Simon and Garfunkel: Old Friends

Simon and Garfunkel: Old Friends

‘Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together.”

So goes the opening line from Simon & Garfunkel’s elegiac hymn America.

Death Valley Rd - the road to Death Valley from Baker, Californi

It’s a simple song, young lovers on a road trip across and into the heart of an America that no longer exists, maybe never truly existed.

The playful storytelling lyrics of the lovers on their adventure – the stories they create of fellow travellers, the cities and towns, the buses and trains, the hopefulness of a brighter future together, betrayed by the pervading sadness laced through the music. This is quintessential Simon & Garfunkel – a song of the sixties. A song of its time and yet a song without time – somehow managing to both create a sense of the era whilst regaling themes that live through the ages.

It’s a song that resonates personally with me; lyrics that speak to me and remind me of my own youth, my own adventures and the divided mind that pervaded and lingered. The optimist and the merchant of doom upon my shoulder, fighting a battle for supremacy neither would ever truly win.

For me, Simon & Garfunkel represents a time of life, a time on the road. Young and vibrant, looking for adventure and romance, love and lust. A young Brit on the highways of America and the byways of Australia. As I listen with forty-year-old ears to The Boxer, crystal clear on the iPod, my mind drifting back and away from the rain and the gloom of another South Wales November night, drifting to that other time of life; a bus in Newport, Rhode Island, head resting against the cold glass window as I stared out at a golden sunset, shining across the bay and bathing the autumn reds in its soft light, with the harmony of the singing in my ear

“When I left my home and family, I was no more than a boy.

Lie-la-lie, drum, crash, lie-la-lie-lie-lie-la-lie-la-la-lala-lie

I travelled the states with some friends by car. Friends now lost to time and the changes of life, faces that have slipped from view, lost in the congestion of my mind.

I was one of four young lads from the UK, twenty-one and facing a future as clear and bright as the Wyoming sky at which we marvelled. Driving through long, hot days. Late nights on empty, dark freeways and interstates, watching neon signs and golden arches pass us by. Hello darkness my old friend, they sang, Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, through the tinny stereo as our bleary eyes and weary minds searched for a motel, the non-drivers nodding heads and drifting towards unconsciousness and the Sounds of Silence.

Different journeys, different days, different places. New York nights in a bar on Amsterdam Avenue, bowls of chilli and bottles of Heineken, a story on the news about a man stealing women’s shoes in Central Park as the first flurries of winter snow drifted across the window. The night before Thanksgiving. Bleecker Street the obvious choice, the New York cliché. But it’s Wednesday Morning, 3am that brings this back to me – the opening bars, the opening lines:

I can hear the soft breathing of the girl that I love,
As she lies here beside me, asleep with the night.

The song on the walkman as I slipped into drunken sleep in the hostel dorm we’d checked into to save money, the song that blocked out the wails and yells of those more inebriated than me.

El Condor Pasa – a recurring soundtrack to a dream. Men in ponchos on Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, the day we went to Alcatraz. It came back to me repeatedly down the years, these poncho wearing pipers, appearing on planes and street corners, at football matches and weddings. Weird dreams, strange symbolism for the psychoanalysts.

I listen to Simon & Garfunkel still, among other things, other music. For me it’s night-time music, forever attached to driving lonely roads where their harmonies accompany the tired eye staring beyond the glare of the headlights. I catch a tune, a melody or a lyric and I’m transported, travelling through time to those other periods – neither better nor worse than today, but vastly different.

Different times, different versions of me. Each version smiling, nostalgic and Feeling Groovy.

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Last Day of Summer – the new short story by Gareth Hill
How Stuff Might Work – by someone who hasn’t a clue.

How Stuff Might Work – by someone who hasn’t a clue.

Some time ago I came to the conclusion that I didn’t have much of a clue about how anything worked.

Actually, that’s not strictly true.

I think I know HOW things work, it’s that I don’t know WHY they work.

Take mobile phones.

I know how they work, I’ve had it explained to me – several times.

The software in the phone converts the sound of your voice into an electrical signal which is converted into a radio wave which is, in turn, converted back into sound by the phone you’ve called.

Ok, I get that that’s how it works. No problem.

But why?

Why does that particular process do that particular thing?

Why, not to put too fine a point on it, is it so easy to explain the fact that one can pick up a little lump of plastic, touch a screen in a certain way and thus be able to speak and to actually be able to hear the words of another human being, holding a similarly unattached lump of plastic, who may be tens of thousands of miles away?

I don’t get it. You don’t even have to shout.

