Archive for May, 2007

Last Friday, I spent all day at a funeral. To fit in my time on the exercise bike, I was at the local rec center at 6:30AM. I’m not at my most social first thing in the morning, but I couldn’t help noticing two cultures that are entirely absent from the exercise room in the late afternoon when I usually work out. Instead of the weight-lifters I disparaged in an earlier post, there was a crowd consisting of two types: senior citizens, and corporate types on their way to work.

From what I overheard, many of the senior citizens exercise at that time because they have trouble sleeping. Most of them have a slightly rumpled look, and few bother with expensive exercise fashions. Slightly stiff-kneed, often a little bent, they tend to move slowly, descending to their exercise mats for calisthenics with obvious twinges of discomfort, and bending almost double on the exercise bikes.

But, if they no longer move quickly, they have an endurance that many three decades younger lack. And many, while they walk the treadmill or pedal the bikes, are chattering away as they go on and on, obvious experts at prying the life story from any stranger on the next machine. They seem a cheery, sturdy bunch, and, watching them sweat steadily, totally unfazed by the effort, I can’t help thinking that the stereotype of the doddering old is badly obsolete.

One man, in particular, is scrawny with old age, but his legs and arms are so veined and well-defined that he must have been exercising regularly for decades. He looks good for at least a couple more.

The corporate men and women are another story. They rush in, striding briskly, eyes bright with a caffeine buzz. If their preferred machines are being used – and the early morning is a surprisingly busy time – they pace up and down impatiently, glancing constantly at their watches and bending to duck around the weight machines so that they can watch the clock on the wall. A few wait around the ever-ready TV hanging from the wall, watching a report on business. They exercise briskly and briefly, then stride off in the same way, their spandex swishing on their legs just at the edge of my hearing range.

Unlike the seniors, the corporate crowd has no interest in talking. For them, exercise is just the first item on the day’s To Do list. They have no time for anything except their agenda, although exactly what the urgency might be is something that doesn’t seem to occur to them. Instead of evaluating their approach, most of them are too busy frowning their impatience at the time this part of their daily routine is taking.

If I had to face strangers every morning, I could easily stand the seniors. But the corporate crowd is enough to remind me of why I’ve ordered my life so I can work at home. They bring an unnecessary hecticness to my exercise routine that I would just as soon avoid. If I wanted to surround myself continually with their sense of needless urgency, I’d still be commuting on the Skytrain.

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“If I were your career advisor,” one of my editors said, “I’d advise you to spend $25 at the neighborhood mall or quickie photo place to get a flattering head shot.” Those wise in the ways of editors will know that the technical term for such comments is a hint. And this one was as broad as the center of the continent when you’re flying, where for hundreds of miles there’s nothing but quarter section farms punctuated by small towns build around a football stadium or hockey rink.

Besides, armed with my keen grasp of the obvious, I’d been meaning to get a decent photo for months as a business expense. So, this week, I finally got some professional shots of me. Now, I’m trying to live with the results.

It isn’t easy. Like everyone else, I’m accustomed to seeing myself mainly in the mirror, which means that portraits always look wrong unless I flip left and right on them.

Nor can I ever hope to see an unrehearsed expression on my face. No matter how hard I try, in the micro-second before I look in the mirror, my guard goes up, and unconsciously I assume a demeanor that fits my sense of self. Like everyone else, I can never have first-hand knowledge of what I really look like. I suspect that I have two main expressions – friendly and grimly serious – but I have no direct way of knowing.

Another problem is that, like many middle-aged people, my self-image has evolved more slowly than I’ve aged. I may not think of myself as 16 any more, but probably my self-image is lagging behind reality by at least a decade.

But the strongest reason for my bemusement as I’ve sorted through this week’s photos is that making a selection forces me to focus on an aspect of me to which I generally don’t pay much attention. Quite simply, I don’t spent a lot of time thinking about my face. I long ago decided that, while I wasn’t a double for the elephant man, no one would ever pressure me to sign a modeling contract, either. Since reaching that conclusion, I’ve been generally content to concentrate on more important matters.

Anyway, I’d rather use an automatic razor and read rather than stare at myself in the mirror for any length of time, especially in the morning. So much as my self-image is based on physical traits rather than mental ones, it’s mostly concerned with being in good shape and having endurance – which is why I’m more testy and irritable whenever an injury keeps me from exercising.

