Tag Archives: Radio U

3 Songs I sing LOUD!!!

I love music. I love singing. I love hearing stories. I love telling stories. In my mind all these things are part of the same unique human urge. I have referred to this belief in various posts about music, earworms and songs: Needles and Plastic, Songs of September, Quiet Loud Listen Sing, It Was 30 Years Ago…, A Curious Thing, and Music Is A Story.

But this post isn’t about earworms, my crackpot theories or those songs. It’s about three songs I sang repeatedly (and loudly) as I drove the 20 kms into (or from) work in the lead up to Christmas. I loved singing them. They both expressed joy (and caused it), salved pain and cured tiredness. Each time that I sang them (at the top of my voice, with maximum passion), oblivious to any looks from fellow commuters I found something new in some part of the musical composition or production, in the lyrics or vocal expression.

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Not my car. Not my song. Probably not me.

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Exactly what I look like

What’s more, even though the three songs ended up quite randomly at the start of my ‘Singlesman’ playlist and came from three different decades and musical genres, they slowly revealed themselves to have very striking similarities.

Song #1 is from 1971, Aire of Good Feeling by Wellington band The Quincy Conserve.

quinI have loved this song since the first time I heard it on a vinyl disc of New Zealand ‘SuperHits’ purchased in the late ‘80s for $6.99. I snaffled this LP for the usual suspects of Ray Columbus and the Invaders, Craig Scott, Alison Durban, Blerta, Mark Williams, Shane, The La De Das, Shona Laing, Bunny Walters et al…. ‘60s-’70s TV light ent. music, if you will.

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Lazy cover. Great Compilation

It’s hard to remember but at the time (mid/late ‘80s) that style of music was deeply unfashionable, the ‘Classic Hits’ brand of radio was yet to be foisted on us, there was no internet to research or download music so relics like the Quincy Conserve were rare treats to be relished (pun intended). So, as a keen fan of music (and budding musician) I played it many times on the radio shows I DJ-ed on student radio station Radio U (later UFM). I loved the busyness of the drums, the horns, the barely repressed growl of the vocals, the happiness of the lyric and general feel… and the fact that I had only ever heard it on this strange, cheap compilation with an awful yellow cover.

Hip hooray, let’s smile for a day

Aire of Good Feeling, comin’ over me

quincyconserve3For me, it was a bit of a private treasure that I subsequently lost as music became digital and I was unable to enjoy my records (my vinyl collection sits in crates under the house awaiting the day a record player returns to my living room).

That was until just before Christmas when I saw this condiment on the shelf. quince conserveUnsure if the pun was intended, I had to buy it. Disclosure: I love Anathoth (jams, chutneys, relishes) and the quince conserve is typically outstanding (especially with blue cheese on a walnut oat cracker!) Of course, the one song I knew of the Quincy Conserve came back into my head along with a need to hear it. $100 would buy me an okay record player with a USB outlet but $1.97 got me the re-released track on i-Tunes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I LOVE the 21st century!

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Bruno!

quincey liveYes, the busy jazz/Keith Moon drums were there (was it super-cool actor/drummer/wild man Bruno Lawrence? I hoped so at the time but doubt it now), but that’s not what struck me as I re-engaged with the old track, thrashing it every time I jumped in the car (it is the meatiest/truest stereo I own). It was the way the bass is up front pumping a repetitive scale/run that drives the tune along on a ride that doesn’t stop. quincy cYes, the horns punch and lift, but it is the distinctive vocals of Malcolm Hayman (threatening to explode but somehow held back like a team of restless bullocks) that share front of stage with the bass. The 30 to 40 times I have sung along to this track have been spent trying to understand (and mimic) his wonderful voice.

Song #2 is a bit of a segue that feels as natural as breathing to me: Rocks by Primal ScreamPrimal-Scream-Rocks-CD-Single-165379930_ML I wasn’t familiar with this song until I trawled through Singstar playlists a couple of years ago trying to find something to sing with Singstar buddies who tend to favour Abba and ‘80s kitsch. The straight forward boom-smack Stones/Faces/Sly Stone swagger is fun to sing (especially with a few drinks under the belt), and the lyrics are ironically simple and playful (as good lyrics should be),

Dealers keep dealing, thieves keep a-thieving,

whores keep a-whoring, junkies keep scoring

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What I look like Rocking Singstar

The repetition of form fits the big fat cookie-cutter production (floor toms start smacking along with tambourine, then gat track, then 2nd gat, then bass, then vox… and away we go!!!)

