Monday, 22 December 2008


Spending time in nature, having some time away from the distractions of life simply to be with myself, my mind is calming down, the internalised noise of the city is dying away, I am becoming aligned with the sounds and rhythms of the natural environment. My heart is opening, my dreams are becoming richer, I am starting to have realisations about who I am and how I am.

The natural world isn’t just something you look at and think ‘that’s pretty’. It infects you and affects you deeply. You drink it in and it awakens the wilderness in you. And in this way, it alters your perception. It is like a de-hallucinogen. You start to see what’s really going on.

We tend not to realise the impact that being surrounded by a human-made, human-controlled environment has on our awareness. We walk on tarmac, we see straight lines everywhere, everything around us has been designed by humans, to benefit humans in some way. If there’s a problem, there’s someone you can call to complain about it. We can hardly see the sky. The weather can be a mild irritant, but it doesn’t affect us much – we turn on the heat (designed and installed by someone else), close the curtains and turn on the TV, mentally inhabiting a world that has been designed and scripted by humans. It has the look of reality about it, but really it is just the product of someone’s mind.

Where is the god in all this? Gods have become irrelevant. I’m not surprised Big Brother is so popular. I am not a Christian, but I know that this universe is majestic and immense, and it is a miracle. Right down to a single leaf falling from a branch in the forest, as the wind breezes past to carry it to the floor. Right up to the magnificence of the roof of this world – a million stars every night, away from the pollution of street lights and exhaust fumes, you can never get bored of looking at them. Every hour they are different. No wonder the druids built Stonehenge. No wonder the Egyptians found their gods in the stars.

Humans cannot possibly match this magnificence, no matter how clever their creations. And in surrounding ourselves with the built environment we lose touch with our place in the universe, and with that feeling of being blessed that wells up all the time when you are surrounded by miracles.

We are supposed to be happy. That’s our natural state. I am becoming increasingly militant in my belief that the city makes happiness difficult.

I went to the city this week. When I have been away from it for a while and then I go back, it is always a bit of a shock. It’s like there has been some enormous national disaster while I was away and I didn’t get to hear about it. Everyone looks so traumatised. And then I remember, no, this is just the city.

The other thing I noticed this time was that life is hard for the vast majority of people. The current economic system is not working in their favour. We are taught that anyone can make it in the Western world, but when I look around I start to think that maybe this is propaganda being floated by the few people at the top with the money. When you look at it as a whole, from the outside so to speak, it just doesn’t seem to be the case. There are lots and lots of tiny apartments, loads of people working hard to pay for the privilege of living in them, and there is crime and litter and overcrowding and ill health. It seems to have all the attributes that people think of when they think of a non-Westernised, non-‘civilised’ life: it’s dirty, it’s dangerous, it’s uncomfortable, it makes you ill, it requires a lot of hard work just to survive. Hello? Is anyone actually looking at how things are in the modern world? Do we really want to fuck the environment beyond repair just to keep living like this?

The thing about not living that city life is that, yes it might well be all those things, but at least you have some autonomy. There is a self-respect that comes out of making your own place (to your own design, based on how you actually want to live), gathering your own wood and water, etc etc. This self-respect is the birthright of all of us – not just for the people who have managed to score some high-paying job selling shares in battery hen futures or something. Buy buy, sell sell, fuck off.

The more I think about it, the more it becomes clear to me that the future should be, and probably must be, about scaling things down. The economy is so complex it allows credit crunches and global exploitation. Would we really buy trainers made by kids in sweatshops if those kids lived on our street?

Schumacher wrote a book called ‘Small is Beautiful’- I have probably written about this before, but he’s right. I am thinking about this not just in economic terms, but as a way to structure society too.

So death to the city. We need small. We need local. And when things are small they don’t need so much policing by external bodies, and they don’t need so many bureaucrats, and that means we don’t have to be bullied by them, and we don’t have to pay them for the privilege. We can run our own lives, and help our own neighbours.

And don’t think this can’t happen either. I’m reading a history of Britain at the moment and, as far as I can work out, things started to go downhill round about the end of the Stone Age. But the other interesting thing is that when Britain was ruled by the Romans there were cities. When the Romans buggared off to play elsewhere, the cities broke down. And then the Vikings came and built them up again, but that was a few hundred years later. In the meantime people got back to having a less sophisticated economy – more local, more village-based. You have to do without your fancy trinkets from Rome and your spices from Africa, but you get to work from home and you don't have some twatty Roman robbing you. Sorry, I mean 'taxing' you.

Anyway, that’s it from me for 2008CE. I shall be back in 2009 with more opinions and news of how I managed to spend the Christmas period without seeing the Queen’s speech and without watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Ho ho ho (said the hallucinating shaman from Lapland) and have a lovely festive period.


Tuesday, 16 December 2008


Spent the last few days snowed in on the mountain...

And other news...

I now have, not only a woodshed, but a woodshed filled with wood.

You don’t need a chainsaw, you need friends who have a chainsaw.

I built the woodshed in a frantic couple of hours, like some rabid sculptor channelling the muse.

We were walking out in the hills about an hour away and found an old branch which was the perfect size and shape to act as the corner of a woodshed. So that was the initial inspiration for the venture. Carried that back. I’d had my eye on a certain part of the land. It’s hidden by a tree to some extent so the shed is a little less intrusive on the landscape. It also has a couple of bent trees hanging over from the terrace above, and one wall propping up the terrace, all of which made me think ‘A ha! Look at all this work that has already been done in order for me to have a woodshed!’ Anyway, I arranged these various ingredients, bound them together with twine and threw a tarp over the top. Tied the tarp to the front and weighed it down with stones at the back. Bish bash bosh – woodshed.

Just in time too, because they came up that old hill pretty soon after, carrying that there chainsaw, and made quick work of a couple of dead trees on the land. It was very exciting and noisy. End result, loads of firewood for the next month or two, and a fun time was had by all…


"Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction.
Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations."
Thoreau, Walden

I was walking up the path from the village last night. It is almost a full moon so there was no need for a torch. The moon casts a beautiful light when there is a clear sky and no intrusion from street lights. So I’m walking up the hill, thinking about this life and wondering why I find it so significant and important.

I had at that point a vision of a path overgrown with brambles, so that you could hardly see it was a path anymore. There are a number of paths like that around here – old paths that have fallen into disuse over the years, as the lifestyles of the local people have changed, the roads have been built and technology has moved on. These old paths through the mountains have been clawed back by nature until they are difficult to see and impossible to walk.

By living this life, by writing my songs and by sharing what is in my head and in my heart, I am walking a path of sorts, and thus keeping that path open.

For me this is important. I have been aware over the past few years that many of the previous generations are moving on to their next lives and thus dropping out of contemporary culture as a living presence. I am thinking of the Beats – Ginsberg and Burroughs both died in the last few years. And the hippies are dying off now too – Kesey died recently, as did Leary. These people were important. They kept the paths open.

And I’m not just talking about the creative, arty types. The old socialists and communists and trade unionists whose hearts were broken by Stalin, and who are now considered by many to be of historical interest only, were vital in winning and protecting many of the rights we have now in the workplace and in society in general. I think about the ones that came over here sometimes, fighting in these very hills against the fascists. Orwell and Hemingway, and that bloke who wrote ‘Cider with Rosie’ were here. If we forget them and let them fall away, and no one takes their place as the defenders of our liberty and reminders of the possibility of a more compassionate way, we will regret it.

Often we think of these people – the artists, the philosophers, and the activists who made great personal sacrifices for the common good – as special (NB Gandhi and Martin Luther King were both inspired by Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience). We think that they are somehow different from us. But they are only different in that they got up and walked the path that was in their heart. The path that, as far as they could see, was the right path to tread.

It is easy not to bother, but what kind of life is that? You will die anyway (just ask them), your time here is temporary, and you don’t know how long you’ve got. Do you really want to spend it zoned out in front of the TV, or in town choosing wallpaper for the dining room?

Now I know people say words like this often, and they can seem a bit trite. I say them not because they are easy to say, but because I have been at death’s door. I have seen the end of my life. I have felt it. (I had a near-fatal brain haemorrhage in 2005).

These words come from death’s door: Don’t live as if life is a permanent state. We are just passing through, the conveyor belt is moving as we speak and you cannot see the end of it. We really do not know which comes first – tomorrow, or the next life. What is in your heart? What do you care about?

Now the interesting thing about my vision (for me) was that I realised that no one even has to know that I am walking this path, living this life, performing this function for the collective psyche. I just have to do it. Just doing it is enough.

The boundary must be kept by someone. I think it is important because there always seem to be plenty of people at the other end of the spectrum, pushing in the opposite direction. I don’t know why really. I suppose there is a certain pleasure to be gained from being part of something big and powerful. You get someone to drive you to work, maybe a copper with a gun outside your door (to protect you from enemies because you are so important), and all-expenses-paid trips to places full of Big Cheeses who feed you nice food and put you up in hotels with nice carpet.

