The serpent starts below my feet

And curls and spirals from below

It all consumes the day time dream

And brings with it a fiery glow

Though words are forced to bring to life

For listeners to understand

Its darkest squal of throbbing force

Obliterates my thoughts and plan

I never meant to let it rip

Up, and through my deepest core

It happened when I turned about

And through your eyes the heavens saw

It came with such almighty flow

With colours I could not explain

With energy that brought to life

The darkest love, the thickest pain

Sia sings…

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist, like it doesn’t exist

I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I have a funny taste in music. I don’t really think there’s any genre I don’t like. Being more of a songs person than an artist person, it’s difficult to define my taste with a few band or artist names. However, if I had to narrow it down, I’d say 70s music in all genres or Kate Bush and Fleetwood Mac. Anyway, now I’m just rambling about music! This is something I could talk about all day really. Music is so important to me, I don’t really know where to start. So I won’t, only to say, it’s really important to me.

When I was about fifteen, I got my first CD Walkman and my whole world came alive. I remember the precise moment it happened. I had my Carpenters CD playing and it had been snowing. I think it was a Sunday, it might even have been around Christmas time. I went out listening and walking.

At the time, I lived about ten minutes walk from my secondary school and it was surrounded by the school playing fields and a recreation field we called ‘St Christopher’s’ (funnily enough, because it was on St Christopher’s road). I moved out of the area many years ago now, but I have been back in the last few years and it all looks quite different. You can’t get onto the school playing fields now and everything is fenced off. However, back then, you could and the fields of St Christopher’s and the school field somewhat ‘ran’ together.

I was trying to escape something that day, I felt pretty alone and sad. I walked alongside the school fence and squeezed through the gap one of the boys had kicked in it. I remember looking at the school field and it taking my breath away really. The field was perfectly covered with snow and not a soul had walked on it. Having St Christopher’s to the right and the golf course behind it, all you could see was white, pristine, fields edged with snow capped hedges and the odd bowing tree. As I began to walk, the snow crunching and squeaking beneath my feet, ‘Ticket to Ride’ ended and ‘Superstar’ began to play. My heart… it just soared. I was in my own music video. Everything was just achingly perfect.

Ever since then, I have just been completely enraptured by listening to music whilst walking, being in nature, looking, feeling, thinking and being. I am in my own virtually non stop music video and I adore it beyond all explanation. When ‘in ear’ headphones became available and sound quality improved, my life went to a whole new level. But anyway, there I go again with my music obsession!

Fast forward to many years later and I am stood leaning on a wall trying to look over into Bryce Canyon. Maiko, our guide, nonchalantly peers right over and then confidently tells me he’d be quite happy to stand on ‘that ledge’ (he’s pointing to a precipice about four feet beyond the wall) without feeling the slightest bit perturbed. I on the other hand am finding it just difficult to look down. Bryce Canyon is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and one of the most joyous sights I’ve ever had the fortune to see. Despite my annoyingly poor head for heights, I eventually managed to ‘acclimatise’ somewhat to the height enough to really look at it. It was immense, healing and the colour was something else… hard to put into words really.

I carried my music everywhere with me during my US tour. I always do. I had it in my bag but it was difficult when out and about to listen. I was with my friend and the rest of the tour group. I didn’t like to seem rude or ignorant and so I largely didn’t really listen when we were off the bus. There was always someone wanting to chat or comment and that was just an important part of the tour as anything else.

We walked a lot around Bryce Canyon and it was on the last stop that I really got some space. It was so quiet up there and somehow my friend and I managed to find a place with hardly anyone else around. It was so stunning, so moving and the aliveness was intense. I stood and smiled on the inside. The moment was just wonderful. It was then that I turned and, without really knowing it was coming out, blurted to my friend that I had to listen to my music. He was of course fine with that and wandered off along the path.

All of a sudden, I got the need to get some music on and tether this experience to some song or other just like I did all of those years ago on the school playing fields. I didn’t have long… maybe less than 10 minutes and we’d have to be back on the bus. I pressed play and something wildly unfitting came on, I skipped on another track and again, it wasn’t right. I did this several times.

