25 April 2007

Zen and the art of going for a walk...

As I explained in my post below, I've been doing very little of late but there comes a time when doing next to nothing becomes quite unbearable no matter what and something needs to be done. As things stand, I'm not able to run as running would not do my insides much of a favour and, besides, my knees don't seem to be up to it anymore. However, I have recently rediscovered the alternative to jogging down country lanes and along canal towpaths and am in the midst of a walking spree. I must explain when I say 'walking' I don't necessarily mean the type of walking where it is imperative that one dons stout boots from Millets and sturdy wet-weather gear whilst carrying a rucksack and map. This hardy form of walking is, no doubt, very good and maybe I'll come to it in time but what I really mean is 'going for a nice walk'. For this type of exercise one only needs to check the immediate weather conditions and put on an appropriate coat (or not). Naturally, shoes are important and it's probably wise to also wear trousers.

'Going for a nice walk' may mean a simple stroll around the block. My good pal Tony and his dear missus often have a stroll around their block and I'm sure it's a refreshing and meditative change. For myself, I'm in the fortunate position of having some lovely walks as soon as I leave my front door. I have a choice of hitting the mountains (every hill in Wales is called a mountain) behind the house or, if I want an easier stretch I can take to the towpath of the Brecon and Monmouth Canal. I can even mix the two up and do a bit of both. I find that many young people look on with horror if you suggest a nice walk as a way to pass the time but this was not the case for me when I was a younger man. As a student I would often make for the country lanes and hills around Bangor and have a stroll. At times this may have been done in the company of friends but I have often been a solitary walker and I feel there is a special magic to walking alone, especially when one can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. I believe it is a truly religious experience.

On occasions we like to have a little walk as a family but the cubs often protest about the duration of our hike or the steepness of the gradients we encounter. I must admit that this often detracts from the experience. Still, it's good to give them some idea of the pleasures to be had from a walk. The real thing for me is the loneliness of the long or short distance solitary walker but, strangely, it's not lonely at all. In recent days I have spent some excellent times with the trees and the birds, hardly seeing a soul. Occassionally, one comes across a cluster of mountain bikers but they are soon on their way and peace is restored. When you meet another solitary walker (which is rare) I find a nod and friendly 'good morning' or 'afternoon' is enough. None of us walkers seem to want to engage in chit-chat. Everyone, it seems, is out there for a deeper thing all together. Some walkers have dogs which is something I do wish I could add to my own walking experience but for now I'm content with just me, myself and I.

This morning I had intended to have an easy stroll as I have been walking rather a lot of late but my planned half an hour turned into an hour and a half as one previously undiscovered path turned into another and I found myself nearing the top of the highest point in the old county of Gwent. I decided against the final haul up to the top of Twmbarlwm as I really don't think I'm up to that yet but it's suprising how far you get when you are immersed in the walk. I've also started to really notice my environment a lot more. The flowers and the trees are amazing and this morning I had close encounters with a robin, a chaffinch and a great tit within five minutes of leaving my front door. Yes, it is all very 'hello sky, hello trees' but what's wrong with that (providing you don't start knitting your own muesli!)? The 'thing' about all this really is the way the mind begins to let go of all the rubbish as you go along. At times it is nice to ruminate on a particular topic but I find not thinking at all is best. Just let the mind flow into a state of 'no mind' and just hear the birds and see the trees and feel the breeze. Definitely superior to prozac.

For a successful walk I do recommend a sturdy stick to have as your sole companion. This needn't be something you keep at home as you are sure to find an appropriate fallen branch as you go along but sometimes you do find a stick that is 'just right' and you will want to keep this one with you for future excursions into the hills and vales (or park or even round the block).

Try it!

The Gooroo's On Holiday!

26 Tea - 39 p.r.S.P.

That's right, I've got a week off work (well, I'm in the midst of it now). What have I been doing, you ask...not much of anything, really. I've been creating CDs mainly--from the 30 or 40 or so albums I've acquired from Soulseek. I was hoping to take a big chunk out of the files I have saved--to make room on the hard drive--but it's a bit slow going. I have done about 8 so far..not too shabby, I suppose.

