Thursday 28 July 2016

About Let England Shake

I'm being very self indulgent here. This blog is for keeping my loved ones up to date with my progress, raising awareness, helping me process, and perhaps even helping others going through their own experiences.

This has nothing to do with my cancer experience, apart from the fact I wore my Let England Shake T Shirt to chemo last week.
It's a very special album to me, and now I'm getting used to this blogging malarkey I'd like to write about some of my experiences with it. Even if no one wants to read it! I recommend skipping this one!

Back in 2011 I was excited to learn that PJ Harvey was releasing new material. I kept a listen out for singles played on triple J. One of the songs they played a lot was 'Written of the Forehead'. It has a really surreal and dreamy quality which seemed lead to me not noticing it was playing on the radio, I'd suddenly realise it was playing and I'd not been paying attention, and then it'd be over and I'd feel like I hadn't had a proper listen.

So, without knowing much about how it sounded, Dave and I got the album when it was released. Then we didn't listen to it. We kept meaning to get around to playing it and 'giving it a good listen', and yet it kept not happening. If I remember rightly, 2011 was a fantastic year for music, we were probably distracted by all the other songs out there at the time.

Then in April 2011, on the other side of the world, my Grandpa died. My boss sent me home from work. I went to home to bed and cried and cried. Then I played Let England Shake. On repeat. All day. And for the following two days. It's an absolute masterpiece. It became the soundtrack of my grief, but it was also so much more. It connected me to him not only by being there during that time, but because it was recorded very close to where my Grandpa lived, and it is all about war, which is something that had a profound effect on my Grandpa (like most of our grandparents) and he would often talk about his experiences in a way that really brought it them to life.

In July 2011 I traveled back to the UK, not for a holiday, but to support my mum while she underwent the rather major surgery that is kidney donation (as the donor, not recipient). I remember being so scared on the day of surgery, and doing everything I could not to show it. It's a long process, and in my mums case it happened to take a couple of hours longer than expected, however it all went well, and finally after a long day of waiting around at the hospital, we were told she was coming around and we could go and see her. My sister and I rushed to her side, she was only just waking up and still rather groggy. It turns out she is one of the unlucky people who are made nauseous by certain painkilling drugs, and quickly started to feel very unwell. While my sister stayed by her side, I rushed out of the ward to find a nurse to help, knowing there was a nurse station just outside in the corridor. 

I think I remember saying that my mum needed some help. Then I remember blackness. And feeling wonderful - so peaceful and calm and comfortable. And Written on the Forehead. It felt like a minute, but one of those minutes where you savor every second. And all the while in the soft blackness Written on the Forehead by PJ Harvey clearly playing.

Then I remember becoming aware that I was laying on the floor of the hospital corridor, with someone urgently asking me if I was OK. Then more commotion, more people, someone asking me if I'd eaten anything that day. They sat me up against the wall, took my blood pressure and checked my oxygen levels. Someone tried to check my blood sugar - which involves them pricking my finger - so I firmly refused to let them do that! I finally managed to convince everyone that I was OK, and ascertain that someone was looking after my mother. Once I'd sat for a bit they let me get back up and go back to 'helping' my mum. Ha ha big help!

I look back at this as a funny story, but also insightful. It told me that the sound of my unconscious is Let England Shake. Once you take everything else away, there is still music playing in my head. And it's Written on the Forehead.

I don't listen to Let England Shake all that often these days. At least, not on repeat all day. It always makes me cry. It makes me angry. It's so beautiful. And it's always there in the background anyway.
Here's a picture I took during her performance at MOFO 2012. 
It was an amazing show.


  1. I've got an album like that. 'Sea Change' by Beck. I listened to it a lot around the time my cousin died.

  2. I love that music is the backdrop to so many events in our lives. This is a wonderful story - thanks for sharing x