These people work for the machine. They see people as units and want them to be quiet, uniform and easy to control. This creates a more efficient society. It makes the nation economically stronger and it makes the State more secure from internal ‘threats’ (such as public scrutiny). And it’s just neater. We want a tidy country, not some raggle-taggle, make-shift chaos of individuals. They get under your feet and take forever to process. And they don’t fill in forms correctly…

To paraphrase Banksy, there has been far more damage caused in this world by obedience, than by disobedience.

I believe in human freedom. The freedom to grow, to dance and to shine brightly. As Nelson Mandela said in his inaugural speech, we are not afraid of how small we are. It is how big we are that scares us.

The thing is, it is all very well having freedom theoretically. But if that freedom is not exercised, then is it really freedom? This is what my vision was about. Someone needs to be doing this stuff, and since it is my inclination, that someone might as well be me…

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


Sorry, the inverter packed up a week or so ago so this video blog is a little short and a bit out of date. Got a new inverter now so the next video blog should bring us back up to speed. Anyway, here is the yurt as it was a couple of weeks ago...


“Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I loved to have mine before my window … they warmed me twice, once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat.”
Thoreau, Walden

I am sitting in the yurt right now. It’s dark, except for candlelight. The wood-burning stove is crackling away beside me, filled with old olive branches just cut from a dead tree about 20 yards from the door of the yurt…

For the last two days I have been climbing trees. Olive trees. It is olive-picking season and two of my friends look after a whole bunch of olive trees. There is a man who lives in a shanty-style shack at the top end of the olive grove. Panoramic views of the mountains. He built the place himself out of bits of wood, old windows, and a ruined stone cabin. It is decorated out front with a tangle of functional oddments – a spare wheel, an old radio, and so on. He appears also to have satellite TV.

Apart from the satellite on the roof, the shack looks exactly like one of those places where the ‘old timer’ would live in a made-for-TV movie about an old timer who lives in the woods. He would hate strangers and be very grumpy. He would threaten schoolkids with a shot gun and a vicious dog or two, but when the kids persevered, he would turn out to have a heart of gold. And the dog would inevitably be a softy too.

I don’t know whether the man here has a shotgun or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Climbing trees is great. Picking olives off a tree all day, moving from branch to branch, you get into a meditative rhythm. Your mind quietens, you notice the olives more easily, your body moves into position and holds it with the minimum of effort. You get to know how much you can bend a branch before it breaks, and how thin a branch can be while still being strong enough to support your weight.

It made me think about how a meditative state of mind is actually a natural state of mind. Though I sit in formal meditation in order to get mine most of the time, actually, much of one’s life could be (and perhaps would have been) quite meditative. Building and tending a fire, picking berries, hunting, fishing, weeding the vegetable patch, gathering honey, milking the cow, making cheese – so much of this kind of activity requires a certain amount of concentration and skill, and yet does not demand so much of you that you end up stressed. Neither hurrying, nor tarrying, as the Buddha once said of walking the path to awakening.

It is odd that today’s city-based life is so stressful really, since there is actually little real danger involved in it. If I fall out of a tree, I break my bones. If I lose concentration while cutting wood I lose a finger. But if I miss the train, I just wait for the next one. I’m home half an hour late. Big deal?

I think a lot of the stress of city life is due, firstly, to sensory overload. There is just so much to cope with that you can’t process it and are constantly in a state of agitation, so it doesn’t take much to get your back up. Your system is just not designed to deal with All That Stuff. Secondly I think it is about lack of autonomy. The bank can take your house, the boss can take your livelihood, the gas and electricity companies can take your heat and light. Deep down, you want them all to go fuck themselves, but you don’t even know who most of them are. And you never get to de-stress from that because it’s always there, waiting for you to miss a payment, or turn up late to work one too many times…

There were a whole bunch of us out there this weekend. They built a big fire and cooked food, drank wine and celebrated the beginning and the end of the working day like this. It was an all-round beautiful experience. I felt a bit like a giraffe – the glee at reaching those nimble shoots at the top of the tree. I wanted to eat them but didn’t. Giraffes are also rubbish at speaking Catalan…

We have electricity again. A new inverter (which converts the voltage from your DC 12v battery to an AC 220v current, so that you can plug in everyday items – the American-sized fridge freezer, the plasma flatscreen TV, the playstation, the dishwasher). Inverters have got LOTS cheaper since I bought the first one, and much quieter too…

The goatherder herded his goats past the top of our land a few days ago. El pastor. An incredible clatter of bells and the thudding of a thousand hoofed feet. I was feeling a bit romantic about it initially (remnant of a more gentle time when people were at peace and enjoyed their simple lives) but the way he shouted at his dogs snapped me out of it. He sounded like he wanted to jump back into his 4x4 and be back in town as soon as possible. Perhaps the football was on or something…

Wood is increasingly the subject of my ponderings. And chainsaws. Everyone around here has a heavy duty chainsaw. They wander out into the woods, spend half a day cutting up dead trees and throwing them into the back of a trailor, and they have enough wood for a month or more. Warmth is not an issue.

So far, I haven’t bought a chainsaw (I had a trailor but as you know it died en route and is buried somewhere near Toulouse). At first I thought I would have to get one, but reading Thoreau, I was reminded that chainsaws have not been around forever, and people used to cut their firewood by hand. So maybe I can do this too (though I am looking forward to some friends coming with a chainsaw to help us get ahead!)

Walden is increasingly becoming an instruction manual for me, rather than a window on an alien world. I read with interest the point in winter at which he decides to plaster his cabin – since insulation is becoming of great interest to me too, and we are always thinking of ways to hold the heat in the yurt for longer. We have tucked blankets around some of the wall, and taped up some of the gaps where there is a draft in the floor.

Mongolian nomads use felt to insulate their yurts, made from the hair of their own animals. I haven’t got any animals, although I was offered a dog the other day. It was an incredibly cute puppy, but I am trying to act with head not heart on this particular occasion. I will probably not shave it to make wall insulation even if my heart wins out. The dog is very small, and I have yet to learn the art of felt making…

I read also how Thoreau has to break the thick ice on the pond in order to get his water in the morning. The water here freezes every night now, and we have to keep a container in the yurt as it stays a little warmer in here, so we can have tea, brush our teeth and so on in the morning. In fact, when my neighbour offered us the dog, he was just heading down to the spring to get water, as his pipes had frozen up in the night…

And I read how Thoreau gets excited when he finds an old fallen log in the forest and drags it back. I know that excitement. But I have yet to do much splitting with an axe. And I haven’t got a wood pile yet. We are usually just cutting enough wood in the day to cover the evening. It’s tiring just to do half an hour of sawing up trees, so how you get a wood shed full of logs I have no idea. The other thing I note is that he tends to keep the fire going for most of the day. He lets it burn out in the afternoons, but the rest of the time (i.e. evening, through the night and into the morning) he has a fire going. That’s a lot of wood. And he cuts it all by hand! There must be some technique to this.

The nights after the fire has died and the mornings getting up are the worst here. It’s a totally different experience from the days and the evenings, which I love. It would be great to have a fire going all the way through the night, then to just stick a couple of logs on the embers in the morning and have it nice and cosy, and have the kettle boiling on the stove while you slowly come round – ahhhhhhh. Nice. Well. It would be. But how to do this without a chainsaw? Answers please!

Monday, 1 December 2008


"My company has winnowed by my mere distance from town. I had withdrawn so far within the great ocean of solitude, into which the rivers of society empty, that for the most part, so far as my needs were concerned, only the finest sediment was deposited around me. Beside, there were wafted to me evidences of unexplored and uncultivated continents on the other side."
Thoreau, Walden

Someone looked at me funny in the checkout queue in the supermarket. I’m feeling pretty weird at the moment. I don’t mean weird like I feel like I’ve got the flu coming on, or like I’m lost in some drug-induced haze of fragmented perception. I mean weird like I am a weirdo.

This may be unsurprising to some.

The thing is, I inhabit various different realities, and wander between them. None of them seem real to me either. Double weird.

I live in a yurt in the middle of bloody nowhere. I brush my teeth outside as the frost crackles under my feet. I have to remember to bring water in at night because if I don’t it will be frozen solid in the morning. I’m in a country where I don’t really speak the language, and my nearest village is peopled with hippies, a couple of alcoholics, a million dogs (all running loose – and no one owns a poop-a-scoop), and a horse.

I recently got an email inviting me to record a session and an interview on radio 3. This will happen some time in the next couple of months. So I will come out of this environment and into Broadcasting House in London.

And when I need to use the internet I sit in the local town library (like right now), surrounded by everyday local people, leading everyday local lives. I become aware that my hair needs a wash, my clothes need a wash, and I am dressed in a Russian hat, orange stripy jeans and a long Swedish navy coat. It’s ok, he’s foreign.

