Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Balearic Beats That Motivate an Island

The following article first appeared in the online magazine Electric Mode (http://electric-mode.co.uk)

Ibiza has long remained an eclectic paradise that offers freedom in choice for global visitors and residents that have been drawn to the energy and ethos of the island. Every season our lives are soundtracked by a mix of amazing DJ’s setting the scene to enjoy everything from sunsets to afterparties. 


It was by unique chance we discovered Howard Hill, who is one of a relatively small group of DJs who continues to champion the original Balearic style of DJing in Ibiza. This sound and character led mix has become a distant memory for some, and was once hailed as the heartbeat of the island, led by prominent icons such as Cafe Del Mar, Jon Sa Trinxa and Cafe Mambo (before becoming a house music mecca). 


As a DJ, Howard takes listeners on a musical journey by encompassing a variety of genres and fluidly moving from chill out soundscapes to a modern electronica mix that has seen him grace venues such as Pikes, KM5, Harbour Club, Amante, ME Ibiza, Coco Beach, Es Vive Hotel and Atzaro. 


The Electric Mode team sat down with the Balearic DJ to find out what makes him tick, what motivated his move to the island and essentially why his musical choice has become an island staple.


EM: Retracing your steps back, how did you first become involved with the electronic scene?


HH: My adolescence was from the late sixties through to the seventies – a very rich musical period. On reflection I
have always had the rather obsessive, nerdish mentality that seems to be a major character trait of many DJ’s,
however at that time the career path of being a DJ didn’t really exist. My musical obsessions were with the psychedelic rock scene, everything by virtuoso musician and composer Frank Zappa and the endless filigree guitar solos of Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead.


Periodically I used to sit down with an old Roberts Radio and slowly turn the dial to see what new music I could find. Towards the end of the 80’s I began to stumble on some of the rather rough and ready pirate radio stations that seemed to be springing up across London. Eventually a friend of mine took me by the hand and said, “take this” and led me to “Rage” on Thursday nights at Heaven under the arches near Charing Cross station. I was an immediate enthusiastic convert!


Sometime around the mid 90’s I visited Ibiza and had a further revelation listening to my friend Jon Sa Trinxa playing
on Salinas beach. I immediately fell in love with the Balearic style of genre breaking DJing that took one on a music
journey. Although I didn’t immediately start DJing myself, when I did I knew that I too wanted to champion theBalearic ethos.


EM: What is Balearic?


HH: Balearic music is often used to describe a downtempo genre of dance music. However Balearic is also used to describe a style of DJing. How would I describe it? Well Balearic has a sunny complexion. It’s eclectic, all embracing. A friend of mine calls it kaleidoscopic. Yes some Balearic is lush, sweet and tranquil but too much tranquillity turns your brain to mush so for me it’s the light and shade. It can be dramatic and deep but essentially it has a positive tone. Sometimes Balearic makes you want to dance for joy at other times you just want to close your eyes and drift off. Sometimes Balearic is incredibly beautiful and it can also be very, very sexy.


EM: What inspires your sets or does the curation come from a very deep record collection?


HH: I do have a pretty deep record collection but most of it is in digital format so my home isn’t walled in with thousands of vinyl records. However, I do have a valve driven hifi system and feed it with my treasured collection of vinyl albums which is mainly pre dance music. 


In terms of inspiration for sets, it’s all about the people who are around me. In over 20 years of DJing I have never once arrived at a gig knowing what track I am going to play to start off, let alone what is going to follow. Of course I have favoured tracks of the moment but I might also abandon these if I think that something else would be more appropriate. I like to play a track and see what ripples it makes.


EM: What sort of venues do you prefer playing?


HH: My preferred venues (and where I spend most of my time) are beaches, poolsides, rooftops, and cocktail bars.


Most of these are venues where there is no absolute requirement to dance but where no one would think it out of
place if one did. However, just because people aren’t dancing certainly doesn’t mean you are not connecting with
the audience. I have often noticed that younger DJ’s, who are more used to playing clubs, often feel a bit uncomfortable if people aren’t dancing and so try to push people musically. The response from people in beach bars and poolsides is much
more subtle but I have often said that I welcome head nodders and horizontal dancers at my gigs. The clientele at
many of my gigs are often a bit more mature too. My audiences are often musically educated and so will appreciate
the weird and wonderful remixes that I frequently drop and also wont mind if I take them off the dance menu
altogether for a short time. 


I would find it very hard to name a top 5 sunset tracks. My favourite tracks will change but my style remains pretty consistent.