Best of all it fits my rock voice wonderfully…. especially the refrain where the horns sneak in with a sly honky-tonk piano,

Ain’t no use in pray-in’, that’s the way it’s stay-in’, bay-by

Johnny ain’t so cray-zy, he’s always got a line for the lay-dies… yeah, yeah, yeah

I loved doing this song to bits but my singing friends were never so keen, always pushing to do something ‘deceptively complex’ like Fernando.

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Primals at Glastonbury 2013

Well, those drinking/singing buddies left town over a year ago so I stopped hearing that song until just before Christmas when I scored some cheap iTunes credit (vouchers 30% off makes singles cheaper that when I started buying them in 1979 at $1.99 each), and decided to add to my Singlesman playlist (I’ve always preferred singles to albums which are so often stuffed with fillers). Rocks had been in my head (ho ho) for some time (but not my ears) so I got a copy for $2.39 and, wow, does it sound good on my car stereo. Simone-Butler-enjoys-playing-bass-in-Primal-ScreamWhen those floor toms start as Good Feeling ends I feel like I’m right in the room with them, filled with a physical pleasure only certain sounds can bring. The production is astoundingly simple (and clever) slowly building to a stage full of big-band sound that never overwhelms the essential simplicity of the song.

So that’s how I came to belting out

Get your rocks off, get your rocks off honey!

at 7 am in the morning, on a busy motorway into Wellington, ignoring the strange looks, revealing in the harmonies of the beautiful black-girl BVs (who may in fact be white, but that’s the style) opening up the heavens.Primal-Scream-performing--006

Song #3 (and this is not a ranking just how they ended up on the playlist and, consequently, how the musical progression makes sense to me) is Ride Like the Wind by Christopher Cross, the only song of the three I was aware of when it was released. Christopher-Cross-Ride-Like-The-Win-176682It came out at the beginning of 1980, the start of a new decade, just before I became a teen, a few months after I started buying records. If Good Feeling is pure ‘70s and Rocks is solid ‘90s, this is that cold decade in between. Not that this song is cold, it is full of power and life (in a soft-rock kind of way) and is much more late ‘70s in feel than electro ‘80s.

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Best Solid Gold Hits LP from the year before Chris

I was no big fan when it came out, my 12-year old ears much preferred the power pop/new wave of the time (I loved Blondie’s Call Me which kept Ride from hitting #1). To me while the song was catchy, Christopher Cross was deeply unappealing so I never sought out the single. But I believe we used to play it at home courtesy of a Sold Gold Hits LP bought for me and my sisters by my parents (I loved those compilations and maybe they are part of why I remain a singles man to this day).

yacht_rock_press_photoHowever, I ended up buying a digital copy of the song two years ago after reading about the hilarious (fake) musical genre ‘Yacht Rock’, which is a grouping made up after the event to describe certain cheesy songs of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s (ultra-smooth California soft-rock like Toto, Stevie Nicks, Little River Band, Michael McDonald etc). I found the whole idea hilarious and bought several Yacht Rock tracks which I played for a bit before wearying of the jokey nostalgia.

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Nights Are Forever?! No, they just feel that way, boys

(The most enduring has been I’d Really Love to See You Tonight by England Dan & John Ford Coley… the song that comes after Ride on my playlist… pure A.M. cheese and fun to sing with tortured passion, especially the astoundingly bizarre

stay and home and watch TV,

it really doesn’t matter much to me-e-e

And the way they dress, and the hair…wow, I remember when every man looked like that…still waiting for that particular fashion to come back).