It’s frankly, when you stop to think about it, so mind-bogglingly miraculous as to render it near impossible.

If, when I’d asked how the whole process worked, I’d been told that it was, in actual fact, magic that made it happen, I think I’d find that every bit as plausible as the whole sound into electric into radio and what-not.

And it’s not just phones is it? Take a look around at the things we use, the things that operate the world, that light us up, that move us, entertain us and occasionally go ping! And we all just take it for granted – readily accepting that you can get into your car, push a button on a small device on your windscreen and have Homer Simpson tell you how to get, with complete accuracy and with no prior knowledge of from where you’re starting out, to any street in the suburbs of Kettering.

How does it work? Well, it’s your standard GPS signal that your receiver intercepts and pinpoints your location in relation to your destination and translates this into a series of instructions that we can read as a digital road map.

By why? Why should that be a good enough explanation?

We just accept that it does what it does.

Which, I suppose is fine.

But what if there’s an alternate theory? What if all this stuff works simply because we’ve all just become completely convinced by the explanations?

They work because we have, as a society, accepted that they, well, they just do.

Planes – planes are massive. Really, really heavy. But they fly, soaring thousands of feet in the sky in a way that seems to cock the now legendary snook at all notions of gravity. And we, thankfully I might add, just accept that they fly. We get on board, put our little straps around our waist, drink from those tiny cans you only find on public transport and happily accept that planes can fly.

We know there’s some kind of science and technology behind the reason – we know because somewhere along the line we’ve been told that that’s the case. But what if it’s our complete faith which keeps the plane in the sky?

We accept, without question, that they fly – so they fly.

The power of mass acceptance.

Frankly, I think it’s as good an explanation as any.

Oh, and does anyone happen to know what, exactly, a snook is?


Dai’s Dead Now

Dai’s Dead Now

Dai’s dead now
He wasn’t very old
He caught the dreaded lurgy
He thought it was a cold

People cried and mourned him
A popular fellow was Dai
Dai thought this was brilliant
As he looked down from the sky

Because Dai went up to heaven
He was greeted at the gate
St Peter said “you’ve earned your place”
Dai said “cheers mate”

On earth they planned a party
In memory of Dai
They ate a mighty buffet
And drank the local dry

Dai loved it up in heaven
There was peace and love and joy
He met an old school friend
Who arrived there as a boy

Back home they missed him dearly
“What a shame he died so young”
But they needn’t be too sad
For Dai was having fun

Digital Killed the Video Star

Digital Killed the Video Star

Blockbuster Video store will disappear from the UK high street on Monday of next week (16th December) as the administrators announced the closure of the 91 remaining stores.

It is, I suppose, an inevitable sign of the times.

Sky, Virgin, Xbox, Playstation, Lovefilm, Blinkbox, Netflix, iTunes and so many other digital and online suppliers now make it almost ridiculously easy to access just about any film or TV box set that you can think of; at the touch of a red button, in the comfort of your living room. All beamed in glorious 1080i HD directly to your big ole flat screen gogglebox, laptop, tablet or phone.

With all that access, why would anyone go to the video shop anymore?

Now, I’m not complaining about this you understand. Having virtually instant access to the films I want to watch is a positive thing as far as I’m concerned. And yet, I cannot help but feel a certain pang of sadness at the final demise of Blockbuster, marking, as it does, the end of the video era.

Video was epic.

The video rental store would become a cornerstone of popular culture. There was something cool about video stores – this place, this shop with row upon row of the films you longed to see, the films you’d heard about, the films you never knew existed. The TV constantly playing, usually above your head, hanging precariously by bracket, playing Ghostbusters or Goonies, distracting you from making a choice.

And how difficult was it to make a choice?

I could spend hours in my local shop trying to come to a decision. Staring at the walls, at the Top 20 wall, the new releases wall, the differing genres – comedy, drama, horror, family. Should I get a film I’d already seen and enjoyed in the cinema, or something completely new?

Decisions, decisions.

Of course, some things never change – the days of standing aimlessly in the video store may be over, merely replaced by the vacuous scrolling through the on-screen lists provided by Netflix or Sky, the night ebbing away without a film actually getting viewed.

The Golden Age of the Video

When it came into our lives it heralded an era of unprecedented change. At least, that’s how it felt at the time.

Video first arrived into my family in the early part of the 80s. It came in the form of a giant silver, rectangular box with a row of buttons along the top and the words FERGUSON imprinted on the side.

It was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.

