The Golden Shovel and Gwendolyn Brooks

Just before I go back to writing about music, here's a discovery from the world of poetry.

Whether you know of the work of Gwendolyn Brooks or not, this new form, The Golden Shovel, is a great idea. I've attached an article from the Poetry Foundation which explains it clearly. You can also search the Poetry Magazine's database from the same page to read some of Brooks' works. Enjoy.


New Chess

I'm gong through a chess phase again.

My son is learning the game and getting good enough to put up a decent fight when we play. Meanwhile I'm reading The Rookie by Stephen Moss. It's the book I wanted to write but never got around to (there's a lesson) about playing the game, being fascinated by it but not necessarily being any good at it.

Today I used a new (to me) chess app to watch a game that happened in Tehran between Zhongyi Tan and Anna Muzychuck. I came in near the end and witnessed a queen free punch up with Muzychek refusing to give up until the very end. I loved it.

Here's the game, if you're interested. Soon I'll be posting again about my musical life, where there have been some changes.

Tan, Zhongyi (2502) - Muzychuk, Anna (2558) FIDE WWCC 2017 (6.2)

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Qd3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 b5 7.Qd3 a6 8.e4 c5 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Qxd8+ Kxd8 11.Bd3 Bb7 12.e5 Ng4 13.Ne4 Bb4+ 14.Ke2 Nd7 15.Bf4 Nc5 16.Nxc5 Bxc5 17.Rhc1 Bb6 18.Ng5 Ke7 19.Be4 Bxe4 20.Nxe4 Rhc8 21.f3 Nh6 22.g4 Ng8 23.Nd6 Rxc1 24.Rxc1 Kd7 25.Nxf7 Ne7 26.Be3 Bxe3 27.Kxe3 Ng6 28.h4 Rf8 29.h5 Ne7 30.Ng5 Nd5+ 31.Kf2 h6 32.Ne4 Ra8 33.a3 a5 34.Nc3 Rc8 35.Rd1 Ke7 36.Nxd5+ exd5 37.Rxd5 Rc2+ 38.Ke3 Rxb2 39.Ke4 a4 40.f4 Rb1 41.Kf5 Rb3 42.Rc5 Kd7 43.Kg6 b4 44.axb4 Rxb4 45.Kf5 Ke7 46.Rc7+ Kf8 47.Ra7 Kg8 48.g5 hxg5 49.fxg5 Rb6 50.Rxa4 g6+ 51.hxg6 Rb1 52.Ra8+ Kg7 53.Ra7+ Kg8 54.g7 Rf1+ 55.Kg6 Ra1 56.Rf7 



This time last year I was with my mum and the rest of my family, at Blenheim Palace, celebrating mum's 90th birthday. My neighbours were becoming unbearable again and I was making plans for how to best look after my mum, whose Alzheimer's was increasingly affecting her.

In these last twelve months my family and I got out of our house, lived in a hotel for a while, moved in with my mum to try and care for her and then rented a place of our own when it became obvious that two small children and a 90 year old with dementia were not a good mix.

I hired carers to come in and check on mum when I wasn't around. Then I started to get calls from her, asking me how she should go to bed and whether she should visit her parents (they had been dead for decades). my wife and I took mum to various nursing homes but none were quite right. Either the residents were too far gone or the home wasn't geared up for dementia at all. I was at the end of my tether and wondering what to do when fate stepped in. Mum got an infection and ended up in hospital for weeks. Instead of sending her home they recognised she needed more care and sent her to a home which, at first seemed just right.

But it wasn't right. So my daughter and I visited another, more local place and deemed it suitable. Mum moved from one home to the other but gradually realised she wasn't going to improve. The dementia worsened, and she started to  lose some of her legendary optimism.

At Christmas she stayed with us and, when it was time to go, admitted she had had enough.

In January she caught another infection and the doctor suggested a trip to hospital might not be the best thing for her. We visited regularly, noticing that mum was sleeping more and more. On one visit mum was laying in bed, unable to speak. She tried to say something to me which was, I thought, "I'm not going to go on."

The next day she couldn't get any words out at all.

The day after that my wife, who had been reading to her, called me and suggested I come over.