For all these reasons, I’m hard to satisfy when choosing shots to represent me online. It had to be done – supplying a photo gives others a handle to grasp when contacting you, just as listing interests on a resume provides talking points in a job interview – but the process is painful, and tends to be destroy all sorts of stray illusions.

In the end, I chose three main photos: two smiling ones, and one in what I call a pundit pose:

Bruce Byfield

These are not not my entire range of expressions, but they’re the ones that I choose to present to people online.

Of course, part of me is tempted to run the images through a graphics editor to clean up the crow’s feet and the neck wrinkles. In fact, having been in contact a few months ago with someone who found cosmetic surgery a positive thing, I’m tempted to take the same step in order to bring my face into sync with my self-image.

But, in the end, that’s not my style. Others may incline differently, but if there’s a discrepancy between reality and my self-image, I’m more likely to think my self-image should change rather than my face.

Also, I’m more the type to defiantly parade the signs of aging than to deny them. Why turn my back on the experiences that those signs represent? They’ll only be back in a few years, no matter what I do.

Besides, after staring at my own face off and on for a day, I’m left feeling that it could be a lot worse. With this face, I’ll never be an authority figure, but I may be someone people will ask for help.

Yeah, I can live with that.

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One of my current side projects is editing a manuscript for Joe Barr, one of my colleagues at the Open Source Technology Group. The experience has me remembering the thousands of papers I marked while working as an English instructor at Simon Fraser University and Kwantlen College.

On our IRC channel, Joe is best known for having inspired our own abbreviation, NOAFD (Not On A First Date, because he is always telling people what not to do; apparently, a first date with Joe consists of separate sensory deprivation chambers in separate cities), but he is also one of the best editorial writers at OSTG. For several years, he has also been writing a series called CLI Magic about using the GNU/Linux command line, and the collected columns are now being considered by Prentice Hall for OSTG’s new imprint – which is where I come in.

As practiced by me, editing a manuscript is much like marking papers. Both require close attention to structure and develop of ideas. Both, too, require a clear sense of the difference between how I would express something and when the writers haven’t expressed themselves as well as they might in their own terms. Both also require a degree of diplomacy; it would be easier just to write “This stinks on ice,” but the writers will be more likely to listen and find the comments useful if I say instead, “Will the reader be able to follow this argument? How about arranging it this way …”

The similarity is especially close because Joe’s original articles are all under 1500 words, so that editing a section of the manuscript is like marking a dozen essays.

Looking back, I estimate that I must have marked well over 12,000 papers in seven years as a university instructor. This number was dribbled out in batches of 50 to 200, but it’s still an appalling number, especially since I was a very thorough marker, commenting on everything from grammar and punctuation to structure and ideas in considerable detail.

In fact, I did so much marking that I ruined the clarity of my handwriting to such a degree that you’d never have guessed that I had won awards for it in grade school. I switched over to printing, but, in my last couple of years as a teacher, my printing deteriorated, too. Had I hung on much longer, I would have needed to start marking on line, so that students could read my comments.

I used to mark to classical music. I found that Wagner made me work quickly but not very thoroughly, so I soon settled on the Baroque composers, whose implied sense of order encouraged me to be through or careful. Vivaldi was a favorite until his music became a reminder of Fritz Leiber’s death bed, but Pachelbel and Telemann were almost as good. With a dozen Baroque albums ready, I could easily mark a paper in 20-25 minutes and keep up the pace for seven or eight hours

However, I never warmed to marking. I hated the necessity of failing the occasional student, and many were less interested in improving their writing than in getting a better grade, so many of my comments were undoubtedly wasted. If I had had my way, I wouldn’t have given a grade at all – just comments, because worry over grades obviously prevented many students from learning. Of all the parts of teaching, it was always my least favorite, and seemed the least relevant to helping students learn. The best I could muster was a feeling that I might help students survive better in other essay-based courses.

Moreover, at community colleges, the number of assignments I was required to give and the number of classes I had to teach each semester meant that I was more or less continually marking. The work load was much less at university, but, increasingly, I felt crushed by the lack of originality in most of the papers and my increasing difficulties in being impartial. In the last couple of years, I had reached the point of asking students to identify themselves only on their title page, so I could fold it back and have no idea whose paper I was marking.

By the time I realized that, in the current market, I would probably get tenure about the time I was 95, I had seriously overdosed on marking. It’s the one part of teaching I could do without, and when I’ve taught technical classes in recent years, I’ve always been careful to avoid having to mark essays.

