My 50 Favourite Things (part 2)
Continuing my celebration of favourite things...
15 - Motorbikes
I must have been about 18 or 19 when I got my first motorcycle - it was a second-hand Suzuki 250 and I loved it. At least, I loved it until I got my next bike - a band new Honda 750 KZ. But having a bike was only part of it. While I've never been terribly interested in sports, I was a big fan of motorcycling. My hero at that time was British biker Barry Sheene and whenever he was racing I'd be glued to the TV.
By my early 20's, I'd moved from bikes to cars and though I've always had a bit of a yearning for those hot tyres and screaming engine, I never got on a bike again. Nevertheless, I can't help but turn my head to watch when a stream of bikers come tearing through our village on a Sunday afternoon.
16 - Musical Instruments
As well as folk, classical and electric guitars, I've owned and played a host of other musical instruments over the years and I still love trying out anything new. Those that have come and gone include banjos, mandolins, a concertina and several kazoos. I still have a couple of tin whistles, a recorder, a ukulele, a ukulele-guitar (currently tuned to open D), a didgeridoo, an adongo (thumb piano) and a mouth organ.
17 - Photoshop
When I got involved in setting up a theatre company, I agreed to take care of all the publicity. At the time, I didn't think this would be too much of an undertaking, but it soon emerged that I'd have to design posters and programmes for 12 different shows (not to mention the eight plays we went on to produce in the following months).
I foolishly imagined I'd be able to pull this piece of work together with a basic Word programme, but when a friend introduced me to Photoshop, I very quickly realised how little I knew and how much I needed to learn. My mate taught me the basics of using layers and that was all I needed. Admittedly, I encountered a bit of a steep learning curve when I took my first designs to a commercial printer, but the benefits of Photoshop and my good luck in coming across it at just the right time, have never left me.
Of all the posters I designed, one of my favourites was one that, sadly, never saw the light of day. My play 'Dead Dogs and Strange Issue' had to be cancelled and we ended up putting on another play instead ('Love Song in Sixteen Bars'). Apart from all the theatre posters, I've also used Photoshop for loads of other things - what I generally refer to as 'messing about', as in my 'Ice Cold in Alex' photo...
18 - Hat Making
I love hats - I love wearing them, trying them on, buying them, experimenting with jaunty angles, and generally being a bit of a hat-maniac. It was only natural therefore, that there had to come a point when I had a go at making them myself. My first one was part of a costume for a festival and meant to be a sort of Victorian top hat. I made it out of papier mâché and painted it black. It looked the part but it was as hard as hell and uncomfortable to wear.
Since I didn't really want to wear something that wasn't actually comfortable, my next foray into hat-making was to use cloth. I came across an old Newcastle United football shirt, so I cut it up and turned it into a cowboy-style, wide-brimmed hat. It worked quite well, though tended to be a wee bit floppy due to the lightweight nature of the fabric. I determined that my next hat would be firm, so when I came up with a design for a storytelling hat, I used a selection of strips of different coloured felt.
The next stage of my career as a milliner, was to make a felt hat from scratch - ie make the felt properly, moulding it into the shape of a wizard's conical hat and decorating it with suitably wizardish symbols. I had no idea how to go about this, so I went to a felt-making workshop and learned how to do it from an expert. The hat I ended up with, was blue and highlighted with moons and stars. Unfortunately, my measurements were a little out of kilter and the finished thing didn't quite fit my massive head. Oh well.
19 - Travel
I'm not what you'd call a seasoned traveller, and in fact didn't venture out of the UK until I was about 25, so I don't have reams of stories and photos like other folk. However, the places I have been to made quite an impact on me. From the golden beaches of Koh Samui, and the Grand Canal in Venice, to Spain's magnificent Alhambra Palace, or the shores of the Western Isles, I've done a fairly average bit of travelling. I'm no expert on packing a suitcases, or how to get the best hotel deals, but I do like to go exploring and wherever my next trip finds me, I'm sure it'll be just as amazing as I want it to be.
20 - John Martyn
I first heard John Martyn when he appeared on the BBC's Sight and Sound in Concert series in 1977. I'd never seen anyone using open tunings before and I was absolutely fascinated. Martyn died in 2009, but his influence lives on in his many superb recordings. His distinctive voice and the slurring vocals he developed over the years, perfectly match his virtuoso guitar style.