EM: Where would you like to play?


HH: I have a dream (which seems to be gradually unfolding) of taking the Balearic vibe to more of the major cities in
the world. I am certain that I will find many lush cocktail lounges, rooftops and other similar venues that would be
ideal places to unfold my musical moods.


EM: What are the marked differences between you and a modern DJ’s approach to performance?


HH: I think I am a modern DJ. I am totally committed to the digital method of playing and try to challenge the concept that true DJing only exists in clubs. Perhaps in some ways I would regard myself as a musical curator in that I certainly value musical selection over the much vaunted skills of mixing. However, I try not to compare myself with others. I would say though that I think there are rather too many DJ’s who seem to promote style over enjoyment. Yes, by using such things as mixing in key it is now possible to produce a seamless beatmatched set. How boring. Sometimes I will consciously drop in a track that is a surprise because I feel that I
need to wake people up not lull them to sleep with a featureless set.

EM: What artists do you feel are seriously under promoted these days that should be further along the current industry chain? What excites you most about their talent or productions. 


HH: I think I will answer this question the other way round. I have often been entranced by a new track to the extent that I would then start following the producer in the hope that further works of greatness would follow. Often they don’t. In most cases I think that talent and creativity will out. Henrik Schwarz, Joris Voorn and Acid Pauli consistently produce great work, whether it is remixing someone else or producing completely unique work of their own. Sadly many other producers who have used producing as a way to enhance their life as a DJ often fail to excite me. They can not avoid playing mostly their own music in their sets which then become rather two dimensional. Maybe DJ’s should take an oath of none partisanship. This is difficult when they have been booked on the back of the music they themselves produced.


Recently a young aspiring DJ asked me what advice I could give him. I suggested he listen to as wide a range of music as possible and also learn to play a musical instrument so that he would gain a bit of understanding about the way that musical structure and chord changes work. Undoubtedly there are some great producers out there who can’t play any musical instrument but that are expert at creating a groove of depth and subtlety.

EM: Name your 5 top tracks (not so secret) that you always showcase during your sunset sessions and why.


HH: I find it amazing how conventions can be established in music which everyone then follows. With sunsets the idea generally seems to be that the tone will be chilled and lush (or sometimes so chilled that you wont even notice what is playing). I recently played a sunset from a rooftop bar to the accompaniment of a Jazzy Drum and Bass sequence. I was a bit nervous at first but after a stiflingly hot day followed by an awakening cool breeze it proved to be remarkably appropriate and popular. As I hope this illustrates I would find it very hard to name a top 5 sunset tracks. I would much rather people get to know (and hopefully like) my style of mixing rather than individual tracks. My favourite tracks will change but my style remains pretty consistent. There are often groups of tracks that are favourites so here are a few of my mixes that I would recommend.


Sunny & Wonky Beats

As always I have a preference for ‘Sunny’ beats which to me feels as though it is an essential part of the Balearic ethos but this also contains a number of other tracks which I chose to call ‘Wonky’. I can’t really explain this but hopefully all will become apparent as you listen. 

https://www.mixcloud.com/djhowardhill/sunny-wonky-beats/

Organic and Electric Sunshine

This mix features two musical fascinations. First what I would term ‘Organic’, which comprises traditional tribal music, primarily from South America, with a minimal techno twist. The secondly genre I call Deep Desert. It is influenced by middle eastern melodies and instrumentation but with Deep House sensibilities. These are combined with a further selection of Sun Drenched Techno including a couple of ‘Granular’ tunes – you’ll see what I mean. 

https://www.mixcloud.com/djhowardhill/organic-electronic-sunshine/


Sun & Bass

This mix really is a bit of a journey, taking in everything from Nu Disco, Drum & Bass, Latin, Reggae and some less
definable genres.

https://www.mixcloud.com/djhowardhill/sun-bass/


Trippy Balearic Disco

This mix is from a few years back but I think it has stood the test of time and I still love many of the tracks on it. I’ve
long enjoyed psychedelic flavours in music and over the summer months playing round pools and beaches of Ibiza I
began to realise that phased and trippy tones go very well floating on the breeze. This is a collection of  favourite spaced out tunes. A little music for the mind and dancing feet. 

https://www.mixcloud.com/djhowardhill/trippy-balearic-disco/


If you would like to see the original of this article or see many more features and articles about the electronic dance scene here is a link to Electric Mode.

http://electric-mode.co.uk/index.php/2018/10/15/balearic-beats-that-motvate-an-island/

Friday, 3 February 2017

No Accounting For Taste?