This is just a snapshot of the now. If I get into a history of the peculiar realities I have inhabited we will be here all night. Like when I got back from India and the next day was sitting in a casting suite in Soho handing over ritual implements to my Buddhist teacher then trying out for a part in an advert for tea. As a Buddhist. I didn’t get the part. Neither did my teacher…

Culture shock is for wusses. I AM culture shock.

Groups are strange things. They all have their own conventions and their hierarchy always places them at the top. And here am I, living my way, straddling these various worlds.

Though I have some need for acceptance, I have found that generally, if you are ok with people, people are ok with you. I have yet to be locked up and am assuming therefore that all is well. People don’t really get me, but I think this is true of all of us. All people ever see are reflections of their own mind (a bit of yogacara philosophy for you there).

We are all alone, mysterious and un-gettable, though many of us pretend to be a caricature or stereotype, in order that people might at least get that. Like the characters in Breakfast Club, we limit ourselves to a role: a criminal, a weirdo, a sporto, a nerd. A simple hook for someone else’s mental projection to hang on, in the hope that maybe in this way we will have company for our soul. Or at least people will give us a break.

Not very satisfying but less scary than staring at the fullness of one’s immensity, in all our naked and multi-dimensional glory and asking ‘Who am I?’

Prince Charming, ridicule is nothing to be scared of. The individual is the enemy of the group, and thus is likely to cop some flak from that direction. But the group is the enemy of the individual, so bollocks to them, I say. Whoever they are. In the words of Bob Marley, ‘I don’t come to bow, I come to conquer’.

Since the 60s we have been breaking conventions, looking to express ourselves, worshipping individuality and relativism. Me perhaps more than most.

This cultural shift away from conforming to traditional values and lifestyles is cool as far as I am concerned and I wouldn’t swap it, though it means, in the short term, the destruction of cohesive society, and all the positive by-products of such a society (as well as all the negative ones).

Still, all in all, it seems to be a move in the right direction. But, as has been said many times before, with freedom comes responsibility. If we are to be individuals, we must be TRUE individuals. The big companies have been touting themselves as the brand of the individual, and we buy into it. En masse.

We choose the mobile phone casing that expresses who we are. (‘I’m really whacky, me. Just look at my phone. It’s got cartoon pigs on it.’). We choose our own font on Myspace. Send out regular status updates on Facebook proving how exciting we are ‘Is standing on his head while eating avocado’. Gee it’s fun to be friends.

Being a true individual means being honest with yourself about who you are. Listening closely to your heart and setting up the right conditions in your life for it to flower. You cannot yank the petals of a flower open. You can’t dress a daffodil up in a rose costume and pretend that everything’s ok. All a flower needs is sun, rain, earth and a bit of time. It is becoming itself right now. And all through the process of becoming, it is perfectly itself.

And being a true individual doesn’t mean withdrawing from others into our own little sub-culture of pseudo-individuals either, which is another trick we pull in a quest to appear like we have gone beyond the homogenous blob of ‘society’ that we believe exists. It means connecting with others authentically and with respect (which doesn’t necessarily mean politeness). Rebellion is not about destruction, it is about construction (or at least it should be). It is not about turning away, but turning towards. It is about evolution and positivity. It is about having the strength to be gentle.

Interacting and co-operating with others, and with the State, from the basis of true individuality, which invariably means with love, is a lifelong practice I think. It takes ages to work out who you are. Even to work out how to work out who you are. Then bringing that into your life takes more time. And by that time you’ve probably changed!

Jung called this process ‘individuation’. We are not individuals, we are in a process of becoming individuals. At least I hope we are. If not, we are in a process of hiding away from our own beauty, trying to stay huddled in the centre of the herd, like some poor cow that does not know it could smash that farmer to pieces in a minute and be free, if only it woke up.

Anyway, that’s what you get for going to the supermarket.

This morning I woke up and went straight out for a walk. Gazing at snow-capped mountains, strolling along a dirt track in my pyjamas.

It’s an Anthony Robbins thing I do sometimes. He calls it ‘Fifteen minutes to Fulfilment’. It’s for the American market.

You do a few minutes just walking and breathing, then a few reflecting on all the things in life that you’re grateful for, then on all the things in life that you will be grateful for when they manifest themselves (ie what kind of future do you want to have?) and then some repetition of positive, inspiring phrases. A great way to start the day when you can’t be arsed to meditate yet.

I have done this in so many different contexts, and I love to look around and see where I am now. By the sea, in the mountains, on a London pavement, in Sheffield on a treadmill, staring at a wall.

This morning I couldn’t even do it, I just walked along, brimming with bliss, saying ‘wow’ a lot. I love this place.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


Last night was our first night in the yurt. Haven’t got the solar gear installed yet so no electricity for now. Hence no video blog yet.

The last week was taken up with building the yurt. I have been consistent in my underestimation of the time required to make things happen here. I thought the yurt would take half a day to put up. A day tops. In the end it took more like four days. This was because we had to do quite a bit of modification to the yurt itself. We made a new crown for it (the last one died during heavy snowfall a couple of years ago). The holes I drilled were a couple of mm smaller than the last ones (predictably) so I then had to shave down a bunch of the roof poles to fit. There were a number of other tiny but time-consuming little dramas to contend with on top of this, made all the more complicated by having few tools, all of which are hand tools, not electric and thus progress is slower and more tiring. Lots of scratching of the head and working out ways to get things done.

Yurt geeks like me might be interested in the full details of my conundrums, but they will be of zero interest to the general reader so I have decided to err on the side of brevity, in a bid to appeal to the general public. Unlike Thoreau, who uses three-line sentences wherever possible. The Plain English campaign was not even a glint in the eye of its maker when Thoreau was writing. You need a nineteenth century attention span to be able to digest what he’s actually saying. I believe there are Cliffe Notes available for us today. The Nintendo generation likes bullet points. And lots of pictures.

I’m currently sitting in a bar in the nearest town, which has intermittent wifi.

Last night I began my time in the yurt with a ritual asking for the blessing of the land and wishing wellbeing and happiness for all beings past, present and future who spend time there. I also played some guitar for the first time in a month. I start to go a bit crazy after a while if I don’t play some music. I have no idea why. But then I have no idea why music has been so important to all cultures everywhere forever. All I know is that Music Runs Deep.

It’s a strange one, building a relationship with a piece of land. One of the aspects of Walden that I have been reflecting on is that, while making general statements about life, Thoreau fills many pages with details about the specific characteristics of his surroundings. Spending time in the environment here, I understand why he is so passionate. It's just so beautiful. It moves you. You can't get across just how magnificent it is by using words, and yet I can see why Thoreau felt moved to try.

When we think about 'conserving nature' or 'protecting the environment' and what have you, we think in quite general terms about this big thing, separate from us, called 'nature'. But the reality is not a general thing. It is specific, and it affects you personally. Sitting surrounded by miles of concrete, you have nothing to go on but the abstract concept. And thus 'nature' becomes just another idea, like 'poverty' or 'war'. Not very real to me personally, and therefore not very urgent, compared with, say, the kids making noise on my street every night. But when the war, or the poverty, or the nature, is right here in front of us, we act.

This love of one’s immediate environment is something that many of us have no sense of. After all, one building is pretty much the same as another. The same with streets. The same, in fact, with whole cities.

The situation is getting worse as time passes. The city centres of England look increasingly like each other. Regeneration seems to mean homogenisation. Personally I prefer diversity. I know it makes it harder for multinational companies to sell the same product, using the same marketing strategy, around the world, but I guess I’m just weird like that. One of the things I have loved most about my wandering life is that it is possible to go somewhere else – not just a different version of here.

The downside of my wandering life is that I am always somewhere else. Building a relationship with one place is something I have not really managed to do since leaving my hometown many years ago. Philosophically speaking, I think staying put is key to being human – communities only really develop if people stick around, have kids together, and grow old together. But my feet just keep wandering off.

The good news is that I think I may have solved the problem. If I am to be a nomad, my plan is to live more as nomads actually live. Rather than simply being rootless, my idea is to have a nomadic circuit, so that I am returning to the same places again and again. I have been managing this with Catalunya. I have been coming to this area for a few years now, watching it change, seeing the lives of my friends move on. I like it. Putting down the wooden floor is the most permanent thing I have ever done. So maybe I just need a couple more hubs and I will be set.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about this week is the fact that I haven’t really been thinking very much. There is a line in Walden where he says that, for the first summer, he read nothing. He hoed beans. That’s been pretty much my experience. Just doing. There will be time to be later.

