Friday, 7 September 2018

How to Disappear Completely

Midsummer began with one of those perplexing little domino effects that are habitually sent careering off through the British media, unchecked by trivialities such as common sense or the facts. One after another, the travel sections of various newspapers, magazines and online portals put it out there that Skye is all but overrun with rampaging tourist hoards. That tracts of landscape are near-spoiled and despairing locals on the point of barricading off the road bridge connecting the island to the mainland at Lochalsh. Or at least something nearly so hysterical.

No doubt that up here complexities, controversies and different extremes of opinion have been brought about by the island becoming the second most-visited spot in Scotland after the capital, Edinburgh, and since this seasonal influx shows no sign of abating any time soon. Why, though, wouldn't lots of people want to come here? Skye is very beautiful, after all.

Generally, so much for the better I would say were anyone to ask me, which they haven't. There are the obvious economic benefits (and pontificating here as an in-no-way-Fawlty-esque B&B proprietor, two thumbs up for that). Being so enthusiastically visited also equals to me a commensurate sense of living somewhere that is alive and vibrant and in the moment, and as such is a precious commodity not to be discouraged. Hence the photograph at the top of the page, taken to support a local initiative aimed at correcting any lingering impression Skye has battened down the hatches (see here for more: - and which features cherubic young Charlie as an infinitely more welcoming alternative to old potato-headed me.

In just the last three or four weeks, we have welcomed to The Passing Place guests from Australia, the Netherlands, Russia, Denmark and Germany. Listening to all of their combined rhapsodies to our island home has been nothing but joyful and life-enhancing. And I am by nature a sour-faced grump who would hitherto rather have eaten his own feet than make small talk.

Besides all of which... The idea perpetrated that Skye is now irreparably teeming and chaotic is by and large utter nonsense. Certainly, there can be unsightly congestion at some of the more gushingly guide book-listed spots such as the Old Man of Storr, the Fairy Pools or Neist Point, but we are able to revel in these during the 'other' six months of the year. Then again, at six hundred and thirty-nine square miles, there is still a lot more of the island to go round.

Two examples to illustrate this last point. Couple of weeks ago, we joined a group of friends for a seaside hike on the north-eastern fringe of Skye. We began by squelching across a peat bog; bundled down a knotted length of rope left hanging by a good-neighbourly climber and to help with traversing a short, sharp slab of glassy-surfaced, gnarly-tree-peppered rock; and popped out on an expanse of stone-pebbled beach. The beach is half-encircled by hulking black-grey cliffs, looks out to the ocean and further to the Mordor-esque Torridon range on the even more northern extremities of the mainland. As well there were a vaulting sea cave, a rushing waterfall, and clearly visible underfoot, scores of fossils vividly preserved in the shoreline rocks.

Quite a spot, and the more so for it being an overcast, milk-sun day that altogether gave the sea the look of gently bubbling liquid silver. We spent a good three hours there and encountered a grand total of two other people in all that time, both of them locals.

Then the other Saturday night, I determined to walk the five-plus, mostly uphill miles home from our nearest pub, the splendid Old Inn in Carbost. By 'I determined', what I actually mean to say is that the local taxi service wasn't running (the sole designated driver was also enjoying himself in the Inn instead). A half-moon was up in the sky, but all along the route it was otherwise a pitch, inky-black. It is a winding, climbing single-track road, the shadows of craggy hilltops off to one side, the spectral glimmer of Loch Harport a couple of hundred feet and more below.

Once I had overcome the potentially bowel-vacating fear that a great, snorting Highland Bull might lurk around the next all-but invisible corner, I began to stop at regular intervals, the better to take in the silence and the stillness, each like a physical manifestation. At the crest of the hill that heads out from our next-door township of Fernilea, I was stopped dead in my tracks. Up above, the aurora was in glorious effect in the sky, its green, luminescent shimmer dancing between billowing clouds the colour of soot.

Now of course, nobody, but nobody else was stupid enough to be lurching home along this same path at two in the morning. But then, at any given time of day, I would have encountered almost no-one but for the scattering of islanders living along the way. We have it to ourselves and for that we are blessed. As I may have attempted to wax lyrical to Denise and the boys when I finally surfaced the next midday, believing it would add a frisson of questing romance to my nocturnal wanderings and spare me pitying looks. In this, as in so many other regards, I was wholly wrong.

This week, I have also been cast back to my previous life and as a result of a newspaper commission to review Gary Barlow's forthcoming memoir. Eight years ago almost to the day, I conducted the first press interview given by the reunited-with-Robbie-Williams Take That. We met, the five of them, a fleet of stylists and hairdressers, a couple of managers, several burly bodyguards and me at Bryan Adams's photo studio in Chelsea. Yes, that Bryan Adams. Singer, Canadian, bloke who will be eternally culpable for the wretched 'Robin Hood song'. Bry, as he didn't seem to mind being called, had established a side-line for himself as a rather capable portrait photographer and the idea of pairing him with the once-again all-conquering behemoths of Brit-pop seemed to me all to good to pass up.

Anyway, Bry was very nice and so too were Take That - straightforward, businesslike Gary; Artful Dodger-ish Mark; softly-spoken Howard; wry, knowing Jason; and dear bonkers Robbie. Aside from the fact they had about them a flapping, fussing entourage, four-fifths of the group seemed to me wholly down to earth and well-adjusted, and one appeared anything of the sort, though all but impossible to dislike. At one point, Barlow announced in his best professional Northerner voice: "Ey up, it's chocolate o'clock!" - occasioning an assistant to spirit into the room a tray laden with mugs of steaming builder's teas and many, different-flavoured bars of Green & Blacks.

The big question was why the Other Four had so readily welcomed back their erstwhile clown prince. By then, their Take That reunion had yielded two monster hit albums and the most profitable UK tour ever, while his once-stellar solo career had somewhat hit the skids following a couple of half-baked albums and a raft of very public 'personal issues'. The answer revealed itself just as soon as He arrived, a few steps behind the others. Precisely as I wrote it at the time, whatever strange combination of chemicals it is that allows certain famous people to change the temperature of a room whenever they enter it, Williams had it - and doubtless still has it - in spades. The others knew it too. Unbidden, when Bry asked them to line up for his first photo, Barlow and Owen, Orange and Donald split on two sides, so as to allow Williams to stand in the middle of them.

Later, Bry coaxed them outdoors to look over the vintage moped he kept in his yard. Williams it was who bestrode it. Upon sighting the rush-hour traffic crawling along the main road a stone's throw from the premises, he next set off towards it at a march, the others trailing in his wake. Crossing the road between a red, double-decker London bus and a black cab, he proceeded to hop up onto the wall that ran along the other side, the Thames now as his backdrop and where he was soon joined by his beaming band-mates. The five of them caused quite a stir: horns honked, people pointed and shouted from the top deck of the bus, the cab mounted the opposite kerb, its solitary woman passenger hanging out the rear window, the better to take pictures with her iPhone. Never for a beat was Williams not on display, the cockiest of peacocks.

Back inside Bry's, I got to view him at close quarters in the room set aside for our one-on-one interview. Strangely, it was furnished with nothing but for a pair of stools of Nordic design and a king-size bed draped in crisp white linen. "Ooh," he gasped devilishly as he entered, "this is a setting I'm used to!" We sat together for an hour, though he was never still; alternately leaning back with both hands clasped behind his head, or else crouching forward like a boxer at the bell, one or other leg furiously bobbing away. 