I was interrupted in my diligent musical mission yesterday by a scheduled visit to the dentist for a root canal. Yee-Haw! I was quite prepared for a bad experience, but it wasn't that unpleasant..other than the bit when the dentist seemed to be scraping my tooth with some sort of file. That was a weird sensation, even with half of my face novacain'ed up. It didn't even hurt that much when the novacaine wore off a couple of hours later. I think the low amount of pain may have had something to do with the nerves in the tooth having already "died" some time ago, due to the filling in the tooth coming loose a few years ago and me not having it replaced. Whatever, it was nearly a painless operation and I'm quite glad of that. I'm not clear yet, though, as I've got to go back in a few weeks for another filling...great.

What else is going on? Oh yeah--in case you hadn't already heard, Kurt Vonnegut died on April 12th. Another one to add to the role call of cool people who've passed on to the Great Beyond in the last couple of years. It seems as if most of the exemplary critters are jetting off to places unknown and most of the gits are living on--just gotta keep on keepin' on, I suppose.

Enough of that downer talk, it's Pixie's and mine 3rd Wedding Anniversary this week!! Tomorrow, to be exact--April 26th (Gregorian). What are we up to now? Coal? Quartz? Something like that...anyway, still the best times I've had, despite the occasional downs. It's also been my longest-lasting relationship. Hats off to my Dearest Pixie--you're the best, baby!

We're off to Lacock Abbey tomorrow, near Chippenham in Wiltshire. Apparently, some of the Harry Potter scenes were filmed there. There's a film crew in the nearby village while we will be there--I'm not sure what is being filmed, but we'll probably just check out the abbey anyway. If there's time, we'll stop by Avebury, to see the stone circle there--like the wacky pagans we are ;-) Should be a nice day out--seeing the sights, having a picnic lunch, breathing in some fresh air.

May 1st is coming up shortly--May Day and that. It's also my older sister's birthday, so a big B-Day shout-out to her. I hope she's well, I haven't been in touch with her or her family for quite some time.

That's all I've got for now, so I'll leave you with a joke:
At the end of the tax year, the Tax Office sent an inspector to audit the books of a synagogue. While he was checking the books he turned to the Rabbi and said: "I notice you buy a lot of candles. What do you do with the candle drippings?"
"Good question," noted the Rabbi. "We save them up and send them back to the candle makers, and every now and then they send us a free box of candles." "Oh," replied the auditor, somewhat disappointed that his unusual question had a practical answer. But on he went, in his obnoxious way: "What about all these biscuit purchases? What do you do with the crumbs?" "Ah, yes," replied the Rabbi, realizing that the inspector was trying to trap him with an unanswerable question. "We collect them and send them back to the manufacturers, and every now and then they send a free box of holy biscuits." "I see," replied the auditor, thinking hard about how he could fluster the know-it-all Rabbi.
"Well, Rabbi," he went on, "what do you do with all the leftover foreskins from the circumcisions you perform?" "Here, too, we do not waste," answered the Rabbi. "What we do is save up all the foreskins and send them to the Tax Office, and about once a year they send us a complete dick ".

18 April 2007

Tomorrow Is A Long Time: On How It Goes and Missing Bob Dylan In Full-Flight

I've had another break from posting recently, mainly due to ill-health and attendant lethargy. This post is a kind of 'state of the union' address on how things are in Bear Land for the benefit of myself and any other interested parties.

Spring is well on its way but weirdly late in coming to the environs of Bear Valley. It's odd because, apart from one major cold-snap, we've hardly had a winter. So what we have here is plenty of greeness but late-budding trees and slow-to-come bluebells. Not being a true son-of -the-soil I can't account for it. Still, the apple tree in the garden is now in bud and I look forward to some blossom soon enough.

