Give your opinion on ‘Evil Seagulls’ story for children

No-one has seen this story until now. The title of the series of stories is Susan Shocks and the first story in the series is called Evil Seagulls (Parts 1 and 2). It’s the first time I’ve written anything for children, previously I’ve published two books for adults. I’m aiming at readers aged 7-10 and I’d really appreciate your feedback either as a comment here or to my email address. jonkenna69@gmail.com

SUSAN SHOCKS

Evil Seagulls

PART ONE

 

One morning, Susan noticed that the seagulls were bigger. She lived in a town by the seaside so she was used to seeing seagulls every day on her way to and from school. Until now, they had all seemed to be roughly the size of, say, a football or a family-size, frozen lasagna. Today, though, Susan pulled back her bedroom curtains to find something perched outside which was much bigger. She’d never seen such an enormous, feathery, beaky creature before, not counting Mrs. Blenckinsop her head teacher.

Craaaaaawwww,” it squawked, orange eyes glaring.

“Hello,” Susan gasped. “Were you that big yesterday?”

The seagull didn’t reply but just scowled. Seagulls are great at scowling.

As she finished her breakfast, Susan mentioned to Mum about the giant seagull.

“Really? That’s nice love,” Mum smiled. “Oh, by the way… have you remembered that it’s swimming club after school?”

Equipped with swimming costume, towel and goggles, Susan and Mum rushed out of the front door of the house, to join Dad in the car. Once they were all belted in, they reversed out of the driveway and hurtled up the street like a spaceship hitting hyperspace.

Susan’s school was surrounded by cars as all the parents tried to drop off their children at exactly the same time. It was a rumbling, chugging, choking, honking mess. Just like Dad.

Mum and Susan jumped out of the car and headed up towards the school. Just then, another massive seagull, similar to the one Susan had seen earlier, fluttered down and perched on top of a road sign. Fat and feathery, the thing swiveled its head to watch them pass by. It looked to be at least twice as big as a normal seagull, maybe even three times as big.

That was the day that Susan was chosen to be class prefect for the week. Being a prefect meant that she would be responsible for helping making sure children kept the classroom tidy and lined up quietly at lunch time, all of that sort of thing. She got to wear the special golden badge on which was stamped ‘CLASS PREFECT’. Her teacher, Miss Balfour, pinned it to Susan’s top and told her that she must take very good care of it and not lose it because it was very precious and important. Susan could see the badge glittering on her chest and she couldn’t stop beaming.

Forgetting about the monster seagulls, she felt like she was the boss of the class with her prefect badge on; as though everyone would do exactly as she said when she was wearing it. She tried it out on Martin Jarvis and Anita Harris. She told them to tidy up their pencil shavings and collect in the number books. They just ignored her though. It seemed like this prefect thing was going to be harder than she’d thought.

After school, Susan went to swimming club as planned. During the lesson, she easily did the breast stroke and the back stroke but when it came time to do the butterfly and the crawl she was slower than the other kids in the club. It was weird but she actually felt like crying. It wouldn’t have mattered of course because the tears would have mixed in with the water from the pool so no-one would have noticed. She didn’t risk it though.

Mum was waiting for her when it finished. Susan knew that she was very lucky to live at the seaside but walking home from swimming club was still a drag because she was always starving. When they reached the beach, Susan took off her shoes and socks and scuttled down the stone steps to the sand.

Suddenly, ahead of her, there appeared three birds. Each was enormous, more the size of an emu than a seagull. They stood there on the beach, staring at her. She was forced to stop walking as they barred her way.

“Hello!” she called to them.

Craaaaaawwww,” one of them called.

“I’m on my way home and I need to get by,” Susan went on, “Is that all right with you lot?”

Six orange eyes looked back at her, unblinkingly.

“If you don’t mind, could you make space for me to get past? The beach is for all of us, not just you.”

The seagulls didn’t move

“Okay,” Susan said, “well, I’m coming through then.”

She began to walk forward. At first the big gulls stayed where they were but finally, as Susan got close, they took flight. One of them launched itself into the air to the left; another swooped off towards the right. The middle seagull aimed straight at Susan. She held up her hands to protect her face. She felt the scary bird claw at her with its beak then shoot into the sky.

“They’re a flippin’ nuisance,” a voice said.

Susan was still shocked by the monster seagulls when she noticed that an odd-looking man had appeared next to her. He was wearing scruffy overalls and had a peaked cap on his head.