Fortunately, none of my misgivings apply to Joe’s manuscript. I hope that I’ve made useful suggestions for improving his work, but since Joe is nothing if not literate and well-versed in his topic, being one of his first readers is much easier than marking students. Still, as I continue through his manuscript, the similarity of the two experiences sets me remembering.

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In Don Marquis’ archy and mehitabel (a book I first discovered through Allan Chalmers, my most memorable high school teacher), the main character is reincarnated as a cockroach for having written free verse in his previous life. He continues to do so in his present life, unable to use upper case letters because he can’t work the shift key on the typewriter and doubtlessly generating more bad karma for himself. I wouldn’t go so far as Marquis in visiting Kafkaesque doom upon writers of free verse, but at times I can appreciate his point.

The greatest strength of free verse is its versatility. A standard verse form like a sonnet allows only minor deviations — an anapest foot instead of an iambic one, or eleven syllables instead of ten per line — even in the hands of a master like Shakespeare or Keats. By contrast, in free verse, you can alter the line length or meter any time you like. You don’t need to warp your thoughts or tap them carefully into place to fit the rhythm or verse form, and everything can be varied to fit your needs.

The trouble is, versatility is also free verse’s greatest weakness. In the hands of amateurs, the ability to change rhythm at will too easily turns into no rhythm at all. From there, it is only a small step to throwing out all poetic technique until, today, most people would probably say that the main characteristic of poetry is usually a short line length. The paradox of free verse is that, although it looks like the easiest of all verse forms, it is actually the hardest to do well. The truth, as T. S. Eliot said, is that “No vers is libre for the man who wants to do a good job.”

If you have the skill, free verse allows you to experiment with all sorts of different rythmns: rhythms made from parallelism in sentence structure, from a count of syllables, from the number of accents per line or the numbers of lines per verse, from alliteration, from assonance or consonance, breath groups, or practically everything else you can think of. You can combine techniques, switching between them as you like, or conduct other experiments, such as seeing what is the least amount of structure you can get away with and still produce something that can be called a poem. At this level, free verse is a playground of poetic technique.

Of course, most writers of free verse are unaware of these possibilities, as hard drives and blogs full of teenage angst will attest worldwide. I sometimes wonder whether the fact that the prevalance of free verse coincided with the rise of popular music is a coincidence, if people have not unconsciously looking for the rhythms of poetry elsewhere.

If archy is any indication, my own experiments in free verse will probably have me doing time in insect form well into the fourth millennium. I went through a long period in which I was fascinated by the alliterative lines of Old English poetry. For example, in this piece, I graft my work on to Beowulf, imagining what it must have been like in Hrothgar’s hall when everyone lived in terror of the nightly attacks from the monster Grendel:

Lament in the reign of Grendel

I’ve walked cold and wind-chewed,
doubt-fed known dark, unsleeping,
tasted hunger and been fare for horror,
gnawed away roads, nibbled by home-loss.
That passed; this perhaps, too.

To barter in butchery with bloodied men
pumped strength from my arm with each pulse in my youth.
Knees buckled with waiting, but to bolt seemed worse.
That passed; this perhaps, too.

Wrapped in ruin, I rave in song:
I’d a falter-limbed father, folded with age,
and a boy in first beard. Broken by Grendel,
they slouch in sleep, stretched under hill.
That passed; I, perhaps, too.

In another piece, I used repetition in three lines and alliteration in two more:

False knight on the road

“I’m not a good man,” he said. I said, “Did I ask?”
“I’ll blow it on beer,” he said. I said, “Have one for me.”
How tell him of the charm, my coins in his cup
purchased to make me cleaner than passers-by?
“God bless,” he said. I said, “Not likely.”

In still another, I controlled the poem by using three-line stanzas and two or three accented syllables per line:

Taking the omens

Common sense derides me,
I am reduced to omens,
and they become disparaging.

Your messages come like dispatches to an outpost,
late and never long enough
nor with reprieve from exile;

I shelter in my own words again:
a furtive comfort,
coy and abbreviated.

Now as this silence lengthens,
I turn back to cards and runes,
never drawing the future I desire

I make no claims for any more than artisan-like competence in these examples. But I think the variety in these examples illustrates what’s fascinating about free verse: the fact that, even more than any other form of writing, when you write free verse, you are defining your artistic world afresh. And, at the risk of encouraging amateurs without any technique to keep writing, the pleasure of making that definition is enough to risk any number of years as a cockroach.