I have become used to waking up with my arms aching, and feeling that today it is unfeasible for me to carry anything. But then I get up and moving, and soon enough I have more things in my arms, carrying them down, up, or across the mountain. A stove. A door. A double mattress. Everything that is here has been carried by hand. And I feel strong, and good. It occurs to me that the body can take quite a hammering. We are very careful with it, and protect it with all manner of behaviours, nutrients and creams, and this is all well and good, but it is specific to a fairly sedentary mode of life. 20 minutes of exercise 3 times a week. There is a different way to be.

I don't really have the words for it yet, but it is something to do with not experiencing one's body as an object. Being with the land, moving through the land, not looking in a mirror, experiencing the breath and the muscles, and the hunger after a hard day of physical, varied work that involves the whole being, not just the muscles. I don't know, it's a good feeling. I feel more like a dog looks, when you look in a dog's eyes and you see an integrated being. Fully savage, openly loving, an extension of its biology, its instinct, not a denial of such things. Does that make sense? We percieve instinct and animalistic drives as dangerous - leading to violence, rape, theft and such things. But I think instincts only turn nasty when an animal is brutalised. The natural state is one of harmony, love, and peace...

It is an incredible feeling to sit in one’s dwelling, look around, and think ‘I made this’. There is an intimacy about it that you don’t get with a place that you just move into. It’s been hard work, but I feel extremely lucky.

I'll get the video blog sorted asap.


Monday, 10 November 2008

Here; Or, Life in the Mountains - Episode 3

Yesterday I was packing yet more stuff into the car for transport to the new site when 8 kittens turned up. One of them found a snake (an adder) and started playing with it. He eventually killed it and ate it without getting bitten. The battery had run out on the camera :-(

As a vegetarian I felt kind of weird about letting this happen, but these cats live outside and hunt for food. And in the words of Gary Snyder, we are all food for some other being in the end...

This week has been mostly about building a floor (which is still not quite finished). The old Catalan man who runs the timber yard was very excited about the project and helped us design the circular floor. On the invoice, as our address, he wrote ‘Casa Unica’ (the unique house).

At the beginning of spending time here, things are always pretty hectic. Lots to do, as quickly as possible. Life is pretty functional, and filled with work. I’m enjoying it. I’m also looking forward to sitting in the fully furnished yurt, drinking tea…

This week has also been about Obama getting elected. A cautious sigh of relief. Simply as a symbol, this is a momentous event. But hopefully his presidency will be much more than symbolic. Avaaz ( have got a little petition going. Here’s the brief, and a link:

Let's act quickly to make sure the people of the world are heard as Obama makes crucial choices in the coming days on how to live up to his campaign promises to secure a strong global treaty on climate change, ban torture and close Guantanamo prison, withdraw carefully from Iraq, and double aid to make global poverty history. Rarely has a US President been more likely to listen to us.

Also, there’s a human rights exhibition on at the British Library in London right now:

‘Taking Liberties’ is a new exhibition running from 31 October 2008 to 3 March 2009 at the British Library in London. The exhibition tells the story of the 900 year struggle for rights and freedoms in Great Britain and Northern Ireland by uniting the pivotal documents which made or changed political history for the nation, including Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights 1689, the Articles of Union 1706 and the 1832 Reform Act.

This interactive and thought provoking exhibition is accompanied by an extensive program of debates and lectures in London and around the country. In addition, the British Library will be producing comprehensive resources for teachers and schools.

The exhibition is free, and is now open to the public at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB. For more information visit

And finally, here is this week’s blog:


If we were always indeed getting our living and regulating our lives according to the last and best mode we had learned, we should never be troubled with ennui. Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh perspective every hour.
Thoreau, Walden

When I first got into Buddhism I had stopped making music. I’d put it on one side in order to experience myself, and my life, in a new way. Up until then, I’d thought of nothing but being a musician, since I was 14 years old. It was liberating to realise that, actually, I was free to do anything. Anything at all.

When my band fell apart, I took it as an opportunity to just be me. To see what came out.

What came out was that my old identity fell away very quickly and I felt utterly confused and formless. All my goals and ways of deciding what was good and bad, what was worthwhile and what wasn’t, what was cool and what wasn’t, seemed to me entirely arbitrary. I pretty much lost the plot and spent an incredible amount of time just sitting in a chair, thinking.

Look around, you’ll find the ground is not so far from where you are
Don’t be too wise (Nick Drake)

I remember sitting on the floor in my kitchen one afternoon, watching a dripping tap and being unable to work out whether or not this meant more or less than, say, a world war. I mean in absolute terms, which is most important? I wrote the song ‘I Don’t Think So’ around that time.

One of the things that attracted me to Buddhist philosophy initially was that it had an answer for this that made some sense to me. It said that there are two levels of truth – absolute and relative.

In absolute terms there is no difference between a dripping tap and a world war. They both lack self-nature. They both arise and cease in dependence upon conditions. And they are both impermanent.

This kind of thinking had already occurred to me, but it had left me stumped. I mean how do you decide what to spend your time doing when that kind of thing is in your head? How can there be any ethics, or a judicial system, or any judgement of any kind about anything?

But in Buddhism, there is also the concept of relative truth. This was a novel concept for me. This is the level on which all unenlightened beings live.

On the relative level, which is less true than the absolute level, it is possible to make judgements. There are ethics, there is suffering and the eradication of suffering, there are right ways to live and wrong ways to live. All Buddhist ideas, according to Buddhism, are only relatively true (including concepts like absolute and relative truth). The aim of Buddhist practice is to arrive at a direct realisation of absolute truth. It is beyond language, and therefore any description will inevitably be totally inadequate.

And so Buddhism brought a provisional ‘structure’ to my way of seeing things. It gave me a way to make choices, and a reason to get out of bed. I have been practising for about 15 years now and I have not yet tired of it. This is because my practice, my perspective and my understanding, change over time. Also, being ‘a Buddhist’ does not mean blindly accepting a bunch of ideas from 2500 years ago, it means testing ideas against your own experience. The ideas aren’t key, the experience is. As our experiences change, so does our understanding of life.

The suggestion that everything is only relatively true, and the recommendation that we should test ideas and values against experience is something that I think we should all be applying to our own values and beliefs, and the values and beliefs of contemporary Western society.

The main role of advertisers is to try to manipulate our perception – to tell us what means what – with a view to creating a desire in us for the product or service they are being paid to sell. This is what branding is all about. Glance at practically any advert these days and it will be dishing out some form of pseudo-philosophy. It will be telling you what life is about, and how their product helps you live that life.

Just Do It. Because you’re worth it.

Don’t wanna be a bum you better chew gum.

There is an excellent book by Naomi Klein called ‘No Logo’ which explores this area, and provides lots of examples and statistics about the history of advertising. If you have not yet read it, I urge you to get hold of a copy.

I have been thinking about this recently because I have realised that I am, in fact, in a PR war. I too am trying to tell you what means what.

I want you to feel rich and successful because you buy less. Because you have a smaller car. Because you walk to work. Because you have plenty of leisure time. Because you don’t wear designer labels. I want you to feel like you are a good parent because you don’t buy lots of tacky shit for your kids. I want you to feel like you’re where it’s at because you grow your own vegetables. You are cool because you don’t know who won X factor but you do know your neighbours. Because you think Big Brother is a barbaric freak show. I want you to feel safe and secure because you don’t have an ID card. Because there are no cameras watching you right now. Because the Government isn’t keeping a record of all your emails. I want you to feel sophisticated because your house doesn’t look like the ones off the TV. Because you don’t have a tan, bleached hair and a Brazilian.

I say you, but I mean we. I have noticed that I feel a little more confident on the high street when I am carrying shopping bags of newly purchased items and wearing a clean shirt. Like somehow I am a fully fledged citizen when I am carrying proof of being a consumer. Weird, huh.

Anyway, I have a plan for a guerrilla-style, viral marketing campaign. Some of the big brands already do this, so it is not revolutionary by any means. Actually, the Buddha did this with his disciples, so I guess they maybe nicked the idea from there.

My idea is that more and more of us decide to climb out of the values that we have imbibed, and that we, as Thoreau says, get our living and regulate our lives according to the last and best mode we have learned. That we follow our genius. In this way, we become walking talking ‘adverts’ for a different way of life. Kind of like performance artists.

What that way of life is, I have no firm idea. I’m hoping it will be as varied as the people who market it. I know that we can’t go back to pre-industrialised society, though perhaps we will choose to include some of the old ways. And maybe we will use technology and global networks intelligently, for the benefit of all beings and for the planet itself. And maybe we will re-build our communities, not as the homogenous groups of the past, but as free associations of individuals, based on mutual respect and tolerance. And maybe we will choose to spend our working lives with our friends, or our families or our communities, so that this huge part of our time is spent with people we care about. And maybe we will commit a certain part of the day to reflecting on what we are about, what matters to us, and to relaxation, meditation, and maybe even celebration.

By the way, I’m afraid no pay is offered for these positions. But then the hours are pretty good. And you can work from home. And moonlighting is fine. And you can have as many holidays as you like. And I don’t need to see your CV, you don’t need to fill out an application form, and there is no interview. Sound ok?