“They’ve been causing havoc all season! Bigger than usual, did you notice?” the man said. “I think you’re going to need my help, young Miss.”

“Help? Why?”

“To get your badge back,” he told her.

Susan glanced down at the place where her ‘CLASS PREFECT’ badge had been. There was no badge there, just an empty space. The seagull must have grabbed it in its beak as it had flown past her. If she lost that badge she’d be in big trouble at school tomorrow.

The man grinned. “Don’t worry. I can get it back.”

“Can you?”

“Of course. It’s my job! Chief Badge Finder.”

She frowned.

The man glanced around as if he was about to share a secret, then he pulled forward the collar of his jacket. Pinned there was a shiny, little badge of his own.

‘CHIEF RETRIEVER OF BADGES’

“Good eh? Nice bit of lettering. What’s it say on your badge?”

“‘CLASS PREFECT’”

“Mmm. That’s only two notches down from Prince Charles, isn’t it?”

Susan had a thought. “I’m not really allowed to speak to strangers,” she told him.

“Quite right. Don’t you say another word. Just leave it to me; I’ll get your badge back.”

“Thank you.”

The man winked.

Heading away, Susan looked up toward the promenade where she saw Mum standing talking to another mum.

“Don’t worry!” The man called to her. “I’ll get it back for you. First, though, I just need to find the door.”

“Door?! This is a beach. There’s no doors.”

“You’d be surprised.”

“I’ve walked along here hundreds of times and I’ve never once seen a door.”

“I don’t mean a normal sized door, no, no. I mean a small door; about this big.” With his hands he made an oblong about the size of a shoe box or a packet of supermarket boiled ham.

Susan frowned. “There are no doors on the beach, not even small ones.”

The man froze. He was staring down at the ground. There looked to be nothing else there, only sand.

“There it is!”

She stared where he was staring. “Is it invisible?”

His narrow eyes got narrower. “Doors are often invisible… until they’re opened. Pity I left my tools in the van.”

Susan was just about to head over to where Mum was when she heard him cry out.

“Yes! ”

She was amazed to see that he had managed to open what did indeed look like a small door in the sand. Inside there were switches and dials, buttons and levers. It was like some kind of weird machine.  The man threw himself onto the ground and lay flat on the sand with his right hand delving into the opened door.

“This controls everything,” he murmured. He flicked a couple of switches and twiddled a few dials.

“Everything?! Even seagulls?”

“Oh yes. I just need to type in the right code…”

Susan watched as he pressed some of the keys. Blue numbers appeared on a little display screen. Then she saw him twist a knob. As he did this, something incredible happened. Daylight faded.

What had been a bright, sunny day gradually got dimmer and dimmer until it became first a gloomy twilight then a dark, black night. The man seemed to have switched off the sun by turning a small knob. The two of them and every other person on the beach suddenly found themselves in the middle of the night when, five seconds earlier, they had been in broad daylight.

“Oops!” She heard the man say but she could not see his face in the dark. “Wrong dial. Blast! I left my torch in the van too.”

A second later, the daylight faded up again. He must have turned the dial back in the opposite direction. The other people on the beach looked a bit puzzled. They were trying to figure out how it had been day, then it had been night, and now it was day again all in the space of a few seconds. No-one panicked. You would think that people might panic if the daylight got turned down all of a sudden but they didn’t. Maybe they all thought that they had imagined it, maybe they all thought that they had each had a funny turn.

“I didn’t mean to do that,” the man said, “I’ll try again.”

Hands on the controls under the sand, he tapped in another number and pulled a lever. At first, Susan thought that nothing was going to happen but then she saw it. The clouds in the sky, those white, fluffy pieces of nothing, were changing colour. As he moved the lever the clouds changed from white to green, then to orange, then to pink!

“It’s playing up again,” he grumbled.

Susan felt her mouth drop open in amazement. “You can control the colour of the clouds?!!”

“Noooo….!” He shook his head. “Not just the colour. I can control the shape of clouds too. What shape of cloud would you like to see?”

“Errrm… I dunno… a unicorn?”

Twiddling about with the switches again, he stuck out his tongue in concentration.

Susan held her breath. Was she about to see a bright pink, unicorn-shaped cloud gallop across the sky? Apparently not. Nothing happened.

“Hang on a minute!” the man jumped onto his feet and looked all around. “This is the wrong door.”