I’m fascinated by musical taste and its diversity. Why will certain pieces of music move one person to ecstasy while another may be nonplussed or even irritated by it.

Many years ago a girl friend of mine, I think out of her concern over my new-found Buddhist faith, invited me for tea with her local vicar. He was quite young and a very nice non-judgmental person. After briefly questioning me about the nature of my beliefs, he quickly seemed to conclude that there was nothing sinister about my practice and the conversation moved on to more general topics.

At one point I mentioned how sometimes it can be quite frustrating when one is unable to share an enthusiasm with someone else. As an example I described walking through a forest and being struck by the glorious light of the sun cutting through the foliage. “Imagine,” I said, “that you turn to your friend and say, ‘Hey look at that, isn’t it beautiful?’ but all your friend does is shrug and carry on walking. “Yes,” he said solemnly, “that’s because it’s something you can only share with God. More tea?”

Years later, in the early days of the emerging rave scene, I thought about this again but this time revelling in the joy of the shared experience. Swaying to the music in my favourite East End club Labrynth (not a typo, that’s how they spelled it), the DJ would start a new tune – and as an example I can vividly remember this happened with Crystal Waters track “Gypsy Woman”.  As the first few feeble organ notes sounded, a spontaneous ripple of recognition and joy passed through the club, catapulting everyone onto the dance floor.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this shared musical experience felt like a religious one as each individual became linked, hearts and faces open, to the ecstasy of the moment. It was a very powerful experience and kept drawing me and many others back to dance floors around the country for that buzz of shared recognition.

Later on, when I began to DJ myself, I began to search for and question myself how I might be able to discover tunes that would be enjoyed and shared by many others. Although my love for dance music was passionate and all encompassing, believing that it was fulcrum for the creation of new sounds, I was also not able to unlike the many other genres that I had embraced prior to its arrival. On the one hand my adolescence was informed by the complex intricacies of Soft Machine and Frank Zappa, while on the other I could be equally touched and moved by the minimal and sometime banal. One of the first house tracks I heard was by a band called Technotronic. The lyric to one track was:

This beat is Technotronic
This beat is Technotronic
This beat is Technotronic
There’s the dance floor, let’s get on it.

To me it was as elegant as a haiku poem and I loved it.

The diversity of musical genres is now much more able to satisfy the limitless diversity of individual taste, but it wasn’t always so.

It’s hard to imagine now but contemporary music used to be quite rare. In the early 60’s it wasn’t possible to hear much contemporary music on a UK radio in part due to the fact that the Musicians Union deal with the BBC limited the amount of recorded music that could be played. Radio Luxemburg broadcast from outside the UK and was thus able to sidestep such limits and provided the musical backdrop for much of the 50’s/60’s generation. Pirate radios broke this logjam and eventually the BBC responded with the launch of Radio One.

But even so the music available was largely dictated by the major record companies. Very few people could afford to record their own music and, even if they could, there was no way of getting the records out there if you didn’t have a recording contract. Yes there was an explosion of musical creativity during the late Sixties and Seventies, but the production and distribution was still tightly controlled by the record companies so what you heard on the radio one week would doubtless be in the charts the next. At one point it seemed as though the whole youthful populace was locked in a two-way taste division as people would ask, “Who do you follow — The Beatles or Rolling Stones?”

But rarity in the late Sixties wasn’t just confined to output. My parents didn’t purchase a record player till my teens in the late 60’s and even then it wasn’t because they wanted to hear more music but because they had come to regard a stereogram, similar to a cocktail cabinet, as a “must have” item of furniture for any self-respecting middle-class family. As soon as the stereogram entered our lounge there began a battle of attrition between my mother, who saw it as a platform on which to mount a vase of flowers, and me, who wanted to open it up for its intended function of playing music.

Most Saturday evenings I would cling to the back of my friend’s Lambretta scooter as we headed off to village halls across Cheshire that were holding a “disco”. One evening the disco was particularly disappointing and my friend mentioned that the parents of one of our school friends were away for the weekend and their son was having a party. “We could go there if you want,” before adding what proved to be a clincher, “and he’s got a copy of Abbey Road”.

When we arrived the living room was full of school friends, covering every bit of sofa and floor space smoking cigarettes, snogging and deferentially nodding to the latest Beatles album. I suspect that both sides had already been played several times when we arrived and would be played several more times before anyone could build up the courage to challenge the mood of adulation. My friend’s family had a stereogram similar to my parents and throughout the evening there remained a patient line of people queuing up by it, waiting to take their turn to examine the Abbey Road album cover.

Since the 90’s, thanks to advances in technology, we can now enjoy a universe of music and most people have a number of ways that they can listen to it whether at home, their place of work or on the bus. Popular music has transmogrified into a multiplicity of genres often produced in home studio and distributed via websites to niche audiences.

When I started to DJ I quickly discovered that there was no point in trying to second guess other people’s tastes and the best I could do was to keep digging to find things that truly moved me in the hope that others would share some of my passions. 

What amazes me is how precise our taste can be. Sometimes it will be a minor component that will capture my attention. The buzz of a bass that turns me to jelly. Hearing a piece of minimal techno I begin to fantasize that each note has been hand carved to perfection in the same way that a jeweller might cut and polish a diamond. On other occasions it will be the heart-warming tones of a skilfully played marimba that will fill me with awe or maybe a repetitive electro theme building, layer on layer, to a sun-drenched, anthemic crescendo.

As a Buddhist I don’t believe in the idea of an external God but I think more and more about that young vicar’s explanation of being touched by something. Our taste is a unique expression of our unique lives. However, sometimes we can find within music an eloquence that speaks to our shared experience, like the sun cutting through the trees in a forest. I don’t understand it but I know what I like and hopefully others do to.











Wednesday, 4 May 2016

DJ’s Getting It Wrong

Being a DJ is much like any other profession in that when a group of them get together the conversation can very easily slide into complaints about “Them and us”. The gigs we played that would have been marvellous if only the management hadn’t provided us with a crap sound system, or the punters had shown at least a basic appreciation of music, etc, etc.

Recently it occurred to me, from some of my own experience, that of course not all failed gigs are down to external circumstances and just as tired drivers make for car crashes, fatigued or bored DJ’s can also result in problems with the flow of an event. Of course few DJ’s are willing to publicly admit to any of these failings, so after talking to a number of fellow DJ’s I agreed to write about some of their experiences anonymously. Not all of these are technical problems and some are just simply embarrassing. The following were transcribed from memory and I offer them with no comment.

1. The place was full and it was a very hot day. I ordered a beer and because I didn’t want it near the decks placed it on one of the bass speakers by my side. I’d been playing for about half an hour when suddenly not only the music cut out but also the lights of the venue. My first words were, “What the fuck!” as I appealed to anyone who could help as my eyes caught sight of the broken glass by my feet. The glass of beer had vibrated off the speaker and onto the power source blowing the amplifier and taking out the power for most of the venue.

2. I generally only use headphone to line up the next track but this was going to be quite a complex mix so I kept them on while I was mixing from one to another. I was bouncing about excited by the mix, which had worked very well, and hadn’t noticed perplexing stares coming from the dance floor. I’d forgotten to push one of the volume sliders up so that the epic mix I had just completed had only been experience by me in the headphones and I had in fact plunged the whole dance floor into silence.

3. I like to dance when I play. Sometimes I dance a lot, very enthusiastically. One night the whole place was rocking and I was so carried away by the music that I hadn’t noticed the multi-plug block by my feet until I jumped on it, turning off the power supply for both the CD decks and amplifier in one move.

4. A couple of years ago I discovered a great deep and dark remix of a very cheesy pop song. Unfortunately I also had the original cheesy pop version on my computer. In the middle of a very deep set I accidentally put the wrong version on. Everyone stared at me but I just smiled and shrugged hoping they would think I was being cool and ironic. It worked as a few people began making silly dance moves while I found something take the mood back to where it had been before.

5. Many of the producers who create dance tunes are pretty anonymous and you would have to be a real nerd to recognise them all. A guy came up to me once to ask about a particular mix I was playing. “Yes it’s great isn’t. I can’t stand the original but I think they have made this into a pretty good track.” “Thanks,” he said, “I made the original.”

6. I was playing in a beach bar. A rather pretty girl came into the booth for a chat. As I was just about to take a break for lunch I asked her if she would mind if I joined here and her group of friends. Seated at the table we were chatting away about music and Ibiza. Then came one of those moments when it seemed as everyone else’s conversations came to an end as I spoke. Turning to her I asked, “So what do you do Kate?” The whole table erupted in laughter. Her second name was Moss.


If anyone has any more DJ tales of 'DJ's Getting it Wrong', please forward them to me and I promise not to use any names.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Tales from the summer in Ibiza

Over the summer season in Ibiza I meet hundreds of visitors to the island. Often, because I’m playing, my conversations are rather limited but sometimes just observing people leaves a lasting impression.