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Chris & Ron Burgundy. No joke

Anyway, a month or so before Christmas there was a random story on Huffington Post about Ride which said that Christopher Cross had written the song while on LSD in the desert. It seemed so improbable (given his image) that I had to listen to the song again. And through that re-engagement it ended up on my sing-every-day list. I started to see the drama of the narrative (a killer on the run fleeing for the border on a stolen horse), and how the tension was expressed in the clipped power of the vocal delivery, help back in the fear of flight. I loved trying to mimic it, and it even began to remind me of the way Malcolm Hayman approached Good Feeling, holding the voice in the gut, letting the repressed power speak for itself, hitting the final consonants hard (something singers usually resist/fudge, wanting the rounded smoothness of vowels).

It is the night, my body’s weak

I’m on the run, no time to speak

soft rock acid

Soft rock & acid. Don’t do it kids

And while Bobby Gillespie approaches Rocks in a quite a different manner (almost bored, joking) it too resists the urge to belt out and warble like a talent show Pop Idol or karaoke klutz. The power is held, hinted at, allowed to sneak out for a peak only when required.

Like the other two songs (Good Feeling and Rocks) it is a big production number requiring at least a dozen people on stage to perform. Ride is driven by congas and an unrelenting repetitive piano riff, but is essentially a trad. rock band set up beefed-up with the usual suspects of horn and string stabs, piano and backing vox (some courtesy of Mr Yacht Rock himself, Michael McDonald).

I doubt if anyone else on Earth has seen the connectedness of these three songs. Or sung them, one after the other, repeatedly. At volume.

Narrative is a strange beast. It comes both at the start, and at the end, while the tune is forming, and once the song is sung.

This post has been in my head since before Christmas, aching for some space to come out. It’s been a fiendishly busy time and I have only just (temporarily) stepped off the treadmill. But with these words excreted on to the page (or screen) every step becomes so much easier.

I no longer sing these songs every day; I sing three quite different songs.

But that, as they say, is another story.

England-Dan-&-John-Ford-8

‘Nuff said

It Was 30 Years Ago Today… A Month In The Life, oh Boy!

I always say I was born in the Summer of Love; a deliberately wry comment as I was born in the middle of a Christchurch Autumn at the bottom of the South Pacific far from Haight Ashbury, of parents not just of a generation before the hippies, but even before Elvis et al influenced the infant Beatles.

That said, as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released a month after my birth giving me a(n admittedly) wishful spiritual connection to that album I’ve decided to look back at my life 30 years ago today.

Yes, I know Paul sings …it was 20 years ago today… but I’m choosing 30 years as that was when I started a (nearly) daily writing habit.

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Barrington Park Mall with Port Hills behind, where I biked with Sonya to buy vogarts, black felt and 50c mixtures

In August 1984 I was a 17, in my last months of school, living in south Christchurch at the bottom of the Port Hills with my parents, 2 younger sisters, dog and a pet mouse called Alf (named after Alison Moyet, who was still in Yazoo). As that last comment would indicate, music was a big part of my life: Rip It Up, NME, The Face were all regularly consumed and I spent a fair amount of time trawling through record bins and buying records (Planet Records, Radar Records, Record Factory). I had a part-time job at a bakery in Sydenham, Coupland’s Hot Bread Shop* (CHBS, not to be confused with my school, CBHS) where I worked in the early hours of Saturday morning earning $14 an hour (you got double time working weekends back then) to spend on ($10?) records or musical equipment (at the start of the year the school boy garage band I had joined/formed the year before had gone ‘professional’ playing in pubs).

Okay, to say we were professional is a stretch, we were endearingly enthusiastic amateurs, but we were getting paid as much as we were not…often the standard $50 fee given to support acts at the Star & Garter or Gladstone. Quite a cool feeling for a cocky/unconfident schoolboy aged 16 at his first gig. I never drank alcohol, hated the taste, plus I was also terrified of the intimidating police who marched into the pubs looking for people like me.

All this I can write off the top of my head without looking back into what I wrote at the time. I could write a heck of a lot more, after all I decided I was writer as a child in the 70s, but I want to keep this focussed: it’s about August 1984, for no other reason than it is August 2014.