I’m not really sure what I was looking for. Probably a Kate Bush track or something else kind of magical and etheric in some way. But it didn’t happen… first it was A-HA, then Missy Elliot, then I distinctly remember ‘Big Love’ by Fleetwood Mac coming on. None of them were right. Too flouncy or light or aggressive… always too much of something. I looked at my watch as I skipped again and I heard the ‘tape’ sound that lasts for a few seconds at the beginning of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’. I went to skip again and then paused my finger over the button.

As it began I remembered the first time I’d heard “Chandelier”. Sia’s voice is quite remarkable and she sure can write a good song. I’m not usually a massive current music fan but Sia is generally one of a few exceptions. There definitely was a joyous and powerful resonance to Chandelier and so I stuck with it and made this my song for Bryce Canyon.

Whether you believe in angels or not, I tend to attribute these nudges to my angels and always thank them when they help me out. On this particular day they had done just that, in those final moments at Bryce Canyon, they’d given me that nudge to get on and listen. It turned out to be more than appropriate song… of course it was, that’s how these things go when you’re being guided by this mysterious old Universe.

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist, like it doesn’t exist

I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I’m not entirely sure whether Sia is being literal or metaphorical in the lyrics of the chorus. Who knows what these words mean or meant to her but to me they are all about freedom and it made sense on every level to me. As she sings the chorus, she has that signature ‘chest voice about to break’ sound that is just breathtakingly beautiful. The sound is full of feminine power, strength and has that ‘phoenix rising’ quality. To me it felt to be about empowerment, climbing up, getting out, flying away. As I listened and looked over the canyon it was the most glorious moment and one I know I will remember and treasure.

A month later and I’m back home walking the dog. It’s an average day, autumn is in the air and the edginess of the area I live in is grating and a bit dark. I don’t feel terrible about it, I’m only resting here a while before I fly off elsewhere but it does make me uneasy. It’s so possible to get sucked back in to the mentality and the churning of the life around you. I don’t want to. I made a promise to myself a long time ago that this wasn’t going to be my reality, that I was going to live a joyful and meaningful existence. But when they’re swearing and jeering – and you’re picking your way through goodness knows what ,trying not to tread on or in anything that might regret – it can be distracting.

Of course, I needn’t have even thought about it. As I walked past the little park where the local children played, what should click onto my MP3 player but “Chandelier”. As it began the kids raced around out into the street, dirty faced, oblivious to traffic and apparently carefree. I waved to a little boy on the top of the climbing frame who regularly came to pat Freja (my dog) and then walked on. As I turned the corner, manoeuvring past an old sofa and what looked like an armchair that’d been sawn in half, the chorus kicked in. I smiled to myself spontaneously and let out a little laugh. All was well and I was free. I remembered the deal I’d made with myself and the promise I was never going to break…’I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry. I’m gonna swing from the chandelier’

I left you there in Meadowfield Rise,

You’d really let me down it seemed,

With all we’d been through and seen,

I wondered why you’d make it so hard.

It was hard, so hard, to let you go,

To be alone and in colder places,

Where people glared with empty faces

And laughed at others’ pitied states.

I left you there and thought I’d rise,

Thought that the new life would give

Me eyes to see a better truth,

Truth laughed at me – Oh, what a fool!

If I had seen the coming surprise,

Wrapped as lies in a jester’s play,

I might have stayed another day

Or taken you within my arms.

I left you there – an ignorant mind

So blind, with pride from wretched lust,

That stole and left only pain to thrust

And kick me deep inside and die.

Die, I did in city shadows,

Wandering heart encased in fears,

Learning the truth after many years,

That hope should never be left behind.

The place in question: ‘Ashley’s’ on Lexington Avenue, Midtown, NYC – a deli with an eat in section. It was the location of my first proper interaction with a New York employee. I am not sure if she was a ‘true’ New Yorker’. It was my first experience of eating in America and the first proper place I went. Because of this, I guess it has special significance. That and the fact that the food is amazing – if a little ‘canteen-y’ looking.

The girl on the register was glum faced to say the least and hardly spoke at all. She barely grunted. In fact, it was so hard to make out that I couldn’t really tell from her accent what her first language was. She seemed Hispanic. I was rambling about not understanding the money as she looked at me with raised eyebrows. I could see she was really wanting to roll her eyes but propriety stopped her. As I thanked her and left, she almost gave a small smile. Picking up her phone, she looked down at it and sighed. I felt I had inconvenienced her day, for sure. Far from making me feel unwelcome, it made me smile. It felt familiar and like being in Europe. It’s not uncommon to feel that you are a blot on a shop attendant’s otherwise exciting day. Mild ambivalence and formality seem to often be the order of the day.