Saturday, 1 November 2008


This week, as well as showing my general day-to-day life, I talk a bit about the right to privacy. For those who are interested in this issue, you may wish to find out more here:

I also mention Inter-Ference, the totally excellent Brighton-based performance poet:


It was a pleasant hillside where I worked, covered with pine woods, through which I looked out on the pond, and a small open field in the woods where pines and hickories were springing up … So I went on for some days cutting and hewing timber, and also studs and rafters, all with my narrow axe, not having many communicable or scholar-like thoughts, singing to myself
Thoreau, Walden

One key thing about this yurt life, especially at the setting-up stage, is that there is a truck load of work involved. Before I first came to the mountain, I had to make the yurt. The wood for the frame came from a wood in Derbyshire. It was still fresh when I got it and our flat smelt like a forest. We had to strip all the bark off each pole, then treat each pole with linseed oil, then drill holes, tie the pieces together, make the crown, get hold of tarps (bought secondhand from a marquee hire place near Wales), then get the whole lot down to Spain, with all our other stuff, then put it up, then build a kitchen, and make a toilet, and furnish everything, and live. Then we took it all down again. And now we are moving onto a new piece of land so we have to get it there, then put it all up again, and make lots of new things too. There will be a proper floor and a proper door to the yurt this time. Last time we were directly on the ground and it was COLD. And the door was just the bag that one of the tarps came in and it was COLD. One of my friends here (who was living in a ruined building at the time, and who previously lived in a tiny cabin which she made from reclaimed wood) when she saw a picture of our set-up, said, “You spend the ween-ter like thees?! You crazier than me!”

So this time, more comfort, which means more work.

Now work, in general, does not agree with my constitution. So why have I opted, again and again, to spend time out in the mountains in this manner? Could I not simply rent an apartment in the local town, or even in Barcelona, and continue the easy life of the householder? In fact, why bother coming over here in the first place? Why must I re-orientate my life so completely on such a regular basis? Why not just stay where I was? Well, an easy life in terms of the amount of physical work involved does not mean that life is easy. But alas, I am already meandering away from the subject of this blog. Back to work!

Ok, work. Here’s what I think. I think life is fundamentally weird. The idea, for instance, that we are born so that we can go to school, then go to work, then retire, then die, is just bizarre. Surely there must be more to it???

I have come to the conclusion, after a great deal of experimentation with different lifestyles, close observation of peers and elders, and sustained periods of meditation, that the answer to this important question is ‘sort of’.

On the one hand, yes of course there is more to life. The functional, materially based aspects of life are not what life is about. Life must contain these to some extent, but these act as a foundation for finer things. Life is about enriching the soul, refining the character, being with friends, communing with the gods, and from the Buddhist perspective, keeping going with this until a fundamental shift occurs, and you find yourself no longer on the hamster wheel of life.

THE World is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gather'd now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

To live this way is to live a truly impoverished existence – no matter how much ‘stuff’ you accrue, and no matter how big the shack in which you store it.

But here’s the Zen twist. Actually, this is all there is. Get up, get washed, put clothes on, breathe in, breathe out, do stuff, rest, do more stuff, eat, sleep, and on and on. This is life. Nothing more. Nothing special. Samsara is Nirvana (to use some Buddhist schpiel from the Mahayana tradition). The trick is to be completely alive in each flowing moment of this miraculous existence. That’s all there is to Buddhahood. Nothing more. Nothing special. Easy, right? With each in-breath we are born anew. And the universe too. Within it, life moves and grows. Each out-breath is unique. It’s texture, it’s length, it’s effect on our body, and on our mind. When it’s gone, it’s gone, never to return. Which one will be your last? Right this moment, your life is passing, this is for sure. This very moment is your wealth, filled to the brim with the entire universe. Did you notice?

On this level, there is no benefit to me being in the mountains, living this way. Working as a banker in the City would be just as ‘spiritual’. But I have found that certain conditions support the expansion of one’s consciousness and the cultivation of states of wellbeing, and certain conditions hinder this. These conditions are different for everyone, but for me, I like to spend time in the mountains. I like to live outside, and to be close to nature. I like noticing how many different kinds of weather happen in a day, and how the view changes all day everyday and is never the same twice. I like knowing when the bees will come up from the valley in search of pollen. I like experiencing the parts of me that are wild and ancient – the consciousness that is buried deep in the cells, that has been passed down since the birth of humanity. I like to have the time to stop and experience the reality of being here, with this body, the way that it feels, the weight of it supported by the ground. And the work that I undertake in this environment, and the work that allows me to be in this environment, it doesn’t feel like work at all.

Saturday, 25 October 2008


Say what you have to say, not what you ought.
Any truth is better than make-believe.
Thoreau, Walden

I am currently sitting in a house in a village about an hour away from the land where the yurt will be. I will be based here for a couple of weeks while working on the land and erecting the yurt.

So far it has been lots of fetching and carrying. The land is a couple of minutes walk from the nearest place to leave a vehicle, so we are having to carry everything to the site by hand. I am out of practice with this and my arms feel like lead weights.

The trailor we bought off eBay ended up being more than a little dodgy. Fortunately the wheel fell off at 2mph in a French service station, rather than at 60 on the autoroute.

The trailor is dead. We had to leave it, full of stuff, in a breakers yard/garage near Toulouse while we drove to Spain to empty the car. Then drive back to France, load up the contents of the trailor, and drive back to Spain again. Fortunately the French mechanics were totally cool and the pass over the Pyrenees is quite easy on the eye.

Right now it is beautiful sunshine outside. I stand and look out over panoramic views of the mountains. There is no sound that is not natural – not an engine to be heard. It is so quiet here that when the vultures fly overhead, you can hear the roar of their wings cutting through the air…

… It is my intention in this blog to show the good and the bad of life in the mountains. It is my hope that in doing so, the amazing gifts of nature will become clearly visible, and that, with this awareness, we will decide not to squander them on the dubious gadgets and conveniences of modern life, and in doing so, perhaps leave a world for our children to live in.

We are surrounded by abundance. We come into this life with nothing, and nature provides us with all that we need. Food just grows on trees. Water falls from the sky. Everything we need to make our shelter is available in our immediate environment. The idea that one should spend 25 years working to pay for one’s shelter is preposterous. To spend £2 in a supermarket on raspberries that grow freely in the hedges is bizarre. And all the ‘labour-saving’ devices that we buy don’t seem to have saved us any labour at all. We work harder now than ever. And to what end?

Our culture is unsustainable. It will end, either because we choose a sustainable, mature alternative, or because the planet ceases to tolerate our foolishness. Continuing as though everything is fine is not an option. Assuming that technology, the Government or the market will find the solutions and leave us to continue on our merry way is not an option either. The Government and the market are not in that business, unless voters or consumers create the demand. And technology requires energy, and someone to fund it – i.e. the market or the Government. So we are stuffed unless we take the reigns. We are the Government. We are the market. They are ours to direct. This is the beauty of democracy and capitalism ;-) …

… Until the 1960s, the people in this village had to walk for a couple of hours each way, every other day, to get their water. The water was carried in bags on donkeys. Then Franco’s policy of encouraging people into the cities to industrialise Spain killed villages like this. (Although by this stage, many of the communists and anarchists who fought Franco in the civil war had already fled over the mountains to France. This area was the last bastion of the anarchists during the war. Many of them hid in these mountains and launched guerrilla attacks on the fascists. Books like Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls were written about this area.)

And so, hundreds of villages were left totally abandoned. It is only in the last few years that people have started to come back, buying up ruins and slowly making them into habitable buildings again. Because of this, you can still see items from the past lying around. The saddle bags that carried the water, for example. One of my friends here found grenades in their house.

The people who left these villages for the cities, went there in the hope of finding a better life. Hot and cold water on tap must surely be attractive to a person who has spent their life walking over the mountains to collect it.

And yet, though the benefits of technology and industrialisation are clear to see, something important is missing. And so we come back here to the mountains, in the hope of finding a better life. We seek autonomy, community, connection with our environment, a place where you can leave your door unlocked. We seek a simple life and a break from the incessant surveillance of the authorities, and the jabber of advertisers, who would advertise their goods even on our eyeballs, if they could only find a way to buy up the rights. We seek fresh air, clean water, and food un-sodomised by a million chemicals.

And yet it is clear that we are all connected, and I cannot simply disappear into the hills to live my little life. Logging in the Amazon affects me personally because the Amazon is responsible for extracting so much of the world’s CO2 from the air. The mass murder of sharks affects me personally (shark numbers are down 70 per cent – 100 million killed every year for their fins) because they maintain the balance of the marine ecosystem, and the oceans are responsible for producing half of the Earth’s oxygen. Not to mention the impact on my heart, and on my conscience. And then there are the political decisions of people on other continents, the purchasing habits of people across the Western world, and the programming choices of media companies. All of this affects me greatly, and affects all of us whether we know it or not. Knowing this, it seems clear that we must try to affect it.

