A few days ago I switched on my PC in the control room, plugged myself into the world and saturated my mind with weltschmerz over a sultry Sumatran coffee.I fed off my usual sources of choice; The Independent for nuts and bolts , goings on in the world and general ins and outs; The Edinburgh Evening News for things local but mainly for footy; The National to balance of the politics from other sources and the BBC and Sky news websites for a simplified media precis. I walked out of the office for a top up of caffeine and a natter with Simone in the sunshine outside the kitchen and it struck me that I hadn’t checked out my Facebook pages. I also realised that this wasn’t the first time and that over the last few months my presence and output had pretty much been neglected and that I’d subconsciously shut down my social media comms to trickle feed. It was later while sitting alone down in the orchard after reviewing the fruit trees that the pangs of guilt from a lack of application to a work ethic came to bear and I started to question why I’d switched off to some degree. I began to realise that this was the first for a very long while that I’d given myself some space after over 3 years of roadwork that never obliged me with enough time to push pause and simply relax and enjoy where I am at for anything more than a passing through or temporary stop over phase . I was no longer in “day off – travel day” mode, this was deep recuperation and i really needed it more than I had thought.
I had finished the ‘Childhood’ tour in May and had come home to a further deterioration in my father’s health and ultimately his death at the end of that month. I barely had time to empty my suitcase and had hit the ground hard from the tour bus. There was no time to think, I just had to react to fast evolving circumstances. I still don’t fully understand how I managed to deal with it all and if I am honest I’m still processing the emotions. I found myself deep in the garden immersing myself in growing and nurturing, planning the green year and just spending time pottering empty headed in the greenhouse. I’d spend an hour quietly sitting alone on the couch in the living room taking in the birds flitting around the feeders on the pergola outside the French doors, ‘Readers Digest Book of British Wildlife’ before me, trying to identify what was what. The first Green Woodpecker at the peanut stall the biggest thrill with the comedy acts of fat wobbling pigeons scouting for fallen seed dispersed by battalions of battling sparrows that were only outperformed by a gallus gang of jackdaws that had become regular visitors. Their food of choice are the suet balls that hang in small cages and they have a voracious appetitive emptying the contents in a morning. I was trying to outwit them by moving the cages around as they were using the hanging flower baskets for ‘base jumping’ as they couldn’t maintain flight next to the feeders, their large wings beating the hanging cage into an impossible twirling landing stage. They had worked out how to leap from the baskets onto the feeders and gorged themselves till they could hang on no longer. Every couple of days another stainless steel hook would be screwed in the pergola to move the feeders and I’d smile and watch 5 or so grey hooded birds gather below trying to work out their next move. In short I was becoming captivated by the nature around me. The brace of young hares darting through the long grass in the orchard, a deer strolling through the field in
front of the studio past bemused horses, rabbits hiding in the wild rocket patch, the endless procession of bees to all the flora I’d been adding over the years to encourage the now fascinating surge of flying buzzing whirring pollinators, all played a part in slowing me down and I was consciously walking away from the ‘day job’. I just looked at that particular mountain from afar and was seriously pondering whether I could or would attempt those particular slopes again.
I had other things on my mind that had to be dealt with the most important of which was to arrange the move for Simone and her son Liam from Durlach to Haddington. We had decided last summer, with all things considered, that The Studio in Scotland offered us the best chances of creating a long term home for us all and after Liam agreed to come over the plans were set in motion at the beginning of the year. Removal companies were contacted and arrangements were made to coincide with Simone’s mother’s shop, where she worked, closing down, Liam’s entry into 3rd year at school over here, her daughters, Tara and Mona both in further education and taking sabbaticals abroad and my lack of touring activities. I’d traveled to Durlach the week after my Dad’s funeral and the respite and sanctuary of the Balcony was just what I needed. I was able to compose myself and refocus on what was needed, to move the relocation forward on both sides of the sea and to try and come to terms with the changes in my life. It was a week of wine, tears,smiles of remembrance and of optimism as we realised our particular dream of living together was finally coming true. I wouldn’t see Simone for another 7 weeks, our longest separation for years, as a lot had to be done back home to prepare for the landing.
