So I am sitting late at night in a hotel in the Gulf. It is not necessarily a great hotel. It is hot and steamy about 30°C and I am sitting at a riggety little table alongside the pool. I have just flown in from the UK. The sweet, oddly resonant smell of the shisha drifts across the water but I am drinking an ice cold beer, watching the condensation run down the outside of the glass cooling my fingers.
I look around. A desert moon filters down through a hazy hot Sunday night between the tall, oddly shaped buildings: one looking like it’s busting out of corsets; another like the stretched neck of a pepperpot; another an index finger of truculent misanthropy bearing the baleful title of an international bank.
Closer to, a blue neon light stretches a few metres along the top of the glass outer wall of the International buffet, where a few desperate individuals make their choices from semi-warm, stainless steel buckets of Italian, Lebanese, Chinese, Indian and Arabic food.
Low shoulder height plastic shrubbery surrounds me, some of which glows vibrant blue and the others, violent lilac. A silent huge television screen by the pool seems to alternate between showing a rerun of a long forgotten Premier league match and a wildlife programme showing the very graphic reconstruction of swimmers being torn to pieces by hungry sharks.
I note my Dutch beer is a Japanese glass in a country whose religion forbids consumption of alcohol.
Welcome I think to the spendthrift, flotsam and jetsam of global culture turning up everywhere wherever the wind blows. Is this the way it will go? I once ate a meal in a traditional Gulf restaurant complete with wooden dhow in the window, served fish by a Sri Lankan waiter in local dress whilst being serenaded by Mexican mariachi band consisting of Filipino musicians costumed appropriately
And the insufficiency of self-sufficiency
Like a tide going out, it seems to me that there is a new spirit of drawing away in the world that we live in. I see it in the increasingly unpleasant atmosphere post Brexit with the talk of going it alone; ‘listing foreign workers”; “taking control”. I see it within communities as people mark out others as other. And I see sometimes in individuals a kind of fearful need for autonomy not arising so much from an active desire for freedom but a wariness about surrender, a sense of something to be lost which shapes their relationship with work and with others.
It saddens me. To me it seems it is all based upon a rather skewed way of seeing how relationships can work. Underpinning it all there seems to be confusion between independence and self-sufficiency or isolationism. I can’t help feeling that much of the time isolationism and self-sufficiency is really a defensive place that assumes that the more removed I am from others, the less I can be hurt or damaged or constrained by them. There is an inherent be-grudgingness in it too, as if anything I give away lessens me and anything I get given creates unpleasant obligation. Isolationism and self-sufficiency is the child of hurt or fear and is risk averse.
Real independence is a much stronger place. It is born of hope and optimism and embraces the ambiguity of risk. It is a belief in the power and authority of the self and the ability of the self to always take choices. But even more it is a faith in the notion of Karma that how you are in the world shapes what you get, And in this respect, the choices I make are always mine and that in the relationships I have with others I operate fundamentally as a free spirit.
Sleeve Notes and Footnotes is a little book of my lyrics available only from my website. It focuses on those songs up to 2013 of which I am most proud. For some of them I have written some sleeve notes, for me a much missed format that more or less disappeared with the demise of the LP. This is one of them introducing my song - recorded on the Songsmith album - Walking the Wall
Just some time ago, I walked most of Hadrian’s Wall, the boundary that marked to the Roman mind, the edge between civilisation and order and the chaotic and barbarian – the wilderness, the wildness. With a raggle taggle group of companions the aim was to walk from gig to gig playing at the inns along the way such as the Twice Brewed, the Swan and the Angel. We started at the Ireby festival up amongst the green hills still tonsured with snow. The first couple of days were fine as we headed off though the lowlands alongside the well-named river Eden.
Later and higher it got greyer and colder up to the Sycamore Gap running parallel to the military road, to where the wall stands proudest and the going counts. This feels like the frontier still, you look south glimpse the reassuring sight of the road, an occasional slow moving vehicle, a cluster of dwellings. You look north, literally over the wall and there is a sense of yes; emptiness, mystery, threat perhaps but also potential, possibility, rough enticement.
You can live your life like this, walking the wall, between the two.
Walking the wall
Who am I, I ask myself, who am I to mourn
The words unrhymed, the notes unsigned
And from the pages torn?
The Vagabond of circumstance,
Still writing in the clouds,
A lonely man on the horizon's edge
Who talks to himself out loud
I look in the mirror
Remembering when I spoke so true
When through the arc of a summer’s day
I caught a glimpse of you.
There’s a hundred perfect reasons
To take the road again,
It’s just none of them make any sense,
When I picture you back then.
All my life, I’ve been walking the wall,
Been so afraid, I was going to fall,
I’ve been waiting for the sun to rise,
The shadows in my heart keep calling,
Slipping out from this compromise
All my life, walking the wall
All my life, walking the wall.
© Steve Carter 2013 to listen to Walking The Wall click here