Author: Jim Preen

Changing of the guard

Changing of the guard

Today is Prince Philip’s funeral. In fact, as I write it has just completed with a lone piper marching in full regalia out of the chapel at Windsor Castle where the funeral took place. The Queen sat alone during the entire ceremony and cut a forlorn figure. Was it really not possible to have someone sitting with her? She has just lost her partner of 73 years and I’m sure could have used a little human comfort. It seemed cruel, somewhat reminiscent of Harry and William marching behind their mother’s coffin all those years ago.

In my youth I was a republican, red in tooth and claw. In recent years my republicanism has been somewhat blunted by Mrs Preen who is a great royalist. She reminds me when I take a swipe at the royal franchise that if we didn’t have them, we’d likely have an ex-politician as head of state who more than half the country would detest.

Today I cycled past Buckingham Palace where the Union Flag fluttered at half-mast and families in Green Park enjoyed a picnic in the cool sunshine of a chilly Spring.

Whether you are an ardent royalist or care nothing for them, Philip’s funeral is a moment to consider. It really is a changing of the guard. In my youth there were still many veterans who had been through the machine-age slaughter of World War 1. They have gone. Now we are seeing the finals acts of those who marched through the hell of the second great European war of the 20th century. It’s a moment to pause and reflect.

What comes next could be tricky for the Windsors. Unlike the Queen, the country’s great grandma, Charles III may not be to everyone’s taste. When Diana died, I was working as a journalist and every lunchtime I was sent out with a microphone to vox pop the general public. The general consensus of the general public was that they couldn’t stand Charles at any price. I think that has softened somewhat over the years, but it could be a rocky ride for the famille royale when the Queen hands in her jewel encrusted lunch pail.

Nice to see the apparently two warring brothers, Harry and William, chatting amicably after the service. Perhaps they’ll get on with the wrangling when our very unroyal backs are turned. Or perhaps they get on fine and perish the thought their enmity is just a tabloid fabrication.

It was a sad military service with perhaps not much in it for me until I read the poet laureate’s poem on the passing of the Duke. It’s called The Patriarchs – An Elegy.

While written to mark Philip’s death, it’s a poem, as the title suggests, for the Duke and the whole of his tight-lipped, no nonsense generation. Like the Duke my father fought through World War 2. He didn’t talk about it, but he suffered greatly as a result of what he’d seen and done.

To me at least, the poem is deeply moving. I’m putting it here as a tribute to my dad and all those who are part of a generation that has almost departed.

The Patriarchs – An Elegy

The weather in the window this morning
is snow, unseasonal singular flakes,
a slow winter’s final shiver. On such an occasion
to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up
for a whole generation – that crew whose survival
was always the stuff of minor miracle,
who came ashore in orange-crate coracles,
fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea
with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.

Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans
across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets,
regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were
was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business.
Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became
both inner core and outer case
in a family heirloom of nesting dolls.
Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand
in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.

They were sons of a zodiac out of sync
with the solar year, but turned their minds
to the day’s big science and heavy questions.
To study their hands at rest was to picture maps
showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes
of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions.
Last of the great avuncular magicians
they kept their best tricks for the grand finale:
Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.

The major oaks in the wood start tuning up
and skies to come will deliver their tributes.
But for now, a cold April’s closing moments
parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon
snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.

Simon Armitage

The picture of Windsor Castle was taken by Andrew Laurence

Liner Notes

Liner Notes

I have a new album out which goes under the snappy title of ‘Cat in the Spirit House’. The picture below will give you a rough clue as where the name came from.

Full disclosure: These are not actually new songs but are taken from the two albums I released in the 1990s. ‘Don’t stare at the celebrities’ came out to wide- spread acclaim (hang on that should read apathy) in 1995 and ‘Shopping in bed’ followed two years later. These ten cuts represent the best songs those two albums had to offer.

In the nineties I moved to journalism and worked largely with ABC News covering the first Gulf War, the Concorde crash and the Bosnian conflict among hundreds of other stories. News features quite heavily in the lyrics if you know where to look. I was still in touch with an amazing group of musicians from by recording studio days. All these years later their playing still sounds extraordinary. Thanks to one and all.

