Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Mathew Clayton

Mathew Clayton | 13th January 2017

…In which, as we enter a new year, our friends and collaborators look back on the past twelve months and share their moments;

On the Caught by the River stage at Port Eliot Festival this year, I gave a talk about cowbells. The talk referred to a conversation my father had with Wolfgang from Kraftwerk on a Swiss family holiday in the mid 70s. I have been giving talks for a few years and in them I often mix fact and fantasy. The made-up elements are included for comic effect and normally don’t refer to anyone living but, I reasoned, Wolfgang is some German dude and it was a Thursday afternoon at the festival, so I was pretty sure that there wouldn’t be many people listening. The talk went well and I didn’t think about it again until October when, at an event in Brighton, a woman stopped me to ask the name of my father. I looked at her baffled. Why would she want to know that? ‘Oh. I saw your wonderful talk about cowbells,’ she explained. ‘I am a friend of Wolfgang’s and am seeing him this weekend and thought I would ask him if he remembered the little chat with your Dad’. Awkward pause. ‘Well…er…’

This was a typical encounter from a year in which I felt my life was turning into a never-ending episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm — at every turn I was confronted with minor embarrassments, mishaps and misunderstandings. It was also the year that, due to the Southern Rail strike, I spent an inordinate amount of time on the train. Up to six hours a day dawdling up to London and back to the sticks. I had plans to spend this time writing, but instead I became obsessed with making techno on my laptop. The miles slid away as I repeatedly tweaked the same four bars of 909 drums. Eventually, in the week before Christmas, the relentless pounding drew an angry complaint from a fellow traveller. ‘Can you turn it off, I can’t listen to it anymore?’ an exasperated red haired women, slightly younger than me, complained one night on the 6.23 somewhere outside London Bridge. We had been stuck there for an hour, due to a drunken man on the track at Norwood Junction. He was staggering around and, like many men when drunk, had started removing his clothes. At the same time he was boasting to the commuters on the platform that his unsocial behaviour would make him famous on YouTube. I knew all this because people were posting regular video updates on Twitter. Typically, Southern Rail failed to catch him. He was last seen running off down the track towards East Croydon swirling a red polo shirt around his head. The 6.23 eventually groaned back into action, this time unaccompanied by Roland’s famous kick drum.

Later that night I had to change trains at Brighton. My connection hadn’t arrived and I needed a pee. I didn’t want to go through the ticket barrier, so I had the novel idea of finding a stationary train that wasn’t due to leave the station for a while and using their facilities. I hopped on a Victoria bound Thameslink and found the loo – one of the curved affairs with the big sliding doors. I hit the the open door button which slowly swung round to reveal to startled a office-worker mid flow. He mumbled something apologetically about the lock being broken. I moved back down the carriage and waited for my turn. When the Lewes train finally turned up I found an empty seat and sat down. Aaargh. I was opposite the man from the toilet. He look even more startled as he weighed up whether or not I was following him. It made for an uncomfortable 20 minute journey.

On Boxing Day I got a text from my Aunt saying how much she was enjoying my present; a book about the North Sea. Shit. I had somehow given her the book that Jeff had sent me to review for Caught by the River. What’s more, she seemed reluctant to hand it back. ‘Do you really want it back?’ she texted me a few days later, ‘I can’t see how this mix-up happened?’ I tried to explain, ‘Well we went for a walk on Xmas Eve and my sister-in-law Alix decided to stay at home and kindly offered to wrap up all my presents’. ‘WHAT?? You got one of your guests to wrap all your Xmas presents? Wow that’s rude, even for you?’ ‘Well Alix did say she liked wrapping presents. And I hate it. Can I nip over and pick up the book?’

Happy New Year.

P.S. The review of the book about the North Sea should follow shortly (as soon as I am happy with the final closed high hat sound). Written on the 6.23 – only 7 minutes late tonight.

Mathew Clayton on Caught by the River / on Twitter