Retuning

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A couple of months ago, I realised that even though I love music, my range is embarrassingly limited. I’ve never knowingly listened to a Bruce Springsteen album all the way through, or a Velvet Underground, or a Leonard Cohen, or even a Bob Dylan. And as with other things recently, I’ve been getting that nagging feeling that life runs out eventually and I want to colour in some of the pictures before it’s too late.

I’m not sure how these huge omissions happened. Music was with me all the time as a teenager but then I got involved in other things, and it got buried under marriage, work, and raising children and goats. I forgot who I was in so many ways.

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When I was young, it was all about being the same as everyone else. I listened to Pink Floyd, Focus, Cat Stephens, and The Moody Blues, and loved them. But I couldn’t admit to my friends that I also loved the quirky wit, spectacular timing and fabulous orchestration of Frank Sinatra. And years later when the children developed their own musical interests, they were decidedly prescriptive about what we could listen to.

Now I want to know what I like.

So, I’ve started out on a project to broaden my knowledge and as usual I’ve turned to a list for support. I looked at several but opted in the end for Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Music Albums. It offered just what I was looking for, which was a wide range of styles and lots of different artists. I could get into many arguments about the order of the list, the omissions and inclusions but to do so is to miss the point. There are more than 37 million songs on iTunes and that’s a fraction of those available in the world. Where would I start without a bit of guidance?

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I began with Number 1 and so far have listened through to Number 10. I’m fully intending to get to Number 100. My initial look at the list was enough to identify it as being what I wanted but then I instantly forgot what was on it apart from the first and last (OK Computer by Radiohead, and Dare by the Human League). So an added bonus is that each step is a surprise. When I’m ready for the next one, I email my son, who looks it up for me. And as he’s knowledgeable about music it’s fun to chat with him about what I discover. It’s a semi-shared treat.

So far it’s done exactly what I’d hoped for. It’s challenged my prejudices and filled in some gaps. I struggled a bit with Radiohead. They sounded dark and dystopian. But I persevered and after a few days I realised that I was humming something unfamiliar. It was one of the more challenging tracks and somehow it had got under my skin and infiltrated my brain. In his book, 31 Songs, Nick Hornby writes about ‘courting a new song’. And that’s just how it feels. There’s an initial wariness and then sometimes I fall in love unexpectedly and can’t get the new song out of my head. It becomes what he describes as a ‘narcotic need’ to hear it again and again. But it’s a harmless need, and as he says, it’s ‘one that’s easily satisfied.’

Since then I’ve given time to U2, Nirvana, Michael Jackson, Oasis, and Madonna. I won’t burden you with all the details, other than to say that I’ve fallen in love with a few songs but liked U2 least. I enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with Dark Side of the Moon, Sergeant Pepper and Revolver but as I know them all inside out and back to front they were too much within my comfort zone to give me what I want right now.

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When Henry told me that Number 9 was Appetite for Destruction by Guns ‘n Roses I sighed and wondered why I would put myself through listening to something that is so clearly outside my taste. But that’s where I was wrong. At first it sounded awful but gradually the miraculous process happened. I was making the bed and found I was humming one of their tracks complete with swear words and brief stops for a head bang.

I never know what’s going to come up next: soul…reggae…country…rock…grunge…folk…rap… It’s addictive. Every time I find a new song to love, I can’t believe there will be another one but there always is. And as with books, places, films and people, it’s not always the ones I expect to like, who worm their way into my heart. That’s one of the things that makes it so rewarding.

Riding on branch lines

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I think the time has come to broaden this out a bit. You’ve heard about some of the treats on my list. Now I want to hear about yours. As I said in Permutations, the chances are that many of my treats won’t appeal to you – and I probably won’t like some of yours. But it’s always intriguing to see what people come up with when they give free rein to their imagination.

Taking the time to think about what you really want to do and committing it to a list has benefits that aren’t immediately apparent. At first it might seem self-indulgent and even a little narcissistic. But all I can say is that these mini-projects have brightened my life immeasurably over the past few years. They’ve propped me up, filled in gaps and offered unexpected experiences.

Knowing what’s on someone’s wish list tells you a lot about them. Are they thrill-seeking, contemplative or a mixture?  Who has influenced and inspired them? What have they done, or missed out on, that makes these dreams special to them? You learn surprising things about people – even those you think you know well. Try asking friends and family and see what you discover-  (it helps with present-giving too, particularly for ‘got everything’ kind of people).

Some of my friends and family have lists and I’ve posted these on The Treats Collection page. They range from
‘visiting all the churches in Oranges and Lemons’ and ‘taking a friend on a barge holiday’, to being an extra in a film and going to Oktoberfest. If you have some ideas you want to share then I can add them to the page. I use the model of `60 treats before I’m 60’ and fully intend if I live long enough to reward myself with 70 new ones on my next major birthday to soften the blow. You might be less greedy than me, and have only a few. But however many you have, I’d love to hear about them. You can email me on 60treatsandmore@gmail.com

We also might differ in how we approach them. My project has evolved with time, and now it works very well for what I want. It’s guided by just a few principles. The first is that I don’t plan treats very far ahead. If I had rigid dates in my diary or head, for when they should happen then they’d become a burden. Instead, I try to allow things to unfold when the time is right – it’s amazing how opportunities present themselves. When my concentration was shot to pieces a couple of years ago, my riding treat was just what I needed. For that hour each week I had to put my grief on one side and simply focus on not falling off. But I didn’t know when I wrote my list that this was how my horsey encounters would work out. Then at other times treats have fallen into place because I’ve suddenly had a bit of time to fill – or a special person I’ve wanted to spend time with. Perusing the list and pondering which to pick next is like choosing from a very classy box of chocolates.

Beyond the essentials, then I’ve not planned the treats themselves a great deal. For nearly four years now, I’ve been having adventures by darting down absorbing little alleys and riding along branch lines. Many are too good to ignore. When I start out, I never know where they’ll take me. A highlight of my make-up project was discovering a rich crimson Russian cafe, and a trip to Greenwich Market included an unexpected criminal encounter.

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The second of my guiding principles has been that once written, the list is non-negotiable. When I told my friend Esther about this, she said pragmatically “but you can change it as you go through, can’t you?” “No”, I said, feeling panicky at the very thought. There’s a good reason for that. For years I had no way of holding on to the things I longed to do. Ideas popped into my head but when confronted with other priorities, they popped straight out again. It’s only been by making a list and committing it to paper, that I’ve started to feel that these things are possible. If I keep changing the list, then I am forever on shifting sands.

For most of my adult life there has been some member of the family needing me to do something for them. Sometimes they’ve all wanted things at the same time. I recall one unusually orderly occasion when all four children formed a queue as they waited to speak to me. One wanted me to sign a school trip form and write a cheque; another burst into tears and needed a hug. I can’t remember what the other two wanted, but I do know that when Will’s issue had been dealt with, he went straight to the back of the queue and lined up again. Being a mother has affected most of what I’ve done for twenty-seven years. My sister has four children, too, and it’s been the same for her. She once turned up at a hospital appointment and was mortified to be shown a letter that she’d written to the consultant and signed ‘love Mum’.

The third of my guiding principles is to believe that each treat will happen. That somewhere an opportunity will present itself. Somehow in the next three years, nine months and eleven days I have to get to Japan. I’m not sure when or how I’m going to manage it, but I remain steadfastly optimistic.

bullet train

*****

And once again the final word concerns fish. Fish Mondays have continued, so I’ve added hake and swordfish to the Fish Recipes page.