I haven't been in work now for a couple of months due to stomach pain and sickness and tomorrow I go for yet another test. This time it's a barium meal. The doc thinks I may have further problems inside that need a proper diagnosis. Needless to say, this is getting me down. I could go on about the terrible state of the NHS that has allowed me to continue without any real treatment since the middle of last year but what's the use? The Health Service is just another mess that our all too disappointing Government has failed to put right inspite of all the promises that Bliar (sic) made us all those years ago. On top of this we have the continuing evil of war in Iraq, rising violent crime and Lord knows what else to deal with. Roll on Brown... but you'll make no difference either. You've let the Tories back in. Thanks.

Where was I? Yes, I've been stuck at home for weeks, twiddling my thumbs and thinking too much. I have been trying to spend some of the time doing some reading and am currently in the middle of a biography of Robert Lowell. Why do I read such heavy stuff when I am in need of pleasant distraction? I don't know but I've always done it. I'm sure John Bunyan is just around the corner. I did read an excellent novel recently called The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson. It's the story of a vicar who doesn't really believe in God but who has an encounter with someone who seems to be The Devil. It's very poignant but rather uplifting as well. I recommend it. What else have I been up to? Naturally, I've been listening to loads of music. Here's a list of the most popular hits on the old hi-fi of late:

Fairport Convention (their 1968 debut with Judy Dyble on vocals)
(For God's Sake) Give More Power To The People :The Chi-Lites (brilliant psych-soul)
Marcus Garvey/Garvey's Ghost : Burning Spear (classic roots reggae with dub sides)
Open Road : Donovan (possibly my favourite Don album, with the lost classic 'Roots of Oak' on there)
Y : The Pop Group (awesome punk-funk from the original Bristol Beatniks)
The Projected Passion Revue : Dexys Midnight Runners (if only the best incarnation of this band had made a proper album)
The Doors, Morrison Hotel, LA Woman : All by The Doors (recent reissues and very nice too...first time I've listened to them for years and I now remember why I liked them!)

These are some of the goodies I've got stuck into of late. I've also had a big blues and soul kick as well, rediscovering the delights of Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Al Green, Candi Staton and loads more. This is very good for music for the heart. There's never enough time for great music.

I had the annual MOT disaster with the car, which ended up costing me £350. I could have been a lot worse but this bloody car has cost be thousands in the last couple of years and I'd not get £500 for it if I tried to sell it. If I could live without a car I really would. but how can you these days.?My job is nearly 20 miles away and the buses don't run back up the valley after 9pm. Not much use on a late shift! On top of this, you have to drive to the supermarket to do the weekly shopping now all our community shops have been destroyed by the likes of Tesco and Asda.

We're not sure if we will be able to go on holiday yet. We booked one of those cheapo holidays in The Sun : five days in Paignton (same as last year) but it's doubtful if I will be able to go. This means Mrs. Bear and the cubs may have to miss out because of me. I feel very, very bad about this but I might be able to get enough energy for the drive. The other problem is, I have an appointment with the consultant right in the middle of the week away. This means I'll have to drive back to Wales on the Wednesday and back down again on the Thursday to bring us all home again on the Friday! I just don't know.

Bob Dylan is back in town! I had a front-row, centre ticket for the Birmingham gig (last night). I couldn't go because I'm unwell so I gave my ticket to my eldest cub. She tells me it was FANTASTIC and all the reports I'm reading suggest he was on fire. Some are saying it was the BEST GIG IN YEARS. I missed it but at least my dear eldest had an incredibly Dylan-live induction. Count your blessings!

That's all for now. I'll be back when there's more to report.

08 April 2007

Record Fayre Round-Up #84

19 Farvardin - Year 1386

Pixie and I had to head into town yesterday to pick up a few bits and get something for her mum's B-Day, which is rapidly approaching. Yesterday being the first Saturday of the month, the record fair was on at the town hall. We finished shopping for my mother-in-law and then I had exactly an hour to scout out the fair and procure whatever goodies I could in the process.

