The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Greetings from Heist op den Berg, Belgium. That means "heist on the mountain" and it's a fine example of how all things are relative.
Because the Flemish part of Belgium, as I'm sure many of you know, is flat. Not just a bit flat, but really flat, flatter than an emaciated halibut which has just been run over by a steamroller. Jacques Brel, the greatest Belgian in history, has a wonderful song called Le Plat Pays - The Flat Country.
But Flanders has a mountain, too, just one, and they are so proud of it that they built a town on it.
It's a special Flemish mountain, being 48 metres high. To give you some perspective, Mount Everest is precisely 8,848 metres high - but, as I say, all things are relative.
Many years ago I wrote a surreal poem Mountaineering In Belgium and all the way through this tour of the Low Countries with Patrik Fitzgerald I had been looking forward to finally doing some.
But when we arrived in Heist op den Berg I didn't feel like mountaineering, even in Belgium.
I had no energy whatsoever, I was coughing like a row of beagles in a 1970s ICI research lab and my chest felt worse than Crystal Palace which, as all true Brighton fans know, is saying something. So I sat in organiser Luc's house and began writing this column.
It all started last Tuesday in Amsterdam on the first day of our tour.
"I'm not sure we're going to get a good turnout tonight," Ken the organiser said. "Everyone in Amsterdam has got the flu. I've just had it myself. It's horrible."
Having driven through the city and seen lots of people who seemed radiantly healthy, I didn't really worry. We had a lovely and well-attended gig.
But the next day my voice had gone. Otherwise I felt fine but when I spoke all that came out was a croak and my nine-note vocal range was reduced to two.
All was not lost, however. Fellow performers take note - I have a cherished remedy for a knackered voice, imparted to me by a fellow shouty punk rocker many years ago and employed quite a few times over the years. It's very simple - I take a bottle of Worcester sauce on stage and I neck it.
Not all in one go, obviously. That would not just be showing off, it would probably make me vomit - highly regarded at 1977 punk gigs, less so these days.
But, sipped steadily during a performance, it gives me some kind of voice back for the duration of the gig and, as my wife points out, it makes it a lot less likely that someone will want to kiss me, which makes her happy as she's not there.
So I spent the next few days on the sauce as it were, battling through gigs in Nijmegen, The Hague, Rotterdam and Liege. My voice improved slightly but the rest of me felt increasingly ghastly. I treated that condition with plenty of Belgian beer.
But the gigs all went well and Patrik Fitzgerald's superb contributions each night were a pleasure to witness.
And this morning I'm feeling a bit better. I think I'll do some mountaineering after all…
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