Perfect Moments

In this recent post by Shakeclouds it was posited that the very notion of perfection can be damaging, especially when relating to the achievement of goals, because perfection itself it is such an elusive creature. And whilst I agree with that sentiment entirely, today I discovered that, every now and then in life, there ARE moments of pure and unadulterated perfection, it’s just that often we are so caught up in the whirlwind of our own existence and myriad pressures to perform at the optimum level that we fail to spot them.

What was this moment of pure joy and perfection? In actual fact it was the simplest moment of all. After taking the afternoon off work to pick up my Belgian ID card from the town hall, I came home early, set myself up at the breakfast bar with my laptop and selected the coffee house playlist on Spotify. Then, all of a sudden, the clouds outside parted and the whole apartment was flooded with sunlight.

It was, in that moment, so arrestingly beautiful that I just sat, focusing only on the lovely music and the beams of light coming into my living room, and I felt overwhelmingly grateful-not only for the music, the apartment or the sunshine, but for everyone and everything in my life. Having recently got engaged it isn’t hard for me to appreciate the positives at this point in time, but this was such a wonderful instance of stillness and appreciation that I felt moved to share in this blog; a rare moment of genuine mindfulness, a true oasis of calm. Such moments are not only perfect, they are as precious as the diamond I am lucky enough to now have on my finger. And I have a sneaking suspicion they don’t just hold the key to this crazy thing called life; they are its very essence.

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Graceland

In 1996 I discovered the joy of Graceland* – the album by Paul Simon, not Elvis’s former home (after which it was named). I remember driving along dusty Kenyan roads with the windows wound right down, staring at the spectacular landscape with its peculiar upside-down Baobab trees and feeling a surge of pure bliss as Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes belted out of the tape player.

I must have listened to that album a hundred times during that trip alone, but when I came back to England the tape was relegated to the back of the wardrobe and all but forgotten. Until a couple of days ago, that is, when Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes started playing in the restaurant where I was having lunch. It caught me completely off guard, but as the first few bars of the song wafted out from the speakers I felt that familiar wave of pleasure – a feeling that the vast majority (though admittedly not all-I am partial to the odd mass-produced ditty) of modern ‘popular’ music these days couldn’t hope to elicit.

How, I wondered in that moment, could I have become so desensitised to such wonderful music? The same applies to so many other incredible songs that I’ve stumbled across, then walked away from, over the years. What at first sweeps you up like a heady affair soon turns from lust to love, from love to like, and from like to mere indifference.

It occurred to me, then, that this was a rather neat analogy for relationships. Just like with music, where true classics may wear thin with constant repetition, but will, ultimately, stand the test of time, so the initial flush of relationship lust can wax and wane when we become used to it – but if the relationship is right for us it too will stand the test of time. It will ‘come back into fashion’ in just the same way as our favourite tracks and we will be all the more grateful for its, as with their, existence.

Put another way, we may not always be overly enamoured with one another – the classic “I love you but I just don’t like you very much at the moment” scenario that comes about when life gets in the way, giving rise to stress within our relationships – but if we are truly ‘meant to be’ we can be quietly confident the situation will right itself before long.

We humans are magpies by nature. We like things that are shiny and new, and get bored of the things we know too well, so start taking them for granted. But, rather than spending all our time chasing the new, it’s well worth taking a moment to look around sometimes. Because it’s only then you can appreciate the many wonderful things and people that you already have – and feel thankful.

*For any other Paul Simon fans out there, Graceland is currently available on Google Play for £1.99-absolute steal).

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The Club

She stands in the shadows, eyes narrowed like a cat, watching, waiting. Blood pumps deafeningly in her ears, drowning out the music that is blasting from the speaker beside her. She scans the room, searching the faces of the crowd, looking for him. There. She sees him, standing tall and proud on the dance floor – with her. She quells the surge of emotion that rises up inside her, inhales deeply and steps out of the shadows. She picks her way through the throng of inebriated clubbers towards them. They dance on, oblivious to her presence and drunk on one another’s. Somewhere someone blows a whistle, shrill and loud. As she approaches they start to kiss. His hands reach down and grope her behind. This time the rage explodes like a firework inside her head. She reaches out and pulls them roughly apart. The shock on their faces is satisfying and spurs her on. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she demands, furious now. She grabs him by the arm and starts to pull. He doesn’t resist, he knows his time is up. When they emerge into the cool night air she gestures to the car and he gets in. “Well? Do you have anything you want to say to me?” she asks, keeping her eyes on the road. “Sorry Mum.”

Hey Shorty…

After the success that was my first experience of a US blues rock band, Vintage Trouble, tonight my musical odyssey continues with a gig at Koko in Camden by New Orleans trumpet and trombone player, Trombone Shorty. Both recommendations came courtesy of my friend and travelling (now also gig) partner Gabrielle, whose finger is pushing hard on a pulse I never knew existed (my own music collection to date comprising a handful of woefully old drum and bass albums and a random assortment of chart music so cheesy even Steps would have refused to sing it).

The Vintage Trouble gig was a few weeks ago now, but I can still remember the energy of the crowd and the phenomenal stage presence of the (not unattractive, which always helps) band members. Their charisma, confidence and catchy tunes sliced through my Monday blues like a well-oiled knife, which is exactly what I’m hoping Trombone Shorty will succeed in replicating this evening after what has been a frankly shocking day. Gabrielle assures me Vintage Trouble were but a warm up for this, the main event. Trombone Shorty, my man, you’ve got your work cut out tonight, let me tell you-see you Short-ly (see what I did there? I’m here all week).

