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Newsletter May 2004

I see the last of these literary gems dates from eight months ago. If anyone can tell me where all the intervening time has gone I would be extremely grateful.

We join our hero on Monday October 6th 2003, when torrential rain continued the tradition of appalling weather whenever I play at the Stalberg Theatre in Frankfurt. Despite the soggy conditions it was a successful concert, putting me in just the right mood for my trip to England the following day.

But of course, moods can change. En route to Calais the wind and rain continued as darkness fell, and sixty kilometres (40 miles) west of Ostend the silencer and exhaust pipe parted company, reducing me to a throaty, tractoring crawl which finally brought me spluttering into the French ferry port by moon and Mars light. My bed in the back of the van was more than welcoming.

The next morning, after a stormy crossing, I sought out the posh new library in Dover where I could watch the continuing rain and read my copy of Aurora Consurgens, which is supposed to be by Thomas Aquinas. Let's not speak of consequent expenses. I suppose the garage where I'd left the van must have drawn the conclusion that anyone who reads mediaeval alchemical texts for pleasure must be quite capable of transmuting illimitable quantities of gold at the drop of a spanner. The fool and his money ...... etc.

Things improved thereafter. I was a semi-finalist at the Cheltenham Festival poetry slam, and the winner of another slam run by friends at Balham Library. There were several music gigs and, three weeks later, as I headed back for Dover my blithe mood returned. Need I say more? A faulty connection in the fuel line sprayed diesel all over my tyres and, the moment I tried to pull into a layby to investigate the resulting clouds of smoke, sent me gyrating into a ditch on Salisbury Plain. Compared with what might have happened the consequences were surprisingly minor. The AA pulled me out, repaired the leak and saw me on my way again, minus half a tank of fuel, in time to catch my ferry.

The van was undamaged, which was fortunate because two days later I was down in autumnal Austria for a fortnight's round-trip of nine school concerts. On Guy Fawkes' Night I ate a solitary supper of shredded wheat, bread, cheese, tomatoes and radishes in the room of a tiny pension in Neusiedel, and imagained all the baked spuds, toffee apples, marshmallows and grilled sausages being consumed by my countrymen back in England. Of bonfires, turnip lanterns and fireworks there was, of course, no trace. In fact I don't think I've been in England for November 5th for the last twenty-odd years!

Snow fell thereafter, as I drove from the Hungarian to the Slovenian to the Czech border, and, finally, back up to Frankfurt to prepare for the approaching season of dyspepsia and goodwill.

After a legendary candlelit dinner for two at Rules, the oldest restaurant in London, and a great Christmas and New Year in Devon and Sussex, 2004 started with second place at the Frankfurt BCN Café Slam, and a similar near miss at the 'Rosenau' slam in Stuttgart on February 1st. By good fortune the deep snow which had fallen in Bavaria late in January was already thawing by the time I was due to perform two concerts down in Rosenheim immediately thereafter, so the roads were clear while the countryside and the mountains were still white. I stayed with Uschi Laar, an old friend and a wonderful harpist, and we made the most of the conditions by taking chair-lift and cable-car to the top of the Hochries.

At the peak the snow was still thigh deep and the views were stunning; spectacular panoramas of serried ranges brushed with light cloud, the Dolomites away to the south-east, and everywhere white and gleaming under a sheer blue sky.

Thus fortified I returned to Frankfurt for a performance at Petra Seynstahl's 'Dichter Dran', which takes place in a cavernous old underground subway now converted into a club. It was a great show, despite the fact that the heating system stubbornly resisted all attempts to rouse it from hibernation. If I'm ever offered a gig in an igloo I'll know what to expect.

The following day I was away to Neustadt-Weinstrasse to play a wonderful Valentine's Day concert in a Wasps' nest! This wasn't as uncomfortable as it might sound, The Wespennest being a wonderful club which is worth visiting for the food alone! I think this was my third concert there.