My great mate Rab had been a saviour in the garden and had taken on a lot of the jobs I just couldn’t handle. My back and knees were starting to play up badly as the cortisone injections I had been given in Holland during the tour stated to wear off and the sciatica returned. Light manual labour on the patch was all I could muster and the nights were spent massaging magnesium oil into my tendons and joints while trying to avoid painkillers that I knew would only mask the real problems that had to be dealt with on a long term basis. I stopped drinking alcohol for 6 weeks and freely admit that apart from the endless joint aches I felt the best mentally that I’d felt for a while. It was only when Steve Vantsis came up here just before I headed back to Germany that I jumped the wagon and cracked a few seals.
Up till then my life was dominated by garden demands and creating house spaces for Simone’s belongings. Balcony conversations revolved around where things would go and how we would organise the Studio so it became as much Simone and Liam’s home as mine. It was fundamentally important that she would make her marks and that it would be our house and not a shrine to my career as my daughter often pointed out. The ‘clutter’ Tara frowned upon would have to be sifted through and tough decisions made on what had to go. Framed music posters made way for watercolours and prints with potential positioning going back and forward on Whatsapp between Durlach and here as I left a trail of tack holes in my indecisive wake. The couches were sold, the harmonium given to a local craft workshop to sell for funds, the rickety double bed in Taz’s room off to recycling and the control room I finally managed to find the will to reconfigure and clear out in anticipation not only of creative space for me but also for the new Yamaha keyboard I’d bought as the keystone of the album writing sessions which would begin in August when Romain Thorel from Lazuli was coming over for our first attempt at trying to find new material.
In July the days became blurry as I pinballed between advancing the house move and everything that went with it. I was dealing with accounts as questions I’d raised with my previous accountants in January and that had been raised for the past few years necessitated a complete recalculation of 5 years figures to straighten them out into something that made sense to everyone including HMRC. I’d become increasingly concerned I was getting tied up in potentially dangerous knots which had prompted me to change my accountants from being London based to a new firm in Edinburgh. Having them close to home rather than flying down to brain churning meetings that I never walked out feeling any the wiser made a difference and as the knots were unraveled I was discovering myself in a lot better situation than I’d been led to believe.With Simone coming over the last thing I needed was a potential meltdown in my accounts and I’d decided to investigate my own figures and get the answers I’d been looking for rather than someone else asking questions. It had been eating at my mind for quite a few months and with everything else had created some unwanted back pressure. I still get the heebie jeebies with accounts as past memories from the dark 90’s are never far away. There was a palpable sense of relief when I was told by my new accountants that there were no monsters in the books.
There were periods during the 7 weeks when I waited to get on the flight to Frankfurt that time seemed to stand still and both Simone and I grew impatient and frustrated. Her mother’s shop took up most of her time as the closing sale gathered momentum and her mum’s serious leg injury in February when she was hit by a car meant Simone was working pretty much full time there. When she wasn’t in the shop Simone was packing the flat up as well as looking after Liam and Mona. It was all pretty stressful and I felt guilty that she was dealing with it all on her own. There was all the associated bureaucracy on top of all that and the removal company were proving difficult in providing exact dates for the pick up. Simone was jettisoning most of the flat contents as all the basics – plus were already here. A couple of car boot sales and some friends and neighbours pledging to buy a couple of bigger articles we didn’t want or need whittled it down but we still had quite a few hundred cubic feet of boxes and furniture to deal with. A dedicated truck turned out to be too expensive so we elected on a road train dealing with a number of pick ups on a European circuit to bring the Balcony to the Studio. The problem was it was a 19 metre vehicle and trailer and it had to negotiate it’s way though the narrow streets of the Aue in Durlach to reach the flat on the second storey where it had to park outside on the busy road. We had to get official “no parking” notices a couple of days before they arrived. But when would they arrive? We’d also been told that as the road train was dealing with a number of pick ups and drop offs we could be looking at 2 weeks until the stuff arrived in Haddington.We accepted the waiting time as the only other options were a lot more expensive and I’d researched it thoroughly. I’d read and heard horror stories regarding international moves and some of the contenders I discovered when I was gathering quotes didn’t have a lot of fans on some independent review sites. Simone and I were a bit nervous but as there was nothing we considered of any great value apart from on a personal level we decided to go for it and take a chance.