It wasn’t what I was expecting when coming to America. I suppose I’d always expected larger than life, friendly, warm behaviours. I wasn’t wrong, that was exactly what happened post Ashley’s. Apart from the occasional irritated walker in New York, basically everyone I met during my two journeys around America seemed to be essentially open. I was asked so many times; where I was from, what I was doing there, how I was liking it? It never seemed false or forced. There appeared to be a genuine curiosity and sense of care. I really felt like I would have no trouble finding someone to help me out if needs be. Not only that, they were upbeat, jovial and generally very optimistic in their curiosity and in sharing what they could about their country.

My two trips around America were bus tours and therefore, some of my ‘conversations’ were with the bus drivers themselves. The first driver was a Southerner living in New York, the second a Cuban living in Miami and the third a Texan from Texas. The first driver, the Southerner, called me ‘honey’ or ‘ma’am’ which was funny to me. He was warm and kind, although not that chatty with the passengers per se. He drank huge blue drinks from containers that a European might describe more as a bucket than a cup.

The second driver made me laugh. He said little but you could tell he was thinking many things. Older, he’d probably learned, best just to smile and say nothing. He was understated, small and peered at us through slit eyes. He would nod slightly and say ‘good morning’ with a thick accent. He always had a cool air about him. He turned our huge bus around – illegally – on a jam packed road into Miami in order to get us all out of a grid locked traffic jam and to where we needed to be, on time. He was a quiet, confident operator.

The third driver was again, as I have stated over and over again – warm, kind, friendly. They all were. Maybe it’s a rule for being in America. However, unlike the first two drivers, this driver was chatty as chatty can be. He seemed to irritate the guide a little with his commentary on things. During one amusing conversation, the driver asked me if we had cars in England. The tour guide’s eyes nearly popped out of his head and he irritatedly muttered something about comments like that being why other nationalities thought American’s were stupid. The driver answered, “well, I know the roads are small, maybe they use bikes”. I reassured both the guide and the driver that I understood perfectly and I did not think the driver was stupid. I did find the whole interaction hilarious though.

There really was a difference between the North and the South of North America. One helpful person informed our tour group that, ‘it takes two women ten minutes to make a cold sandwich in the South’. I don’t know that it took ten minutes but I caught their drift. Things move at a slower pace. They want to talk more, ponder longer and take things steadily. I actually loved this because, by contrast, in Europe you always feel like you’re in people’s way, wasting their time and generally slowing everything down – even when you’re rushing. I very rarely felt like I was inconveniencing anyone when in America. But this sense was multiplied ten-fold when going to the South.

Nothing was too much trouble in the South, the time was taken to really acknowledge you. For example, when I did order the cold sandwich, the server took time to enquire about everything I might like on it and exactly how I’d like it. When I eventually got said sandwich and thanked her, she took great effort to look me in the eye and express that I was ‘most welcome’ and that she hoped I was enjoying my day, would continue to do so and that it was a great pleasure to have us in their restaurant. Every word was deliberate and emphasised. Well, I liked it. It’s nice to be nice.

In England, if a stranger comes up to you and starts to talk, there are two reasons 1. They need directions or 2. You’re doing something wrong and they want to tell you about it. Since my friend and I were clearly tourists, on the two times we were approached by people, I felt instantly uncomfortable. I knew we weren’t going to be asked for directions therefore, we were in for a telling off. It wasn’t so. Not at all. The first verbal approach was from a woman outside of a ‘Cracker Barrel’ restaurant. My friend was smoking and I was keeping him company. As she drew up alongside us in the car park and rolled her window down, I instantly began to think of all the reasons we might be wrong… how very English of me. But, she was actually wanting to comment on how much my friend seemed to be enjoying his cigarette and how pretty my dress was. She called my friend ‘sir’ and me ‘ma’am’. She was so very enthusiastic. I felt like I was in a play.

The second time it happened, a man who looked like a cowboy to me, just walked up to us and started talking. There wasn’t the slightest hesitation. He enquired where we were from, where we were going to and how we were enjoying this fine day. Again, being European, I was expecting him to get to the point where he’d put the pleasantries aside and ask what he’d come here to ask or request, or whatever. But he didn’t. It seemed that his enquiring about how we were and what we were doing was just about the only reason he was stood there. My friend was smoking. The cowboy lit up a cigarette too and told us a bit about the area, its history and what we might expect from where we were heading next. After finishing his smoke, he left, smiling – ‘ya’ll have a good day, now’. We did as it happens.