Soon, he was feeling the empty air with the palms of his hands, holding them out straight as though he was touching the surface of a glass window. It took him a while to find what he was searching for. Another door flicked open. It was about the same size as the first one but this one seemed to hover in mid-air. He had opened a door in the middle of… nothing!

Inside the door was an array of buttons and dials similar to that behind the first door. He messed about with them, tongue sticking out again. And there it was; a giant, pink unicorn made out of a cloud, galloping across the sky.

“What do you think?!” the man seemed pleased with himself.

“Wonderful!” Susan was staring upward in astonishment.

“Now all we’ve got to do is get back your badge.”

“How come you can do stuff like this?” Susan was still stunned at the sight of the pink cloud unicorn. “How can you open a door in the beach; turn down the sun; change the colour of the clouds?”

He wibble-wobbled his head and laughed. “The sun, the sand, the clouds… It can all be changed, adjusted, shifted… if you know how. Twiddle a dial, flick a switch, type in a number… you can control all of it. And that’s what you want, isn’t it Susan? It’s what you’ve always wanted.”

Susan gave him another frown. “How do you know my name?”

He stared back at her. “I know everyone’s name. It’s my job.”

“What’s your name?”

My name?”

“Don’t you know your own name?”

“Of course I do. How could I not know my own name?”

“What is it then?”

The man laughed nervously; “well, it’s… it’s Mister… Sixty. Pleased to meet you.”

She thought to herself that Sixty was more of a number than a name. “Well, Mister Sixty,” she said, “what I want, what I really, really want is to get my badge back.”

He stood still for a long minute, smiling. “Right then,” he said finally. “Let’s get started.”

Evil Seagulls

PART TWO

 

Susan had told Mum that she’d lost her badge and that a nice man in overalls and a cap had promised to get it back for her. Mum had marched across the beach to the man and asked him about it.

“The gulls have been causing chaos all over the town,” he told her. “We’re used to seagulls being cheeky; pinching the odd chip maybe. But this is something different.”

“He can get my badge back,” Susan piped up.

“Yes, love, but how?” Mum said.

The man reached his hand into the door in the beach again and pressed a few buttons.

Mum was baffled. “What’s that you’re doing?”

A few seconds later something happened above them. From the sky dropped a series of what looked like climbing ropes. They were similar to the kind of ropes that you can climb up in playgrounds or school gyms.

Mister Sixty put his arms around the shoulders of Susan and her Mum, drawing them in so that no-one else could hear. “There’s a rock,” he whispered. “It sticks out of the sea about a quarter of a mile off the coast. The monster birds live on it. There’s nothing on that rock except giant squawking seagulls. We have to go there.”

Mum was horrified. “We’re not going anywhere with you! Have you been CRB checked? I don’t even know your name.”

“He’s the Chief Retriever of Badges; CRB,” Susan offered.

Mister Sixty pushed back his cap. “Sorry to say, this is the only transport I can arrange at short notice. It’s the cuts, you see. They’re charging for green bins as well. We have to swing over there on these.”

Gazing at the dangling ropes, Mum was horrified. “Where did they come from?! Are you completely bonkers?!”

You’re the one seeing gym ropes in the sky, love. Ha ha, bonkers, that’s a good one.” Mister Sixty handed a rope to her and another to Susan.

“There’s no way we’re swinging anywhere on these!” Mum was in no doubt. “There’s not even a safety harness!”

A moment later all three of them were swinging across the wild, seaside sky like three jungle monkeys.

Susan held onto her rope tightly as she went. It was quite a tricky move, actually; you had to concentrate on hanging onto one rope while, at the same time, watching out for the next rope as it got passed back and trying your hardest to grab it. Below them the sea crashed and surged like a big, grey beast.

“Not far now,” Mister Sixty called back as they swung across the water.

The three of them must have been swinging across the sea and sky for ten minutes or so, arms getting unbearably tired, before they saw the black outcrop of rock sticking out of the water. Even from this height they could see that it was peppered with giant seagulls.

Once they had found a place to land that was not in view of the birds, Mister Sixty signaled to Susan and Mum to let go of their ropes. Susan and Mum, miraculously and luckily, landed on their feet. Mister Sixty, who had brought them here, landed right next to them but upside down, his face in a rock pool.

