Sunday, March 02, 2008

Earthquakes, Snakes and Talking Birds – Welcome to Lincolnshire

As if the floods of June 2007 were not enough, the early hours of Wednesday 27th February 2008 brought further evidence to the actuaries ensconced in the ivory towers of insurance land that Lincolnshire is not a safe place to do business.

It was a little before 1 a.m. when our four-poster bed started to violently shake, accompanied by a loud, deep, roaring-rumbling noise. The effect lasted a mere ten seconds. However, it was sufficient to fully waken both my wife and I. To her startled exclamation of ‘what is happening’, I instantly replied ‘earthquake’. Not that I am an expert in such matters. I suppose it could have been a gas explosion, or an aeroplane crashing, or the oil refinery exploding (shades of Flixborough). Nonetheless, once you have experienced one earthquake, you tend to be tuned-in for life.

Peru was the background for my initiation into the delights of nocturnal earth-movings; six floors up in an hotel in Arequipa to be precise. The year was 2006 and my wife and I were touring Peru for a few weeks.

The vast cracks and undulating pavements should have been the clues to the fact that we were in an earthquake zone. However, stepping off a coach in the darkness of evening meant that such observations were going to wait until morning. Neither did we realise the significance of the little red signs advertising ‘Safe Zone’, liberally posted at intervals along the corridors. In retrospect one can smile at our naivety.

A deep rumbling, which grew progressively louder until it became a roaring noise, preceded the shaking of the bedroom floor and walls. My first reaction was to think ‘oh no, they have put us in a room next to the railway line’. (You can probably detect that I have stayed in a few suspect areas of London in my past life.) However, as the pictures started to swing at crazy angles, the fleeting thoughts of complaining to the management and seeking an alternative room evaporated into the more focused opinion that we were six floors up and so a railway outside the bedroom window was unlikely. This was an earthquake!

Meanwhile, my wife was in a bath with its own in-built tidal waves. Now, we do have a Jacuzzi at home but can never achieve such vigorous aquatic effects. Not surprisingly, she also twigged that all was not exactly as it should be and, needless to say, the bath was quickly vacated; as was the hotel.

That is to say, we vacated the hotel. Outside, life appeared to be going on as normal; as did the activities in the hotel restaurant; which was pretty much the response in our home town in Lincolnshire last Wednesday. One or two lights went on and a couple of neighbours wandered outside in their nightclothes, before all going back to bed. No sirens, no panic – just stiff-upper lip, British matter-of-factness. Even the conversations the following day were more about the weather than the largest earthquake to hit England in the past quarter-century. Neither did the news that the epicentre was in Market Rasen, a mere steeplechase away from us, do anything to raise the British pulse.

Nonetheless, pulses were raised last night. Earthquakes followed by snakes sounds quite biblical in character. However, this sighting was one to be relished. The encounter took place in Gainsborough, not far from Market Rasen (though that is where the connection with the earthquakes finishes). Snake Davis, the internationally famous, multi-talented saxophonist, slithered once again into that jazz-club of excellence, The Sands Venue, and, along with his band, delighted his audience with two hours of aural, spine-tingling, foot-tapping, eye-closing, mesmeric delight.

Recently returned from Japan, Snake’s latest album is titled Talking Bird (the title coming from a dream wherein a bird spoke to him). With forty-six minutes of soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, flutes and the hauntingly beautiful melodies played on the Shakuhachi (made of bamboo and similar in timbre to the Peruvian queena), disciples of this two-legged serpentine musician will only be disappointed by the fact that it will probably be at least a year before the next album appears.

This album was predominantly recorded in Japan; a country well-versed with the subject of earthquakes. Talking Bird, however, has no such turmoil. On the contrary, the tranquillity of traditional Japanese culture shines through. On the album cover, Snake says

‘...we all really hope that this music will make you close your eyes and drift off somewhere away from the crazy hectic lives we lead...’

All I can say is that, listening as I write, I am already in that ‘somewhere’. Welcome back, Snake. Bring on those earthquakes – I’m cool.

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