A gas station is hardly the place you expect to get engaged in conversation, least of all by the server at a very busy register. He was the manager of the gas station and the station was busy. We were a big tour group and whilst the gas stations are massive – almost the size of a small UK motorway services (Woolley Edge north bound size) – they soon fill up with forty or so people. Not only that, on this day, we weren’t the only tour group and there were myriad other customers. My friend and I were buying some fruit and a few snacks. When we said hello, he instantly wanted to know where we were from and how long we were there for. He was interested to know where other people in the group were from and how we were finding it there. He was smiley and engaging. He showed great enthusiasm and interest in the UK. Surprisingly to me, once again, there seemed to be nothing but good humour from the people waiting in line behind us.

The manager of the gas station had heard of Nottingham (where my friend and I live) because of Robin Hood. He commented on that, as did the security guard at ‘Graceland’ (the home of Elvis). Usually known for their seriousness and adherence to protocol rather than pleasantries, I always approach security guards with a sense of polite distance. Too much familiarity perhaps seems to ignore the ‘seriousness’ of the task at hand. I always think this is fair enough. Therefore, despite the American tendency to chat and be informal, I handed my bag to the man at ‘Graceland’ security with only a slight smile and a ‘thank you’. Instantly, his calm expression became so very animated. ‘ You folks from the UK?’ he questioned with great enthusiasm. When we said we were, he was beyond excited, expressing that he was hoping to go to Nottingham the following year in order to visit Sherwood Forest. He said he had friends in Birmingham – another city about an hour from Nottingham.

The enthusiasm with which the American’s generally approached my friend and I was really quite astounding to me. I had never felt so welcome anywhere. People didn’t treat me as ‘less than’ because I was a tourist, on the contrary, they seemed to be more attracted to me as a result. Perhaps it is because I am English, there seems to be a ‘thing’ about loving an English accent. There also appeared to be a genuine desire to explain what was great about their country. They are proud of it and want to help you to enjoy it. I love this. And I must agree, it is a wonderful place.

Wanting out behind the walls

Of this small room that is my life

Three months in and needing air

But where go and what to do?

Limitation makes me question

What is it that I so seek?

Where is it I want to go?

What is missing now I’m locked

Locked inside and locked in life

Liberty is taken back

Sitting here in solemn silence

Wondering that which I need

Before the lock, I took as red

All that filled my busy life

Now I have the time to see

And wonder what I want to fill

When I go to life again

Will it ever be the same?

Do I want all that I lost

Or am I really free at last

I feel the pang of guilt inside

The pleasure to be free from life

Although I’m locked inside alone

In many ways I’ve gained myself

When the time for set free comes

I wonder who I’ll choose to be

The same illusion I once was?

Or will I really start being me?

I believe what I read,

Not knowing that I’m really

Being quite deceived,

TV doesn’t lie, does it?

Well not everything I read,

But things on the BBC

Or the Proper news on real TV,

They have to tell the truth there, right?

I listen to what everyone says online,

I didn’t mean to realign but after

A few days, I started to agree –

I started to think it was me,

I thought my opinions were true,

I didn’t know I had a hive mind,

Aren’t I really one of a kind?

I’d know a lie if I saw one,

I would never join in when violence begins,

I’d always say it wasn’t right,

But what if everyone else did it,

Perhaps then I might?

It takes a lot to be the real outlier,

The one who thinks higher or wider –

It’s easier to follow the herd than,

To think you’d be the rebel,

Don’t be absurd and deny your own nature

You’d do whatever culture urged

A hive mind is blind

Aren’t you doing it already?

“They’re just giant f***ing flying rats!” my Uncle exclaimed… “bleedin’ things.” I suppose it’s true in a way, they are scavengers. I’m talking of seagulls of course, I’m sure you knew that though, from the title. Having been brought up by the sea, seagulls have always been a part of my life.

Even though I lived, for the most part of my childhood, a few miles from the sea itself, the seagulls were of course regular visitors to our garden. My dad was, and still is a keen twitcher, and always put food out for the birds which the seagulls would promptly steal – rather like the magpies and pigeons do where he lives now. They scare away the ‘real birds’ and their list of annoying habits does not end there.

