I’ve come across a number of things today and I’m going to try to tie them all together. There was a piece in The Guardian about cricket umpires. I’m reading a book called “Just A Shot Away – 1969” by Kris Needs. I also watched Episode 2 of “Little Fires Everywhere” on TV at lunchtime. Of course, it’s all about ME so this made me think of the counselling I had about 20 years ago.
The counselling sessions were very good and I’m not going to talk about anything that I said apart from this one thing which is to do with trying to be perfect. Before I started, I asked the woman who was counselling me (Alicia) how much the sessions cost and she gave me a most unsatisfactory reply. She told me to pay whatever I wanted to although most people paid between £25 and £35. This presented a dilemma for me. I thought it was quite a lot of money but I didn’t want to appear mean or to give the impression that I didn’t value the sessions. In the end I decided to pay £35 and as soon as I arrived at Alicia’s house I gave her a cheque. I thought that this would take the money out of the interaction. I didn’t want to have an unsettling hour and then only decide to pay £25. Getting the money out of the way would mean that I could focus on the healing and not the money. Of course, Alicia, who was very good, was very non-judgemental but she made several observations about me. And of course, I took all these observations personally, trying to ascertain if it meant I was mentally healthy or otherwise. Were these observations an indication that I was good or bad? After a few sessions, she made the observation that she felt that I wanted to appear to be the perfect client. I arrived exactly on time, I paid the full amount and I paid before the session started. I was a little taken aback that she would make such an observation because, being ridiculously over sensitive, I took this as a negative comment. I felt I was trying to do the right thing. It’s a bit like when I used to get into my classroom at 7:30 every morning, an hour before the lesson started, making sure everything was set up and organised before the students arrived. I may not have been the most charismatic teacher those students ever had but I did want them to think I was perfectly organised. Being perfect was something I aspire(d) to, not something that I feared.
In “Little Fires Everywhere” which has just appeared on Amazon Prime, Reese Witherspoon plays a character who has four teenage children. She is determined to do the right thing by them, her husband, the community and the African-American mother who moves into her neighborhood. It’s very good drama if a bit excruciating at times. Reese Witherspoon is trying too hard to be perfect and she says the wrong thing to everyone at one time or another. I think the audience is meant to think that she is too obsessed with being perfect but I admire the character. The bit I particularly liked in today’s episode was when she was getting her children’s lunches ready one morning and she packed the food into four differently coloured lunch bags and arranged them on the kitchen counter. As she did that, she lined them all up neatly. I really liked that. It looked perfect and reminded me of how I felt when I put students’ marked work on their desks along with today’s worksheet whilst writing a breakdown of how the lesson would proceed on the whiteboard.
In The Guardian this morning there was an article on cricket umpiring. One of the umpires, David Millns, recalled how he felt when he made a decision and it was overturned by TV replays. Potentially this is a humiliating moment for umpires as everybody in the crowd and all viewers can see he has made a mistake. This is what he said: “I walked over to my colleague at square-leg – Bangladeshi umpire Masadur Rahman – and he said: “I think we all missed that day at school – the day when they teach you to be perfect.” I thought that was a brilliant thing to keep in your head as an umpire. You can’t guess; you give what you see.” This is putting the concept of being perfect into perspective.
The leader of Colosseum was a drummer called Jon Hiseman. In the Kris Needs book I am reading, Jon Hiseman is quoted as saying “I consider the people in my band to be the best in the country on their instruments. Colosseum may never be a world shaking band, it may never be as big or as popular as many bands, but I believe this is the only band in England. Without being bigheaded I’ve got the only band in the country.” Brilliant! Jon Hiseman wanted the perfect band.
So all of this has got me to thinking about my efforts to be perfect. I make so many mistakes, I say the wrong thing or take the wrong decision so often that I think it’s a good thing to aspire to be perfect. To constantly be aware of the effect that I have on other people is a good thing. I never will be perfect and I shouldn’t beat myself up when I am not perfect but trying my best at all times is a good thing, not a bad thing. So I don’t regret arriving on time and paying the full amount up front in my counselling sessions. I can forgive cricket umpires when they make mistakes. I like the Reese Witherspoon character because she is trying her best even though she digs herself into deeper and deeper holes. And I love Jon Hiseman for having such faith in the musicians he assembled to make this great record.
Colosseum were a brilliant band when they made this record. I find most of their other work impenetrable but the songs on “Valentyne Suite” are great. Wikipedia describes this music as “jazz-rock” and I think that’s about right. It’s quite instructive to look at the background of the members of this group.
Jon Hiseman was the drummer and he had previously played with Arthur Brown, Graham Bond and John Mayall (in particular, playing on the classic “Bare Wires”).
Dave Greenslade played keyboards and he subsequently formed his own band, controversially called “Greenslade”.
Dick Heckstall-Smith played saxophone and he had previously played with Alexis Korner, Graham Bond and John Mayall.
James Litherland was guitarist and vocalist and went on to play with Mogul Thrash, Leo Sayer and John Baldry. He is the father of James Blake.
Tony Reeves played bass and had previously played with Sounds Orchestral (“Cast Your Fate To The Wind”). He subsequently played with Sandy Denny, John Martyn, Chris de Burgh, Curved Air and Greenslade.
There are two sides to this record. Obviously. The first side consists of four songs and the second side consists of one 17 minute song (in three parts) called “Valentyne Suite”. Here are selected parts of the review from “Prog Archives”.
The opening song is “The Kettle”, an incredibly positive, joyously-communicative song with James Litherland stealing the show both with his superb voice and his wild guitar wailings. In “Elegy” Dick Heckstall-Smith’s sax takes the centre-stage and the group is accompanied by a superb string section. The next track, “Butty’s Blues”, is a rather slow blues with an infectious organ groove and heavy brass section; James Litherland unleashes his heart onto an unsuspecting microphone. Although “Valentyne Suite” starts out a bit like Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a La Turc, it soon diverges from it as Dave Greeenslade’s delicious vibraphone descending lines reach directly into your heart, blocks the main vein and all you have to do is wait for the vibes to return before the strokes gets to you. But Dave is a gentleman and happily obliges some more life-saving orgasmic vibes lines. Needless to say that Jon Hiseman was playing along as if he was Elvin Jones. 30 years down the road this passage still nails me to the floor with tears of joy flowing out uncontrollably. The main Berstein-inspired theme then takes over again with Dave Greenslade now taking more liberties with the harmonies, while the track is only made possible by Jon Hiseman’s wild drumming. As the track is again calming down, James Litherland comes in along with the others for some superb angelic vocalizing superbly underlined by Dick Heckstall-Smith’s sax lines. The third part is letting more part to the guitar, but Greenslade is dominating the debate again, and there are some incredibly delightful exchanges between the two but Dick Heckstall-Smith is never far away either.”
Here’s what Jon Hismean said about the record in 2015. “Well, you know, I’m not the kind of person that listens to my own recordings. Once I finish it, sometimes I don’t hear it for many, many years. When we created it, we were not in a position to know what we had done. I don’t make judgments. If I decided that one album was terrible, I might not make another one. So, I don’t make judgments. We do everything to the best we can at the time and the moment the album is released, it’s a statement about that moment. But it’s not necessarily true for all times. It’s the audience makes it true. So, if the audience loves it, then it’s true. Only the audience can make the decision.” Maybe he has a healthier attitude towards perfectionism than he had in 1969.
It’s over 50 years since I bought this record (and 46 years since I mistakenly sold it – another imperfect decision) and Jon Hiseman’s aspirations for a perfect band, “the best in England”, seem to be perfectly realised. As for me, I’ll keep on making mistakes.