In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments
When first asked, I didn’t much feel like dredging through the year as it’s been something of a stinker, filled with many long, murky shadows on which to reflect. Friends lost, family torn apart, penury, loss and torment. It’s all happened in a year that I thought couldn’t be any worse than 2010. The worst is not, so long as we can say ‘this is the worst’ indeed.
By rights, I should be downright bloody miserable. In February, the cold lead thud of a ‘Priest’ administered the last rights to the gasping trout of my marriage. As lovers the world over prepared for their annual Hallmark-sponsored smugfest, I was packing up and shipping out to a ground floor flat in Honor Oak. A definitive ‘no’, disrespectfully delivered second hand in the same month, snuffed out any hope of welcome distraction elsewhere as well. No comfort for old Ben. When spring sprang and the green shoots of recovery looked set to revive, I foolishly left a bag of records in the back of a cab. It had my headphones in too. And my front door keys, which meant I had to sleep in the front porch all night. And my notebook of scribblings, thoughts, songs, facts, phone numbers and even poems I’d considered writing. All gone. Not the best way I can think of to spend a birthday.
When July arrived, full flush of summer and ready for festivals, fun and frolics, my finances took another hit as my ex-wife suddenly became none-too-keen to talk frankly or fairly about future provision, choosing instead to prolong the temporary arrangement that had seen me just about penniless a week or so into the working month since I’d left.
But all the while, in the background, a festival I was helping with was shaping up nicely. I’d booked some great acts, seen many more interesting ones and generally dipped my toe into the shallower reaches of the A&R pool. This was exciting stuff. Genuinely distracting. And the rapidly approaching date meant I’d finally get to see one of the people I’d booked with whom I’d become somewhat smitten. The closer it got, the more I played out the hopelessly unlikely scenarios that bear little resemblance to what reality has in store. So in a way, the festival’s eventual cancellation meant at least my age-old cynicism had remained intact, if not any shred of dreams.
Has it all been unremittingly shit? At times it’s seemed so. But nestled almost obscured amid the mounds of rubbish have been some magical moments.
Like finding out my mates had clubbed together to replace my lost records. Or like standing in a crowded upstairs room in a Hampstead pub listening, rapt, to three bald men and John Andrews giggling about fishing. Or spending two days brewing beer at The Kernel in Bermondsey, easily my favourite brewery and maker of what I think is the best beer in Europe. If not the world.
And then there was Paris. Mid August saw me join around a dozen others on a bike ride from London to the French capital, via Newhaven, in aid of the Awamu charity. Although it rained every day, there was still enough about the scenery that took the breath away as much as the long ascents. Pulling out from Newhaven on the ferry presented the sight of the Seven Sisters rising out of the sea like a school of surfacing baleen whales. The Avenue Vert, a tarmaced disused railway line from Dieppe to Forges-les-Eaux, was a soaking, grey, tree-lined path into the heart of Normandy while the wooded parkland on the outskirts of Paris seemed like an endless forest fringe offering respite from the now-beating sun. Catching sight of the Eiffel Tower was a moment I’ll savour for some years yet.
So despite the blows, I’m approaching the end of 2011 feeling upbeat. Not because prospects are particularly looking up any time soon, nor even because next year can’t be as bad as this one, can it? But because there’s been just enough to keep the interest levels acceptably high. And besides, being miserable is becoming boring.