“Everyone okay?” Mister Sixty asked Susan and Mum after spitting out a mouthful of salt water. He had some seaweed stuck on his face like a moustache which made Susan giggle.

“Okay?! Of course we’re not okay!” Mum was livid. “You almost got us all killed! Take us back this minute!”

“But Mum, I have to get my badge back,” Susan reminded her.

They crept across the craggy rock towards the crest of a hill. Peeping over the top they saw nestling hundreds of over-sized seagulls.

“How did they come to be so big?” Susan wondered.

Mister Sixty scratched under his cap. “Good question.”

“Maybe they’ve been twiddling with buttons and dials and switches… you know, like the ones you have.”

“No, no, they’d never be able to get into those control hatches. Only a qualified mechanical engineer and general certified genius like me can do that.”

In the centre of the flock there sat one especially large bird. Lying at its thick, yellow, rubbery feet was what looked like a small shiny object; Susan’s badge. But how could they reach it?

“There should be a control hatch just about here…” Mister Sixty in his overalls was scrabbling about in the gravel at their feet. Susan guessed he was searching for a door similar to those he had opened on the beach. Eventually he found one. As he eased it open, he exposed buttons, dials and levers.

Susan and Mum exchanged glances.

“Ah, here it is!” Mister Sixty stroked a small, round dial. “This has been switched right up to the max! The correct position is down at the minimum. All I need to do is turn it down and the seagulls will go back to normal size. Then we can just walk straight in there and grab the badge.”

But however hard he tried to twist the dial, it refused to budge. “I can’t understand it. It’s like it’s been jammed. Someone must have been tampering with it. No-one’s supposed to mess with these controls except me.”

It looked like the enormous seagulls were going to be staying enormous.

He thought that he might be able to shift the dial by thumping it with a rock. He said that even precision instruments occasionally needed a good whack. Grabbing a nearby stone, he whacked it against the controls a few times. Susan noticed that one or two of the monster seagulls looked round at the noise. Mister Sixty hit the controls with the rock a few more times and more seagulls turned their heads to look over in their direction. None of them got any smaller. They all remained gigantic. Susan tried to tell Mister Sixty to keep it quiet but he was too wrapped up in what he was doing. By this time, some of the birds had started squawking messages to their friends, perhaps telling them that they had heard intruders.

“I can’t understand what’s making this thing stick,” Mister Sixty was grumbling. He hadn’t noticed that the seagulls had heard him bashing the controls and were now starting to shuffle over to investigate.

Susan tugged hard at his sleeve but he ignored her and carried on trying to turn the dial. Mum was frozen to the spot in fear as she watched more and more enormous gulls moving towards them.

Finally, hundreds of the outsized birds were perched on the ridge looking down on the three people hiding amongst the rocks. One of those hundreds was the biggest seagull of all, the one who had been sitting at the centre of the flock. Its shining, orange eyes glared at them.

“It’s no good, I’ll have to reset it back to factory settings…” Mister Sixty grumbled.

By now, Susan was punching his arm to get his attention.

“Ow!” he yelped. “What was that for?”

She nodded towards the line of birds. “L,l,l,look!”

He looked. “Oh.”

And then something really unexpected happened. The biggest of the giant seagulls opened its massive beak and spoke.

Why have you come here?”

Mister Sixty’s mouth dropped open. “How can you possibly speak?!”

The king-size seagull didn’t blink. “We are bigger, stronger, better than before. We have been given powers. We won’t give them back”

“Who gave you these powers?” Mister Sixty asked.

“Mind your own beeswax.”

“You’re scaring people. You’re taking stuff that doesn’t belong to you. That makes it my beeswax.”

The biggest seagull moved towards them. “Bigger, stronger, better…”

    Mum was frozen to the spot, her eyes bulging in their sockets.

     “Never again shall we be hungry, never again forced to beg humans for food.”

“You might be bigger but you’ve also got bigger bellies. You’re going to be hungrier, did you think of that? You’re going to be no better off, mate.”

The gull snarled the best way he could with a beak.

“You can’t change things by shouting and screaming and pinching an old lady’s fish and chips,” Mister Sixty told the seagull. “Change takes centuries. It’s called evolution, big guy.”

As the man spoke, Susan scurried past the line of birds and headed over to where her badge had now been left unguarded. They were all busy glaring at Mister Sixty. None of them had noticed Susan snatch back her badge.

“I’m here to keep things in order,” Mister Sixty was telling the biggest seagull. “I’m the balancer, the fixer… And you’re about to get fixed.”