This can seem overwhelming. Many of us start out with a desire to leave the world better than we found it, but get burnt out early on and shut down to its sufferings. We look back at our old selves and put it down to ‘youthful idealism’, as if this were a bad thing. If you can’t beat em, join em, right?

I prefer the words of George Carlin: “If you can’t beat em, arrange to have em beaten”.

And the model set out by Stephen Covey about the circle of concern and the circle of influence. It’s like a fried egg. The circle of concern is the white bit. It is everything that you would like to change. The circle of influence is the yolk. It’s everything that you currently have influence over. The trick is to focus on the yolk, not the white bit. And then try to push the yolk outwards – perhaps with a toast soldier – towards the circle of concern.

So here I am, armed with an internet connection, a video camera, and a life in the mountains, pushing yolk. I will keep up this blog, both with writing and in video, in an attempt to share something of this life. I hope that the blog will act as a stimulus for discussion and debate. Please feel free to ask questions and make comments. If you want to email me, please do – the address is on my website.

Friday, 24 October 2008


I am SO excited! It's like getting a pat on the head from God's offspring. Who I guess would be Jesus. Or Mohammed.

I have just arrived in the mountains in Catalunya, Spain, from where I will be posting videos and written blogs as part of my Thoreau-esque project, 'Here; Or, Life in the Mountains'. Regularly. Promise.

Thursday, 9 October 2008


I'm heading off down to Spain soon so life is very full. Fortunately I have a new camcorder to take with me on my travels. So here is my first video blog!

Sunday, 28 September 2008


This morning I got up before dawn and ushered myself off to the BBC studios in Brighton to talk about nirvana and yurts.

You can hear the interview online. It's on the Gavin Ashenden and Emily Jeffery show on BBC Southern Counties radio here.

The interview is about 1h:35m in and is followed by an interview with Julie Birchall, who has apparently found God (but is still her usual belligerent self) and after that there's an interview with a Tibetan Buddhist monk. I really should get up before noon more often.


Monday, 22 September 2008


Ok so, I know I was supposed to be writing a follow-up to the thing on The Secret, and that will come. But given the events of the week, I feel compelled to put in my two penneth.

Now normally I wouldn’t actually be that aware of the events of the week. I have no TV, so the emotional rollercoaster that is The News usually passes me by and I get along just fine. But this week I was interviewed on radio 2 so I thought I’d better take an interest, with a view to not coming over like a babbling, out-of-touch fool. Ha. Fooled em.

And I didn’t swear either.

Anyway, I might be wrong but…

… during the foul reign of Demon Thatcher, one of the quotes I remember her coming out with was ‘You cannot buck the market’. This became gospel. Even the Labour party acted as if this was as obvious as the law of gravity. Until this week.

This neo-conservative approach to economics is, and always has been, a foolish position for a Government to take. The idea that people with nothing on their minds but self-interest and short-term gains can somehow, between them, bring economic well-being to all is preposterous.

It’s like putting a bunch of kids in charge of a sweet shop and then being surprised when you get back and find a bunch of fat kids lying in pools of sick and no sweets left on the shelves. The ‘invisible hand of the market’ is flicking the rods at the vast majority of the people on this planet, and ripping the innards out of the planet itself. But it gives us our choice of grande iced flappa-wacker-skinny-chino on rye to go, in like, two minutes, for only five quid, so we don’t really mind. Like the kids in Pinocchio, we don’t realise that, at this very moment, we are becoming donkeys.

This week even Bush and Brown had to wade into the market. They bucked it right up the arse, to the tune of billions of dollars (which is our money by the way, and we will be paying off the debts of the bankers for years to come – now who’s bucked?). So apparently you can buck the market. Big time. Even when you are a neo-conservative glutton living in the post Reagan-Thatcher political wasteland of the Now. But this time the bucking was in the interest of the bankers, rather than the people, so I guess that’s different.

Anyway, not to dwell, moving on. As Schumacher, the Buddhism-inspired economist said, the economy should serve the people, not the other way around. And economics needs to once again take it’s rightful place among a range of factors on the table when any decision is made. At the moment, if something is considered ‘uneconomical’, it is tantamount to saying it is a bad thing to do. Well, a school is uneconomical – it costs society money – but I think it’s a good thing. Leaving coal in the ground is uneconomical – it’s free money just lying there. And yet to dig it up and burn it is to bring a swifter end to life on this planet.

Let’s get our values straight. As one Buddhist ruler (the king of Bhutan) said, let’s measure our nation’s wealth in terms of Gross National Happiness, not Gross National Product. Happiness and ‘stuff’ are not the same thing. And this is even more true when that ‘stuff’ is only owned by 5% of the population.

We need to develop an economy that can look further ahead than the next AGM, or the next election. We must invest in sustainability now. All that money that has been shovelled into the banking system – let’s have an equivalent amount pulled out of the hat for renewable energy projects. Let’s have the Western world running on solar, and let’s have that powering our electric cars.

We must let go of the idea of economic growth. We must look at re-developing small-scale, local economies, not international conglomerates. Why have your apples shipped in from New Zealand when you can grow them in your back garden? How healthy can an economic system be in which such a thing is considered economical???

And we must learn to trust our local networks again. The move towards needing a standardised certificate in order to do anything is a move towards robotism and anonymity. If you want to know whether someone will do a good job, ask the people in your community who have used them. And if you don’t know people in your community, get to know them. This is the way to stabilise the international markets. When things are small again, when they cannot be standardised and homogenised, then we will have balance.

And those aspects of our economy, and society, which need to be on a large scale should be, gasp!, run by the Government – that is, we allow others to run our businesses on our behalf, and for our benefit. If they are not run well by the Government, this is not a sign that public institutions cannot run well, it is a sign that we need to change those in power to others who are more competent.

The utility companies, the health service, the transport and communications infrastructure, and so on do not need to be profit-making, they just need to break even. Looking after this (and defence) is all the Government should be there for, as far as I can see. The rest of it only really works if it happens on a fairly small scale, in our own communities. As Thoreau says (who I am re-reading at the moment for an upcoming project – of which more to follow), "That government is best which governs least."

Now this idea is a dangerous one for sure. It has been hi-jacked by the right wingers to mean that we should let those with no scruples do as they please, and make preposterous sums of money in the process. But really, we must educate our children so that they grow beyond such things before puberty, or at the very least before they choose a career. We are a nation of infants, and thus we require a Government to act as our parent. And what a bad parent the Government is. It sits half of us in front of the telly all day, while the other half wreck the house and steal our toys. No, this is not the way. We must be reared, and matured. We must self-parent and parent each other. And the Government must relinquish its power over us and shrink away, as we become capable of taking on that power ourselves.

But of course, as is the case with most teenagers, this is not a mature handover to a mature young person. It is a power struggle; an ongoing negotiation which takes place over many years.

There is no perfect system, but as systems go, democracy is as far as I can make out, the best. And real democracy – rule by the people – happens at community level. And in the end it happens at individual level. If we police ourselves, why would we need police? If we censor ourselves, we can confidently do away with the censors.

Friday, 12 September 2008

All systems go!

Dear reader

If you tried to pre-order the Entryphone EP from the post below, and found a broken link, I am pleased to say that the link is now fixed and works a treat. Not only that but you can now even buy the thing straight away - no pre-ordering required! How cool is that?

Thank you for your continuing support.

I remain, as ever, your humble servant,


Wednesday, 27 August 2008

'Song for an Entryphone', the second EP from 'Here', will be released on 15 September.

The EP features three tracks:

* Song for an Entryphone
* Waiting for Dolma (Extended mix)
* Little Boxes

The EP is a digital-only release. You can buy it here.

A video featuring an acoustic version of 'Entryphone' is available on Youtube:

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Secret to ‘The Secret’ Part 1

Recently, I played at the Buddhafield festival. It was great. Apart from the general peace-and-love vibe (which re-charged my batteries and left me determined to keep going in this quest to live authentically and completely), it was great because I got to hook up with a lot of old friends.

At about 3am one night/morning, I was sitting in a dimly lit cafĂ© with one such friend, listening to some lovely chilled musicians playing some lovely chilled music. We had been talking about life, the universe and everything for a couple of hours, as you do, when we got onto the subject of ‘The Secret’.

Now my friend lives in the middle of nowhere with only occasional access to the internet. From time to time it trickles into the back of his computer through a very narrow straw attached to his mobile phone. Needless to say, much of ‘what’s going on in the world’ passes him by. Last time I saw him, I was explaining to him what Myspace was.

Anyway, he had been given a copy of The Secret from somewhere. I was quite excited about this as I thought The Secret was excellent and has had a positive effect on my life. I think every Englishman benefits from a little bit of California in the diet. Good for the constitution. Like roughage. My friend, however, with his anarcho-Zen leanings, found it quite offensive.

