Warning: this post contains ‘parent feeling proud about child’ content.

When my daughter was a few months old we started taking her to a ‘babies go swimming’ class. The idea was to get her to be comfortable in the water and eventually learn to swim. It half worked. Freya loved being in the water and especially loved diving in. We would go every Saturday morning and follow it up with a trip to Borders. [pauses to remember Borders].

In all the time we did this she got happier and happier being in the water and better and better at diving in. What she never did was learn to swim. I used to joke that she would make the most tragic Olympic diver; executing a perfect dive and then drowning.

Years went by and nothing much changed. I tried to teach her but got nowhere. We hired a swimming coach and she made a tiny bit of progress. She made a fine job of swimming underwater but not that all important, lifesaving, swimming on the surface. On holidays in Wales we’d be in the sea every day, sometimes twice a day, but she never moved on.

Learning to swim isn’t the most vital thing in the world. We live a long way from the sea and tend not to go boating. It frustrated me though that she loved the water so much and at seven years old was still unable to do the thing that would make her love of water make more sense.

On Sunday we went to a pool in Oxford and I decided to give her one more try myself. I nagged and cajoled and, just about to give up, asked her to try one more time with the technique the swim coach had suggested. She gave up after four strokes and then so did I.

Then she swam across the width of the pool. I couldn’t believe it. I told her I was very proud of her and praised her effort then I shut up and waited. She did it again. And then again and again. We’d been in the water for a while at this point so I suggested getting out for a snack. No, she said, I want to swim more. She kept going and going. Twelve widths before getting tired.

Of course, this isn’t really a ‘isn’t my child great’ post. She’s seven and most of her contemporaries picked up swimming a long time ago. Part of the reason things took so long is because she has a lazy and stubborn streak in her, just like me. That said, I’m still delighted to see her enjoying something so positive.


50 at 50 - at last

Since I turned 50 in March I have been trying to complete a list of fifty new things I could do this year. Finally, after a lot of procrastination, I have a workable list. These are a mix of things I really want to do, things other people would like me to do and things I'm going to do just to get further out from that pesky comfort zone. Quite a few ideas came from my fabulous daughter, Freya, who would not let me swap No. 25 for 'learning to make things from loom bands.' Thank you Freya.
1. Spend a day with J
2. Spend a day with Jude
3. Spend a day with Freya
4. Watch all six Star Wars Film in a day
5. Play an entire gig with the upright bass
6. Write some cheerful music
7. Finish reading Dante's Divine Comedy
8. Finish reading Milton's Paradise Lost
9. Release a book of poems
10. Learn a formal dance
11. Learn more of another language
12. Take some street photography
13. Try snowboarding
14. Sort out my awful posture
15. Make a short film
16. Play tag somewhere unusual
17. Learn to use a sewing machine
18. Improve my music reading skills
19. Learn to cook some new dishes.
20. Climb a tree.
21. Fix my dodgy tooth
22. Go drunken knitting
23. Apply for the LRPS (distinction with the Royal Photographic Society).
24. Read a self help book all the way through.
25. Go on a rollercoaster.
26. Try Archery.
27. Visit friends more.
28. Extract my own DNA.
29. Meet a tardigrade.
30. Eat more fruit.
31. Don't get a vasectomy.
32. E publish my two finished novels on Kindle.
33. Go to a new Oxford venue.
34. Send some poems to Poetry Magazine and The New Yorker.
35. Learn to recite a favourite poem.
36. Start a magazine (probably on Flipbook)
37. Start a picture of the week on Tumblr
38. Sing O Solitude all the way through in Andreas Scholl's key.
39. Be a forensic scientist for an hour (with Freya).
40. Have a pillow fight.
41. Finish preparing my poetry course.
42. Make an album with [The band with no name whose name is soon to be revealed].
43. Make another album with The Eclipse Trio.
44. Go to a play I haven't seen before.
45. Go to an opera I haven't seen before.
46. Go to an exhibition of paintings or photographs I haven't seen before.
47. Go see Les Miserables (Noooooo!).
48. Improve my chess skills.
49. Complete a cryptic crossword.
50. Do more.