He didn't do eye contact very much, knew his lower league football, the plight of his hometown club Port Vale in particular, and fair oozed charisma. All at once, he came off like the hyperactive lad from down the street and an alien being from Planet Pop. At one point, I asked him the main difference between Barlow and himself. "He's a well-rounded grown-up," he shot straight back. "Meat and two veg. Me? I'm meat and two veg, a Mars bar and maybe a cake, all on the same plate."

Ah, but that was then and this is now... As I write, it's mid-afternoon. The sky is one half pale blue with a smattering of lamb-fluffy white clouds, the other a uniform shade of days-old cigarette ash. The air is fresh from a recent downpour and so hushed that, stepping out onto our decking, I can hear the lapping of the sea from a mile downhill. The exact scene, and at the precise moment as in the picture posted right below. And why ever would you not want to share it?

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:

John Mellencamp - Longest Days

That long, deep breath at the start and end of the day put to music...

Monday, 9 July 2018

Hot Fun in the Summertime

There is obviously no great shakes in me noting that time speeds on, and all the quicker the older, or as I prefer it, more interestingly grizzled one gets. Yet here on the island, as spring has rushed headlong into summer, and apparently with barely an intake of breath between flowers bursting to bloom and the comings and goings of squadrons of marauding cuckoos, there have been a couple of properly jarring occurrences, one elemental and the other more personal.

In the first instance, the sun did not only sit high in the sky for most of May, but was still present to greet June and has barely been absent during daytime hours ever since. Or for a healthy chunk of night-time too for that matter, since our sunsets have consistently extended to eleven o'clock and sometimes later on these long and lovely evenings. In my experience at least, this is not the usual state of affairs up here. A couple of balmy weeks if you're lucky, yes. Anything even approaching an unbroken wave of fine weather, no, no, and furthermore, no.

So, it's been something of a shock to be woken daily at four-thirty am by the burst of a brilliant sunrise and with the land about bathed in many golden hues, the sea below utterly still, but full of latent drama and evocative as an oil painting, and the heavens above piercing blue and cloudless. One morning we watched rapt for four, five minutes as three Sea Eagles, parents and chick, soared in ever-widening, ovoid patterns high up over the local sea-loch, and along which neighbours of ours have recently spotted the passing of pods of porpoise and dolphin and three Minke Whale.

On another luminous day, a pair of Roe Deer skipped down our drive and across our plot which in a matter of weeks has erupted into a seductive tangle of vivid green, yellow and purple grasses and wildflowers. Altogether, it is almost perfectly blissful and especially with the air so becalmed that the ever-present chatter of birdsong is accompanied now by yet more sonorous background notes - and these the sounds of the sea lapping on the rock-dashed shoreline of Ficavaig Bay. Almost, and but for a brace of scourges, both of them species of insect.

In the blue corner, we have the monumentally irritating Scottish Midge. In the red, the even more repulsive, blood-sucking Common Tick. The former are present in their millions from early June through August, most notably on still, humid days and so incessant in their buzzing-biting persecutions they would have made a raging, swearing madman of, say, St Francis of Assisi. The latter are simply disgusting, burrowing into exposed skin to find a vein and from where they gorge themselves to bursting point.

As everyone hereabouts knows, the trick upon discovering protruding from oneself the bloated miniature rear-end of a Tick - and after resisting the urge to projectile vomit, or else pass out - is to extract it with the utmost care. This is done by prising it gently between thumb and forefinger out from its feasting and so that no part of it breaks off and is left embedded in your flesh. Since: a/ Tick's in rare instances can carry Lime Disease which is relentlessly unpleasant; and b/ No-one, but no-one in any case wants a vampiric parasite stuck in them for any longer than absolutely necessary.

This being the case and having found one of the little beasts feeding in my right thigh during an otherwise happy afternoon playing football with the boys in the Carbost play-park, it would have been an act of utter lunacy to allow my youngest to try out his until-then nascent Tick-removal skills. Except that is just what I did. And with the inevitable result that I was left with a decapitated Tick's head inside of me. In no way was this the unfortunate Charlie's fault and nor did he merit being on the wrong end of the barrage of expletives I inadvertently shrieked out, but then my ever-fertile imagination had conjured up a stomach-churning, bowel-evacuating image of the body-less horror as it carried on gnashing away at me like a rabid Pac Man.

Charlie took this in his stride, bless him. Whereas I went right ahead piling on the shame. For what it's worth, a few, and perhaps unnecessary words of advice for any fellow male readers who may in the future find themselves similarly blighted. Yes, you will have to endure a degree of discomfort in such circumstances and when a loved one is minded to dig the offending bit out of you with a sewing needle. But however long this process takes and no matter the depth of your pain threshold, trust me in this one thing... It will be manifestly for the better that you refrain from hysterically informing someone who has birthed children that, and tragically I quote here: "You have absolutely no idea how much this hurts!"

The other unexpected aspect of recent months has come with the regular influx of guests to our B&B annex room. Speaking as someone predisposed to take a dim, cynical and some would say thoroughly miserable view of the human race, I have been knocked sideways by the sheer friendliness, niceness and many kindnesses of folk in general. Most particularly when confronted first thing in the morning by a red-eyed, unshaven grouch brandishing a basket of food prepared for them by someone much more appealing. For sure, this much has done, and will continue to do my soul nothing but good.

In respect of me providing any kind of public service, I am operating here veritable continents outside of my comfort zone. Though having worked for more than twenty years on the fringes of the madhouse they call the music industry, it is a feeling I am well used to. An example to illustrate the point. Soon after Lady Gaga ascended to becoming a cast-iron all-singing, all-dancing phenomenon, we determined to put her on the cover of Q. In double-quick time an interview and photo session were arranged through her 'people' and from there things proceeded like clock-work right up to the very moment the former Stefani Germanotta arrived at the appointed location.

The Lady, you see, had come armed with a plan. She had with her a large cardboard box. Opening it with a flourish, she extracted from this box what can only be described as a strap-on dildo the size, and shape of a baseball bat, since that's precisely what it was. "You are going to put me on your cover in this," Gaga announced, or at least words to that effect. Furthermore, she stated, and but for the aforesaid dildo, she meant to be photographed naked from the waist down.

It had doubtless occurred to her that Britain's magazine retail collective might take a dim view of parading before their shoppers a bottomless woman, who also happened to be thrusting out at them a great big sex aid. All the more so since the issue in question would be going on sale smack bang in the middle of a school holiday. About that she did not care one jot, since she was a pop star and not at home to such trifles as the innate conservatism of Tesco, WH Smith et al. Very much unlike me, she would not be on the wrong end of a P45 should they deem not to stock the offending organ.

Since Gaga wasn't for getting her perfectly manicured hands dirty and I had stayed put at the Q office, there ensued a drawn-out battle of wills waged by phone and email between a handful of Gaga's minions (and yea Gods, an 'image consultant' was among them) and me. One after a-tiresome other, they relayed to me the fact that 'The Star' was not for diluting her art, or something equally ludicrous. Whilst I attempted to negotiate a compromise and not tear what was left of my hair out from my skull by the roots.

