18 July 2023
Don't we all have special experiences, places, songs, books, poems that we hold dear and that we want to keep on experiencing?
The best song of recent months, without question, is Pink’s “Never gonna not dance again”.
It is an exultant celebration of the joy of dancing:
“One thing I’m never gonna do
Is give up my dancing shoes
Oh Lord don’t try me, really, not tonight
I’ll lay down and die, I’ll scream and I’ll cry…
I’m never gonna not dance again”.
It has the lot - a great hands in the air chorus, an infectious dance beat, a daring double negative and, yes, trumpets.
Whether or not you are a dancer, I dare you not to be moved to dance by this song.
And it started me thinking.
Don’t we all have special experiences, places, songs, books, poems that we hold dear and that we want to keep on experiencing for as long as we are spared? There is surely a Desert Island Discs paradigm here – Eight things we are never gonna not do again.
In the hope that you will forgive the indulgence, here are eight ideas.
I try to run in the early morning. I find that my mind alternates between hoping that the run will be over soon and ruminating on plans for the day. But the big bonus, on a crisp winter’s morning, is seeing the sun rise over the duck pond with the ducks sitting around the edge, at peace with the world. Here is London, in its splendour, waking to a new day.
There are few better experiences than driving along, ideally in a classic car, on a Sunday morning in Springtime and coming upon rolling fields of dazzling yellow. The bright colour announces renewal. I vividly remember coming over the brow of a hill some years ago and having my breath taken aways by the sudden sight of a carpet of yellow as far as the eye could see. I just had to stop and marvel.
For me, this is the best historical site in the UK. As the website says, it is a place where:
“medieval strength blends with 18th century eccentricity to create a landscape full of secrets, curiosities and breath-taking views”.
The ruins of the medieval Cistercian abbey offer high window arches, a long-vaulted room in amazing condition and numerous other buildings and grassed courtyards. As you walk around you can almost hear the monks hard at work. You then amble off into the Studley Royal Water Park which is a special array of lakes, canals and cascades punctuated by statues and miniature temple-like buildings. Two extraordinary moments in history.
The Cistercians always found the best spots. Go often.
I know that this is a big claim but if you have time to see just one thing in Florence, make it the Brancacci Chapel.
It is sometimes referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of the early renaissance” for its extraordinary painting cycle. Construction of the chapel was begun in 1422 and the frescoes were executed between 1425 and 1427. The painter Masolino was commissioned to do the work but he was called away part way through and his young associate Massaccio took over. Massaccio’s work is a revelation for its perspective and raw emotion.
His rendition of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, for example, is searingly realistic. The raw and uncompromising distress of the couple as they realise what they have done is unforgettable. Standing in the small chapel and marvelling at gorgeous work which is 600 years old is, well, humbling.
The London Underground system, Elizabeth Line aside, serves 272 stations and has 402km of track. It is the oldest underground railway system in the world, dating from 1863, but to my surprise is only the seventh longest system.
It may seem odd but I always get a kick out of riding the Tube and working out the fastest way between point A and point B, arbitraging the Circle Line and the Central Line. The Bakerloo Line in particular resonates. It has old rolling stock and feels a bit tatty but it reminds me of occasional trips to London as a boy. I always seek it out.
We are fortunate to have a 30 metre Edwardian swimming pool near our home and it is a rare treat to happen upon a moment when you are the only person there. You look across an expanse of shining water and set off to break the purity of the undisturbed surface. You have the (misguided) sense that you are a perfect swimmer, at one with the pool, and your mind wanders free. You emerge with ideas you did not have when you started.
The silent film star Annette Kellerman reflected on the benefits of swimming: “Swimming cultivates imagination” she observed.
This poem is the archetypal example of Victorian stoicism and is thought sanctimonious by some.
But I keep coming back to it because its messages remain both powerful and relevant:
“If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it”.
Three is the magic number and so everyone should surely be allowed three songs to never not listen to again. Mine would be:
“She’s leaving home” from Sergeant Pepper. This is a glorious tune and a poignant story about a daughter leaving home and parental loss:
“Father snores as his wife gets into her dressing gown
Picks up the letter that’s lying there
Standing alone at the top of the stairs
She breaks down and cries to her husband
Daddy, our baby’s gone”.
“Lily was here” by Candy Dulfer and Dave Stewart. This is an exquisite conversation between saxophone and guitar and a compelling performance – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5kKo2_2MzI
“Simply the best” by Tina Turner. This is an uplifting song which I’m sure we have all sung at the top of our lungs at midnight. Tina Turner redefined stage presence and electrified her audience https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An05IjJn2CY. She will be much missed.
Which brings us back to never not dancing again…
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