It is very common to see day trippers sat on Cleethorpes promenade eating their packed lunch. Of course these innocent visitors are the perfect target for these cunning birds who can swoop from rather a great height with incredible accuracy if there is a chance of stealing a sandwich. I have seen a crying child stood with empty cone in hand, ice-cream on the floor, on more than one occasion having being ‘bombed’ by a villainous gull.

Their confidence and pushiness is relentless. Of course when you try to approach one to take a picture for your blog – as I did this morning – they are coy as you like, oh so demure and humble. Yet, bring a sandwich into the equation and there really are no limits. I’ve seen them land on a head, on a shoulder, on a child…. Apparently, although I only saw this through social media, it was reported that, during the summer, a seagull picked up and flew away with a chihuahua somewhere in the noth of England. Luckily for me Freja (my chihuahua) is rather on the portly side and so unless the ‘flying rat’ is the bird equivalent of hulk, I thinkn Freja’ll be OK. But, can you believe it? Are there no limits to a seagull’s pest like nature?

The only other time I’ve seen such avian audacity was in St Mark’s square in Venice where a woman attempted to sit on a bench and eat a flaky, puff pastry biscuit type of a thing. Amusingly, all around the square, were signs commanding that you “should not to feed the pigeons” – almost as if it were a choice you could make. This poor woman, again clearly an unknowing visitor, soon began to regret her mid morning snack as her shrieks confirmed. Within seconds, she was covered in pigeons… from a distance she looked kind of like a bee keeper. She was quite literally covered, head to almost toe, in pigeons. Of course she promptly dropped said biscuit and the excitement was over.

Back to seagulls. For all of their nuisance making antics and my being thoroughly programmed with the idea that they are really vermin, there is something that I just love about them. As I sat yesterday on the terrace of my apartment overlooking Playa de Las Canteras, one soared right past me. This isn’t an unusual experience but every time it happens, it just fills me with delight. The apartment is on the corner and quite high up, it ‘juts out’ enough that it isn’t uncommon for a seagull to soar across the corner at almost eye level. The look in their eye is so knowing; they are so peaceful, so majestic almost.

“Flight of my mind rises beneath the seagull’s wings… then ocean is my motherland I feel” Munia Khan

Of course I’m in awe of a seagull. Look where they get to hang out everyday. They wing their way over the waves and bob around on the surface of the sea. Their habitat is the ocean and my spiritual home and centre. So perhaps they’re like mascots to me. They symbolise what I love perhaps the most. Maybe so, but it’s not just that. It’s the way they soar. That’s what gets me. That calm elegance. That sense of being totally at ease and in the flow of life… inspiring indeed.

“As I watched the seagulls, I thought, ‘That’s the road to take; find the absolute rhythm and follow it with absolute trust’” Nikos Kazantzakis

But anyway, this blog is the life and times of Steve and Graeme… You’ll soon see that I’m not the only one who loves a seagull. During May of 2019 two “inquisitive seagulls became internet sensations” as the London Metro reported. Steve and Graeme, as they became affectionately known, took the country by storm after seeming to pose and ‘talk to’ the traffic cameras on the approach to London’s Blackwall Tunnel. Traffic for London tweeted the picture of ‘Steve’ (or perhaps it was Graeme, I don’t know them personally and the picture did not say) and it received 15,000 likes. From this a sensation was born. Why not take a look at them here:

There’s no doubt there’s something about seagulls. Scavengers they may be but, in my opinion, they rather enviably have the best view of the world. They also have an apparent confidence and, according to reports from London, perhaps a sense of humour too.

‘LazyWednesdays’ is a tour on the island of Gran Canaria by www.excursionsgrancanaria.com and one I can highly recommend. Whichever tour you choose on the island, you’ll get a real treat due to the variety of terrain and interest this little island has to offer. Today’s blog is more like a tour in pictures and hopefully will give you an idea of what you might expect to see and experience on the tour.

This tour goes from the north of the island, starting in the captial ‘Las Palmas’ and goes all the way south to Maspalomas. At the time of writing it was around thirty five euros and was a full day tour, picking up from outside the tourist information at Santa Catelina Park. For more information check out www.excursionsgrancanaria.com (not sponsered). For a full vlog of the day trip, go here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAyonaHFve0