Vespa Vita

With a twist of the throttle, I was free. 

All thoughts were forgotten as soon as the wheels started turning. My mind was left to focus on the passing sounds and sights of my journey.

Each pop and gurgle of the engine revealed a part of the scooter’s personality. It was enjoying the sea air blowing around it and the roads warming its tyres. The scooter was a Vespa Primavera 125cc, 50th anniversary edition (or ‘anniversario’, as Vespa call it), commemorating 50 years since the Primavera was first released in 1968. Often people will give their Vespa’s a human name, but I am not one to over-romanticise a piece of machinery. I’ve had conversations with traditionalists who say that automatic scooters lack personality. This is simply untrue. Once the engine starts, the Vespa comes to life.

As soon as I saw it in the showroom amongst the navy, black and brown (yes, brown) scooters, the light blue pastel colour jumped out at me. It was electric and illuminated that section of the room, and much to my dismay, having gone to the shop just for a look around, I left owning a Vespa. 

I made my way down Southend seafront, slowly pottering along and catching fleeting glimpses of the sea. I could have been anywhere.

My first stop was Old Leigh, what remains of the old fishing village in Leigh-on-Sea. The Vespa jolted rhythmically on the empty cobbled streets. In the height of a summer’s afternoon, the pubs and cockle-sheds which line the river are always heaving with customers. Today I was early, and there were only a few people out running or walking their dogs.

Recently, people have spotted seals by the marshland and mud-banks which jut out into the Thames Estuary. Apparently, the fishermen throw out their offcuts to them. I came to a stop and had a look, but there were none to be seen.

I spun around in the car-park by The Mayflower public house  and headed out of Old Leigh. 

The sun was out and a gentle breeze blew across the estuary as I returned to the seafront. As the afternoon was approaching, the streets were becoming busier and the air was getting warmer. I could smell the salt from the sea. The tide was slowly receding and children were making the most of the shallow water. 

I pulled into the motorcycle bay by Rossi’s. Rossi’s is the home of ice cream. It is a regional speciality and has been based in Essex since 1932. From the ice cream parlour, the original vanilla flavour is the one you must try, based on a traditional Italian recipe of fresh milk, double cream and butter. It’s still served scooped from the tin (avoid the soft-serve ice cream distributed from the machine).

I sat outside, with my 99, and looked at my scooter and the sun-soaked mud-flats behind it. This was the Vespa life.

The Music of Running

Sometimes you need a break from music. You need to clear your head and wait for something – an album, a concert, a song – to inspire you. At least, that’s how my mind works.

I was in one of these phases, waiting for inspiration, as I watched my wife lace up her shoes and go on another long run as part of her marathon training.

I hadn’t been for a run since October 2015. It was the Royal Parks Half Marathon. My knee blew up about a month before I headed for the start line, which meant I couldn’t run for the four weeks leading up to it. I stood there, waiting for the gun to go off, feeling ok. I’d rested my knee enough, I thought, to at least be able to run the race. Without training in the weeks prior to the race, I knew I wouldn’t get the best time I could achieve, but at least I would finish pain free.

The gun went off and I started running. My knee was ok. A hundred metres in, it was still fine. A hundred and fifty metres and a pain shot through my knee, an intense bomb of agony. Each step was a lesson in torture. I hobbled along and eventually made it to the finish line. After that, I vowed to hang up my running boots.

Two and a half years on, I missed the endorphin buzz. My knee was well and truly rested, so I decided to chuck on my shoes and head out for a couple of miles.

Of course, even having a week off of running makes the first one back a bit of a struggle. Surprisingly though, I felt good. Each run got a bit easier, as I nudged up the weekly mileage slowly, slowly.

I don’t run with headphones. I suppose this is for a couple of reasons: firstly, this is alone time, where I can clear my head. I like to be aware of what’s going on around me, too. I also want to hear the primal noise of running.

Breath in, step, step, step. Breath out, step, step.

The sound is hypnotic. With your heart racing, and the sound of air escaping your tired lungs, you literally feel life flowing through you.

Is there is anything else that can make you feel so alive?

Small Faces – Son of a Baker

I keep returning to this video, so thought I would share it here.

I think the reason that I keep repeating it is because of Steve Marriott’s performance.

The opening chords, how he strikes the guitar, his vocals on the refrain, his guitar solo. It’s magical.

The footage is taken from Colour Me Pop, recorded in 1968.

Here it is:

Lonnie Mack – The First Guitar Hero

The sound of the guitar hits you. It’s unlike anything you’ve heard before. After the song finishes, you skip back and start the track again from the beginning, listening to it several times over.

Lonnie Mack.

His name isn’t overly familiar these days, but if you have picked up a guitar within the past sixty years, you almost certainly would have been influenced by him, directly or not.

Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman and Keith Richards were all inspired by his innovative guitar playing. He was a virtuoso, of a type that the world had yet to see.

His guitar solos swirl. Nothing chains them down, nothing anchors them: the notes are buoyant, free to do their own thing.

Lonnie Mack. Perhaps the first ‘guitar hero’.

Wilko Johnson – Interview

Wilko Johnson. For any fan of Dr Feelgood, the name itself conjures up images of a crazed man pacing a stage slinging a guitar around.

His influence on British music and the punk movement is incalculable and it was a pleasure to sit with him and discuss his songwriting methodology, guitar playing technique and music in general.

Click here to read it