The seagull leader waved a wing and the rest of the flock began to respond. Launching themselves into the air they rose, soaring into the sky. Then, one by one, they turned back down. They were now heading towards the three humans.

Mister Sixty watched them all hurtling towards him and he couldn’t move. A flock of over a hundred monster seagulls was swooping down on top of him.

But in a second, everything changed.

Every one of the seagulls began to shrink. As they flew, they got smaller and smaller until they were the normal size of seagulls. But it didn’t stop there. They carried on shrinking until they were the size of budgies. Confused, the flock was forced to land harmlessly on the ground, leaving the humans unharmed.

Whirling round to check the control panel, Mister Sixty was astonished to see Susan crouching there. She had managed to turn the dial, the one which he had been struggling to shift; the dial which controlled the size of the seagulls. Twisting it, Susan had altered the size of the gulls from monstrous to minute.

“You did it!” Mister Sixty was beside himself with joy. Peering into the control panel, he saw how she had done it; she had taken the pin of her school badge and jammed it into the controls.

“Oh look at them now,” Susan urged, “they’re so cute.”

She, Mum and Mister Sixty watched as the tiny birds turned and waddled away like Easter chicks.

When they’d swung back to the beach on the gym ropes, Mum thanked Mister Sixty for his help. She seemed a bit droopy as though she was struggling to believe what she had just seen.

Mister Sixty nudged Susan. “Don’t worry, I’ll flick a few switches… she’ll think she dreamed the whole thing.”

Before she and Mum left for home, Susan whispered something to Mister Sixty. “Could you do me one other favour please? Twiddle your dials and flick your switches and make me a brilliant swimmer for swimming club next week. Could you?”

Mister Sixty shook his head. “I’d never do a thing like that, Susan. It wouldn’t be fair on all the other boys and girls in the club.”

“Oh. Right. Okay.” She was disappointed.

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter about beating everyone else. All that matters is that you do your best. That badge you got says PREFECT… Not PERFECT.”

“Yes,” she said. “Sorry.”

At swimming club the following week, Susan did great at breast stroke and crawl, as always. When it came time to do the butterfly stroke, she wished she had been able to persuade Mister Sixty to make her into an expert.

Then, to her surprise, she suddenly found that she could do the butterfly stroke easily. Her arms ploughed through the water perfectly and she shot forward like a torpedo; much faster than any of the other children in the group. The same happened when it came to the crawl. Her arms flew round and round like the sails on a windmill. The water was churned into white foam. Her arms were so strong that when she reached the end of the pool she carried on swimming! In fact she shot out of the water and into the air, still doing the crawl. All the staff at the swimming pool and all the parents, crowded round to watch their own children, took an enormous intake of breath at the sight of this little girl with super powers

“Is that Susan?!” they gasped. “Really?! Susan?! What a shock!!”

Writing for Children: How Hard Can It Be?

seaside_sandcastle

Over the last few months I’ve been trying to write stories for kids. In the past I’ve written a couple of books for adults which were fun to write but also a hard slog at times. I was thinking that writing children’s stories would be an easier ride. Nope.

I decided to write stories rather than a novel. I wanted to do a series of stories about a number of regular characters. I thought it would be good if they fitted together in a similar way that episodes in a television series do; separate stories fitting together into an overall story arc. I remember reading Enid Blyton stories as a kid especially the Brer Rabbit and Amelia Jane stories. In these, there was a limited number of characters inhabiting a particular environment, e.g. animals in the countryside, toys in a nursery etc.

So far I’ve written five or six stories about a character called Susan who is a seven year old girl, and a more enigmatic character called Mr. Sixty. The regular characters are Susan’s mum and dad and various other people such as Susan’s school teachers and friends. The characters live in a small seaside town.

As I wrote each one I started off feeling really pleased but I then read them aloud to my seven year old daughter and, although she liked them from the start, I noticed several parts that didn’t work. The main problem with those sections was that they were either too rambly or too description-heavy. I realised that children’s stories need to be lean; there’s absolutely no room for flab. There must be not one word there which is not essential. If the writer rambles on about how pretty the sea looks then he or she has lost the reader. The only things you need are character and story. That’s it. All the rest of the stuff, the bits which show what a clever writer you are, go out of the window.