[Update: I will be scoring through items on the list as I do them]


34 Strings

Russ, the guitarist and songwriter in the Eclipse trio has written a full-on Country song. It has everything except references to cars and an unfortunate dog. Russ recently visited Nashville and was inspired to write the song to see if any of the big names in country music might want to record it. This is obviously a long shot, but in a spirit of ‘if you don’t try you don’t get anywhere’ Russ pulled together a makeshift band to record a demo.

When I arrived it was clear that a song like this wouldn’t work well with fretless bass, which is what I play most of the time. Both my fretted basses were in storage so I used the only fretted instrument I had to hand – an eight string Warr Guitar (or touch guitar) tuned in fifths, like a cello. This turned out to be a good choice. Mark Warr’s instruments have an incredible bottom end (and top end) tone and being tuned in a way that a normal bass isn’t meant I wasn’t as tempted to play the usual root/fifth country cliché bass line.

Our drummer was Russ’s son, currently doing great things in his band Port Isla. We were later joined by Richard from my band who laid down some sizzling electric guitar lines. Russ overdubbed a twelve string on top of his six string, put a vocal on and we were done.

It’s a good, catchy song and I hope someone picks it up. Either way, this was another new musical experience.



Some months back my family were asked to help with a friend who was hand rearing a young lamb named Micro. His mother had abandoned him and he needed regular feeding. We only took part in a couple of feeds but this all made a big impression on both children, especially Jude who kept asking how Micro was doing long after we left.

A few weeks ago he asked again and we called our friend to find Micro had not survived. He was too young and too weak. My wife told Jude the truth and made the point that not all animals would be lucky enough to be cared for as well as Micro was. There were tears, mostly from Jude, and we all moved on.

Last night, watching the telly while we were house-sitting (it’s the year of house sitting) with a very sleep Jude in my arms he kept saying, “Daddy, I have to tell you something.” When I asked him what this was he said, “Micro died.” He looked sad and I began explaining how lucky Micro was to be cared for and how lucky Jude was to know and care for Micro. Half way through this I was interrupted by Jude who put his hand on my mouth and said, “Daddy, it’s alright.” Then he fell asleep.


Neighbours/Sovereign Housing

The situation with the house and Sovereign Housing may be improving. We had a mostly positive meeting with our neighbours, a policeman, a representative of Sovereign and a representative of our MP. The professional attitude of all those involved made a big difference. It’s also possible that we were, most of the time, listening to each other. There were some sensible ideas suggested for improving the mood and some clear lines drawn for what was acceptable behaviour. The second half of the meeting was far more positive than the first and an agreement of sorts was hammered out.

Whether this comes to anything is another business. I hope it ends well. When it does I have a few good stories to tell about how, yet again, bad situations often lead to good ones.



Some weeks ago my friend Russ and I and recorded a short acoustic guitar and oud duet. We wrote a piece based on some changes of Russ’s and produced a sketch of a tune. The reaction we got was out of proportion to the time we put in so we vowed to do more.

Last night we followed the same pattern but created a longer tune. We were recording it live in a lovely 500 year old manor house and the ambience of the room certainly helped. As my upright bass was handy I added some bowing and a few extra bass parts. We’ll follow this pattern again and hope to have an EP (it’s the year of EPs) out by Autumn.


The Band With No Name (but not for long)

The band with no name (now not true – see previous posts) was in the studio again recently to finish off the first four songs. This will form an EP that we’ll expand later into an album.

Richard the guitarist added solos that inspired some lighter in the air moments and pulled tones from his guitar we had never heard before. Emma the vocalist sang some backing vocals that gave me goose bumps and I sang a few lines that made me hide behind a chair until I could accept I hadn’t ruined the song. Bobby, the drummer, was on holiday in Poland but he was there in spirit. We spent a large part of our time mixing the tracks and laboured over getting just the right sound throughout. The keyboard parts recorded on the previous session by Colin Henney really came to life and the final mix made us sound like a coherent band. We’re now just waiting for the tracks to be mastered and for some artwork to be completed. What we’re also doing is writing new material. Exciting times.