One beachside venue I play seems to be a particular favourite with young and older lovers. Some can’t keep their hands off each other, some haven’t yet learned how to touch with easy affection, some laugh together while others sadly seem to have run out of things to say.

One evening before starting my set I noticed a young couple arrive. She was obviously thrilled to be in such an exotic location and had, I’m sure, spent quite a bit of time preparing herself for what could have been a romantic evening meal by the sea. It could have been had her partner not been such an inconsiderate oaf. Unlike her he seemed to have made minimal effort in dressing and gave scant attention to his delighted partner, frequently turning away to flip through messages on his phone.

At one point I saw her politely ask one of the waiters if they would mind taking a photo of them as a keepsake. She quickly straightened dress and hair in readiness while he kept the waiter waiting as he was forced into the present dragging his attention away from the phone. He grudgingly assumed a slouching position and an expression of disdain while she smiled sweetly and lovingly draped herself around him. And so the evening continued, she taking care of his every move, passing him cushions for comfort, brushing crumbs from his shirt and generally lavishing attention on him while he continued turning his body and attention away from her to immerse himself once more in his phone.

Meal finished, they moved to sit near me in the DJ booth with their backs to me. For a moment she managed to engage him in what looked like an enthusiastic conversation but then he withdrew back into himself and turned once more to his phone. At this point she reached into her handbag and produced her own phone for the first time that evening.

I watched with interest as she very purposefully opened up her photo library, scrolled through to the photo that had been taken of them an hour or so earlier and without stopping, even for a second, to consider its merit, very firmly clicked delete. I’m sure my mouth must have dropped open as I was so shocked with the finality of her action and because I believe it was also symbolic of the future of their relationship.

Smiling to herself she popped the phone back in her bag, turned to him, and in a very firm bright tone announced that she wanted to leave — getting up immediately and leaving him fumbling to register and catch up with her.

Years ago, when I was a student, I did a lot of hitch hiking. I remember noting at the time how sometimes people would use the cloak of anonymity to reveal quite personal information about their life during even a short journey.

One evening, playing my music to a very quiet hotel foyer, a man approached me and quickly began to unburden himself. For many years he had worked as a financial trader in the City. A few months earlier his wife had announced that she wanted a divorce. My heart went out to him and I tentatively enquired if there was anyone else involved.  “I doubt it,” he sneered, “but you’d think she could have thought about it before we had a second bloody child!”

About an hour later when he had consumed a bit more alcohol he returned, I thought to continue his tale of woe but began to regale me with stories about a possible investment that he had come across on the island. He had found a fabulous villa which was going for a snip at only €6million and wondered if I thought it was a good investment. I suggested that it might be an idea for him to wait until the pending divorce was settled before investing such a large sum. “Oh no need to worry about that,” he said, “The bitch doesn’t even know I’ve got this money.” My sympathy was beginning to wain.

Soon afterwards two young holidaying couples from south London appeared in Reception. All looked stylish and toned from hours in the gym. In the spirit of friendship (and also to free my self to concentrate on mixing) I introduced these young couples to Mr Trader, who was by now getting rather drunk.

All seemed to be going very well until about half an hour later when I noticed that Mr Trader had backed one of the young women into a corner and was trying to stroke her face. Her partner was only a couple of paces away and I feared that a fight was about to erupt. Fortunately he simply stepped forward, placed his hands on Mr Trader's shoulder, firmly moved him away and then waved a finger at him saying “No” in the same way one might chastise a naughty pet dog.

In this simple incident I felt as though I had glimpsed the possible cause of the impending divorce. This man had spent way too much time with his fellow traders in lap dancing clubs which had dulled his sensitivity to women and made him open to such totally inappropriate behaviour.

Every DJ gets requests. In most cases I think it’s a way for people to make contact and share their enthusiasm for music. However, if drugs, or more specifically cocaine, is involved, the discussion can sometimes become rather tiresome. I have often been asked how I cope with working in such noisy environments and in truth it is not the noise from the speakers I most fear but rather the client who has taken too much cocaine and insists on screaming in my ear. When I see such people approach I will often try to move my headphones onto one ear for protection.

Another effect of the white powder is that people can sometimes get stuck in cyclical thought. A lady approached me to ask for a specific track, which I didn’t have. She then started to move behind me to look at my computer screen and asked, “So what do you have?” I politely remarked I am not a jukebox and if she could tell me what flavour she would prefer, e.g. funk, techno, pop, etc, I might be able to help.