In the end, Gaga was cajoled into believing that secreting the dildo down a pair of leather trousers would be an even more subversive act and we got our shot. And it was quite literally just the one picture. For no sooner had Q's photographer snapped his camera than Gaga took a phone call that left her shaking and on the verge of tears. We never did find out who was on the other end of the line, much less what ill tidings they imparted to her. But upon hanging up, she scooped up her things, dildo among them, and flounced out of the room without so much as a goodbye or by your leave, and never to return.

Now, I'm not really anticipating that anyone will turn up at The Passing Place brandishing an enormous phallus. But should they ever, I will be ready.

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:

The Elephant Sessions - Summer

Based just across the country in the Black Isle and currently on repeat play, this band's all-round wonderful second album All We Have Is Now might have been made just for days such as these.

Friday, 27 April 2018

AKA... What a Life!

Since the turn of the year I have generally been wrapped up in the always half-expectant, half-tremulous act of setting out on a new book. Hence the lack of anything new here. The blessed thing is that, however many hours I can vanish away on the computer or poring over reference material, I am also able to make it seem as if time has paused from ticking inexorably on. And simply by opening our back door and walking out into the land about us.

Randomly, these are three relatively recent snapshots of this other side of things...

One clear, crisp Sunday afternoon back in March, Denise, the boys, a couple of their young pals and I trooped to the end of Ardtreck Point, a finger of land jabbing out into Loch Bracadale. In basic terms, the path, such as it is, takes you across a rough, invariably boggy expanse of moorland and up to the punctuation point of the peninsula, a squat, altogether inglorious box-lighthouse. However, the journey is rich with other details and most particularly the panoramic aspects it affords. Back at first to the Black Cuillin, still snow-capped at this time of year, and then over to the course of the Loch as it flows into the North Atlantic. The spectral-seeming peaks of Uist stretch along this horizon. As the accompanying photograph is intended to show, under a blue sky and a serene early-spring sun it is a spot that all at once brings about a kind of sensory overload and also a sense of being utterly at peace.

A few weeks later, we welcomed old friends to the island. Since it was their first visit to Skye, we took advantage of the bout of glorious weather we were having to 'do' one of the big draws - the Old Man of Storr. The path that winds steeply up to this impressive rock pinnacle is trod by thousands of feet each year, to the point of being overcrowded in summer. As a family, we have traipsed it any number of times and so that it is possible to become numbed to the sheer jaw-dropping, ages-old wonder of its vantage. The quickest counter to this is to see it as if through another's eyes.

On this particular day, the sun was again high in a cloudless sky and yet we trekked up into the snowline and where the air was cold and sharp as crushed ice. From the very base of the Old Man, we looked out along the spread of the Trotternish Ridge, its arrow-point rocky outcroppings as ancient as the Earth itself. Ahead, the land rose, fell and soared up again to the peaks of the Red and Black Cuillin some thirty miles distant. Off out to the east and over a deep blue sea which was as still and reflective as a mirror, Skye's smaller sibling isle Raasay, its contours a symphony of greens and greys, and beyond that the foreboding mass of the Torridon Hills on the mainland. Late in the afternoon, we spotted a Golden Eagle high up on the thermals.

Then just last week, I was driving home from my regular Thursday night game of five-a-side football in Portree. The game is a precarious, often as not fruitless exercise in pretending that I am not quite as old as I am, the drive not nearly so chastening. It was some time after 9pm, but not yet dark, the nature of the light bruised and brooding. From the turn off the main road at the Sligachan Hotel, my journey home is made between two flanks of craggy highland and from there alongside and up above the ribbon run of Loch Harport. It's around thirteen miles in total, but altogether magnificent. In the space of ten, fifteen minutes that night I spotted a fox stalking by the roadside, a Red Grouse, a hare, a Roe Deer, many flitting bats and at the crest of our driveway the ghosting shadow of a Tawny Owl.

The older I get, the more I find myself pondering the meaning of, well... life. What it is I am supposed to extract from our universal blink and good-God-it's-gone passage through the whole messy shebang and beyond the fact of my simply being. For all that it's worth and in the absence of any concrete evidence that I'm bound for a heavenly eternity, or otherwise, the conviction I have come to hold onto is that ultimately it all falls to precious, magical moments such as those I have just mentioned. To the states of grace that they engender and with it the vivid sensation of being alive and of being a microcosmic part of something so much greater.

All that being said, let me put down what I've been smoking and hurry off into the creaking segue that it was meant to set up. And which is how even rarer it is to experience a state of grace through one's work and the everyday. In my previous life, I did, quite possibly, feel myself being transported by the way a photograph appeared on the page, or a set of type sat on a cover, or with other similarly aesthetic and entirely fleeting things. Interviewing certain people too, a McCartney, a Springsteen, full-force Adele or mad-as-a-badger Ozzy, there would moments of feeling rapt, suspended and as if in a completely different reality.

Just once that was extended over an entire evening. The occasion was a dank Tuesday night in late-February or early-March of 2009, I forget which, and in the company of a certain Noel Gallagher. It was for the purpose of a cover story for Q, a profile piece. Noel elected to have this conducted over dinner in a favourite restaurant of his in posh Primrose Hill, north London. Noel being Noel, we had an upstairs room cleared for the two of us and an especially attentive waiter. It was then no more than a matter of months before Noel walked out on Oasis and he was in reflective, but expansive mood.

"Do you know anything about wine?" Noel asked gruffly, perusing a wine list as involved and complex-seeming to me as an astrophysics text rendered in Mandarin. I told him as much and he barked back, "Well, it's a good fookin' job I do, isn't it?" Adding with a flourish: "Let's have a nice, full red, shall we?" When our waiter returned within a heartbeat cradling what was very evidently a white wine, Noel's face crumpled up in what was now that familiar way of his, which is to say like a cushion being sat on, and he let out a snickering laugh. At himself. Which rock stars almost never do and is one of the reasons why I liked him so much.

We had met in passing a couple of times before this encounter. Witty as a stand-up comic, street-smart, self-assured, undoubtedly charismatic, but with the suggestion of a soft centre, he had struck me as an impressive figure indeed. That impression was re-enforced over the next several hours we spent together fine-dining, and as Noel picked back over the bare bones of the Oasis story. I don't remember ever laughing so much when interviewing anybody else, or feeling quite so certain that I could ask anything and it would get a full, reasoned answer that was also ever likely to spiral off into an only vaguely connected series of anecdotes.

In short, he was brilliant company. Inevitably, the conversation kept coming back to his younger brother and the pair's notoriously fractious relationship. At one point, he told me about the most recent fight they'd had. The pair of them had gone drinking with mutual friends over Christmas and a debate had sprung up about the best Christmas single. Noel nominated Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody. Volubly, Liam had disagreed and gone instead for Lennon's Happy Xmas (War is Over).

"And from that starting point," Noel embellished, voice rising, "the two of us ended up out in the car-park of the pub, trading punches with each other. I'm in my forties, man. I can't be getting into fist-fights over Christmas songs."

At another juncture and more shockingly, Noel revealed to me that he wouldn't allow Liam in his house and as such that he had not so much as set eyes on his nephew, two-year-old Donovan, Noel's first-born son with partner Sara MacDonald. "I don't know you well enough to tell you why, but I have my reasons," he said, darkly and before lightening again with a crack about Liam's fixation with his own hair or some such.