A gadget that enabled you to record programmes off the television. Not only that, but you could pause those programmes and rewind and fast forward them as well – the way you could a cassette player.

Which is essentially what it was – a cassette player for the telly!

Imagine that?

Our machine was fab – I loved it from the moment it arrived in all its garish and heavy glory in our living room. I loved that when you pressed the eject button the compartment that held the video tapes would spring up in the manner of Arkwright’s till in the sitcom Open All Hours.

I helped set it up and, shortly afterwards, considered myself quite the expert upon its workings.

On that first morning I taped Tiswas while I continued to watch Multi-Coloured Swap Shop on BBC1. This was a revolutionary moment. Up until then I’d had to make a choice; usually this meant the first hour of Swap Shop, watching Noel’s introduction, the Tarzan cartoon they’d show, finding out where Keith ‘Cheggars’ Chegwin was on his travels that week, before changing channels at ten for the anarchy of Tiswas on ITV.

But not anymore. Now, thanks to the wonder of the video – I had the pleasure of both. My parents were thrilled.

Video changed everything.

Over Christmas I played with it as much as my new AT-AT Walker. Father Christmas even brought me some blank tapes of my own as an additional present. I taped as much television as I could, patiently tolerated by my parents. On Christmas Day alone I taped the Worzel Gummidge Christmas Special, The Muppet Movie and Dr No, even recording the Queen’s Speech that preceded the big Bond movie, much to the delight and amazement of Nan and Bampy, who’d come down from Rumney to stay with us over the holidays. Even the smallest advances in technology were enough to bring sighs of wonderment from Nan, so such a radical invention as the video recorder had her clicking her false teeth in astonishment.

I was diligent in my video use, strict in my cataloguing of all the taped programmes, bringing in a system of numbering each cassette with the sticky numbers provided then keeping a record of what was on each number in a small A5 notepad.

The system lasted about a week.

Nasty Videos for nasty times?

The birth of the video era was quite a thing indeed – but it wasn’t all joy and jollity.

Rumour was growing that this new technology might be a weapon of more sinister design. A tool of corruption and seediness; even, perhaps, a gateway to depravity and moral decline.

In fact, as the guardians of all that is moral and right, the tabloid newspapers, informed that we were all in grave peril of our souls being tainted by the rise of the VIDEO NASTY.

Video nasty is a term, much like Frankie Say Relax, laced through with pure 80s. A term we became all too aware of as the opportunity to watch movies at home grew in prominence. A term which, in fact grew in conjunction with the rise of the video rental store.

My first experience of these new, somewhat at odds, phenomena came via my dad who revealed that there was a new place down on Cathays Terrace where you could go and rent films to bring home to watch. Films that hadn’t been shown on the TV before. New films. Or at least, nearly new films.

We made a trip to this new shop, a family outing to this wondrous new grotto. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Every wall was covered from ceiling to floor with row upon row of every film imaginable. Surely this spelled the end for The Monico, the Plaza, the Odeon – all the places I loved to visit. As it happened, video itself was soon to be under attack because of the sudden availability of many of these film titles.

I scanned the walls of the shop in awe that day, reading titles and looking at cassette covers that were thrillingly gory and disgusting and scary, even if you were older than eight years old. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Driller Killer, I Spit on your Grave, Zombie Flesh Eaters. And I thought Raiders of the Lost Ark had been terrifying. Mum and Dad were soon ushering me away from there, thrusting a copy of Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo into my hands before bundling me back to the car.

I don’t recall ever going back.

Somehow, everybody in school had learnt of the existence of these films. One of my best friends who had a brother and sister, both well into their teens, had even seen them. Rumours abounded about what horrors they contained.

“Apparently a woman is put on a hook and then sliced up,” was the prevailing rumour about Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Most laughed and said how much they wanted to see it. I remained quiet on the subject. I didn’t like being scared.

Soon the powers that be joined forces with the powers that wanted to be and cast moral judgements down from their lofty positions of correctness. The Video Recordings Act of 1984 was passed and swathes of films were cut from shelves, confined to the naughty step of the banned video list.

To defend the action to a small degree – video was still in its infancy and as is often the case, was something of an unregulated domain. As such, films of low budget and lower quality came onto the market via the new ‘straight-to-video’ distribution (i.e. without getting a cinema release or classification) – films, in many instances, designed only to shock. If they’d been banned on the grounds that they were dreadful, we would perhaps have understood a bit more.

As it was though, any film that delved into more troublesome terrain of sex and violence, gore and general horror, found itself cast into the abyss (the void, as opposed to the film). The Exorcist, Clockwork Orange, Texas Chainsaw et al all became these mystical movies whose legend and notoriety grew with every passing year out of view.