Calender

What I did in August

At the start of that year I bought a calendar filled with cartoons by New Zealand cartoonists raising money for Amnesty International. For some reason (the inherent writer/historian/memoirist in me?) I started writing down odd things that happened each day. On Jan 1st I apparently got a postcard from my mother and read Animal Farm. That’s all I wrote, but why did I get a postcard? Reading ahead I see her and Dad were visting Perth whanau and me and my sisters were staying in Whitby with cuzzies, just up the road from where I now live…going to Porirua Mall and Petone to buy vogarts…crazy…but stick to THIS story, boy!)

Vogarts: ball-point tubes of fabric ink, $7 each. Tricky to draw with as material stretched (and no such thing as white-out). Detail of band t-shirt.

Like all writing, once you start, it’s hard to stop and the days quickly filled with as much as I could fit in. By August each wee square is chokka block with detail. Which isn’t to say that it is interesting detail; no secret crushes, pashes, binge-drinking or school boy hi-jinks, but what I’ve come to believe as a historian is that it is often the mundane that is most ignored and absent. I always wonder, but what did people do with all their time? And if we know, how did they do it? What’s missing? It tends to be the BIG things that get written down.

Which isn’t to say nothing happened in August ’84; the month starts with the L.A. Olympics and there seems to be day after day of NZ winning gold or silver in something or other (it was our greatest haul, shitting-off the Aussies no-end, who got nowt causing them to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into sport to fix that politically/socially important situation). The All Blacks whopped the poor old Wallabies, too, thanks to Robbie Deans being at full back, I note (I recall a rivalry with the walrus-moustached, pantyhose-wearing Wellington full back Allan Hewson).

On the 28th Stan Ogden died (never a big Corrie fan, this was none-the-less worthy of note). On the 21st I ate my first piece of quiche (prompted by the popular book of the time about what real men did/didn’t do).

And, rather quietly, with nothing else said, on Tues 7th there was a 5.0 earthquake at 4am.

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Colour TVs were big$$. Phillips K9 rented for $7 a week for 8 years before this snap of RTR 11 Aug when Bob Marley was # 1

On the mundane level, I appeared to watch a lot of television (an indicator of my life working in TV, maybe?): MASH, I Dream of Jeannie, Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, Love Boat, Eight Is Enough, One Day At A Time, Fresh Fields, Little House On The Prairie, The Old Men At The Zoo, What Now?, Flipper, Capt. Scarlett, Return To Eden, Gliding On, The Smurfs, Me & My Girl, The Mainland Touch, Beauty and The Beast, It’s Academic, Shazam, Kids from O.W.L, Benson, Bad News Tour, Ready to Roll and Radio with Pictures all get a mention.

The last two were the most important by far, being the only place to see music videos in a pre-MTV, YouTube world. RTR was a countdown of the Top 20 which played at 6 pm on a Saturday night so was essential viewing before going out. RWP was more cutting edge; at 9:30 pm on Sunday night, giving a coda to the weekend, a peek at what is to come, something to be discussed on Monday morning. I watched it every Sunday. On the 5th they played The Verlaines and Joy Division (that morning: snow on the front lawn, listened to Children’s Requests on 3ZB 07:20 to 08:00 – not very good).

Of course, I aspired to be on RWP (and managed it 3 years later) which is why, in my memory, All Fall Down, practised incessantly (no girlfriend, eh?) throughout those years.

Great Unwashed + AFD 1984

Pretty poster, possibly by Hamish Kilgour?

But if I look at that August, there were only 7 practices, and, goodness, 5 gigs!!?! That’s a pretty good ratio, I doubt if it got any better. The first was on the 3rd at the Gladstone with The Great Unwashed. I was pretty over-awed, The Clean (their precursor) were heroes/gods of the Flying Nun scene who I had watched on RWP and Dropa Kulcha (and maybe Shazam) and when David Kilgour jumped off stage at the sound check to shake my hand, saying ‘Hi, I’m David’, I had to stop myself from saying ‘I n-n-know’. I remember none of the gig but we must have done okay as we were asked to support them in Wellington at the end of the year (on the road…with The Great Unwashed?! sort of…wow).