Even so, I have to admit to not being so keen on his later work when he moved to using electric guitars, since it was that raw, acoustic sound that had first attracted me to his music. These days I can play some of his less complex songs, such as 'Cocaine' and 'Over the Hill' but his best work, like 'Solid Air' and 'Rather Be the Devil' still elude me.
21 - The Sound of Music
Any list of my favourite things is always going to include one of my favourite musicals, 'The Sound of Music'. While I'm not generally a huge fan of musicals, there are a few that I always go back to, such as 'Cabaret', Chicago' and 'The Threepenny Opera'. However, it's the Julie Andrews/Christopher Plummer movie that really plucks my strings when it comes to sing-a-long time. I first saw the movie when I was eight or nine. It was one of the few films that we went to see as a family and by the time they started showing it on TV, we must have seen it at the cinema seven or eight times.
Like a lot of fans, I probably know most of the words to most of the songs, but I think it's that I've always associated seeing the film with my family that it still has the power to make me cry - 'Edelweiss' gets me every time! I reckon a trip to Salzburg and one of those rather twee 'fan' tours, would very nicely satisfy two of my favourite things - travel and musicals.
22 - Painting
As a kid, I painted a lot. There used to be loads of painting competitions on the go when we were growing up (usually run by breakfast cereal or drinks manufacturers) and me and my brother always entered. I'm not one to be jealous, but he was way better than I was and consequently when we did win a prize, it was him who got the Raleigh Chopper bike, while I ended up with a 50 pence token! (My brother Keith went on to complete a degree in Fine Art).
As an adult I go through phases of painting (usually watercolours), but in recent years I find the lack of space where I live to be rather inhibiting. When I'm being an 'artist', I like to spread myself around, my paints, papers and brushes easily accessible. What I hate is having to put everything away again when I'm finished.
Maybe one day I'll have a house with a studio where I can squirrel myself away and just create stuff til my heart's content. The need to be tidy is a poor excuse I know, but it's the one I'm going with for now.
23 - Shopping
Okay, so I don't mean shopping as in shopping for clothes, cars or the latest DVD, I mean ordinary every-day shopping for food. I suppose it started when I realised that both my ex-wives (yes, I know, two failed marriages, it's terrible) had hated food shopping and always seemed to want to get it over with as quickly as possible.
It took me a while to realise why I actually enjoy this pretty mundane activity. I think it's because over the years I've come to enjoy cooking more and more and the act of collecting all the different items, ingredients and bits and pieces needed for the coming weeks, is part of the whole process. These days, I tend to buy mostly the same items each time, since I know what I'm running out of and which things will last until the next shopping expedition. It's also a useful exercise in terms of budgeting, since if I know what I'm spending, I have a clearer idea of what I can afford.
In any case, I love food shopping. I take my time, go up and down each aisle methodically and (if I'm really organised) stick to my shopping list. It's yet another therapeutic activity. If Freud were alive, he'd probably tell me that shopping and ironing are related to some deep-rooted issue in my past.
24 - French Cinema
Back in the mid-Seventies, I discovered a strange phenomena. Although there was no such thing in those days as '24-hour TV', there was such a thing as late night movies. I was probably about 16 when I discovered French cinema. The BBC used to often show movies on Friday or Saturday nights that didn't even start until after 10.30pm. Shocking! And they would invariably go on until after 1.00am, which in those days, was wonderfully bohemian (I thought).
I developed a taste for French cinema, though sadly, not for learning the language. Some of my favourites feature the wonderful Gérard Depardieu in movies like 'Buffet Froid', 'Jean de Florette', 'Camille Claudel' and 'Colonel Chabert'. Some of them were no different to British or American movies in terms of the plot lines, but others (like 'Buffet Froid') were completely off the wall. It was like discovering an exciting new art form - one that drew me in like a magical spell.
There are times, admittedly, that I can't be bothered to watch French films since I know I'll have to rely on the subtitles, but mostly I'm happy to do this since, so far, I've never been disappointed. Vive la France.