This is undoubtedly the hardest writing I have ever done. I still lack confidence when doing this kind of writing and so I wondered whether I dared to publish one of the stories here on my blog so that I could get the views of all those who read it. If I do, would you be prepared to give me your opinion, either as a comment here or as a message to my email address? I’d be really grateful. I may post the first story of the series here so you can read it and then give me feedback. What do you think? My email is jonkenna69@gmail.com

Avant-Garage

Pere Ubu

At long last I actually like Pere Ubu

Years ago, when I was in my teens, I bought an album called The Tenement Year by Pere Ubu. I bought it on a whim, can’t even remember why I bought it. When I played it I absolutely hated it. |I thought it was tuneless, beatless and painful to listen to. My mate Mark quite liked it, I think, and he ended up having it. Over the years I’ve tried listening to bits of it again to see if I could like it but I never did. As part of my ‘proper listening’ thing I actually listened properly to that album I bought years ago (a remastered, updated version on Spotify).

pere

For the first time, I really loved it! Surprisingly, it was not tuneless and beatless in fact it was very melodic. It’s still quirky but I now like quirky. The music is the same but I’ve changed. I listen in a different way now. I’m not looking to like something in the first ten seconds any more and this has opened up a whole avenue of stuff that I was missing out on (see my post on A Love Supreme). The track Miss You linked in the previous post is my favourite from the album.

Pere Ubu is a rock group formed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1975. The line-up has changed a lot over the years; singer David Thomas is the only constant. The group’s name is a reference to Ubu Roi, a play by French writer Alfred Jarry. While Pere Ubu have never been widely popular they have been critically acclaimed.

The band coined the term avant-garage to describe their music. The tracks are experimental and avant-garde Thomas’s yelping, howling, desperate singing is weird and unique when compared to most other rock singers. Pere Ubu have a small number of devoted followers and now, at long last, after years of trying, that finally includes me.

pere-ubu-david-thomas

Amazing Then and Now Photo

afghanistan

I love ‘now and then’ photos where you see a scene from years ago and then see the same scene as it is now. I’ve done a few of my own around my home town, posted on this blog. But this one is incredible. I don’t know who took the photos unfortunately so I can’t credit them, it certainly wasn’t me as I’ve never been anywhere near the location of these shots. They were taken in Afghanistan, the first picture was taken around 1967 and the second was taken around forty years later in exactly the same spot. I don’t know enough to judge whether the obvious deterioration between the two photos is indicative of the state of the country as a whole but I ‘d guess that it probably is. If so, how tragic.

The Ten Second Habit: How Do You Listen To Music?

lsup

I’m making an effort to listen to some of the biggies; classic music albums which have become legends for whatever reason. And that’s exactly what it is sometimes; an effort. A Love Supreme is revered amongst jazz fans as a masterpiece by a man who is himself a bit of a legend; John Coltrane. I’m not much of a jazz fan so the thoughts of listening to this entire album from beginning to end made me feel daunted. That’s the thing, you see, I promised myself that if I do listen to these ‘important’ albums then I’ll listen to them properly; from start to finish, in the correct order, not skipping about like I normally do on Spotify, not listen to half a track then half of another track, not listen while playing a game or writing my shopping list, give them the respect and the time that they deserve. Yes, it was a big effort.

This particular album was probably the hardest one I could have chosen to start with. After five minutes, I started to feel like I was listening to a audio book in Urdu. Shown below is the musical score and also some of Coltrane’s own notes on the album and these too seem like impenetrable hieroglyphics. Jazz is like a foreign language sometimes and I felt like I definitely didn’t speak the lingo. But I hadn’t given myself the option of giving up, like I usually would. I’d vowed to stick it right to the end.

lsup2

The album is a four-part suite, broken up into tracks; ‘Acknowledgement’  ‘Resolution’, ‘Pursuance’, and ‘Psalm’. The first part is interesting if only for the sound of Coltrane chanting the title of the album over and over. Unexpected. But after that, I hit the wall. The feeling of listening to something which made no sense got stronger. There’s no melody, no familiarity, nothing to latch on to. There doesn’t even seem to be much feeling at this point. This is where, normally, I’d switch off. But I didn’t. Was it worth it?