She looked disturbed by this and then said, “What about that woman that was in a band a few years back? You know who I mean?” I looked at her blankly but then realised she was stuck in a loop. “Or maybe that great track everyone is playing at the moment. You must have it.”

 “Give me a clue,” I suggested, but by then she looked disturbed by the chaos of her mind and simply turned and headed back to the toilets to refuel.

Sometimes people can be incredibly rude. One day a rather drunk American ambled up to me. He was short and muscle-bound with a square head —  a look and mentality that is often referred to in the States as “Meathead”. In a rasping slightly slurred voice he demanded to know if I had Dr Dre’s new album, Outta Compton. I replied that, “No I don’t,” but I was looking forward to seeing the film.

He looked disappointed but fortunately by coincidence I had a particularly good classic rap track lined up. I apologised for not having Dr Dre but said, “As you obviously like rap you will probably enjoy this,” and I moved the mix slider across to introduce the new track. He didn’t bother to register more than the first three notes before declaring, “No, that’s fucking shit!” and staggering away.

Earlier that afternoon round the pool I’d spoken to a delightful Turkish couple comprising a wiry nerdish looking gentleman and his very glamorous partner. As Meathead moved away from me he staggered towards the glamorous Turkish lady who was currently sitting alone by the pool. I didn’t hear what he said but she looked outraged while he simply shrugged and ambled away. A few minutes later I saw her partner rushing through the foyer in pursuit of Meathead screaming, “I don’t care who you are I’ll fucking kill you!” Meathead sheepishly retreated to the other end of the pool.

I quickly pieced together what must have been the gist of Meathead’s comment to the elegant Turkish lady. “Hey are you the fucking hooker I ordered an hour ago?” My idea seemed to be confirmed when only a few minutes later a pneumatically engineered eastern European woman with a pallor that suggested she saw little sunlight and might also have a rather serious drug problem, arrived at the poolside, scanned the people and headed directly to Meathead.

A lot of celebs visit the island during the summer but in most cases I am happy to let them go about their business without being interrupted by me. However, one day a jazz musician who I greatly respect arrived by the pool with his wife and baby daughter. When I felt it was appropriate I wandered over to enquire if he was playing on the island and to tell him how much I respected his work.

As an American gentleman he accepted my compliment with a gracious, “That’s very kind of you to say so, sir.”

Later in the afternoon they returned after a trip round the island and he came over to thank me for my musical selection adding, “I must say that it’s a very hard job you have to do here and I really don’t now how you manage to concentrate,” turning to eye to beauties round the pool with a smile. I noted many of those he saw were somewhat medically enhanced. He smiled again saying, “Yeah but they still looks good.” I noted that some of the more startling sights might also carry a bit of baggage with them and he turned to me with a knowing twinkle saying, “Ah so you’ve learned that lesson have you.”

Particularly in upmarket establishments the staff are obliged to maintain their decorum no matter what occurs  but I have often enjoyed those momentary lapses when a glance betrays their real feelings.

One day an African Princess arrived in the reception area where I was playing. She dazzled with glamour and physique. I noticed an Italian waiter serving her seemed hesitant, apparently lost for words. After she departed I commented to him that he seemed to be having difficulty to which he replied, “My God she was the type of woman that only allowed me to do one thing at a time. I could look but I could not think.”

One couple I met are etched on my memory: an elderly, working class couple from the north of England who seemed unlikely guests in the five star hotel they were staying in. He was of stocky build with hands like shovels that had seen a lot of physical work. She was bright and delicate with a face etched with the deep lines of family struggles.

Chatting to them they quickly explained that they had won the lottery. They didn’t tell me how much but noted with a grin that it was enough to furnish their immediate family with their own houses and take the extended family on a number of lavish holidays.

Sadly for many people the arrival of monetary good fortune can quickly overpower a sense of gratitude, so that each new fine living experience is not so much enjoyed but rather compared with other experiences that have been consumed.


Some years ago I heard a wise man comment that, “If we experience gratitude it will open up a realm of life that previously we didn’t know existed.” I have found this to be true and it seemed so for this elderly couple. While the original euphoria of their new found wealth had subsided they were (and I hope still are) enthusiastically pursuing the dream of visiting the many places they used to view with longing and fascination on TV travel shows. But they were not merely ticking off experiences but living with a sense of gratitude and youthful enthusiasm that I found contagious.