Finally, he got around to summing Liam up and with a single, off-the-cuff line that has lingered with me longer and more memorably than any other that he uttered that night. "Liam is a really angry person," he began, leaning across the table, face deadpan and as he alighted upon his punchline. "He's like a man with a fork in a world of soup."

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:

The Little Unsaid - Day is Golden

Excellent new band from Oxford, also make it seem as if the clocks have stopped.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Astral Weeks

By and large I am thoroughly enjoying our second full winter on the island. Last year's vintage, a couple of Atlantic storms aside, was pretty benign. This one has been a proper winter, and as such more uncertain, variable and interesting. For a start, there have been three significant snowfalls, each transforming the landscape into a wondrous vision of white peppered with black ravaged rock - and as well causing sundry vehicles to jack-knife off our hill road (although with no injuries to report, thankfully). A brace of mighty gales have also come roaring through these parts. Both times, I was woken in the dead of night by a sound like an angry express train, as a mighty gust worked up a head steam rushing down from the hills. Rain, sleet and hail there have been in abundance, and days when all has been becalmed, the sun low in a milk-blue sky and spring whispering ahead of its arrival.

Sometimes different combinations, or even all of the above can occur within a span of hours and as was the case yesterday. Walking a three-mile circuit around Fiscavaig Bay, Denise and I were at first struck by how unseasonably warm it was and then assailed by a raw, frigid wind. Out came the sun once more, but with the caution of a bank of dark, pregnant cloud blowing in from out at sea. This loomed threateningly over the Western Isles, beyond which the next landfall is Greenland. Soon enough, all about had been turned a shade of burnt ash and snow began to fall like many frozen balls of cotton.

Such schizophrenic unpredictability I find bracing and exciting, except that is when I happen to be on the wrong end of it. In respect of the latter, I think back to another eruptive afternoon last week and when we returned home to find both of our bins hurled a couple of hundred yards down the hill, and having scattered litter like confetti. That same morning, conditions in the village, just twenty miles distant, had been bright, twinkling and with barely a breeze. And trust me, there are few things quite so lacking in grace as the sight of a late-middle-aged man in sunglasses huffing, stumbling and sweating up a mud bank, and whilst attempting to chase down wind-flown yogurt pots and toilet roll.

In fact, inclement weather and I generally don't do well together. Last weekend and once again in conditions that locals up here are wont to describe as 'blowy' (for which read: just a wisp off hurricane-force), I set off up our driveway, bent double and bound for the small industrial container that acts as our shed, several tonnes of metal being so much less susceptible than wood to getting blown to infinity. I meant to fetch the stepladders, but ended up being nearly decapitated by the container door, which got flung open as if it were made of paper and at the speed of a bullet.

Reeling backwards and perhaps screaming, though the shriek I made was so high-pitched only dogs would have heard it, I fell back into a viscous puddle of mud, slush and rainwater. To anyone who saw me on my return trip, trudging gloomily towards the house, it must have appeared as though I had soiled myself and through the portal of a water cannon.

The sad thing is that I had many years training, and experience of dealing with wild, mad and wholly unreasonable elements. Or rock and pop stars as they are otherwise known. There was, for instance, the occasion of Q magazine's 200th issue and for which we produced twenty different covers, each featuring a rock or pop deity such as David Bowie, Madonna, Kate Bush, Keith Richards... and, oh well yes, Johnny Borrell of Razorlight. In a last-minute moment that hindsight now tells me was madness, I decided to add one Britney Spears to this list.

La Spears was at that precise point in time just out the other side of her gone-bonkers-and-shaved-all-her-hair-off nadir, but also several months pregnant. I told Britney's American publicist, a woman entirely devoid of humour and likely any trace of empathy or pity too, that we meant to shoot a head-and-shoulders portrait of her client, which indeed we did. However, Britney herself had other ideas. Arriving unaccompanied on the day of our New York session, she proceeded to strip down to a bikini and instructed our photographer to "shoot the bump." Naturally, he obliged and that being the single most striking shot of the day, I duly decided to put it on one of our covers. Which was when all hell broke loose.

It transpired that Team Britney had also arranged for her to do a glamour shoot with an American women's glossy just as soon as she gave birth, and presumably had been lipo-suctioned back into pop goddess shape. The better to mask the fact that the teenager who first minx-ed into the global consciousness as a schoolgirl Lolita was now a mother of two with a propensity for calamity. Since our cover was an unexpected, unwanted impediment to this grand illusion, war was immediately declared to try and stop it from ever seeing the light of day and with me in the firing line.

In the first instance, the aforesaid publicist sent an indignant email, threatening me with the full force of the law and sundry other forms of damnation should I attempt to press ahead with publication, and in spite of her having no legal ground whatsoever to stand upon. I ignored her, and so next she phoned me at the office and shouted at me for what seemed like most of a day.

At one point, she brayed, "Are you even, like, aware of how much damage you are going to do to the Britney brand here?" Gently as I could, I pointed out that Britney had very recently been photographed driving away from a beauty salon and having neglected to remove her baby-in-a-carry-cot from the roof of her car. It was questionable, I suggested, whether it would be at all possible for anyone, or anything to visit further harm upon Spears Inc. She did not see the funny side. Rather, she went off and enlisted the services of a fellow, but even more ice-blooded publicist well-known for helping A-list Hollywood actors trouble-shoot their way out of self-inflicted tight spots.

This borderline maniac, let us call her Kathleen, since that is her name, phoned me over the ensuing weekend and with the solitary tactic of shouting at me for longer, louder and with even greater menace than her colleague. As I was at that very moment pushing a shopping trolley around a Waitrose and more concerned with having to choose between the many varieties of canned chickpeas on offer, the effect of her ravings was somewhat lost on me. Inevitably and like our storms up here, the whole affair eventually blew itself out. Britney and bump went on and graced our cover and I never again heard from my two new friends.

Inadvertently crossing Chris Martin left me with a rather more lasting impression. This happened at the Q Awards of 2010. Coldplay had scooped up a handful of golden Qs, the ceremony itself had zipped by like a well-oiled machine, and there we all were in the plush ante-room of a posh West End hotel doubled up for the day as our photo studio. Martin, the consummate politician, was gaily pressing the flesh of well-wishers and assorted other music biz folk, and at the same time as having his picture taken for the magazine and holding a conversation with me.

Earlier that afternoon and during one of his acceptance speeches, he had brazenly come on to Kylie Minogue, also in attendance. In the joshing spirit of the day, I chided him about this, pointing out that as his words had been dutifully recorded for our website, his then-wife Gwyneth (this was pre- their 'conscious uncoupling') was bound to find out about his transgression.

"Ah, we have an agreement," he replied airily. "I get a pass for Kylie."

In retrospect, it would have been much better for me to have let this go. I was, though, giddy from the success of the event and fortified by a lunchtime beer or three. So, I offered the rejoinder that I hoped he had made much the same concession to the fragrant Gwynnie and mentally scrambled for an appropriate figure of male perfection to offer up by way of example. To that end, there were scores of celebrity beefcakes and/or brain-boxes I could have alighted upon, your Clooneys and your Goslings and anyone else who had not at one time been engaged-to-marry Gwyneth Paltrow.