Yes. The second half is amazing. Maybe you have to go through the groundwork of the first half to prime your ears for the last bit. In the last two sections everything changes. You’re still listening to a foreign language, you still can’t figure any of it out, there’s still no melody and nothing familiar to comfort you. But now there’s emotion.

love-supreme-manuscripts

Everything starts gearing up to an amazing climax. It’s like the band is a living, writhing animal. Where the preceding parts felt stilted and kind of lifeless, now there’s life, lots and lots of life. Now, listening to a foreign language is a great experience and it doesn’t matter that you don’t understand the little symbols on the page. Music and emotion are languages common to everyone.

lsup1964

A Love Supreme is often listed amongst the greatest jazz albums of all time. It’s reported that Coltrane, who struggled with drug addiction, got his inspiration for the album from a near overdose in 1957 which caused him to turn to spirituality which would figure in much of his composing and playing from this point onwards. The album was composed at Coltrane’s home in Dix Hills on Long Island. His quartet played A Love Supreme live only once in July 1965 at a concert in Antibes, France.

I ended up really enjoying it. If I’d carried on listening to music in the same way I normally do, the way many of us do now with the rise of the net; flicking from one track to another, listening to 10 seconds of this and 10 seconds of that, I’d have missed out on an appreciation of something great. Truly good stuff usually demands more than 10 seconds.

Total Eclipse of the Facts

solar-eclipse-2012-ring-of-fire-phases

I bet you didn’t know this about the eclipse…

 The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and, by sheer coincidence, the sun is 400 times further away from Earth!! That’s why, when a solar eclipse happens, the moon fits exactly over the sun from our viewpoint. How can that have happened by chance?! Earth is the only place in the solar system where this happens!

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The moon’s shadow will zoom across Earth’s surface at up to 5,000 miles per hour.

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The birds will stop singing because they’ll think it’s night time. As the Moon passes in front of the Sun and the darkening sky triggers night-time behaviour, nocturnal creatures like owls and bats could become more alert while farm animals and pets may look for a place to sleep.

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There won’t be another solar eclipse of similar magnitude to this one until August 12, 2026 when 95 per cent of the Sun will be obscured. Britain will not see a total solar eclipse until September 23, 2090. I’ll be 120 years old by then; Iooking forward to it!

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A solar eclipse was used by the British astronomer and mathematician Sir Arthur Eddington to prove Einstein’s theory of general relativity, in 1919

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Tidal friction, which causes that lengthening of the day, is making the moon gradually drift away. In about 600 million years it will appear too small to cover the sun, and there will be no more total solar eclipses.

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This Gun Shot Andy Warhol

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I saw this Andy Warhol creation at Tate Liverpool recently. I liked it even without knowing anything about it but what I didn’t realise was that the gun depicted is very similar to the one used, on June 3 1968, to shoot him. On June 3, 1968, radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas shot Warhol at his studio.

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The woman who shot him was Valerie Solanas who had been a known figure on the scene having written the S.C.U.M. Manifesto, a feminist tract that advocated the elimination of men (sounds like good, frothy, holiday reading). At 2:00 pm that day she apparently went up into his studio looking for Warhol. She rode the lift up and down until Warhol finally appeared. They entered the studio together. The phone rang; Warhol answered. While he was on the phone, Solanas fired at him three times. She missed twice, but the third shot went through both lungs, spleen, stomach, liver, and esophagus. She then shot art critic Mario Amaya in the hip. She tried to shoot Fred Hughes, Warhol’s manager, in the head but her gun jammed. Hughes asked her to leave, which she did. Warhol was taken to hospital where he underwent a five-hour operation.

Amaya received only minor injuries but Warhol was seriously wounded and barely survived. Surgeons opened his chest and massaged his heart to help stimulate its movement. He suffered physical effects for the rest of his life, including being required to wear a surgical corset. The shooting had a major effect on Warhol’s life and art and lead to death being a theme for much of his subsequent work.

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Above, Warhol shows the wounds caused by the shooting. The actual moment-by-moment experience of being shot must also have been a life-changing, work-changing experience. The shooting was very real but to him felt unreal. I’ve had moments in my life where certain things (usually events which are shocking or upsetting in some way) happen and it’s like time slows down; the whole thing’s like a dream. Like when you’re in a car accident or somthing similar and you feel like you’re watching it happen in a film? Real things can feel unreal (as with the shooting) and unreal things can feel real (as with images of iconic celebrities).

“Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there—I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television—you don’t feel anything. Right when I was being shot and ever since, I knew that I was watching television. The channels switch, but it’s all television.” 

ANDY WARHOL