The Inner World of Migration

The new becomes routine. The unfamiliar becomes unnoticeable after a while, but once in a while an event occurs that makes me look at the familiar with a new vision and I wonder and I am thankful for the beauty of it.

I cycle to the sea two or three times a week in all weathers. We have had a very severe winter more so this year than previous years. As I cycle along the small country potholed roads week after week I forget to notice what is around me my mind is on other things and other people. I must think that journey boring as I do not notice it, yet if I had been incarcerated in a small 4 walled cell it must be like heaven to see what I see in those 3 days of cycling, I had forgotten to appreciate it. The winter cold makes me cycle hard and all I notice is how my sweat freezes and how the wind bites into my skin. But recently I have begun to notice the different bird life. At first it was the birds of prey, the Buzzards taking advantage of the air currents and floating effortlessly above the fields looking for prey, or just enjoying the gift of flight as they seem to be enjoying their experience hovering and gliding majestically without effort using what is natural to them and what is free to them. I have seen other birds of prey: a Kestrel had in its talons a small animal as it flew over my head heading for the next field to devour it; a Sparrow Hawk had what looked like a pigeon’s wing hanging down from its claws nearly as big as its own body. The birds of prey are easy to spot; they take my attention and demand acknowledgment.

More recently I have noticed smaller less unfamiliar types of bird doing beautiful and unpredictable things. Yesterday I saw a large flock of Black Birds in a farmer’s field all on the ground taking advantage of the worms as the tractor disturbed the ground. As the tractor approached the seated dinner party the front section of the flock rose in the air and flew obediently and in order to the back of the flock and continued to take advantage of the farmer’s fare but not as fresh and plenty as the front row. As the tractor came closer the next section of birds rose and migrated behind them, it was a constant movement a wave effect of rising and falling, a mass of blackness swaying with fluidity. It was beautiful, poetic, mesmerising and very natural; it was mechanical yet organic and although it seemed like it was programmed and fixed I knew it could reform and change, dissolve and fragment at any moment. I cycled on thinking of this apparition when I noticed a Buzzard perched on a fence post it slowly took flight and glided away from me unconcerned as though it was bored.

A while later I came to the hill where I normally get off my bike as my brakes cannot hold the descent and taking the bottom corner at full speed is not so wise due to the ever widening potholes that seem to get bigger each week due to the tractors that plough that country lane. By getting off and walking down the hill I noticed a tree trunk, the sun shone on its south facing bark but on the reverse side there was an exposed piece of trunk, bare except for a row of beautifully formed toadstools one above the other. It was so unexpected and lovely, the sun shone and I was taken by their colour and form. I felt happy to see it, not to own it or to cut it, possess it or to eat it, just to come across it and then leave it; leave it I did and continued around the bend. The road I have named ‘potholed alley’ for obvious reasons and after the recent snow and ice we have just had the small crevasses make the journey one of “find the asphalt”.

Before the village of Easton there are fields on either side of me I saw in one of these fields a large flock of Canadian Geese, the faded green field was a mass of dark browns and greys. I got off my bike and took out my camera to video the congregation, it reminded me as if they were waiting for their leader to give a speech at the annual ‘Canadian Geese Rally’ that is held in the dirtiest field at the north east corner of wintery England. Then I heard a sound of a small aeroplane coming towards me, the area is quite flat and it holds a few old aerodromes from the 2nd World War, as it turned away from that Geese filled field there came a mass cry and a beating of wings as the whole flock took flight. The Canadian Geese rose into the air on mass and criss-crossed each other away from me and then towards me, a mass of black shapes splitting into smaller flocks and then moving away from one another, splitting and dividing, then reforming again, chaotic yet repetitive. I had seen flocks of Starlings nesting before and it reminded me of them as they swirl and manoeuvre around the skies, but these were a lot larger and a lot noisier. The plane had also startled other Canadian Geese from other fields and these flew over from behind me and they were heading towards the others. They were regrouping, multiplying, and safety in numbers perhaps. They did not seem as though they were enjoying themselves, they were not like the Buzzard who loved to fly for the sheer glory of it; these bleating long necked birds were confused and were looking for a leader to reunite them to a quieter patch of ground; but they did not find it and they were still flying in circles when I left, they seemed to prefer fields a long way off from where I was.

The day was not boring nor was it lost in my own selfish importance; I took nourishment in its detail, in the fragments of not rushing, and I noticed other worlds at play and realised my life was as important as other lives even if I was think it is not. We do what we do without programming it, we think we make choices but we are regimental as the migrating geese or the relay of black birds or the sprouting of fungi, how arrogant to think we are any different.

Heat of Competition

The cold weather has kept me indoors for a few months so I have not been busking, but last Saturday I put on my thermal underwear and headed out to the streets. It was a depressing time, the weather did not help much the sun not creeping over the 1970s monstrosity that is the Civic Centre building. People were not in the mood either; they hurried past not caring not listening and not thinking music. It could not be said for the kids though, they were in good voices as they chanted insults and clattered their skateboards down the small subway drowning out the pipes and peoples voices.
I gave up after a few hours in low spirits and took refuge in our noisy library, I sat myself down in front of the internet for an hour to see what the outside work had to say.

Later on in the centre of town I saw other musicians playing: a man sitting next to his amplifier playing highly rhythmical blues music on his acoustic guitar and harmonica, very catchy and up-beat music it even attracted a small group of skateboard kids – how hip can you get? I liked his playing but I dislike amplifiers, the world has become too noisy, you need amplification to be heard, but by doing so you just pump up the volume so people have to be noisy to be heard over you, it is a cycle of noise. When I started playing the Northumbrian Pipes the world was a quieter place, I used to play in the centre of town just like Mr Blues, but now I cannot as I am too quiet and I cannot hear what I play! “Get an amplifier” people say, no I will not. So I look for alternative areas where to play that push me on to the peripheries. Busking is a periphery type of activity at the best of times, but it seems I am on the periphery of the peripheries (if there is such a periphery!).

A few meters from Mr Blues there was a young chap playing an accordion, luckily he was not amplified nor was he blending in with the Mississippi Blues rhythms either! I stood in the middle of the these two frequencies trying to get a stereo balance and thinking how great it is to introduce to the general public of Carlisle Contemporary music! I try not to make generalizations but last year Carlisle had a swarm of accordion players descend on the town centre, these players played cheap Russian accordions and played them in a Eastern European style, but the problem was they did not play a melody, they improvised notes. They had their stools and their packed lunches they all spoke to one another in their lunch breaks. It seemed like they were learning the instrument trying to play a fragment of melody with one hand and the bass notes with the other but getting bored half way through and then deciding to play something else in a different key and rhythmic structure. To be honest I did not notice these musicians from their musicality I noticed them as they were in all the places where I usually stand and more besides. It was like a family of accordion players had sprouted and were filling the air with discordant fragrances. I luckily found an ‘un-accordionated’ spot somewhere on the periphery but after a few weeks people started telling me of the noise that was emanating from the centre of town and how these accordionists were not making any music or money!
After a few months they disappeared, gone with out trace, one day they were not there any longer and no one ever saw them again until that Saturday when I saw one next to Mr Blues. Later on I saw the young accordionist in a different spot away from the centre still trying to play the ‘1st lesson in the Accordionist’s handbook’! The only other guy I saw that day was a guitarist, a singer songwriter playing to himself at the other end of town. The day did not pick up for me I got hassle off the homeless people and came away wishing I was a banker or from another disreputable profession.