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I’ve attended two funerals in as many days. Unsurprisingly, I can’t recommend the process to anyone.

One ceremony was Roman Catholic, and one extremely high Anglican. I have no particular preference for either one, having been raised Protestant and married in a Catholic ceremony. However, as an agnostic, one of the ways I made it through the emotionally-difficult services and their attendant teas and burials and family obligations was by observing what I saw around me and comparing what I saw with other services I’ve attended in the last few years.

At the risk of being pilloried by both denominations, here are some stray observations of how the services struck an outsider:

  • If my response is any indication, the best thing you can say to someone at a funeral that you haven’t seen for a while is that they haven’t changed in years. When you are thinking of death, you appreciate someone implying that yours is apparently not due soon. But it’s also somewhat distressing when, no matter how you look on the outside, you’re radically different mentally.
  • The modern language and hymns used by the Catholic church in Canada are both so bland that they strip the rituals of the meaning that they should have. However, that isn’t altogether a bad thing. As my adult niece-in-law said, the blandness help you keep control in public. The most meaningful ritual at the Catholic ceremony was an impromptu one by the funeral director, who dismantled a wreath so that everyone could throw a flower on the coffin. It was a very low-key, moving ritual that had many of us in tears. By contrast, the Anglican church seems to have done a better job than the Catholic of modernizing while keeping some of its tradition. It still uses hymns from the golden age of hymn-writing, such as “Morning is Broken” and “Abide with Me.” And even when it has modernized, it has kept some of the rhetorical devices like parallelism so that the language tends to sound ritualistic. The same is true for many of its prayers.
  • The aestheticism of Anglican traditional hymns helps to create a sense of spirituality in a way that the modern Catholic hymns never can. If you are going to think about religious matters, singing words to Beethoven’s Hymn to Joy puts you in the mood much better than singing mediocre words to a monotonic tune.
  • Both churches try to invoke a sense of community. The Catholic church tries by employing deacons and altar boys and girls. The high Anglican church we were in does so by having memorial plaques and stain glass windows, as well as a labyrinth and homilies that are as much philosophical as religious. None of these efforts seem altogether successful, since they create a sense of trying to hard, and lay participants seem faintly embarrassed at times.
  • In the last few years, Catholic priests have become used to the fact that many of those at ceremonies will be lapsed or non-Catholics. They now explain what each category might want to do at such key points as receiving communion. The Anglicans seem less aware of this need.
  • Despite regularly conducting services, Catholic priests apparently don’t take any training in public speaking. The Anglican ministers, however, do seem aware of the need to project their voice and vary intonation, as well as common tricks of the trade that they share with teachers, such as using parallelism to lend coherrence to their unrehearsed remarks.
  • The Catholic Woman’s League seems much larger and more efficient than their Anglican counterparts. They certainly serve a much more varied collation after a service.
  • Every funeral should have a baby less than two years old – not as a counterpoint to the death being observed (although that wouldn’t be a bad idea) so much as to give relatives who don’t have much in common something to talk about and to help everyone relax afterwards. At that age, a child won’t understand what is happening, so his or her attendance shouldn’t risk any trauma.

I know, I know: these are not the sort of things you are supposed to think about during a religious service. But what else is an agnostic supposed to do when he needs to be polite and respectful in manner for hours at a time? I suspect that both the Catholic priest and the Anglican minister would be upset if I took my laptop.

No doubt, though, I go about these things the wrong way.

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I had a call earlier this week from ABC News. With the trial of Hans Reiser for the alleged murder of his wife scheduled to start next week, the reporter wanted background on the free software community and how Reiser is regarded. Since I wrote an article last summer about Reiser’s struggle to get his work accepted into the Linux kernel, and another one shortly after his arrest about how his company was going to carry on without him, I’m the person from whom the mainstream media is looking for answers. In the past six months, I’ve been interviewed by The Oakland Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, and People on the same subject. And, each time, it leaves me with a deep sense of ambiguity.

For one thing, I’ve never actually met Reiser. I only exchanged a few emails while doing my earlier story, and fielded some complaints from him about what I said. For the second story, I also corresponded with his father. But these contacts were brief, and hardly make me an expert. I suspect I’m being called for background mainly because these articles pop up in a Web search, but I hardly feel qualified to give the comments for which I’m asked.

