision and action I made.

I have since joked that I now have a mild case of Dendrophobia, a word that I didn’t even know existed a month ago, but in all seriousness, for the last month I have found driving around the country roads of the area I live, on the edge of the New Forest, particularly difficult. Used to having to drive with your eyes peeled to the side of the road, scanning for Deer, Pigs, Cows, Sheep, and Ponies, I now find myself watching every tree with a fearful anticipation. The worst has been at night, when I can’t see the trees, can’t see them moving in the wind. I know they are there. I know that they are moving.

It’s no exaggeration when I say that I potentially owe my life and that of my son, to a small branch that fell in front of my car and made me navigate around it. It was this that made me pay more attention to the uprising of the wind and the movement of the trees at the side of the road. Without it, I’m not sure that I would have seen the tree fall and I wouldn’t have been able to stop in time. It’s strange that I didn’t remember this at the time, only later when giving my statement to the police officer.

I find myself feeling guilty. I feel guilty that I have spent a month struggling with something that happened to someone else. I feel guilty every time someone asks me how I’m feeling. Because honestly, I feel sad. Yes I have images in my mind of what I saw in the car, yes I’ve seen the tree taking its tumble night after night, yes I’ve heard the re-occurring crunch of wood on metal, but I’m alive, and Flora isn’t. I feel guilty every time the narrative appears to be about me, because it’s not about me, it’s about Flora, a woman who was on her way to visit her husband in hospital, and never made it. But I have to juxtapose this with the need to talk about it, I can’t hold this inside, writing about it is the means to help me understand and hopefully come to terms with what was a tragic moment in time.

Today couldn’t have been any different than a month ago, blue skies, no wind, and a warm low winter sun. I met Flora’s daughters, Lucy and Claire, and Claire asked if she could give me a hug. I had been in two minds about going to the funeral, I felt that I needed to go, it seemed that I might find some closure, felt that I should meet the family, but I didn’t feel quite right about it. However, in that brief moment, held in the arms of a woman that I now have only a small but tragic link with, as she said thank you to me, it lightened by heart, and I think she gave me the little extra strength that I needed to move forward.

I don’t recall ever crying at a funeral before, but I cried at Flora’s. I cried for her, I cried for her family, I cried for my family, and I cried for myself.

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in the giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Flora is survived by her husband Martin, daughters Claire and Lucy, and 6 year old grandson Nye.

Donations in memory of Flora are for Knitted Knockers and Waggy Tails Rescue.

Waggy Tails

Knitted Knockers

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Yesterday was a difficult day…

It was late yesterday afternoon before I managed to watch the Rugby final. At half time I really didn’t care anymore and forwarded it to see the final result. The match just seemed irrelevant.

Yesterday  morning before the match I popped out to pickup Jacob from his friends. On the journey home we witnessed a tree come down a kill a woman in her car.

Jacob and I had stopped meters away, a mere second from being underneath it. We saw the tree come down, it was a bizarre moment, almost slow motion, but it was obvious the woman had’t seen it, we were able to stop in time, but the tree landed directly on top of her. I’m pretty sure the sound of the tree impacting the car will haunt me.

As first person to the car, it was obvious that she had’t made it, there was no signs of life, but to be honest with the state of the car, it would have taken a miracle. I’ll spare everyone the details. More people turned up, but we were powerless.

We watched helplessly as the various emergency services tried to work out what to do, but later sat in the back of the fire engine it was clear that they were no longer trying to get to the woman to help her, they’d called it, and it was now about recovery. The huge tree was still unsafe, a number of times we watch the fireman run from the tree as vicious gusts of wind threatened to dislodge it even further, indeed a little later the bow cracked. Eventually a special team arrived on the scene to start dismantling the tree in order to get access to the car.

One of the firemen who been looking after confirmed that she was dead and that she would have died on impact, I’m not sure it it’s true or just to ease the worrying, but apparently she wouldn’t have known or felt a thing.

Finally I gave my statement and the police recovered my car through the mass of emergency vehicles and we were able to leave. Driving back the way we’d come it was unnerving to see a large amount of other tree debris that had come down behind us.

I thought watching the match might help distract me, but it didn’t, and it just seemed so pointless. In the end, I just didn’t care. Part of me is glad England didn’t win, I’m not sure I could reconcile the joy with the utter sadness I feel.

Strong winds: Woman killed and ferry travel disrupted

Woman killed after tree falls on car in East Dorset

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