I even hid in a monastery to escape the sight of myself seen face-on, under spotlights - to escape the sound of myself revised and reinforced by an adoring choir.

How strange it was to sing my torch songs to millions on a Saturday night of stale bacon suppers, wedged between game shows and the latest black-and-white soccer action. No-one understood, least of all me, but I lent those evenings a semi-Bohemian momentum - a sense that excitement was in reach, for even the comfortable and the infirm, in a limitless and ecstatic decade.

Now I imbibe whisky after whisky, chasing songs through the drizzly streets of Notting Hill, a man that everybody wants to meet but nobody wants to hire. Pursued by my former self, an Apollo from whom clothing was torn in an ironic rendition of the legend of Marsyas. When I'm off my guard, I catch his face in the vinyl dumps of record stores, awaiting its reduction to the scale of a CD cover.

I hid in one monastery after another. Looking into the mirror is hard. Confronting the image of oneself, in the market-place of popular culture, is an existence of permanent embarrassment in the face of a being of rumour and myth that shares one's name.

So I've decided to audition for a final role, that of deus absconditus
. I won't be called back to the prime-time schedules - a BBC2 Arena special is all I can expect and that's a long way ahead, on the far side of several hundred gallons of Scotch. That way, I'll be as invisible as I can hope to become - more so, perhaps, than if I simply altered my name and face - in the best of all worlds, which combines the artistic freedom of non-recognition with a steady income from artistic success.

They might say that I came through
. I will wait for songs - or, at least, for cryptic words and compatible sonic textures - burying my head in the ellipses of the avant-garde.

You, invisible friend, could choose to celebrate my choice, my refusal to play the role of the aging pop-star. If you were really kind, you would leave a whisky bottle, filled with ice-cool spring water from the Vaucluse or Auvergne, outside the door of my flat.




Halfway across a difficult world, I was immersed in a strangeness that froze my journey. Peacock buildings bloomed and the sound of my busking died in a pigeon paperhouse. I ate a mixed fruit slice and gulped down coffee from a plastic cup as I paused - my sleepless eyes wedged open, my veins full of wasp-fur, I laid in wait for bankers and tourists.

And hunger stalked me from the shadows, as I lived on snacks and the beery air of the West. And hearing only moon, I sang to amuse the sun.

I was rescued by men in leather coats who took me to their castle, tuned up their instruments, positioned their tapes and encouraged me to sing whatever came into my throat. Suddenly, I was an Artist, freeing words from their cages for several hours at a time. I sent home records by registered post and received solicitous responses from my parents, in a language whose nuances I was beginning to unlearn.

Now, I order in German, sing in broken English and dream in Japanese and moon-speak. I still don't understand what I'm trying to express and this keeps me awake. I can't recall sleeping for at least five years and my lovers don't explain, irrational mistresses all with enormous hips. In this wealthy, rebuilt city of galleries and cake-shops, I intrude - a cloud-headed shaman - from a monstrous narrative, brought here by the Great God Dromomania.

And at the end of a world-long journey, even my flesh seems vivid and strange, as mad as the hair that mumbles into my eyes.

'Bring me coffee or tea' I say to the attentive groupie, feeding live fish in the carp-pond of my mouth. From now on, too, I'll be a stranger to myself - looking in, from the depths, at my diving-suited likeness. So green my face, as it struggles for breath but stays alive - my voice not mine, but something I fell into like a groove that encircles the earth. 

So beware, sad moon! I am singing myself to sleep, but it will take a lifetime.            




I walked through valleys of broken china. On either side, smashed cups and plates lay under the evening sky, white as a ransacked ossuary, in the Longport doldrums.

Villages, once blurred by smoke from beehives of brick, infested a tangled map. As I walked, the terraces appeared to shrink to my height.  Samosas and oatcakes slept in corner shops. Slag, grassed over, offered perspectives on a mottled geography - beyond, in stoat-grey hills, the moon lay in wait.

I proceeded from town to town, along charcoal canals and under motorways, past smashed-faced warehouses and drive-in restaurants, pursuing his ligatured ghost. His hollow eyes and body-jerk had already been conveyed to the sky in smoke, his music consigned to tribute and requiem.

I was twenty, full of unrequited lust and megalomania but a lively person to have around (no doubt). From the far south-west, I bore my accent like a sunhat into the glowering regions of (post-) industrial (post-) travail.

In the next ten years, I visited football ground after football ground - only the shape of the stands varied, it was all one game - pretending to be a homeboy when the home team scored, a benevolent neutral when they didn't. I sat in a hundred pubs with my old mate Chris, drank three or four pints of mild or bitter for lunch - at the afternoon's end, there were heroic messy journeys, on spontaneous trains with walk-on long-distance Cheap Day Returns, fortified by chips and the algebras of Green 'Uns and Pinks.

In the end, that collage of a mini-conurbation stands out. Not the home of my psychopomp, for that was (comparatively) well-heeled Macclesfield. Instead, when I recall the worked-out lands of my twenties I find myself most often in Cobridge, Burslem or Fenton - those Interzones of red brick and rust.

On my final visit to Vale Park, in 1988, the inevitable happened at last - after forty minutes, fog descended and at half-time it enveloped the ground. They even played 'Didn't We Have It All?' by Whitney Houston in an effort to repel it -but in vain. This is where it began to end... an experiment in assumed identity that sees me back here, in the sodden Hesperides, and the singer touched from a distance on celluloid.




A resumption of bells, heard through storm water. Out there, Holland-ward, in a stout-brown sea, to the right of the Sole Bay flotillas. And a dribble of bones, in a cliff-face permanent as talc.

After the lost day, the indifferent night. The church, slow-fallen from the sand rise, makes bass-profound music. At the same time, inland, the photographs of its skeleton fade, fall from another cliff with the bones of their decipherers.

A misty, ragged rain sets in and muffles the bells, turns water to pitch. The city sleeps and its memories, already long-illegible, are pawed from encrusted surfaces. To the north, the village with its single street bears the name that it slid from.

I envisage a hysterical Victorian poet with an oversized mane of auburn hair, pacing the cliff path long since crumbled, contemplating shingle and intoning lines of extravagant, redundant musicality. He exhausted himself and died, no more alive than the God he had arraigned or the burghers exhumed by the sea's claws.

The sun, once risen here, is as if on fire
to leave. And the sea forgets what it eats - fragments without price, unintelligible merchandise. It still encroaches, threatening the remains... the symbol of that which threatens the eyes.

All washed over, bells ground down to sand, forever lost and forgotten say the comforters, removing regrets and hopes. They pull the sea, like a blanket of night - no moon no stars - through the holes of our eyes, dislodging silver coins. The drowning men and the drowning city, ordained and damned, provide an answer to the Revenue's lanterns.    


          Norman Jope 2008