Thursday 17 March 2022

Desert sand

Yesterday afternoon, here in the East of England, the skies turned an eerie yellow-brown before swathes of grey merged with it like watercolour paint and the rain came lashing down. 

This morning, dry and sunny, the sky is fresh forget-me-not blue, but what’s this stuff on the doorstep? On the window-panes? On the gutter, on the lid of the water butt too … dusty orange splatters and little powdery piles of…. paprika?! I wipe my finger across it softly - ah, is it sand? Indeed, a quick online search tells me that Storm Celia has picked up Saharan dust and blown it across Europe, and now much of it has landed here in the puddles of yesterday’s showers. 

I can’t help but like the thought of that and find something strangely romantic about the idea that part of a desert over 2000 miles away has ended up in my garden without any human intervention. I feel the same about migrating birds and insects, fascinated by the mystery of their journey, the pure power of nature, and how these phenomena somehow shrink the world. 

It reminded me of my one visit to a proper desert, 25 years ago. I was lucky enough to get a free trip to Dubai, thanks to a job at the time. It wasn’t the same Dubai then as it is now – not so much the millionaires’ megacity with its rapidly accelerating construction and outrageously tall skyscrapers, but instead both lower rise and lower key. Away from the hotels and souks and the creek with its (suitably) creaky dhows were those vast expanses of butterscotch sand, punctuated by tufted grass and some lightly smelly, but really rather lovely, camels. They struck me as being very gentle creatures. The sheer quietness of the desert was like nothing I’ve ever known. 

I found that trip memorable, even before the plane touched down. The two young Arab women seated next to me as we left London were stunningly beautiful and long-limbed, heavily made up and wearing designer label Western clothes - I felt hideously ugly, stumpy and shabby beside them.  Friendly and sweet, I think they felt sorry for me as, just before landing, they offered me a generous spritz of the expensive perfume they were spraying on themselves. Oh god, I clearly smelt as bad as I looked (and readily accepted). Then, in their tight skirts and shiny high heeled shoes they took it in turns to disappear to the loo and came out fully concealed in hijab and abaya, ready to return to Emirati culture after their British jaunt. 

I was with a small band of strangers on that trip and we did all the usual touristy things - getting bumped about in a dune buggy as well as on a camel’s back, trying out a hookah pipe, all that. I also spent a free hour in a very modern shopping centre and found a store selling music. It was very mainstream but I like this thing of buying music when you go somewhere unfamiliar so that it's inextricably linked to your travels whenever you play it. In this instance I picked up the best thing I could find which was ‘Man’ by Neneh Cherry. Not an album I kept in the long term but, who knows, after being donated to a charity shop maybe it ended up thousands of miles away once again,  just like this morning's desert sand.

Sunday 6 March 2022

Songs that make you smile

How are you doing?  I must admit that, like many I’m sure, I’m finding the ever-increasing sadness, insanity and worries about the world quite difficult to deal with, especially from our position of relative powerlessness.   We can only do whatever kind things we can from this distance, whilst finding our personal coping mechanisms and, hopefully, talking things through as needed.   I thought I’d also have a look at what the professionals recommend and decided it might be an idea to tackle it from a different angle, as in, how do you talk to your children about this stuff?  Not because I have any young offspring to help through it, but simply because I reckon I could do with having a grown-up chat with my own inner child!

I read this article by Philippa Perry, author and psychotherapist, she of the black-and-white hair and missus to lovely artist, ceramicist and national treasure Grayson.  I think she speaks a lot of sense here, but there are a couple of things she says which particularly stood out for both my adult and inner child self.

There’s this one:

"The best thing we can all do if we are not in a war zone is to appreciate the relative peace we have..."

And this:

"We can remind them that concern is natural and it's good that they feel for people getting bombed and fleeing their homes, but it is our duty to enjoy our freedom as we have it now..."

Thanks, Philippa.  I think there can be a tendency to feel guilty about this but of course it helps no-one, so a duty to at least appreciate and enjoy whatever freedom we have sounds balanced and healthy.  It's also one of the reasons I had an urge to blog again today (I know, so soon!), because I've been thinking about songs which are so enjoyable that they just make you smile, whatever else is going on in life.

When I say "smile", I mean those genuinely involuntary ones - those big, helpless beams, those goofy grins, maybe with a little spontaneous laughter thrown in too.  They probably don't happen that often in response to a song, but maybe there's some mileage in the idea because there are a couple I can think of already at least.  And here's the first one - it's 'Hertz' by Amyl & the Sniffers, and it gets me every time.

Amyl & the Sniffers: Hertz

I've a lot of affection for this bunch of Australian punks anyway but there's just something about the way that their enthusiastic singer Amy Taylor makes her demand so forthrightly - "TAKE ME TO THE BEACH, TAKE ME TO THE COUNTRY!" - which tickles me.  I think it's that odd combination of quite a romantic notion being expressed in such a forceful, bratty way.  There's no subtlety, although it's all about getting away from the city to be somewhere nicer, with fresh air, hand in hand with someone, with the breeze in her hair (as well as a little backseat love action.  And fish'n'chips. Sounds pretty good to me).  What with that, her unadulterated accent,  the song's irresistible catchiness and the OTT guitar break.... anyway, it simply makes me smile like an idiot, usually when I've heard it on the radio while I'm working and I'm just grateful that nobody but the sparrows can see me. 

Are there any songs which just make you smile, no matter what?  Is there a potential series here, I wonder, open to guest contributions, if you fancy telling us more?   You'd be very welcome, always.  Our inner children could probably do with some extra smiles.

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