Our biggest concern were the Balcony plants as we knew that 3 weeks in the back of a trailer would probably kill most of them. A couple really meant a lot to us. A climbing hortensia and a climbing yellow “moonlight” rose that Simone had bought just after her Irish wolfhound Borgumil died had both been nominated for the studio garden and we were loath to risk them. A solution arrived in the shape of Yatta.
With the Fishheads club EU/DE mail order service now shut down we had a couple of problems. We had to get all the stock back to Scotland as we had been storing it in the back of Simone’s mother’s shop and as that was closing it had to be moved in July before we left ourselves. The other problem was the official winding up which included transferring all the stock at Amazon DE into the ownership of my company Chocolate Frog Record Company. All the legal and accountancy was done, the FHC account was suspended at Amazon and we waited on them to tell us how we could set up the transfer. After endless e mails we are still at this time of writing waiting on a solution with all the Amazon DE stock still offline. It’s pretty frustrating working our way through the endless red tape involved in communicating with them and despite writing back and forward as well as a couple of phone calls where we thought we had it sorted it’s still an “open case” and unresolved. The transport for the FHC DE stock in Karlsruhe was to prove a lot easier.
We couldn’t lump it in with the flat move and after talking to Yatta he volunteered to drive the Clown Carrier over, pick the merch up and deliver it to the studio. We fixed a date when I would be over there and Yatta worked out the logistics on his side and I mine. If there was space in the clown carrier then the special plants could travel back with that load which was only going to take a couple of days rather than a few weeks. A plan was coming together.
I continued persevering with everything here in the studio but it was all non music related. To make things more difficult my Quad hi fi had decided to break down just as Steve Vantsis was coming up to play me the live material from the ‘Moveable Feast’ tour. He was splitting his time between seeing me, picking out live material and filming the video for his ‘Tilt’ project with Dave Barras. It gave us a chance to catch up, talk through some ‘Weltschmerz’ ideas and forge some plans. We had a great couple of positive days interspersed with some fine gin sessions under the pergola in the sunsets and it was the first in a long time that I’d started to get excited about the music again. However I was Germany bound soon after and everything was focused on the move. The music could wait a while longer.
I arrived in Durlach to an unrecognisable Balcony in late July. Boxes were everywhere and already some of the furniture pieces we didn’t want had gone to new homes.Our great friends Steffen and Carsten really stepped up to the barricades and I can honestly say that without them the week could have ended in a disaster. Yatta arrived in the Clown carrier the day after I arrived and we celebrated our first time together since my Dad’s funeral with a suitable session in the Kranz on the Saturday night. Sunday was a typical 27 degrees in town but thanks to Steffen, Petra, Carsten and a couple of trolleys we emptied the shop and loaded up in just over an hour. As we’d hoped there was plenty of room left in the van so we headed back to the flat to perform the ant routine down 2 floors and 4 steep flights of stairs delivering the plants, breakables and awkward fragile pieces to the comparate safety of the Clown Carrier. We were locked and loaded and ready for Yatta to head off early next day for the journey to the Channel Tunnel and Scotland.
The move was on Thursday so the next 3 days were spent filling boxes and driving to the recycling centre. Carsten and Steffen both had links to refugee centers in town so a lot of the basic kitchen stuff including dinner sets, pots and pans, kettle and cutlery was all destined for there. Bedding and unwanted shoes and clothes were bagged and boxes of old toys stood waiting to be collected. I had to sort out the plant pots as Simone had a good collection of terracotta containers we wanted to take to Haddington. As most of them were filled with lavenders and herbs of which we had more than plenty back home I decided that rather than throw them out that I should replant the sad containers on the front balcony overlooking the street that we weren’t taking with us. Cue a righteous mess which wasn’t helped by discovering a large ants nest among the roots in one of the Balcony pots. I managed to bag most of the nest for removal to the dump and only had to throw away 3 scraggy lavenders leaving the front balcony resplendent in greenery and a pile of terracotta containers all clean and dusted and ant free for transportation. My only fear was that we’d missed a regiment that were now traveling back with Yatta who’d already been bitten to deformity by mosquitoes on the way out after leaving the van window open at night when he took a nap in a services.