For another, so far as I’m concerned, these stories were only minor parts of my working life. I had some small pride in the first story for its thoroughness and attempts at balance, but neither the Linux kernel nor Reiser’s work on his filesystem are beats that I cover regularly. The second story is especially minor, an update that helped me fill my monthly quota of articles. When I consider the comprehensive articles I’ve done that have been largely ignored, I’m irked that the second one should be the part of my output to receive so much attention.

Most importantly, I have no wish to join the chorus of speculations about the case. In the second article, I made a conscious choice to focus on the technical issues because I thought that to do otherwise would be in poor taste. I don’t even care for mysteries unless they are a facade for a historical novel, so covering or discussing a real life murder is profoundly distasteful to me.

Nor, for the record, do I have any predictions about the outcome. From what I’ve seen and heard about Reiser, I would be no more surprised to hear him declared innocent than to hear him found guilty. I simply don’t know enough about him to form a meaningful opinion. Either way, the case seems like a tragedy for everyone involved – and that’s as far as I care to go.

All the same, I found myself replying to each request for comments in some detail, and I’m still not altogether sure why.

Part of the reason, I suppose, is the implied compliment. Online journalists may have more readers than colleagues in the mainstream media, but we’re not nearly as well-regarded. So, to an extent, I feel that the requests lend legitimacy to my daily work.

Even more importantly, I feel that, if I don’t give a reply, my mainstream colleagues will simply move on to someone with less knowledge of the free and open source software community and less of a sense of responsibility. Since I have a detailed perspective of the community, I honestly feel that I can express the range of reactions better than most people. Hans Reiser is a person whose work is both admired and pilloried, and whose personality often interfers with sober judgment of his accomplishments, and I can point out this range of opinions because, unlike many people, both my job and my temperment keeps me interested yet distanced from the various issues.

But, mainly, I’m simply too damned polite to refuse despite my own ambiguity. So, I talk, but, not so deep down, I keep feeling that being party to the coverage of the case at all is enormously gauche. In fact, there are times I wish I’d never written about Reiser at all. Had I known the consequences, probably I wouldn’t have.

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Each month, I write about 22,000 words of articles about free and open source software. It’s an inexhaustible subject, so my problem is usually winnowing possible subjects rather than scrambling to find them. However, every now and then I like to do something offbeat, especially for the IT Manager’s Journal, a sister site of Linux.com where most of my articles appear. A case in point is “Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia and the challenges of large projects.”

I’ve long been fascinated and slightly scornful of the tendency in business books to dramatize corporate life by comparison to great historical figures. For example, in recent decades, editions of The Book of Five Rings have encouraged executives to think of themselves as samurai warriors while Shackleton’s Way has made the Antarctic explorer an example of leadership for the corporate world. Similarly, Laurence Olivier’s son Richard gives seminars in which he suggests that managers emulate Henry V and other figures from Shakespeare. Hearing these comparisons, I’m always struck by the self-aggrandizement in them.

Yet, at the same time, as a confirmed Jungian, I also realize the importance of myths to sustain people. I only wish that office drudges had equal inspiration. But I suppose that European serfdom or slavery in the Roman tin mines doesn’t have the same resonance in most people’s minds. The closest I’ve seen is the Corporate Dominatrix, which, while amusing, isn’t very inspirational — at least, not for me.

Anyway, in the middle of April, I was reading Adam Zamoyski’s Moscow 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March, which is probably the best book on the subject that I have read. I was also – as I usually am in the middle of the month – worrying about meeting my quota of articles. What struck me as the main strength of Zamoyski’s book was his analysis of Napoleon’s mistakes and problems, and, remembering the historical trend in business books, I saw a partial solution to my quota-fretting. One Friday night, after submitting another article, the idea for a business-related article based on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia came to me, and I sat down and began the article.

If there is a muse of online journalism, she was surely with me that night, because my points came ready-formed into my mind, and in a couple of hours, I had almost two thousand words, an unexpected and very welcome gift to an anxious writer.

I always try for a minimal level of professionalism in my articles, but, inevitably, I’m prouder of some than others. This one, as you can probably tell, is one of the ones that I’m especially proud of. It’s not often that I can work my love of history and biography into my daily work, and I like to think I’ve said something useful, too.

As I say at the end of the article, if someone with Napoleon’s leadership qualities can blunder so badly, anyone can. So why not learn from him? And, if people who read the article do screw up, maybe they’ll feel better for thinking themselves in the company of Napoleon.