I paid the entrance fee, collected my little green ticket and headed in. The first table I stopped at was run by a German guy who appears every so often. He has a lot of good stuff...but it seems to be very over-priced to me. He carries a lot of Japanese imports and bootlegs. The coolest things I noted were the Japanese mini-LP CD editions for Popol Vuh, The Enid, E.L.O. and Man. I used to collect quite a few mini-LPs, but money and storage became a factor, so I stopped. I may be tempted to get a few of these new editions, as I also found out, via a website, that there are Incredible String Band mini-LP editions now, too. I looked over some of the bootlegs and there were a few nice ones--but again, over-priced (between £15-20 apiece), so I moved on to see what else was about--as I only had an hour.

There was a table tucked into the corner with used CDs crammed into ratty cardboard boxes, so I checked out one of the boxes and found the Essential/Castle Records re-issue of Hawkwind's 1992 album, Electric Tepee..for £3.99! Score. I also found Pulp's 1986 album, Freaks (the 1993 Fire Records re-issue) on disc for the same price. I promised Pixie I would pick up something for her while there, so I took 'em both. The seller had another box which had a Cosmic Jokers disc, Gilles Zeitschiff, and another item I was interested in, but can't recall it now. I figured they would be £3.99 as well--but I asked the seller and he said the ones in that box were between £10 and £12, so I passed. I'm sorta glad now, as reading some of the reviews for "Gilles..", it doesn't sound like an essential album to have. I had another quick look around his table and then moved on.

There were a couple of tables of vinyl, which seemed to contain a lot of cool psychedelic and prog treasures, but again--a lot of them just seemed far too expensive and I couldn't justify spending £15 on a single LP, especially if it was just to have in the collection. I did find Pekka Pohjola's The Mathematician's Air Display on LP for £7--so I took it. Pekka was the bass player in Finland's most well-known prog-rock band, Wigwam, but he went solo in the mid-70s. "The Mathematician's.." is his second solo record and as Virgin were handling production and distribution duties, they decided to hook Pekka up with Mike Oldfield to perhaps get a few UK and American punters to pay attention. Sally Oldfield also turns up on vocal duties. At another table, I found Tangerine Dream's Phaedra on LP for £10 - I hesitated - but then it is in really good condition and I've wanted to own this LP for quite some time, so I went for it. At the table next to the guy I bought the T.D. record from, there were hundreds of psych and prog discs. I started flipping through them and found many, many gems. I was starting to run low on kish-kash at this point. My time also ran out when Pixie showed up--so I had to make a choice. I chose Brainticket's Celestial Ocean, their 1973 record and one of the last ones I need to complete the catalogue and (found in the 'American Beat/Psychedelic' section), Tripsichord's one and only album, released in 1970. It's a bit country-psych, kinda Quicksliver Messenger Service mixed with the Jefferson Airplane's more country moments. I was expecting something really trippy, going by the cover art--maybe Aoxomoxoa meets After Bathing At Baxter's while in the same room as Forever Changes. Still, it's a cool addition to the collection and nice to hear one of the many over-looked 60s/early 70s San Francisco bands. Apparently, the lead singer and guitarist had a connection with the Mormon Church (!)--as some of the lyrics do seem to have a 'death and resurrection' theme going on.

At this point, Pixie was ready to go and I was almost out of money and getting hungry for some lunch. I had £15 left that I could spend--so I went back to the German geezer's table and grabbed the Man mini-LP for their 1970 self-titled album, which is my favourite. I've been looking to try and replace my Point Records copy with something that has a better re-master, particularly volume level. The Point version, at least the copy I own, seems very quiet and only really gets going during The Alchemist, the final track. The price for the mini-LP was listed at 25--but that price was in Euro, so it was actually £20. I tried to haggle him down to £15, but no go...he wouldn't budge. I'll have to wait a little while and try and score it off eBay or Amazon--same with the I.S.B. ones and maybe the Popol Vuh. Not a bad haul, though and this fair was better than the last few I've been to. I've got some listening to do now...