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My cool Maton semi-acoustic bass looked better than it sounded, but was only $250

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My effort, for the Senior Common Room, doodled in Applied Maths

Next was a lunchtime gig in my school hall at CBHS on the 14th where we had assemblies or were entertained by Hey, Wow! type Christian groups or blind organist Richard Hore and has Farfisa (why did he have to wear slippers?) It was quite a thing to organise as Blair was now working, Jason went to Cashmere, Esther to Linwood and there was some sort of rivalry between the principals to be negotiated in these pre-Rock Quest days when any music other than orchestra or jazz was seen as a rather sketchy activity, educationally. To top it off, drummer Brett was required to go AWOL from the army (we were a ‘dangerous’ band..ho ho). All I remember is that it was wonderfully loud and I took off my school tie to play (I went to a rather formal school). What I’ve noticed from my calendar is lots of mentions of Miss Heinz…Miss Heinz called re. gig…gave posters to Miss Heinz…borrowed PA from Miss Heinz’s boyfriend…returned mic stand we mistakenly took to Miss Heinz…got $31 from Miss Heinz from door (minus $11 Esther’s taxi = $20 profit). I cannot remember what she looked like or what she taught, but I was clearly in want of a girlfriend.

The next two gigs were at the Bill Direen’s Blue Ladder in Cashel Mall on the 23rd & 24th. There’s a lot I want to write about this place so I will keep this short (I wanted this blog to be 700 words, tops, and am already at 1,443…sigh). The Blue ladder was an informal ‘warehouse’ venue with plays, alt music performance and recording. On the 2nd night we ‘head-lined’ playing at midnight after Vague Secrets, A Fragile Line, a play, a film, and a duo.

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Bad puns do not suit a man of arts and letters like Bill Direen. But, hell, we got in the Press!

Then on the Sunday afternoon (3 gigs in a row, wow!) we played a Christchurch crusty hall gig (lots of such informal gigs in those days) at England Street Hall with lots of scary/friendly alt. types smoking and drinking. I remember cowering around the edges, not drinking alcohol. I went to the dairy and got a can of coke after the McGoohans played (apparently).

axemen england st poster

Wonderful England St poster

But apart from all the music guff (20th tried out Michael Dalzell on vox… rejected because of ‘musical differences’…no memory of that!… 12th student radio station, Radio U, finished transmission with The The’s ‘This Is The Day’, the same song they started with) what sticks out from all my tiny, scrawled words is all the food. In fact, I felt a bit sick reading it. Every Sunday I walked the dog, Angus, to Johnny Marten’s Food Mart (a charmer of the ladies, lots of young lads helping out…a police raid) with my sister Michelle to get the Sunday News and ‘skulls’ (white choc, er, skulls with red liquid inside; bite them right and blood squishes out their eyes). Many mentions of Mary Gray green apple lollies, Krispy Chips, chips & vinegar from Deb’s, Paddy’s Food Lane, banana milkshakes from Gloucester Food Bar, Beaver Bars (pineapple?!), KFC Video Box (no McD’s or BK in ’84 Chch), and Big Garry’s cheeseburgers from Selwyn Street on a Thursday night (best ever…the way he crisped the melted cheese..mmm, can still taste it).

But it wasn’t just the junk that got noted. On the 25th sister Sonya made her and me porterhouse steak as Mum and Dad had gone to Glen Poad’s wedding. 29 Aug we played French cricket on the front lawn when our good friends the Wagtevelds came to dinner where we had fried rice, wontons, garlic ginger chicken and sponge cake (all home-made). The meal was followed by ‘Benson’ then us kids (me, my sisters and Michael) played knucklebones and 4-handed patience (a family fav.) listening to Monty Python records from the library (the adults would have sat at the table with a little alcohol, many cigarettes and much talking). On the 31st Michael came round having got his driving licence the day before (funny he waited till he was 17 while his father taught me how to drive when I was 15) and we had chips and donuts from Milton Street. Later I made pork fried rice for Mt.Cook and helped Mum pack for the trip (it was the school holidays and we were about to head off on one of our excellent occasional holidays amongst the Southern Alps at Mt. Cook, this one where ‘Uncle’ John shouted us kids a flight up in a helicopter into the mountains which made him rather green).

