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.