I sat with mum, talking to her and looking into her eyes. She seemed to want to sleep. Then she opened her eyes wide, as if to take one last look around, closed them and I hear d her breathing slowly quieten, fading to almost nothing. I listened hard, just like I do with my children some times, straining to hear a breath. There was no breath.

Mum had left the world with grace and dignity. We gave a her a good send off with remaining family and good friends attending the funeral. I've been busy with paperwork and all the usual fall out from the death of a parent.

Today though, is her birthday. Her 91st. Her optimism and kindness live on and those of us lucky enough to know her have plenty of great memories.

This year is going to be full of challenges and adventures and I can't wait to get started.


Top Ten Albums (sort of) of 2016

This has been another great year for music, if not for musicians. It's always hard (as well as probably pointless) to compile a top ten list of albums and this year it's as hard as ever. If I'd compiled a 'most listened' list it would quite different though. That's mostly because musicians I love kept dying and I wanted to remind myself of their work.

The biggest surprise was that my most listened to albums were by, to all intents and purposes, a cover band. But what an amazing cover band. The Security Project play, mostly, the early material of Peter Gabriel and they do it magnificently. Once you get past the question of why they are doing it, their two live albums are a treat for the ears. As a long time fan of Trey Gunn’s work on the touch guitar I was delighted.

The other great surprise was Neil Cowley’s Spacebound Apes. A concept album by a jazz trio who aren’t a jazz trio. Anyway, here, with links and in no sensible order, is my list.

Spacebound Apes – Neil Cowley Trio
In Movement – Jack DeJonette, Ravi Coltrane, Matthew Garrison
Live 1 & Live 2 – The Security Project
Beyond Now – Donny McCaslin
Fool of Music – Markus Reuter
Blackstar – David Bowie
Cap Waller – Bertrand Belin
The Stone House -Wingfield, Reuter, Stavi, Sirkis
Charentsavan – Arsen Petrosyan
Continuum – Nik Bartsch’s Mobile
Diwan of Beautyand Odd – Dhafer Youssef
Emily’s D+ Evolution – Esperanza Spalding
Event Horizon – Mark Wade Trio
Frequent FlyerLive – Lorenzo Feliciati
How Near How Far – Etienne Mbappe
Into the Silence – Avishai Cohen
The Magical Forest – Sinikka Langeland
Near LifeExperience – Scott Kinsey
Prog Noir – Stickmen

Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind – King Crimson

and EP2 by New Accelerator


Four years

It’s been four years since that terrible, inevitable drive through the night to my parents’ house. Four years since I arrived and found I was twenty minutes too late to say a goodbye. In some cases time heals nothing and in this case I miss my dad.


Warming up and the car-crash fingers

I decided it would do know harm to try an instructional video on bass warm up techniques. My usual warm-up technique is 'take the bass out the bag and tune it up'.

I scoffed at the five whole minutes of physical warm up suggested before picking up the instrument. I heartily laughed at the initial exercises.

Then I tried again.

Although I could easily play the opening exercises it seemed worthwhile to look closely at how I was playing. My fingers were not doing what the pro was doing. In fact, my fingers were going through something of a car crash compared to his graceful manoeuvring of the fingerboard.

I looked really carefully at what was going on. Instead of each finger of my left hand falling neatly on each fret in turn I was seeing index, middle finger, little finger and little finger again. Or, worse, index, middle finger, ring and middle finger fighting for the fret, little finger. Rubbish. I went over this again and again, trying to get the fingers to do the right thing. It turns out that decades of bad technique don't go away that fast.

So now I have a rather more humbling practice regime. And I have stopped scoffing at the physical warm ups. There is always something new to learn.


NaNoWriMo or no?

November is getting closer. I have an idea for a novel and the yearly, NaNo event is the perfect way for me to get it written. There are two nagging doubts to overcome.

Firstly: will it be worth writing? I had promised myself to make the next book (this is number four) the best one. To be sure of this I’m creating a more solid plot outline and some sample chapters.

Secondly: is it the right book? Writing a thriller (which is what this is) is something I seem to be able to do. But I feel there’s something different I can do. I feel if I can write the blurb for the back of the book, I can write the book. Perhaps this is a sign that the idea is not ready yet, or that I’m just clueless and not a proper writer.

All these things are possible.