At the end of the month I motored down to Switzerland for a snowy week of concerts in Berne and Graubunden. The school gigs were organized by Christine Bietenhard-Guthauser who has successfully imposed me on her older English students several times before, and the Jona and Haldenstein concerts were set up by the indefatigable Paul Rostetter of Brambus Records. The last of these was a house-concert in the new home of Ursula and Arno Catrina, who have been friends and generous hosts from as far back as the early 1980s. If only I could have stayed to enjoy their hospitality! But no. Immediately after the concert I had to drive straight back to Frankfurt, where I arrived at 4.30 a.m. the next morning.

So why the rush?

Somewhat inadvisably I had previously agreed to appear in my role of English gentleman and drive one of the new Jaguar range for a television motoring programme. True to form it had never occurred to me to enquire what the financial renumeration might be, nor indeed whether there was any such renumeration. As a result, after only four hour's sleep, I found myself down by the river Main at ten the following morning, meeting journalists, camera men and Jaguars among flurries of snow. Suffice to say that during the ensuing ten hours of continuous driving and filming, both around the city and along the winding, frosty roads of the Taunus woods, I was offered one sandwich at a motorway service station, for which it was assumed I would pay myself. I duly did so, and there was, of course, not a penny forthcoming for anything else. Some months later a friend of Gabriele's texted her to ask if it was really me she'd seen on a recent motoring programme and, as a result of phoning to request a copy, I then received a video of this ground-breaking transmission. The morning after this little scam I set out on the twelve hour journey to the west of England, where I had a five day residential course beginning the next day.

The moral of this story is that, unless you consider the privilege of driving such a luxurious automobile, for the better part of a snowy day, to be a sufficiently sexy experience in itself, then you would do well to pay attention to the small print or, at least, to pose a few judicious questions before blindly assenting to save someone else the tiresome inconvenience of paying you for helping them do their job.

So, on March 1st I was up on the north coast of Somerset, at Kilve Court, to commence tutoring my eleventh consecutive annual Schools' Music Composition course. This was followed by a talk on Alchemy, given at the wonderful Treadwells Esoteric Bookshop, 24, Tavistock Street, near Covent Garden. (Don't miss this place, or the fascinating range of talks which it hosts.)

The end of the month saw me back down in Austria, driving 2431 kilometres (1510 miles) in four days to bestow the gift of my deathless art upon captive teenage audiences in three schools, on three different far-flung borders of the country. But on the morning of April 1st I was back in Frankfurt, lounging in bed and listening to the blackbird in the walnut tree, rising later to greet Franco Morone and Tom Kleemaier, two guitar- wizard friends who were staying with us during the Frankfurt Music Fair.

Things quietened down a bit thereafter. There were only two April concerts; one in Schmallenberg, up towards Dortmund, and the other down in Stuttgart; and I also won the BCN Poetry Slam. But, naturally, this dulce far niente couldn't last.

On May 1st I was back in London, giving a poetry and song performance at Salisbury House in Enfield. The next day it was the turn of Brighton, joining old friends Praveen and Russell of Project Adorno, and Sue Johns, to take part in the Fringe Festival there, at an event hosted by the ubiquitous John Citizen.

I then drove up to north Yorkshire and sashayed across to Liverpool, visiting friends, before descending to Stourbridge for a concert at the Glasshouse Theatre, and then darting across to London again for a guest performance at John Paul O'Neill's Farrago Slam, hosted by the wonderfully named Filthy MacNasty's Whisky Café. This venue is, as you might expect, neither filthy nor nasty, but the soul of poetic hospitality.

Next came a week down in Devon, visiting my Mum, who celebrated her eighty- eighth birthday in April; and by May 18th I was back in Frankfurt.

So that's the news up to the present, for anyone minded to read it. June promises to be a little more laid back, but July holds the possibility of a trip to Croatia and August ..... well, let's just wait and see.