But no, the name that I spoke was Brad Pitt's, Mr Paltrow to-be before love's light dimmed for the couple and Martin entered the picture. I didn't meant to. To make matters still worse, I realised the enormity of my error even before I had finished speaking and so trailed off, guiltily and like a headlong car crash taking place in slow-motion: "Brad Pi...iiittttt." Before that last muffled 't' was out, Martin's face had darkened, his eyes narrowing to slits. Momentarily, and in spite of myself, I marveled at how the man who warbled Yellow with all the oomph of a trainee geography teacher had made himself appear so threatening. "You complete and utter... fucker," he exhaled, perhaps not unreasonably. And then he hit me. It was a quick, jabbing blow to the solar plexus and carried with it a surprising deadening effect. Enough anyway to make me audibly gasp.

With that, he recovered himself, returning to his default unruffled state, smiling again and able to pass the whole thing off as a bit of lighthearted fun between international rock star and blundering oaf. Nevertheless, I rather suspect he would have enjoyed the spectacle of me falling on my arse in a puddle, seeing it as a kind of karmic intervention or some such and who could blame him? Doubtless, I am at times a very foolish man.

That much will assuredly be made clear to me time and again over the days that remain of this second Skye winter, and as I am being made snow-blind, wind-blasted or otherwise inconvenienced by the ruthlessness of our weather. The trade-off will be in beholding the wild wonder of it all; the might of the forces unleashed and the soothing lulls that follow. A brilliant morning sunset streaking the sky pink, or the moon rising in a clear night sky of starry translucence. Seeing the aurora shimmer on a pre-dawn horizon, and as one might imagine magic caught in a bottle to look. Or the marvel of sensing one season passing into another and of the wounded land beginning to heal and rejuvenate.

The glories of all that are surely worth a punch off Chris Martin, or anyone else for that matter.

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:

Bob Dylan - Shelter from the Storm

Brilliantly ravaged and windswept, you say...

Saturday, 23 December 2017

I Won't Back Down

Yes, yes - I know I said after the last one that I wouldn't be doing any more of these. So easily am I swayed when it comes to such things, it took just a couple of people to say, 'Actually, I was quite enjoying reading the blog,' both deeply appreciated nevertheless, and a few additional views for the supposed parting shot, for me to be convinced to carry on, carrying on.

In other respects I am nothing like as susceptible to turning, and not necessarily for the better. This much was made glaringly apparent to me last weekend. It was the occasion of Skye's second annual Santa Fun Run and also marked the almost-end of our first full year on the island. The former event sends a couple of hundred-plus souls dashing - or alternately huffing and puffing - up and down a two-mile course around our capital village in Santa outfits for a good charitable cause and imbued with both festive and community spirit. It is hugely enjoyable and the clue of it is in the title - 'Fun Run'.

That last bit escaped me altogether at 2016's inaugural running. As most people trotted gaily together in loose groups of families and friends, I charged, red-faced, to the near-front of the field, mentally at  least face-palming several young children and a pensioner out of my path. Whilst others were exchanging banter about their Christmas plans, the weather and, quite conceivably, who the fearful berk was who had just sprinted by, I was, well, being a fearful berk. I came in eighth and felt shamefully triumphant about it, even in spite of the fact a nine-year-old boy had comfortably, even disdainfully held off my crazed lunge for the finishing line.

This year, I resolved, would be different. For one thing, we know more far people about the place now, which I reasoned would mean that I too could this time gab the Santa Run away and not be compelled to go off like a lone twerp. For another, immediately after my 2017 'triumph', I could have sworn I was the recipient of several disapproving looks in the local Co-Op and one of which was from a man of the cloth. I supposed that it may just be God's will that I suppress my near-psychotic competitive edge, at least when in Yuletide costume.

Unfortunately, things started to go very wrong for me from the moment the Skye Pipe Band struck up a typically rousing tune with which to march we two-hundred and forty-six runners to the start line in Portree's Somerled Square. I'll get my excuse in early. Our eldest, Tom, challenged me to a race. More accurately, he had, in so many words, suggested that I was a near-decrepit has-been. A more rational, less neurotic and, well, better parent would have smiled this taunting off and let the wee scamp/mouthy git scurry off into the far distance, secure in the knowledge that a generational baton had been passed on to him. I, though, am not that parent.

Oh, I didn't mean to beat Tom (and tragically, I had no doubt that beat him I would). No, I schemed to run the race tight on his shoulder, give him the sense of being in the heat of a battle, and than at the crucial last moment, the sprint for the line, let him nose ahead - only just, mind you - and claim victory. Not once did it occur to me that in the process of carrying out this - as-it-turned-out - delusional plan, I might again appear to others as someone taking the whole thing all too seriously.

Especially so since sticking to Tom like glue required me to be right with him from the start line, and he took up station at the very front of the pack. I must tell you now, there is no dignity to be had from pushing by, or else shoving to one side many packs of small children to get to the head of the queue in a Santa Fun Run. Even worse, pictorial evidence of my ultimate progress exists in cold, harsh print. This Thursday gone and prominently, the local paper, the West Highland Free Press, ran a photo of all of us Santa's readying for the off. Among lines of beaming cherubs, there was I, a solitary, overgrown fool with a beard and a half-mad glint in his eye.

I was not even pulled up by having an actual Santa, fat, jolly, fully bearded and clanging a bell, summon us to our marks and fire us on our way. Not at all, since I streaked from out of the blocks, audibly tutting at a toddler who had the temerity to get under my feet, and up the steep-ish climb that begins the race. In my own mind I was proceeding like a projectile fired from a cannon. In reality, I was soon wheezing and sweating. In my worryingly blurry vision, there was Tom, dancing ahead of me and growing steadily more distant.

As it happened, there he stayed, many yards beyond me and maintaining a quick, even pace without visible effort, whilst I reared unsteadily on like a rabid pit-pony and always in his arrears. Worse, it was only at the halfway point and as I was able to look back down on the rest of the field, that it occurred to me that I was the one adult who was making anything like such an effort. I would like to say that it was then that I came to my senses and eased off, having been granted the merest soupcon of wisdom, but instead I set off again downhill as if someone were cattle-prodding me along.

The personal nadir of the whole experience came some time later and after the run, as everyone was gathered about the square, drinking hot chocolate and eating mince pies. Loudly, an amplified voice hailed: "Will Paul Rees report to the Christmas tree to collect his prize." Right then, I would have preferred to be anywhere and doing anything else.

Almost as penance, and well, tugged along by young Charlie and his friend (both of them grinning maliciously), I was transported to the aforesaid tree, whereupon it was announced to all and sundry that I had 'won' the adult race (there was no rejoinder about there being precisely no competition for this prize, or even that several lads yet to reach teenager-dom had given me a good spanking in the overall scheme of things). Rather, I was handed a big box of chocolates - Heroes, entirely inaptly - and made to stand for a photograph with the two of my fellow victors who had also bothered to show for the ceremony - the seven-year-old winner of the girls' race and a stout, elderly gentleman who had walked the course for Cancer Research.