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Hal-an-tow, jolly rumbelow,
We were out long before the day-o
To welcome in the summer time,
To welcome in the May-o,
Summer is a-coming in,
And winter’s gone away.

These words are part of an English May Day song. They’ve been sung for so many centuries that some of the original words have been forgotten; “hal-an-tow” may be “heel and toe,” but “rumbelow” is a term for sung nonsense syllables like “la, la, la,” and apparently replaces some older words. The words have been with me every May 1st for some years, but not because I’m a student of Morris dancing. Rather, I remember the words because they were my introduction to Oysterband, one of my favorite groups of musicians.

Take the scorn and wear the horns,
Was thy crest when you were born,
And your father’s father wore it,
And your father wore it too.

The scene was the Vancouver Folk Festival, the moment the evening concert. Picture a grassy park by the ocean, with thousands of people blissed out and tanned by a day of wandering between six stages in the throbbing sunlight. I was sitting on our blanket in front of the main stage, leaning back and steadily munching cherries and swilling raspberry juice when a group of middle-aged, punk Englishmen started to play a fast song with a strong drumbeat. Abruptly, I realized that the group had rockified a traditional song, something like what Steeleye Span had done with “Thomas the Rhymer” way back in the 1970s, but with a harder-edge. I sat up and laughed in delight at the unexpectedness of it, the sheer chutzpah. And, in that moment, I was hooked. It was one of only two moments in my life when a band entranced me with a single verse. The only other time was my first encounter with Stan Rogers and his band, a few years previous at the same festival.

Robin Hood and Little John,
They’ve both gone to the fair-o,
We shall to the merry greenwood
To hunt the buck and hare-o.

Oysterband played other songs in that set: “Just Another Quiet Night In England,” a song about the post-industrial collapse in England under Margaret Thatcher; “The Early Days of a Better Nation,” based on a phrase from the “Civil Elegies” of Dennis Lee (best known for his “Alligator Pie”poem for children); “The Generals Are Born Again,” a denouncement of Christian fundamentalism, and “Oxford Girl,” in which the voice of the victim in a murder and an imaginary media scandal is allowed to answer her detractors. Each song was infused with a humanistic, left-wing sensibility, and consummate writing and musicianship. And if that wasn’t enough, the band had designed a set that built and built until most of the crowd was up dancing and everyone was applauding wildly.

A day or two later, at the crowded Savoy in Vancouver’s Gastown, they did it again. I was so excited that I had limped down there with a toe swollen by gout because I didn’t want to miss them. I felt the couple of hours well worth the discomfort.

What happened to the Spaniard
Who made so great a boast-o?
He shall eat the feather-goosed quill,
We shall eat the roast-o.

Since then, Oysterband has only grown in my estimation. Band members have come and gone, although the core creative group of John Jones, Allan Prosser, and Ian Telfer has remained constant, and in recent years the group has stabilized with the addition of Chopper and Lee. To date, the band has released at least a dozen albums: There’s the bluesy “Ride,” the hard rock of “The Shouting End of Life,” the acoustic “Deep Dark Ocean” and more – all different, and all treasured parts of our music collection. Then there’s Oysterband’s supergroup sessions, like “Freedom and Rain,” a collaboration with legendary singer June Tabor (which featured on tour, although not in the album, a send up of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” with middle-aged Tabor in a leather mini-skirt outvamping Grace Slick) and their recent “Big Session” jams featuring such contemporary masters of English folk like Show of Hands and Liza Carthy. I have my favorites, but Oysterband remains one of a handful of groups whose work I will buy no matter what new direction it takes. I’ve even hunted down rarities like its early albums “Liberty Hall” and “Lie Back and Think of England” or its twenty-fifth anniversary EP.

God bless Aunt Mary Moses
With all her power and might-o,
Send us peace in England,
Send peace by day and night -o.

To others, May 1 might be a day for getting up to dance in the dawn or engage in pagan rituals, or a day to celebrate labour. But, for me, May 1 is also a day when I remember my discovery of Oysterband. So excuse me if I don’t write more – I’m going to play “Hal-an-tow” for the fifth time today, with the volume cranked to 11.

Hal-an-tow, jolly rumbelow,
We were out long before the day-o
To welcome in the summer time,
To welcome in the May-o,
Summer is a-coming in,
And winter’s gone away.

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