He found it offensive (as far as I remember - it was quite late) because of its shallow middle class agenda (e.g the main focus seems to be on asking the universe for lots of money, a new car, a girlfriend, a big house, a good body, nice clothes and all the other things by which this class measures its success). He also felt a wee bit peeved at its suggestion that the universe is abundant and we have no reason to feel guilty about having whatever we want. The implication here is that this middle class, materialistic agenda has no consequences for the environment and has no impact on the world’s poor. Not the ideal message for us Westerners to be hearing at this juncture perhaps.

Also, being a ‘self-power’ kind of guy (as opposed to an ‘other-power’ kind of guy), he found the idea that you can just think up a new Mercedes and watch it arrive (‘The-universe-as-catalogue-that-you-order-stuff-from-and-wait-for-delivery’) laughable.

I thought his points were all fair (apart from not believing that you can dream a Mercedes into existence, because the world is, as far as I can tell, made of magic), and it made me want to write something on my understanding of The Secret. But I think in order to do it justice, I shall probably do this over a couple of posts.

In this post I will content myself with replying briefly to my friend’s excellent points.

My reply
Yes, fair enough. The makers of this programme were certainly aiming it at a particular market (ie the people that have the money to shell out on a DVD). And I think what is actually said in the movie is really quite shoddy, and, taken at face value, a bit trite and overly-focused on trivialities. And such trivialities have massive consequences for the planet.

But it is my hope that, when people start to generate feelings of gratitude and abundance, they will naturally begin to let go of the desire for trinkets and baubles and become interested in pursuing loftier goals.

But in the meantime, I don’t think there’s any benefit in feeling guilty about wanting a new ipod. I mean if you want one, you want one. That’s who you are in this moment. Neither angel nor demon, just someone who wants an ipod (or are they old fashioned now? Feel free to replace ‘ipod’ with whatever ipods have been replaced with by the time you read this).

The key point I think, is learning how to generate feelings of gratitude for the abundance that is already present in one’s life. From this emotional space it becomes possible to see what we really do want, rather than grasping after whatever the advertisers are convincing us that we need this week. For example, we may think we want money, but what money represents for us might be freedom. So what we really want is to feel free. (Not that I’m dissing money here – money is energy and can be used in amazing ways).

There is a Buddhist meditation practice called the metta bhavana (cultivation of universal loving-kindness). This practice begins with cultivating positive feelings towards oneself. From there we begin to generate those feelings for a good friend, for a stranger, and for someone we find difficult. Finally, we expand this feeling out to all beings. But this practice is founded on feeling good about yourself. An abundance of love and wellbeing, which then spills out over others.

I see a similarity between this and The Secret. You can’t really live a happy, ethical life out of a sense of lack, difficulty and scarcity. An ethical life (at least from a Buddhist perspective) comes out of a sense of wellbeing, contentment and peace. Denying yourself an ipod (if that’s what you really want) may well just keep you locked in an emotional conflict that makes it hard for you to be effective at giving to others. It can take a bit of experimenting before we realise that ‘wealth’ and ‘stuff’ aren’t necessarily the same thing.

When you’ve bought the ipod, (and the next generation, and then the one that comes as part of a mobile phone and makes you a cappuccino before your alarm goes off in the morning), and you still don’t have the feeling you were promised in the advert, then maybe you start to loosen your emotional grip on such things. It all looks so cool and shiny on the outside, doesn’t it? [And now the Indian and Chinese middle classes want ipods too, and people like me are saying ‘No, wait, that really isn’t the right way to go. Trust me, I’ve been there’. But how am I going to sell my values to people who want to own ipods that make them cappuccinos in the morning? Especially when the advertisers are spending millions of pounds convincing them that the shiny life really is as fun as it looks, and people like me are just misguided killjoys. And probably communists too.]

I think maybe you have to find your own way though materialism. Kind of like being a teenager. And I think this is where The Secret can be of benefit. I hope and pray, like I guess most parents do, that humanity will survive its adolescence.

But aside from answering the criticisms, I also want to talk about how to use the law of attraction, because The Secret gives you one piece of lego and says ‘There you go, build a castle’. So in the coming blogs I may well offer up my own combination of sticky tape, lollypop sticks and elastic bands and, hey presto, ok we may not end up with a castle, but whatever we end up with, it’ll probably have propellers on it. And they’re pretty cool, right?

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


I called the album ‘Here’ for a few different reasons. Firstly because I had a brain haemorrhage a couple of years ago, and the odds of me still being here right now (and in a state which would allow me to make the album) were by no means in my favour.

But also, if I had to distil the Buddha’s teaching into one word, that’s the word I would choose. Being fully present, in this moment, where we are right now, is to be truly alive and awake. So it’s a word I say to myself from time to time as a reminder to bring my mind back from wherever it’s gone on holiday.

And finally, I move around a lot. I’ve lived in so many places, sometimes I’m driving a car and I can’t remember which direction I should turn because I can’t remember where my home is right now. Or I go looking for one of my books and then remember that it’s in a box on a mountain in Spain. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and there’s a couple of seconds where I have no idea even which country I’m in. Where am I? Here.

Some of the songs on the album have been in existence for 10 years or so. Many of them were written in the last year. So the subject matter is pretty varied, though the overall texture seems to me to be pretty constant. There is a kind of melancholy, which over the years I have realised is my ‘default setting’, and seems to be based on a view that rests deep in me. Life is futile and in the end meaningless. This view was not even shaken by my near death experience. At the same time, I also passionately believe that life is beautiful, the universe is amazing, and all humans have incredible potential. This paradox is at the heart of my perspective and therefore my music.

Us humans have woven many kinds of hell into our lives, as well as a few kinds of heaven. We have done this by using our intelligence and ability to shape our environment, combined with our stupidity, and inability to remain mindful and at peace, while the swell of emotions which rush and weave through us, drag our bodies this way and that, executing all kinds of action, both for good and for ill. The Tibetan Wheel of Life has, at its very centre, greed, hatred and delusion. It is these which spin the wheel which keeps us going round and round, and always with a sense of lack.

We can see this in our own lives, in our local communities, and also on an international economic and political level (for the personal is the political – right, George?). Our attempts to create a heaven for ourselves based on an ongoing mission to satisfy our sense cravings and eradicate that which we find unpleasant, has led to an economic system that can only survive through the exploitation of millions of people, including many children, in the so-called ‘developing’ nations; through waging war on nations with the resources we need to continue our economic growth; through the exploitation of literally millions of animals who live their entire lives in concentration camps (and for this the people of the future will look back on this period and consider us as cruel as we now consider those who thought slavery was ‘normal’); through exploitation of this beautiful planet and all the precious life that’s on it (quite possibly to such a degree that we have created a hell on Earth for our grandchildren and still we continue); and by keeping a significant proportion of the population, in Western countries as well as non-Western, uneducated and half asleep through boredom, too much work in jobs that do not inspire them, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, regular intoxication and an overdose of poor quality ‘entertainment’ in an attempt to drown out their protesting hearts. This is all necessary if we are to continue with our current economic model.

It is my hope that one day the economy will serve the people, not the other way around. And that economics will return to a sensible position in the hierarchy of political issues. Whilever we demand that all things make ‘economic sense’, we condemn ourselves to a host of social problems, which don’t make any sense at all.

I see how much things can and do change, even over a decade or two (from the rise and fall of empires, to the end of apartheid in South Africa, to the availability of organic food in supermarkets), and this fills me with hope and a desire to talk about possibilities.

In my music I tend to do this on a personal level, from the point of view of how this affects me in day-to-day life, since this, in the end, is the most real and direct. I don’t really choose this subject matter consciously – I don’t usually start out thinking ‘I’m going to write a political song about the inherent sickness and alienation of city-living’. I just mess around on the guitar, and ideas roll around my head, and this is what comes out. Sometimes it’s a love song, sometimes it’s a song about opening my eyes after meditating and watching the sunrise. And sometimes it’s a song about my own experience of the vibrancy of the ‘natural’ world, of my own lack of satisfaction with consumer culture, or the generally bland offerings of mass media and international corporations. I don’t really divide my head up into art, philosophy, politics, religion, science. I just do my thing, and try to be as honest and in touch with myself as I can.

Music and Buddhism
I see my music as my ‘spiritual path’. Both spirituality and music are central to my life. It’s taken me quite a while to realise that this is what it’s about for me. I’ve been a Buddhist for many years and have tried a number of different ways to practice as sincerely as I can, and in the end, it seems to me that this is my path. I once saw a video of Joe Satriani playing guitar (and I really am not into heavy metal) and I had an Insight experience similar to what I might get on meditation retreat. And I realised how music really is a way in for people like me.