The winners of the boys' and women's races had already gone home by then, possibly not wanting to have any further association with me and for fear it would somehow contaminate them socially. At all events, doubtless not a scrap of the smattering of applause that accompanied the prize-giving was directed at me. At least not judging from the battery of scornful stares being aimed at me from among those watching on, and that's just to mention my wife, children and a couple of others who until the events of that morning had been friends of mine. Wishfully, I am now again imagining that next year will be different, and while as well knowing not-so deep down that it won't. If a half-century of being me has taught me anything it is that I am a man of rigid, eternal habit.

Another Christmas still stands out for me. This was in 1994 and when I was invited to have Christmas dinner round at Ozzy Osbourne's house. Rock’s enduring wild man was just then emerging from self-imposed retirement and his return to action had been marked in America by the launch of his official website. At that time this was still a new-fangled concept and Ozzy’s wife and manager, Sharon, had arranged for the first twenty American fans to log onto the site to be transported across the Atlantic and whisked to rural Berkshire to meet with their hero at the couple’s rambling estate.

The formidable Sharon had hired a fleet of caterers to serve turkey and trimmings in a candle-lit dining room otherwise adorned with a towering Christmas tree. I was dispatched by Kerrang! magazine to document the festive tidings, but arrived to find Ozzy in mutinous mood. I had met Ozzy on several previous occasions and was re-introduced to him now by Sharon, once he had stopped rampaging up and down their baronial staircase like a caged animal. Though within ten minutes he had convinced himself I was a cocktail waiter and loudly demanded that I be put to work. “Ignore him,” Sharon soothed me, adding as if to explain all of her husband’s actions: “He’s a daft old sod.”

A series of comical episodes ensued just as soon as the over-enthusiastic Americans pitched up, gaggles of them roaming the house in search of souvenirs and Ozzy stomping off after them. “Sharon!” his Brummie-accented voice boomed from a far-flung wing of the house at one point. “Someone’s nicked the bog roll.” 

Dinner itself passed without undue incident, and once Sharon had shepherded her light-fingered guests off the premises, I joined Ozzy in the library for our agreed interview. Skittish at the best of times, Ozzy set off at once on a rambling and wholly libelous discourse intending to ‘out’ a score of his fellow rock stars as gay. I asked him instead what he did for a hobby. At this his eyes widened and he leaped from the sofa. “A fan of mine is a Colonel in the US Marines,” Ozzy enthused and with added expletives, throwing open a cupboard, “and he gave me these.” These being two pairs of infra-red, night-vision goggles.

And so it came to pass that on a frigid December’s midnight, Ozzy and I embarked upon a stroll around the verdant hills and woodland encircling his home, he wearing nothing but a T-shirt and jogging bottoms and me tramping and stumbling in his wake. In the inky blackness, we viewed each other in a luminous green glow. A downpour had turned the ground underfoot into thick, viscous bog and I suggested we might incur Sharon’s wrath by trailing mud across her carpets. “Bollocks to that,” Ozzy trumpeted for he had a mission in mind. He meant for us to seek out and count his recently acquired herd of Fallow Deer.

The deer remained entirely elusive for the hour that we fumbled about in the dark. Eventually, Ozzy shrugged and concluded in a baleful voice: “Fuck ‘em, let’s go home.” He, at least, knew when he was beaten.

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:

Brian Fallon - If Your Prayers Don't Get to Heaven

If Bruce Springsteen were thirty years younger and heavily tattooed...

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Thinking of a Place

This week I entered my fifties. I would like to say that I did so with grace, dignity and in the grip of a boundless sense of optimism, born of the belief that age is but a number. Except in reality I began the day attempting to run seven-and-a-half miles into a gale whilst wearing Lycra, next listened to some Therapy? (very apt that), drank half a bottle of wine, and afterwards sunk into a kind of maudlin trance during which the only words I seemed able to speak were 'all', 'go', 'where', 'did' and 'it', often as not in that precise order. The members of my family may well have been temporarily concerned for my mental well-being - but if so they each of them hid it well by either taking care of the rest of that bottle (one party), or else scoffing great slabs of my birthday cake (the other two), and then running about the house shrieking "Old Smurf" and laughing hysterically (all three).

Determining that Adam Ant was spouting a load of old bollocks when he maintained "ridicule is nothing to be scared of," I shuffled outside to escape this torment and skulked into the night. The intense blackness that is usual up here at this time of year suited me very well. However, it was my blessing that it was as well a frigidly cold evening and so the sky was entirely clear of cloud.

This being a 'dark sky' area, when I looked upwards I was able to regard a dazzling spectacle of stars and other celestial bodies (Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Mars were all distinguishable even to my untrained eye). The entrancing opaqueness of the Milky Way was clearly apparent. Out of the murk and under the starlight, I could also make out the sheerness of the hills and mountains round about, a slightly inkier shade of black. Altogether it was magical and enough by far to stop this self-pitying grump in his tracks, metaphorically shake him by the collar and sonorously intone something along the lines of: 'Good Lord man, behold your world!' Though that might have been as a result of the wine.

At all events, I'm over turning fifty and ostensibly because I'll soon enough be over full stop, so better by far to revel in the act of simply being. And more particularly being here, up on 'our' hill, overlooking 'our' loch, on 'our' island and in our home. To appreciate the grand wonders: the first dusting of snow on the Cuillins' peaks; the snake-shapes the sea water is made into by a strong wind; dawn's light dancing down to us from over the hillside; our daily visits by deer, fox, eagle, owl, and a female Hen Harrier that swoops by the front of the house as if on display. All such moments make the heart and soul skip and sing.

Equally so the smaller wonders: the trickle of people who until that precise moment were complete strangers and that have knocked on our door and welcomed us to the area; the fact that we never bother to lock up the house, or car anymore, because there is no need for us to do so; the boundless cheer with which our postman bursts through that same door each afternoon; and, since that's quite enough door action, the so-far inexhaustible sense of disbelief that comes with driving down the track that leads to the house and, at the bend, gasping at the fact that the building is even there at all.

All that being the case and after more than a year of sending out these scattershot missives from the island, now is as good a time as any for me to stop waffling on about our place and simply be in it. This then is the last of these reveries and as such I don't feel obliged to find an excuse for segueing into an otherwise shameless bout of name-dropping...

Truly, though, I did find myself the other day attempting to match up experiences from my old life to that of walking down to our local beach, carefully prising razor clams from out of the sand, and cooking and eating them that very afternoon, as we did just the other Sunday. Two especially sprung to mind and since both entailed me meeting... 'heroes' is the wrong word; 'artists I hold in the very highest esteem' perhaps more accurate, but a crap way of expressing as much... Anyway...

The first encounter was with the essential two-fifths of the Rolling Stones. The occasion was a photo shoot for an anniversary issue of Q and the venue an opulent suite at London's swish Mandarin Oriental Hotel off Hyde Park. The subject was Keith Richards. I went along purely to be able to be in the same room as Mr Rock-and-Roll incarnate. Brilliantly and completely unexpectedly, Keef brought along with him for company one Charlie Watts.

What an afternoon that was. Keef, as one would have hoped, arrived looking like he had stepped from off the deck of a pirate ship; his hair made to rattle by all the metal trinkets he had bound up in it, eyes a-twinkle, a laugh like a wheezing gas pipe. He proceeded to drink most of a bottle of vodka from a pint glass. He did apply a measure of pineapple juice, but barely enough to merit a mention. When he was done with the magazine's business, I had my picture taken with him. He threw an arm around my shoulder, cackled something in my ear that sounded like it might have been hilarious, and for sure doubled Keef up, but alas was completely unintelligible to me. And then he was gone from the room, like an apparition, off to wreak his very Keef-ness on some other fortunate.