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Uncle John looking forward to landing at Glentanner

Over all, a funny month; I appeared to sleep into near noon each day as we had time off to do test exams for the end of year exams…something I couldn’t get my head around so it was quite a waste of time. Of course, all the late night gigs plus working in the bakery in the wee smalls didn’t help (and I was 17). On the colder days when I biked to school for said test exams (a distance of about 6 kms) I wore gloves, scarf and oilskin. You don’t see many oilskins these days: must be something to do with peak oil. Then, later in the month it was the school holidays, hence the trip to Mt Cook.

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Lake Pukaki, heading to Mt Cook. Clearly, I’m struggling with the weird viewfinder. Knitted jerseys de rigueur for the mountains.

On the 11th, one of my other great passions was fed when Dad passed on to me the Zeiss Ikon camera he had used since the early 1950s. A good camera, but a bit of a beast, it was fully manual with a peep-hole viewfinder which explained why he often took badly-framed photos.

It also had an external light meter which I thought was pretty cool. I note that he showed me how to use it, but that on the 20th I went to Fox Talbot in town to get some pointers from a professional.

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The Mighty Zeiss Ikon

I was soon shooting a roll of 24 a month (kids take more selfies going to the dunny these days), and, unsatisfied with the patchy results, I soon made my first big-ticket non-musical instrument purchase buying a 2nd hand Nikon EM SLR from Fox Talbot under the Canterbury Centre for $499.

So, what became of all that, the hopes and dreams of a 17 year old?

On the 3rd Mr Fitzgerald gave me an application for Teachers’ College, but I never filled it in – I had had enough of school. But I hadn’t had enough of learning and on the 16th I went to an open day at the University of Canterbury and, liking what I saw, the following year I went to do Religious Studies, History and Classics (it’s all about story for me).

Big surprise, I didn’t become a rock star, even though I tried (to a certain degree). That said, when my daughter said to me last year, ‘Dad, the best thing in the world to be is a rock star’ I replied, gilding the lily a tad, ‘Daddy used to be a rock star’. She was so impressed she told everyone at school (so her teacher said). I’m not sure squealing school girls chasing you for autographs in Chancery Lane on the Friday night after we played at Hillmorton High counts, although I think it’s enough for me.

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Back of my Applied Maths book. Clearly more interested in writing and drawing, I got 16% on the mock test.

I continue to be an obsessive photographer…I have a collection of many cameras. It’s how I see the world, and the internet (and Facebook) have been wonderful for indulging that passion. However, I don’t draw anywhere near as much as I once did, which is a shame. I want to remedy that.

I’m not entirely lost to music but my last ‘rock’ gig was in Auckland in the late ‘90s. Being in a band was like being married to several people at once and I just don’t have the oats for that any more. However, I have a guitar I occasionally play, knocking out satirical ditties to salve perceived wrongs in the world, and, best of all, I have joined a local singing group which I thoroughly enjoy. Amongst others, we’re learning Bill Wither’s Lovely Day and I am astounded to be only one who can hit and hold the 7-bar ‘Daaaaaaaay’ in the chorus…it feels as transcendent as flying without wings.

But my main engagement with music is intellectual; I listen to it, think about it a lot and could write about it till a cow jumps over the moon.

But hell, this was meant to be 700 words and here are 2,500…far more than a blog should be. My next will be shorter, and about music, I promise.

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4 days in August ’85… getting wordier

I will finish on something mundane, yet important, I discovered reading my calendar. On the 29th I picked up sister Michelle from the bus station (where the Casino now is) from a holiday with whanau in Oamaru. She gave me a present of lollies and a diary. It was my first diary and my obsession with filling it with words grew ever bigger, as you can see.

The following diaries would have a page for each day, with at least 1,000 words (at a guess).

I’m a bit scared to look at them. Imagine what I could unpack from those mundane rambles?

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My first selfie

 

 

 

 

 

* A lot of the what happened at the Hot Bread Shop is in this short story The Baker’s Boy published in Takahe Magazine 69 (somewhat unsurprisingly, not my only story about food)