The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Friday, June 30, 2006
WALKING AWAY, BACK TO YOU

I seem to have returned, quite naturally, to the habit of long-distance walking around London. This Saturday I somehow contrived to walk from Chelsea to Richmond (note to readers unfamiliar with the geography of London: it is a very, very long way) and then back across the river to Ealing Common. A walk full of signifiers, but thankfully these are now working in a positive way. The splendid weather does help one’s enthusiasm, but more importantly I feel I can walk around this city and not encounter a haunted house on every corner.

There’s no need to go into intricate detail about the walk here; a straightforward, slow stroll down through Fulham, across the virtually unnoticeable Fulham Bridge (the footpath which runs parallel to the District Line) into Putney, then through the highly pleasurable leaves of the outer edges of Barnes, into the quaint, in a Tuesday afternoon in Wishaw in August 1974 kind of a way, dappled shopping streets of East Sheen, and finally through the ever narrowing road into the little Brighton that is Richmond-on-Thames. After some food and rest I went north again, skirted the would-be seaside resort into which Brentford perpetually threatens to turn (until you see the council estates at the back and realise it’s Craigneuk), and strolled through the suburbs of Ealing – how can a suburb have suburbs? South Ealing, St Mary’s…? Threading through the busy Broadway, I picked up various elements of 50p esoterica, including, I was thrilled to find, A Wonderful Day, the album by Sweet People from which stemmed the surprise 1980 top five hit “Et Les Oiseaux Chantaient (And The Birds Were Singing).” In truth it is placid orchestral-electronic MoR, barely one step up the latter from Richard Clayderman plus library sound effects – and yet, listening to it, it seemed to provide the perfect soundtrack for a day where nothing happened, as such (except that something did finally happen eight thousand miles away, but I had no way of knowing that at the time), and yet was, in its way, nearly perfect.

“And The Birds Were Singing” I’d dismissed for decades as a Noel Edmonds-induced novelty hit – James Last does “The Birdie Song” at 16 rpm – so I was quite taken aback to hear it anew and be presented with what was essentially an Angelo Badalamenti backing track for Julee Cruise. When a female voice did eventually creep into the troubled atmosphere of the next track – “La Forêt Enchantée” – my heart gasped. Not all of it is that successful, but track titles like “Il Etait Une Fois” and “Un Eté Avec Toi” – oh, YES – tell all the story necessary. Also to my delight I found a mint cassette copy of Strange Meeting by Power Tools, a trio of Bill Frisell, Melvin Gibbs and Ronald Shannon Jackson from 1988 which the man Sinker once described as “the Jimi Hendrix Experience in negative,” and one of my favourite records of that period. The title track is an abandoned Duane Eddy of a Tortoise lift shaft waiting to become a hit single.

Generally my musical accompaniment for the day was cheery, bracing stuff – Colourbox’s long unheard (by me) but not forgotten works of ‘80s genius (“The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme”/”Philip Glass” – is this, by default, the greatest single of all time?) and Fatboy Slim’s jolly Greatest Hits collection; I was very nearly tempted to do a Christopher Walken over Ealing Common when “Weapon Of Choice” came on (Sly Stone sings “Guaglione” produced by Lalo Schifrin?) – and, between you and me, I could make a fair fist at it – and moved beyond movement when “Sunset (Bird Of Prey)” unveiled itself; the best record to feature a Jim Morrison vocal, in my opinion – an elegy of liquid hope which reminded me of those blearily sunny autumnal pop records of late 2000 (it turned out to be her last autumn) ranging from “Black Coffee” to “Everything In Its Right Place.” The moment at 2:33 when all the elements of the music peak is one of the great instances of punctum in 21st century pop thus far. Even if because it makes me think of Sister Feelings Call by Simple Minds, that signifier of a life about to end a generation previously.

After Ealing Common I was pleasantly tired, took the inward hint and got a nearly empty tube and almost as empty bus home. As I say, it was a day when nothing seemed to happen – but compare it with that other long walk I took four winters ago and it is clear that something fundamental has changed. Yes, I know, there are Plan B and Magik Markers records warning me not to be complacent, and I will come to those (and others) all in good time. Thoughts which are far from random spring to mind – did that swan save me? Was that swan her?

(Julee Cruise did a song called “The Swan” but that’s perhaps going further than we strictly need to, for the moment)

And at the other end of this strange week, I sit writing these reflections in the full knowledge that apparently banal homilies such as “good things come to those who wait” actually apply; despite minor temporary hurdles (which nonetheless devastated me, albeit equally temporarily), everything finally came through in the end, thanks to patience and faith. Oh, and love, as though I needed any further final proof – the emotions and bodily reactions on my part this week speak their own irrefutable story. It is nearly time to embark on that next great adventure in earnest, and I have more than ample supplies of physical and moral courage to sail those sweetest of seas. And, dazzling beyond bogglement of mind, there is yet (whisper it very quietly) scope for that surprise, triumphant last-reel re-entry into Oxford…how can it be that there are likely to be yet more pages to add to my Oxford story? Perhaps because as long as I keep breathing and believing, nothing really finishes.

I am not so fearful.


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