The time came, in October 1987, when Jeremy and I could find no further plausible way to extend our full-time education. So we had to undergo the great phase change. We had a few weeks 'off' to get our affairs in order, and, courtesy of Richie Benaud's old Triumph 2000, went down to Lyme Regis for a couple of days to do some talking, walking and thinking. We had to take it to a repair shop in Rousdon as soon as we arrived, but that car had a few miles left in it yet. I sent a postcard to Laurie Anderson, referring to the long stretch ahead as "prostituting ourselves".
The weather was miserable on the morning of our departure. Still, Jeremy had brought a kite and didn't want to take it home untried. The proprietor of the Rotherfield Guest House suggested a hill that we might try. It was north and east of the town — on our way home — and I have no way of being sure at this distance, but it could well have been Cockpit Hill. The mist and cloud hung so heavy around us that we couldn't extend the kite strings fully, because then we'd lose sight of the kite completely. One of us accidentally let go the strings at one point, and I remember chasing after them, looking up rather than ahead. Suddenly the ground gave way beneath my feet, as I plunged into the 10-foot ditch that had surrounded the old hill fort. That's what makes me think it was Cockpit Hill. I don't think we lost the kite, though.
I always think of that morning when I listen to Alan Watts Blues. "When I'm cloud hidden, whereabouts unknown." One detail I can't remember is whether I knew the song at the time we were hidden. The album had come out the month before. It's possible I owned the album but hadn't heard it — my CD player and I were 150 miles apart for most of that time. But if the song wasn't already a favourite in October '87, it soon became one. It was another fourteen years before I got the Alan Watts book from which Van took his refrain. I recommend that, too, for some wise observations about the magic of the impenetrable Latin mass in the Catholic church, as well as on the craft of calligraphy. A little less than a year later, Jeremy and I got cloud-hidden again, up one of the big peaks in the Lake District. I definitely knew the song by then, but I never make the same link with that occasion, which was the very opposite of a beatific, Dharma Bums-style hike.
I loved the whole album, the string arrangements, its flow, its balance. There are no real standout tracks — Alan Watts Blues comes closest — but no snorathon's, either. Yes, it's got that brittle mid-eighties sound from the early days of CDs, and I know you'll say Veedon Fleece and maybe others are stronger albums. Maybe you're right, technically, objectively. But I have an even bigger soft spot for Poetic Champions than for No Guru. In fact, I'm putting it in my Top 50 on account of the memories it holds.
I think Jeremy felt it was special, too. He was pissed off when, after he and K split, she went and… well, that's his story. One more memory of my own: Andy Kershaw playing a track from the album on his Radio 1 show and referring to a press review of the album. Accompanying the album cover was the caption, "When Irish eyes are smiling".
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