On man’s greatest pleasure

My mind wanders. It wanes and winds and worries itself into knots. Tongue-tied and tizzy I find myself second-guessing what I’m doing.

I feel like this a lot when I try to write songs. Like a rusty tap, you struggle to turn it on, twisting and heaving and hoping it’ll give. Some days it flies open, but the first droplets of creativity are always murky. Muddy obfuscations. Borrowed tropes. Love is a… why do I always start with metaphors?

In man’s eternal struggle to find meaning, I dive into others words’ for solace. I’ve found myself reading voraciously, mainly spurred on by an absurd amount of free-time that I haven’t experienced since I was a kid. I remember around age nine I spent some three years tucked into bed, reading and re-reading books. Living in a third-world country, the books I had were ones we brought with us or ones we borrowed from friends. The public library is man’s finest luxury.

My parents tell the story of me as a child (or possibly my brother, the re-telling of stories gives them wings and lives way beyond their original scope). Once I’d learned to read they realised they could gain a couple of hours of morning peace by filling my cot with books at night-time. When I woke in the morning I’d delight in the sheer amount of reading material. I’d devour the books and then push them over the edge of my cot to the floor below. Read read, thunk, read read thunk. My parents would wake to the sound of books plopping on the carpet below. When I ran out of books I’d make myself known and the day would begin. Truly a wonderful childhood.

If I could forgo all that life is, retreat from work and music and creativity and love and food and return to a living where my entire world was made of books, would I do so? Interestingly enough, that’s almost what my latest tour felt like. The beauty of solo touring is you spend a lot of time on your own. As much as I love meeting new people and spending time sharing experiences, introducing yourself to a new bar full of people and making friends is a little daunting (hello introversion). Some nights I did it. Some nights I took my book from the car (where I’d been happily reading it) to the bar (where I happily kept reading it between sets) back to the car (where I continued reading it) to the campsite (where I lay in my car and read till I fell asleep). Truly a charmed existence.
This meant that I read five books in the last fifteen days. Not a bad effort, although I must admit I read books in the same way that a troupe of boys devour chicken and chips after a five day hike. My partner tells me off sometimes for the way I eat, but I know that once I’ve finished my meal that hers is on offer, so why slow down? I read the way I eat. I eat as if every meal is my last and cramming the fullest amount of calories into my body in the shortest amount of time is important.

Over this tour I read a wild selection of things (I try and post them on my instagram stories as I finish them). This particular fortnight I indulged in some science fiction (I found marvellous similarities between Blade Runner 2049 and Philip K. Dick, only to realise halfway through that they were so similar because they were the same), some chosen Stoicism (The Daily Stoic) and some unchosen Stoicism (Tom Wolfe’s Man in Full, a fine work of fiction which only turns into a meditation on Stoicism in the last third or so). Upon finishing I discovered Wolfe wrote the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a book I read with some trepidation earlier in the year. Ali Smiths’ Autumn was a wild ride, something I feel I will need to re-read in a year or so (and possibly once a year until Brexit resolves itself for better or for worse). It’s a tangled web of language that genuinely distressed and delighted me throughout. Boy Swallows Universe was beautiful. An amazing story that I completed in two unbroken spells, throwing myself entirely into the plot, read by the light of a Reject Shop torch in a campground near Wingham.

And now here I am. I wrote a couple of new songs on tour. I drove some 3,000 km in two weeks. I played twelve shows. But most of all I got to do what I’ve loved since literally before I could do anything else. Here’s to that kid with the lisp and the lazy eye and the love of books. Here’s to authors around this earth, creating new worlds to pull apart your mind and scare your senseless soul. Here’s to everyone who has ever loved a book. Here’s to you and me.

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