Charlie was even better. Immaculately groomed and the perfect gentleman, he took himself off to an armchair in a corner of the room, and there sat cross-legged, quietly regarding his band-mate of many, many years with a kind of affectionate amusement. I went and sat with him for an hour or so and he couldn't have been more attentive. He spoke of his love of jazz and the horses he kept, but also asked me about my life - where I lived, did I have children? - and actually appeared to be interested in my answers, to which I was utterly unaccustomed after by then twenty-plus years of interacting with rock stars.

Even still, right up to the moment Richards' manager Jane Rose arrived on the scene and as the afternoon was drawing to a close, I assumed he was merely being professionally courteous. "You've introduced yourself to the magazine's editor I see," Rose chided Charlie as she came over to join us, and at which his eyes widened and he spasmodically uncrossed his legs. "I'm dreadfully sorry," Charlie gasped, thrusting out a hand for me to shake. "I just assumed they had sent you up from downstairs to empty the ashtrays and clean the room."

For my part, I wasn't at all taken aback. I had long ago accepted as fact that I wasn't built or able to sweep through the Corridors of Rock as if I belonged. A decade earlier and on my first encounter with U2, I had been bid by their PR to troop unaccompanied into their Dublin studio and introduce myself to Bono and the Edge, the pair of them still overdubbing onto tracks meant for their How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb album. Gingerly, I poked my head round the door and to find the two of them sprawled on an old leather couch, Edge strumming a guitar, Bono singing into a hand-held mic. Bono looked up and motioned for me to come sit beside him.

There I tried - and surely failed - to casually recline for the next twenty minutes and all the while the pair of them sang and played. When Bono at last spoke to me, he said this: "Did you leave them upstairs?" "The others?" I replied, somewhat flustered. "Yes. Yes, I did." "No," he pressed on patiently. "I meant the pizzas." Oh yes indeed, he had mistaken me for the lad from the Domino's round the corner and there ensued much merriment at my expense.

The second meeting I have so recently recalled was with Bruce Springsteen and occurred in 2009, just a few weeks before he headlined the Glastonbury Festival. I had spent a significant portion of my seven-year editorship of Q to that point attempting to coax the Boss into speaking to the magazine, a task that required dogged persistence since he didn't do sit-down print interviews all that often and only with a select few publications. Over that period and on this quest, I had trailed him, and his gate-keepers from London to Frankfurt to Milan. Not that this was a remotely selfless act. Fact was, I just wanted to interview Springsteen for myself and more than I did anyone else.

Eventually, all that buttering up paid off and I was flown to Houston, Texas to witness Springsteen and the E Street Band tear up the local arena. The plan was for me to then take a commercial flight up to Denver, where I would see the next barnstorming show on the tour and before which I was promised a half-hour interview with Springsteen in his dressing room. Like all such best-laid's, things didn't quite work out that way and much for the better.

What actually happened was that Springsteen invited Q's photographer and me to join him and his band on the private jet piloting them up to Colorado. In and of itself, that journey was for me pinch-yourself-remarkable. As we flew over the great expanse of the American heartland, various members of the E Street Band dropped by our table (made of chestnut since you ask, and surrounded by plunge-pool-deep leather seats) to bid us welcome. First, the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, suitably larger than life, and next  'Little' Steven Van Zandt, as funny and foul-mouthed as Silvio Dante, the strip club-owning mobster character he played so expertly in The Sorpranos. Finally, Springsteen himself sauntered up the aisle and to regale us with tales from the earliest days of the E Street Band and when they would travel America by rickety old bus.

I did grab thirty minutes with him in his dressing room that evening and he couldn't have been more gracious. When we were done, Barbara Carr from his management company pulled me to one side. "Bruce doesn't feel that he's been able to give you enough time," she told me solemnly. "Right after the show, he and Patti are flying home to New Jersey for the Easter holiday while the band are going on to LA. Bruce is taking the jet. If it's OK with you, he would like for you to join him and he can talk some more with you on the flight." I didn't even attempt to suggest that I might have give this offer some consideration. I may even have let out an audible squeak.

So there we went again, Bruce and I (and apart from his wife, his personal assistant and two or three others, it really was just  Bruce and I), flying private class into the boundless dark of an American night, as Springsteen himself might have put it. We talked some more, sat side by side in the middle of the plane, and about which I can't much remember. Later, when he had returned to sit with Patti and I assumed gone off to sleep, since it was two in the morning, and as I was looking down on the lights of Chicago thousands of feet below, I felt a bump in the seat next to me. I turned to find him beaming at me, a pair of reading glasses perched on the end of his nose.

"Thought you might like to see what I have on my iPod," he said. He spent the next hour or so flicking me through the machine's contents, which he had arranged by musical genre. As one would anticipate, he had a library of American singer-songwriters that ran from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan and up to Ryan Adams, but also a vast selection of 'punk rock' (as he filed it). He told me that his youngest son took him out to club shows in New Jersey and how he would stand at the back of the room watching Gaslight Anthem, Bad Religion and sundry others do their thing. Admirably, he had remained a fan heart and just as it was with Keef and Charlie, I couldn't imagine I would ever again feel more like I had been whisked off and deposited in a kind of dreamland.

Until now. Now, I feel that way every morning that I am lucky enough to wake; every time that I look out of the window; and every night that I'm lying in the dark and listening to the deafening silence.

And so, with heartfelt thanks and much appreciation to all of you who have read and troubled to respond to these half-cocked waxings of mine over the last year or so, I will here take your leave and head on back to living in this moment and the ones to come...

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:

Joshua James - Broken Tongue

The song currently sound-tracking our mornings, and he lives up a remote hillside too.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

A Sort of Homecoming

It is a mid-Saturday afternoon on Skye as I write. The wind is chasing a bank of white clouds across a watery blue sky and the shades of green and grey radiating from the craggy peaks in the near-distance are vivid beneath a lemon coloured sun. Such is the view from my new office window. A short walk down the corridor and turn right, and there is a still more dramatic vista through the expanse of glass that fronts our open-plan living room and this one of rugged heath, deep blue sea and way over yonder the mighty elevations of the Trotternish Ridge. An occasional car labours up the single-track ribbon road that we look down upon, but we are just as likely to see plunging gannets, a soaring sea eagle or an inquisitive red deer, such as the young doe that crossed our car's path yesterday morning.

Exactly one week ago, we moved at last into our island home. Altogether, it took us a month over four years to complete our journey from chocolate box English village to here. Try as I might, I still haven't found the words to adequately convey the overwhelming force of emotions that last weekend brought about. Among this battery, though, there was what I can only describe as a kind of euphoric disbelief. Not only that we had reached a point I had hardly even dared to dream of, but that a fully-formed house - a home - was now perched on the hilltop plot that until two months ago had been a half-acre of scrub, dirt and rock.

The depth of that feeling has gone on growing all through this week. As I've woken to roaring winds and with the sunrise, the dawn sky over the ocean pinkish and pregnant. And then again enjoyed long, lazy evenings listening to music and being struck time and again by how the ever-changing light here constantly reveals wonders and secrets over the land, and so that no scene ever looks precisely the same from one hour to the next. This much is endlessly transfixing, magical seeming, and even more so now that every last box is unpacked and there is no piece of tat left for me to haul up into the loft.