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Festival fever

Today I’m off to a one day music festival (Hideaway festival) in Henley-on-Thames. Having spent a large portion of my formative teenage years in Henley I’m looking forward to going back, seeing some old friends and drinking cider in the sunshine (provided the weather holds out).

I’m particularly looking forward to seeing singer-songwriter, Megan Henwood, and “urban reggae heavyweights,” Laid Blak, perform. I first saw Megan sing at an intimate gig in Reading organised by a friend of mine, and was mesmerised by the rawness of her lyrics and the ethereal quality of her voice. Afterwards I snapped up her album and have listened to it countless times since. Laid Blak are a different kettle of fish entirely but no less brilliant-I saw them at last year’s Secret Garden Party festival and this year’s Glastonbury and loved them both times-especially their fab cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Don’t worry.’

As I’ve got older my desire to hang out in sweaty clubs until 6am has certainly waned, yet my love of festivals is still going strong. Whereas once I had the fleeting thought I’d have to stop going to festivals once I’d passed my early thirties, now I’m here I can quite see myself at Glastonbury ten years from now, cider in hand and a big grin plastered on my face.

What I love most about festivals besides the music is the fact they are so inclusive. Whereas going to certain clubs beyond the age of 30 might elicit odd looks from the pre-pubescent clubbers therein (and at this point I refer back to my recent experience of Audio club in Brighton-horrific), by and large at festivals nobody cares how old you are. Everyone’s just in the same muddy boat, and despite the inevitable rain, punctured mattresses and overflowing portaloos it’s simply fabulous.

Also, whether they last for a day or a week, festivals offer a much-needed opportunity to cut loose and forget about the outside world. They enable grown adults to act like teenagers again, albeit only for a few hours. Getting together with friends in a field full of live music and cider tents-surely that’s what life’s about?

Maritime adventures and Philharmonic fun

This weekend I managed to escape the rat race and head down to Rochester to spend the weekend with friends from my Borneo volunteering experience in 2011. The purpose for the visit, besides a general meet up, was to visit one member of the group who has recently bought a house boat (and accompanying berth) on the Medway Marina.

Having always loved being beside the water this was an ideal excursion for me and, though the summer heat wave was taking a slightly disappointing impromptu break, we had a great day lunching on the boat and walking along Baty’s Marsh. At one stage during the walk there were scenes of high drama when we heard a monumental crash and ran back to the main road, to find a hysterical woman who had crashed her Audi into a barrier. Fortunately our Raleigh expedition medic was with us and was able to help calm the woman down until the police arrived.

In the evening we had a barbecue at the marina before walking the half hour to Rochester Castle for a Proms concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (buying tickets for this was possibly the most grown up I’ve ever felt). None of us knew what to expect and we were taken aback by the organisation (almost everyone had thought to bring camping chairs) and the sea of Union Jack flags. We found a spot on the perimeter to lay our picnic rug down and duly proceeded to enjoy the evening’s festivities – in particular the awesome fireworks display at the end of the night (which my brain found somewhat confusing given that fireworks are normally restricted to November).

A night cap at the marina boat yard when we had walked back rounded off what had been a perfect day, and we rested our heads aboard the splendid Sovereign B&B boat. All in all it was a thoroughly British weekend – stubborn weather included – and I loved every second.

Glasto 2013

We returned from Glastonbury early on the4pm National Express coach yesterday, in order to get a good night’s rest before embarking on our trip to Florence on Monday. It turned out to be an excellent plan, as not only were we exhausted after three days of hard partying and sleeping in a tent, it was also much less busy leaving than it would have been at the very end.

As ever, the festival didn’t disappoint. I’m always surprised when I hear people bad mouthing Glastonbury; how anyone can argue against it being the original, the biggest and the best festival the UK has to offer is beyond me. There’s so much to do there-something for everyone-and it’s so well planned and thought out that you could never want for anything (except perhaps some more sleep!)

This year’s musical highlights included Bondax, Hospitality, Rudimental, The Stones, Fatboy Slim (on the phenomenal Arcadia stage, which almost defies description but is essentially a giant mechanical spider with a dj booth in the head, and moving pincers that acrobats spiral up and down from-oh, and also fire jets), Chase & Status, Toddla T & Mal Webb (an Aussie who’s not only a great entertainer but also a bit of a comedian to boot-look him up) in the Hippy Fields.

Lowlights included nearly being crushed to death whilst attempting to exit the Stones gig, the most horrendous hayfever I’ve ever had, a touch of sunburn (but we had sun-so yay!) and an ill advised fake tattoo saying “I Love Cock”, which seemed hilarious after a few ciders but which took a great deal of effort to scratch off-particularly unpleasant given the aforementioned sunburn).

I also loved the Boudior tent where you could get your face painted by the very lovely “Glitter Girls”, and have group passport photos in the dress up photo booth. There’s something so liberating about embracing your inner child and dressing up, and Glastonbury sure is the place to do it.

All in all I had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend with my friends, and despite initially thinking at the ripe old age of 31 this might be my third and final Glasto, I’m glad to report I’ve got a few years in me yet 🙂 Because this weekend’s reinforced how inclusive Glastonbury is of all age groups. Young or old, everyone’s welcome, and that’s perhaps the best thing of all. Michael Eavis, I salute you. And I WILL be back.