Credit for this new album should go to my old comrade in arms Simon Webb who came up with the idea and who also suggested getting Ian Tompson to re-master the chosen tracks. Ian did a wonderful job pulling off the cobwebs using all the dastardly wizardry at his disposal.

Click here to listen to the album

Love to all

Jim

Spring 2021


Credits

Voice/guitar: Jim Preen

Guitar: Les Davidson, Tim Stone

Bass: John Gordon, Jeremy Meek, Phil Manley, Richard Lee, Simon Edwards

Drums: Richard Marcangelo, Steve Dixon

Percussion: Phil Overhead

Keys: Mick Parker, Damon Butcher, Tim Bradshaw

Vibes: Roger Beaujolais

Harmonica: Mark Feltham

Tenor sax: Ray Carless, Nick Penteloe

Backing vocals: Helen Hardy, Sonia Jones, Zoe Nicholas, Susie Webb

The Kick Horns: Roddy Lorimer (tpt), Simon Clarke (bari), Tim Sanders (tenor)

Brass arranged by Simon Clarke


Songs remastered by Ian Tompson

Photograph: Judith Hurst

Design: Rob Anderson

Framed written by Leiber & Stoller

Mr Siegal written by Tom Waits

JP responsible for the rest of the malarkey


Click here to listen to the album

The year of living dismally

The year of living dismally

We’ve never lived a year like it. Just over twelve months ago the Prime Minister told us to go home and that’s pretty much what we did albeit with a slight hiatus over the summer. We’ve mostly been home, cooped up and closeted.

Life has been directly informed by whether you like your home and the people in it. We were told we were ‘all in it together’, but that ‘it’ varied wildly from those with a large house and garden surrounded by a loving family to those closeted in abusive relationships or living alone twenty stories up in a tiny apartment with no access to a garden. It’s been a series of very different journeys which have determined how tolerable or otherwise our lockdown has been.

Pernicious disease

Then of course you may have caught Covid, a most pernicious and almost incomprehensible illness. Some caught it, displayed no symptoms and are still unaware they ever had it. More than a hundred and twenty thousand got sick and never recovered. For others still hanging on after being ill for weeks or months it continues to be a long brutal battle.

And what about babies and very young children, usually the most vulnerable to disease? It seems to have had little or no impact on their young lives. How can that be? Slightly older kids may not have been physically affected by the disease, but many have been hurt badly by the psychological fall out.

Our house

Days seem to pursue a relentless course of not very much. In this house we all work or are trying to navigate ‘A’ levels. We moan when the broadband is as bad as dial-up and our super important call disintegrates into digital dust.

In the evening we watch Netflix or a BBC iPlayer boxed set. We’re currently on the wonderful French farce ‘Call my agent!’ and then settle down for the 10 o’clock BBC News, unless the news is too dreadful to watch. I’m now fully acquainted with all Sophie Raworth’s broadcast outfits and frankly Soph it’s time to go online and select a couple of new ‘fits as I gather, they are now called. (Thanks to daughter for that). I really need to get out more, but then again so do you.

If you’re a keen reader of A little London Life, you’ll know that over the summer we moved to Essex for three months while our kitchen was given a complete makeover. Builders seemed to have worked right through the pandemic.

And there in the Essex house that we rented from friends was a small upright piano. I was determined to do something during lockdown that would mark some kind of growth and started hammering out gibberish on the piano. Well, that hasn’t stopped as a lovely friend from my days at ABC News gave me a digital upright which now gets beaten into submission on a nightly basis. I’m still an astonishingly bad player but having played guitar for almost 50 years I do understand music’s basic wiring. I know what’s going on under the hood, which I’m now struggling to translate on to the keyboard. It’s a battle but I’m in it for the long haul. Sorry neighbours.

Suddenly, nothing happened

So how has it been for you? Still struggling to coming to terms with it all? Doing OK? Coming up for air?