Also, it must be said that the last few weeks for the four of us, and as a net result of all of the above, have been very strange indeed. Now, I can do common or garden surreal. Indeed, for the longest time it was my business to be and operate in such a state. Why, and in no particular order of outright oddness, I have at one time or other done all of the following:

1/ Paraded on stage before several thousand young Japanese dressed up as a pink teapot. This was the doing of the all-too-briefly pop-tastic Mika. Touring the Far East in what now appears to be the final flush of his fame, young Mika put on a splendidly camp show that was one part acid trip to two parts Mad Hatter's tea party, and which incorporated the intermittent appearance of various costumed extras who got to cavort around a stage-set done up to be like a giant doll's house.

For a handful of diverting days, I trailed this merry spectacle from Hong Kong to Seoul and finally to Tokyo, where it was that Mika, scamp that he was, determined that I should join in the fun. So it was that at a certain point in the show, I was hauled off to the wings, had the papier-mache teapot pulled down over my head, shoulders and to my knees and was shoved out into the spotlight. Whereupon I immediately knocked over a keyboard stand and nearly impaled a shocked female backing singer on my spout. In my defence, one could barely see out of any of the costumes, though no-one else wreaked quite so much havoc as I.

2/ Undertaken an epic, sphincter-tightening fourteen-hour flight from the South of France to somewhere nearby Luton through a howling storm and in a six-seater light aircraft piloted by none other than Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson. The self-proclaimed 'Air Raid Siren' has long fancied himself a bit of a boys' own adventurer in the guise of a heavy metal Biggles, so relished the idea of taking off his eggshell-fragile aircraft into the teeth of a furious gale and the dead of night. I, on the other hand, have a pronounced fear of flying that renders me a gibbering wreck and would rather have been anywhere, doing anything but putting my life in the especially hairy one's hands. But then, I had next to no choice in the matter.

"If you want a bloody interview with him, you'll have to go with him on his bloody plane," Dickinson's manager Rod Smallwood, a formidable Yorkshireman, had told me hours earlier, and back when I was still watching a solo Dickinson attempt to entertain several thousand bikers at a festival staged at an ugly race-track a few miles outside of Marseilles. The measure of his success in this matter was that at the midpoint of his set, the crowd parted so as to let through a hulking, bearded gentleman with a hessian sack slung over his shoulder and who was intent on marching up to the very front of the stage. It soon transpired that the sack was filled with potatoes and our fearsome-looking friend proceeded to throw them, one after another and with unerring accuracy, at Dickinson once he had reached his preferred vantage point and for the next thirty minutes or so.

Smallwood serenaded me onto Dickinson's Cessna with a verse or two of Buddy Holly's That'll Be the Day, a malicious glint in his eyes, as well he might since he was catching a British Airways charter home. Whereas we, which is to say Dickinson, his co-pilot, a photographer from the News of the World so inebriated that he could have cared less and I, spent far too long in each other's company being bucked and buffeted like a barrel in a white water rapid. "If you happen to see ice forming on either of the wings or spot a bigger plane coming our way, don't assume I've noticed and do shout," Dickinson advised me as we reared over the Channel. I was so traumatised by then that I could only squeak a reply. Eventually, gloriously, we landed at a small airfield in rural Hertfordshire and with all the grace of a fridge being tipped off a cliff, and after which I had to listen to Dickinson ramble on about his hopelessly unfunny Lord Iffy Boatrace 'comic' novels for what seemed like several weeks.

And 3/ During the course of twenty entirely memorable minutes had Britt Ekland swear at me and  my testicles crushed as if in a vice by Marilyn Manson. The occasion for this unique two-hander was the annual Kerrang! magazine awards, which were typically the scene of decadence and depravity (for just one tawdry example, at the event the year before this one I - and a few hundred others - watched the three members of Green Day lasciviously pass between them a female dwarf).

That year, we had enlisted the erstwhile Swedish sex kitten as our surprise guest of honour and for the purpose of presenting Manson, then styling himself the 'God of Fuck', with the evening's principal trophy. Things didn't quite go according to plan, but then they never did. As La Ekland tottered stage-wards in skyscraper heels, she slipped on off all things a carelessly discarded slice of lemon and tumbled to the floor in an undignified heap. Several pierced and tattooed gentlemen rushed to her aid, and she was carried up on to the stage like an injured queen.

As magazine Editor, it fell to me to meet her there. I had procured for her a chair, and as she was sat in it, I leaned over and, gallantly I thought, asked her how she was feeling and whether or not there was anything else I could do to help. I wasn't to know that the mishap had, in fact, resulted in a broken ankle. For a beat, the one-time Bond girl gazed up at me with the blinking eyes of a wounded rabbit. Then a sneer curled at her unnaturally big lips and she snarled back at me: "Oh, fuck off."

Britt recovered her poise enough to hand Manson his gong, a golden 'K', but since she was by then weeping with pain, I was detailed to accompany him to the media room and to pose with him before a scrum of photographers. The two of us lined up shoulder to shoulder before this mob and Manson whispered to me, "Say cheese, motherfucker." At which point, he reached a bony arm down between my legs, sunk the long, sharpened-to-a-point fingernails of one hand into my scrotum and squeezed so tight my eyes watered like a burst dam. No-one laughed more than I when his next album flopped.

Yet for all that, nothing has made me reel inside quite so much as sitting down to watch our house go up in one day for a second time and on prime-time ITV1. Not that in total 'our' episode of Robson Green's Coastal Lives didn't make Skye look ravishing, or living here seem such a boundless adventure and with a plethora of fascinating, funny and wholly inspiring folk to happen across, but good Lord, it's discombobulating to see precisely how it is that you look and act at the very moment that the biggest thing you have imagined becomes reality.

In the case of the rest of the family, this was with a level of delight that was entirely appropriate, but not embarrassing. However, I didn't so much cross over that line, as bound beyond it at full pelt and with a stupid, slack-jawed expression on my face. For who knows what reason, I greeted the raising of the house walls with a ridiculous, fit-like dance, hopping from one foot to the other in rapid succession and as if I were being subjected to a series of violent electric shocks.

This whole routine lasted only a split second, but enough to make me recoil into the sofa in abject horror, accentuated by my untamed onscreen appearance which made me think of nothing quite so much as Santa Claus on hunger strike. Truly, it was awful to behold, and what's more the show's producers elected to repeat this same shot no less than three times throughout the course of the programme. Doubtless, they thought they had captured us in our most natural states and likely they had, but if only mine were not that of a berk.

All of this I shall very probably continue to ponder over the days and weeks ahead, and perhaps before too long will feel returned to a more normal state. For now, here in this incredible-seeming new home of ours, even time itself seems made of elastic, moments stretching out, the beat of the days appearing to me to be longer, the simplest of things - rain on the window, mist over open ground, dew on the grass - otherworldly and miraculous.

It is as if I, and we are seeing such things for the first time and with fresh eyes, or even beginning again, which I guess was the point all along.

This Week I Have Mostly Been Listening To:

Tom Waits - Ol' 55

The first song played in the new house and never sounded better or more evocative.