In Buddhist circles there’s quite a bit of debate as to how Buddhism can be practised most effectively in the West – ie what is ‘Western Buddhism’? After all, it’s still only a few decades old here. It is so new that the first Western masters are still alive. Historically, Buddhism has transformed massively whenever it has arrived in a new culture. It transforms the culture, and the culture transforms it. The underlying message is still the same, but the way it expresses itself varies massively. Tibetan Buddhism is very different from Zen, which is in turn very different from the Theravadin Buddhism of Sri Lanka. So what is Western Buddhism?

The West encourages alienation from the self. Either we are completely disembodied and hypnotised by mass media until we don’t really exist as individuals at all, or we conceive of ourselves as objects - a product to be marketed. The market is more real and more significant than we are. We dress ourselves in ways that appeal to the niche we have decided to target, we learn the lingo, take up the hobbies, come up with catchy strap lines and hang out in the right places. And when ‘Who We Really Are’ protests, showing itself up as various neuroses, we drown it out with more TV, more shopping, more alcohol, more drugs, more therapy, more medication. The hollowness has been there for so long that we think it is normal. We think that is who we are! We have lost touch completely with our inherent beauty, our inherent completeness. And then we discover Buddhism and think that maybe this is a way to escape the pain, and we hear about ‘not-Self’ and think ‘yeah that makes total sense’. And thus Buddhism adds to our confusion.

It seems to me therefore, that the initial challenge for Westerners wishing to practise, is to reconnect with themselves. To heal from the alienation which is the almost inevitable result of growing up in contemporary Western society. You can’t realise the Buddhist ‘not-Self’ concept before you have realised who you are as a ‘self’. And music is excellent for this.

So music is a way for me to be connected with myself, and to communicate authentically with others. And if there is ever to be such a thing as Western Buddhist art, it will not be a standard image of a Buddha sitting in the full lotus. It will not be Buddhist mantras sung in the style of a Christian choir. It will be people who are genuine Buddhist practitioners, and genuine Western artists, expressing themselves without a conscious agenda. To the extent that they have realised the teaching, their work will be genuine Western Buddhist art. As Jack Kerouac, inventor of the practice of writing ‘spontaneous prose’ once said, ‘[if] mind is shapely, art is shapely’. That was before he rejected Buddhism, returned to his Catholic roots and drank himself to death, of course, and thus gave his own answer to my Zen koan. My Zen koan is not ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’, or ‘Does a dog have Buddha nature?’. It is something like ‘Your life is meaningless, beautiful, and passing. Now what?’

Friday, 6 June 2008

Me and Mary Whitehouse

The other night I watched a BBC drama about Mary Whitehouse. As a kid I instinctively disliked her. Everything she said seemed nonsensical to me – even at the age of eight or whatever I was. Conversely, there was something about seeing the Sex Pistols on TV that seemed completely right. I had no idea what a ‘sex pistol’ was, and I didn’t understand much of what they were singing about, but I loved the cartoon-esque quality of their clothes, hair and posturing. And singing naughty songs about the Queen seemed like fun too. I definitely wanted to be a punk, not a Mary Whitehouse.

But as the years have passed, while still kind of wanting to be a punk, I have started to get more of a handle on where Mrs Whitehouse was coming from. And I find this a little unsettling. Perhaps I am getting old.

After watching the drama I got to thinking about culture, and how things change. A key argument against a Mary Whitehouse approach to mass media is that times change, and television simply reflects what’s going on in society. If television doesn’t move with the times, it will simply become irrelevant. But is that really true? Is it inevitable that society and culture must change? And if so, what causes that change?

So-called ‘primitive’ societies seem to remain in cultural stasis for hundreds of years. The cultural norms and beliefs are simply considered to be how things are, and that is that. There is no thought of smashing down the established ways, one simply fits in with whatever is the norm for one’s particular life stage – child; of marriageable age; parent; elder. This is the way of things. How do the members of such societies know what’s what? It says so in their folk tales, in their music and in their religion. These messages are communicated orally, at communal gatherings, and perhaps through painting, dancing, music, and so on. They are the media offerings of the society.

Cultural change therefore, appears to be something of a choice. And just as stasis is maintained through the media of the ‘primitive’ society, so the change is communicated through the media of our contemporary society. This choice of change is not made by any one person, or even any one group, but it is by no means inevitable.

It seems to me that, since we have broken down our traditional values and entered a period of postmodern relativism, the religion of popular science, and the worship of material things, we have lost our way. Culture moves on so quickly because we are frantically trying to find the path again. And mass media has played an important part in this.

Especially that media which is funded by advertising. Advertisers impact significantly on programming, and in magazines on the kinds of articles that get written - you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. This has been well documented so I won’t go on too much about it here (at least not today!).

Advertising is about stimulating demand for products – products that are, in the large majority of cases, unnecessary. The previous one has not yet worn out, but we need you to buy a new one, so we will have to come up with some way of moving culture on, or of giving the impression that culture has moved on, in order to make your current belongings appear old hat.

The advertising agenda is just one of the factors of course. Consider also the individual programme-maker’s need to make their mark. The best way to achieve this is to come up with something different, ground-breaking, and preferably controversial.

Then there is the competition between different channels for viewers. How do you achieve that? See above.

And so the margins of society are continually pillaged by daring media types for new fodder with which to shock and titillate. This is not for the sake of refining culture, or progressing culture, or even accurately reflecting changes in culture. It is to stimulate demand and attract an audience. In this way, mass media changes culture. And this change is not usually for the better.

And let’s not forget technology. Technological change (which again is not brought about by our need for it, but by business’ need to sell us more stuff so they can keep making money) is ripping through our society and changing it faster than ever before. Before the computer, the television; before the television, the cinema; before the cinema, the radio; before the radio, the printing press; and before that I have absolutely no idea.

Now I am as much to blame for all this as anyone. I value the individual above all, and the individual is the enemy of the group – the enemy of a homogenous society. And when you don’t have a homogenous society, all hell breaks loose. Things get untidy. An underlying insecurity creeps in – “Who am I? What’s it all about?” This insecurity and confusion creates opportunities for advertisers and entrepreneurs – “Buy this product and you will feel better. You will have the answer”.

And yet, still I say, “Ask not what you can do for your country, but what the concept of ‘country’ can do for you. It is a figment of the imagination, and if it serves no purpose, cast it out”. Be yourself. Explore those very questions – “Who am I? What’s it all about?” They are the most important questions a person can ask. And instead of demanding media ‘content’, demand real art and real documentary. Let the heart be opened and filled up, not simply distracted by a flickering in front of the eyes.

But this belief in the individual as the most important unit in society (as opposed to couple, family, neighbourhood or country for example) has its consequences. With freedom comes responsibility. And it seems to me that, as a culture, we are not taking that responsibility seriously enough.

If we do not believe in censorship from without, we must censor ourselves. We must choose wisely. Don’t just trot along with whatever the flock is doing – the shepherd does not have our interests at heart! As a consumer in a capitalist system we do in fact have significant power, if we can keep our heads. And remember consumers are also workers – we work in TV, we work in advertising, marketing, sales, production. If you need the job, take it – we all have to eat. But if you don’t need the job, take a better one! Or better still, set up your own thing. Something that you have a passion for and that benefits the world. You will feel a whole lot better about your life – both while you are living it, and when you arrive at its end.

I can imagine a reality TV programme in the not-too-distant future, where hidden cameras are placed inside the house of a paedophile, and the audience watches as children are groomed. Viewers can phone in to say when the police should enter, and which child they should rescue first. It would be cutting edge, it would be controversial, it would most certainly raise the profile of the channel that did it.

Is this shocking? Well did you know that a reality TV programme already exists where contestants, who are all in need of a kidney replacement, compete for the kidneys of a terminally ill woman? (The Big Donor Show – Holland, 2007). Someone came up with this idea, and the other people in the meeting said ‘Yeah, ok’.

One can always use the argument that these things are going on anyway and that TV simply raises awareness of the issue – to justify anything. People need kidneys. Let’s film it, and we’ll sort out the family of the donor with a pile of money. What is there to lose? Everyone’s a winner. No. Everyone is a loser. Trust me.

I don’t have any illusions about some previous golden age that we need to get back to. Homogenous culture is certainly not my trip. It is coercive, and it ends up tolerating such things as domestic violence, it calls having a child out of wedlock, or being homosexual, a sign of insanity, it does all manner of terrible things to individuals with different beliefs or behaviours from the herd. Sorry Mary Whitehouse, here we part company.

No, I’m talking about a potential future. If culture is to move on, maybe we can get it to move in a decent direction? I have a vision of a future where all people are educated, free-thinking individuals, who negotiate and co-operate with each other on that basis, for the benefit of all. A truly multicultural society, where we respect ourselves and respect each other. We can live this way whenever we want. As Ghandi said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world”. As John Lennon said, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." As one of my friends says, “These are the golden years”.