It’s odd to try to recall what happened when almost nothing happened.  The major events that typically bookmark our personal orbit round the sun were in short supply from March of last year. No holidays, no going out, no meeting with friends, no journeys, no business meetings. Social interaction reduced to a Zoom call. Work seems like a series of tasks rather than a collaborative experience.

What do I miss most? Is it gigs, theatre, art galleries, cinema, having pleasant things in my diary to look forward to? Yes, all of that but not really that either. What I really miss is just being in the presence of my fellow humans. Hugging, kissing hanging out, drinking, chatting. Life with a forward trajectory built into it. How do we know we’ve achieved anything if we keep busy but are often busy doing nothing?

Vaccination action station

It’s certainly not over yet, but the various vaccines are a beacon of hope. I remember talking with someone at the start of it all saying I thought the chance of getting a vaccine quickly was slight at best and there was a good chance there would be no vaccine at all. Science has come to our rescue, we have vaccines, there is a way out. Let’s have no mealy-mouthed anxiety. Roll up your sleeve.

As the little bumper on the BBC says: The future isn’t cancelled. See you on the other side.

Why aren’t you taking the free stuff?

Why aren’t you taking the free stuff?

I was wandering around our local park with Bucket today picking up twigs and small branches that the high winds and that old enabler gravity have brought down to earth. Just then a small girl, she must have been around five or six as she had no front teeth, fixed me with a beady, disapproving stare and said: ”We must save the planet.” I agreed but she wouldn’t have it and said I shouldn’t take branches from the trees. I said I was just picking them up from the ground for my fire pit, but she fixed me with another look that said with people like you around, the planet doesn’t stand a chance.

Fire pit

Fire pits, they’re the new thing for old people. Last night I had a Zoom call with a couple of my similarly aged mates (mid-sixties) and it turned out all three of us had been given fire pits for Christmas. Funny you don’t realise you need something until you can’t live without it. I see my dotage as bottles of whiskey shared with chums around a blazing fire in the back garden.

Anyway, back to the park and notwithstanding the five-year-old, I got a few odd stares from people as I collected up my kindling. I guess I looked like a battered old hippy harvesting firewood for my lonely grate, where I huddled round the hearth to keep warm. Now I can’t believe that in our bit of London I’m the only one to be the proud owner of a fire pit, but no one else was picking up sticks. Which begs the question: Why aren’t you picking up the free stuff?

Blackberry and apple

Last summer we had to vacate our house at the Oval and legged it to Essex where we rented a house while workmen set about building us a new kitchen. We hung our hats for a few months in South Woodford very close to Roding Valley Park. The Roding river winds through it and if it wasn’t for the North Circular and the M11 it would be a pleasant, peaceful spot. Despite the din and dirt of the traffic, Bucket and I got to love the place. There some forward-thinking planner had planted orchards of apple trees some twenty years ago. The apples ripened in September and then very quickly rotted and fell from the trees. They were cooking apples that I used to harvest  along with wild blackberries that grew close by. Mrs Preen turned these into blackberry and apple crumbles and blackberry and apple jam. I never saw anyone else scrumping the apples as we used to call it. Once again: Why aren’t you picking up the free stuff?

Rhubarb

Now back at the Oval, with a wonderful new kitchen, my wife took Bucket to the secret garden. The secret garden is set in the grassy area between two 30s council blocks and was put together and maintained by the residents. There is a little pool in the middle circled by plants, shrubs and rhubarb. More than a year ago Mrs Preen discovered the rhubarb and asked if she could take some. No problem take all you want she was told.  Rhubarb lies at the heart of delicious, stewed fruit, just check out the Jamie Oliver recipe. Mrs Preen went to harvest a few stems yesterday, only to find they’d all been dug up and removed as nobody wanted it.

Too posh to pick?

Are we now all too posh to pick up the free stuff? If we pick up free stuff is it only a matter of time before we’re caught scavenging through the bins? Or have we become so cut-off from the natural world that everything must now come neatly sealed in plastic? ‘Waste not, want not’ as my old mum used to say and you can be sure this battered old hippy will continue helping himself to what nature has to offer, even in the very heart of London.