I walked into town this morning intending to buy some milk and go and sit in the library and do some writing. I’d armed myself with notebook, pen, and a list of writing prompts. All set. Only problem was the ‘quiet’ area of the library that has tables and chairs was occupied by a loud and patronising lady who was being slightly horrible to a lad of about eleven as she tutored him in something or other. I left. Went upstairs to the café, because after all, how hard can it be to find a quiet table at ten in the morning and sit with a cup of tea and write something? They had sandwiches, which wasn’t fair, so I had to have one (roast beef and spinach). Once I’d eaten that, and looked around at the other café folk – mostly gents of a certain age reading the complimentary copies of the Daily Mail – I realised it just wasn’t going to happen. I would buy my milk and go back home to write. I hate writing by hand anyway. Be much easier at home on the computer.
Still had to buy the milk, so I wandered down Newgate Street towards Heron, picked up a couple of pints, and thought I might as well pop into some charity shops on the way back. I usually do themed shopping – one week I might look for books, another for oddments of china. This week I noticed they had started doing LPs again. It’s been a good few years. These shops always used to have piles of them, mostly Jim Reeves and Barry Manilow, but then CDs came in and pretty much took over; we were told the sound was better and they’d last forever (ha!). Charity shops, certainly round here, stopped collecting and selling them, and most of us stopped listening to them.
Fast forward a few years and us diehard LP fans have been joined by a load of people from a much younger generation who for one reason or another love their turntables and want to be able to buy records to play on them. I invested in a turntable a few years ago when they just started becoming available again, mostly because I have an extensive collection of LPs and 78s and wanted to have the option of listening to them, but oddly I never did, so the turntable has been gathering dust.
One of the first charity shops I went in this morning had a mountain of LPs and they were only a pound each and so I thought, okay, have a look, there won’t be anything, but why not. It was curiously nostalgic to bump into Gentleman Jim Reeves again. I must admit, I’ve never heard anything by him. He might be quite good – but then again, the fact that he is always, without fail, in charity shops suggests that maybe he isn’t if so many people have been so keen to get rid of his records. I have no problem with Barry Manilow, and am surprised that he turns up so often. Apart from that, all the usual suspects were there, everyone from Liberace to Herb Alpert, who actually isn’t too bad, but still not really my cup of tea. This shop had a lot more, however. It had rude rugby songs. It had Johann Strauss waltzes. It had something I couldn’t read because it was in Hebrew. It had Frank Ifield. Definitely an eclectic mix, so I had a good look through and came away with a number of records: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘London’ Symphony in a classic recording by Vernon Handley; the Schumann and Grieg piano concertos played by Radu Lupu; and a couple of records of masses by William Byrd and Josquin, sung by the Tallis Scholars. I looked at them all carefully and all appeared unmarked. The Josquin was still in a sealed package so had never been played.
Back home, I tried to play the Vaughan Williams. Nothing happened. Looked round the back, realised the turntable wasn’t plugged in. Felt slightly silly. Plugged it in, tried again, and it worked – the sound was crystal clear. Utterly beautiful. While it was playing I wrote a half decent poem with almost no effort at all. Then I put the Grieg on, then the Schumann. I’m listening to that one now. The Byrd comes next. I’ll quite likely write a short story while that’s playing, and will soon reach the thousand words a day I’ve been aiming at as a minimum since the start of December.
We all write differently. Some writers can go into cafés and coffee shops and libraries and find endless inspiration by observing the characters who come and go; some people do the same thing on trains. I write to music. Not always – sometimes I write to a rugby match on the telly. But music, I think, works best. I’m not sure why it isn’t a distraction. When I was doing A level music at school and had to write a piece of music for homework, I would often annoy my mother by doing it with the radio on. It did genuinely help my concentration, bizarre as it may seem. Of course it’s different if you’re writing words rather than music, but I’m still not quite sure why it works. It’s not that it provides a sort of white noise that can be tuned out, because I’m well aware of what I’m hearing while I write. A neurologist might be able to tell me what’s going on, but I certainly don’t know.
All I know is I’ve bought some records, and that’s something I haven’t done in years, and I’m getting a terrific buzz from listening to them. They might well give my writing a spur, give it more depth – make it better simply because I’ll be in a better ‘zone’ (horrible word) at the moment.
The Josquin, however, is special. That’s being reserved for when I’m painting. It would be wasted on writing.