That first trip to the video store on Cathays Terrace was the start of a love affair with the video store that would end, quite literally, with a more traditional type of love affair.

My wife used to work in the video store on Caerphilly cross-roads, where Rhiwbina kisses Llanishen delicately on the cheek.

It was where she worked when we first started going out back in 1997.  In fact I picked her up from there, at the end of her shift, to go out on our first date. I arrived early, hung around in the shop, watching Top Gun on the TV as she got rid of the late night pervs trying to discretely rent their Saturday porn. I helped her lock up, pull the shutters down and off we went in my little Ford Fiesta to catch last orders at the Traveller’s Rest.

It was all very John Hughes.

Within 3 years we were married, the big day recorded for posterity on video. Trouble is, we no longer have a player to watch it on.




The Boy Without Shoes

The Boy Without Shoes

Tied together they dangle from the phone line which stretches between the rows of terraced houses.

Small shoes, black shoes – scuffed toes and well worn soles.

They sway gently on the breeze, an odd hanging ornament over the quiet road, the parked cars.

Along the street the boy stands alone; crying. The socks on his feet are damp and cold and he can’t feel his toes. He sniffs, wipes the snot and blood from his nostrils and starts for home, wondering, again, why they always go for him.

What’s the Meaning of Liff?

What’s the Meaning of Liff?

And no, it’s not 42.

Did you ever feel that the world needed a word for that bead of sweat which runs down your bottom cleavage?

Neither did I.

Luckily for the rest of us, two men did feel that particular need. Indeed, they felt the need to appoint words to a whole raft of life’s quirks which, beforehand, were left to fend for themselves.

And so was born The Meaning of Liff and The Deeper Meaning of Liff – dictionaries, as they describe themselves, of things for which there aren’t any words for yet.

The creators of Liff are, or rather were, the late, great Douglas Adams and the thankfully still quite present but no less great John Lloyd. Adams, quite the favourite round my way, is the comedic genius behind The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Dirk Gently Detective Series while Lloyd is responsible for, among other things, Not the 9 O’clock News, Blackadder, Spitting Image & QI and is in no way whatsoever, a former tennis player and husband of Chris Evert.

So what’s the concept again?

Well, according to one of the many prefaces attached to the varying editions of the dictionary, The Meaning of Liff can be described as thus:

In life there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognise, but for which no word exists. On the other hand the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing around on signposts pointing at places.The Deeper Meaning of Liff, John Lloyd & Douglas Adams

In short, Lloyd and Adams have taken place names and afforded them new meanings.

Yes it’s an odd concept, I’ll give you that.

But trust me, once you delve into the book you’ll get it, you’ll read on, you’ll titter and you may even begin to adopt one or two into your actual everyday vocabulary.

It is, as is the case for most things for which these gents are responsible, very funny indeed.

A sample of ‘new’ words

Disclaimer: these books came out over 20 years ago so the use of ‘new’ is somewhat subjective. Also, the words themselves are not actually new at all, as they have been used as place names around the world for many a decade, but they are ‘new’ in the sense that they have been attributed ‘new’ meanings – albeit quite some time ago now. I hope that clears things up.

Abilene (adj)

Descriptive of the pleasing coolness on the reverse side of the pillow.

Beppu (n)

The triumphant slamming shut of a book after reading the final page.

Budle (vb)

To fart underwater.

Canudos (n)

The desire of married couples to see their single friends pair off.

Farrancassidy (n)

A long and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get someone’s bra off.

Golant (adj)

Blank, sly and faintly embarrassed. Pertaining to the expression seen on the face of someone who has clearly forgotten your name.


The horrible smell caused by washing ashtrays

Lampung (n)

The daze which follows turning the light on in the middle of the night.

Pidney (n)

The amount of coffee left at the bottom of a jar which doesn’t amount to a spoonful

Poona (n)

Satisfied grunting noise made when sitting back after a good meal.

Rhymney (n)

That part of a song lyric which you suddenly realise you’ve been mishearing for years.

Ripon (vb)

(Of literary critics) To include all the best jokes from the book in the review to make it look as if the critic thought of them. (cough, splutter, what?)

Thrupp (vb)

To hold a ruler on one end of a desk and make the other end go bbddbbddbbrrbrrrddrr.

[descriptions taken from ‘The Deeper Meaning of Liff’ by Douglas Adams & John Lloyd, 1990]
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