Our 2 main concerns and first topic of conversation every morning over coffee on the Balcony were what’s happening with the piano and how are we going to get rid of the kitchen units?
The first problem wasn’t really ours but was becoming so. The upright piano belonged to Simone’s youngest daughter Mona and had been moved to the Balcony years before when it was about to be thrown out of their previous flat. I’d just met Simone around then and they had just moved to the Aue in Durlach. I knew Mona loved playing and she is a pretty accomplished pianist so I offered to pay for the transportation and set up in the new flat. We’d had some lovely nights sitting on the Balcony listening to her playing in her room , strains of melancholy Chopin and chilled grauburgunder a perfect mix of an evening. Mona was supposed to arrange for 4 burly gentlemen to transport it but they turned out to be 4 young men from her karate club and the thought of this piano careering downstairs and hurting someone gave me chills. It also had to be detuned to prevent damage and I couldn’t imagine anyone in the karate Dojo owning a tuning key. Mona was constantly working and hadn’t even finished her packing. Time was fast running out. On the Monday night it was executive decision time and I decided to engage professional help rather than risk damaging the piano. It was late in the day and the piano movers couldn’t do anything till the following week after we had flown. Luckily the new tenants were understanding and allowed us the leeway to pick it up from them. Job done. Problem solved and the piano was addressed to it’s new home in Mona’s dad’s flat where she was moving in with her sister Tara.
The kitchen was more problematic. Unlike renting flats in the UK tenants in Germany have to remove everything they have added to the flat unless agreed with the landlord and/or future tenant. Simone had a kitchen fitted soon after she moved in. Nothing too special. The only thing we wanted from it was the dishwasher that was relatively new. The operational fridge freezer, the cracked halogen hob and oven that worked by guesswork rather than indicated temperature settings, the nearly dead but revivable small freezer, the cracked Belfast sink and the stained wooden worktop with accompanying drunken doored units was proving harder to shift. After the above write up you’re probably sitting there thinking “no wonder” but the thing is we were offering it for free! We contacted friends if they knew any one who wanted a “starter pack” and advertised on the German version of Gumtree but had not even a nibble. Carsten and Steffen had told us that the guys that dealt with recycling for the refugee centres were on holiday that week and we were now sitting on the Balcony 2 days before the removal guys came with a kitchen that had to be dismantled and removed from the premises. By this point after several, what seemed hundreds of trips in an airless well in 30 degrees carrying boxes, plants and bags down 4 flights of knee crunching stairs I was quite honestly close to the knackers yard. Pit ponies were treated better. I was in agony every evening and moaned into our bed amidst the cardboard rubble that made up what used to be our bedroom. And every night I had nightmares about the kitchen. I didn’t have the tools nor the flexibility to dismantle the units or shut off the utilities never mind carry the broken up edifice down 4 flights of stairs.
On Wednesday the sound of trumpets was to be heard as the white charger of Steffen the Awesome came to the Aue. He’d called us the night before to say he’d be round next night to dismantle the kitchen and if I could get the units downstairs on Thursday he could get them picked up and delivered to someone’s garage from where the guys from the refugee centre could pick them up when they got back.
And so it was. Steffen the Awesome arrived with Lady Petra around 6 next day and with tool kit asunder prepared for dissection . They set about their work like pros and after only an hour or so the dismembered corpse of our kitchen was stacked in the corner of the room, now functionless . I still had to organise the “cleaning”. I was now the Harvey Keitel of white units! Tomorrow was scheduled ‘move day’ and Simone and I were as prepared as we possibly could have been. This was to be our last night on the Balcony.
( to be continued)