Back in the Day – In Memory of Old Friends

View from Cefn Drum

I went for a walk recently! Nothing new there but on this occasion I took my Fostex field recorder and Rode mic and recorded the full length of the walk non-stop from start to finish and that is something new. I only took one photograph (on my iPhone) but listened carefully to the whole experience.

Climbing to the top of one of our local hills, Cefn Drum (pronounced Kefn Drim), there were a number of different elements to the environment around me and I have kept them all there. I have not even edited out my own coughs,  sniffs or puffing and panting. Along side this and my fairly quick pace on the walk are a variety of background sounds plus features such as a suddenly frightened pheasant, sky larks galore, trickling water and of course the wind.

I have included here just half of the walk, the bit from the start by our local river’s weir and on up to the top of Cefn Drum. It lasts 50 minutes and I don’t expect many, if any of you to listen to the whole soundscape but for myself I find it quite therapeutic, meditative and calming. Most importantly for me, it will act as a clear aural memory to which I can add visuals from my mind. If you only want to listen to some of it, make it the last ten minutes or so.

But this long post is more about my memories of a friend who recently died and I include the soundscape of my walk as a backdrop to those memories and wonder if I was prompted to take the walk and make the recording in the first place as a means of processing the sad occasion of his death.

My good friend Jak, from “back in the day”, died quite suddenly of lung cancer. Ten years or so ago another old friend, Bob, committed suicide. Both these people were important in my life at a significant time – my college years.

Jak, who died recently, (Jak Sowerby) specialised with me in tapestry weaving at college and we worked alongside each other in this way for a couple of years. More than that we were friends outside of college and along with Bob (Bob Freeman) we and another friend had some memorable escapades.

Dad caricature by Bob FreemanBoth Jak and Bob were odd ball characters and each had an individual and distinct skill for illustration. Bob’s penchant was for technical illustration – he could draw a perfect circle in one go, freehand, and a motorbike from memory down to the last detail. He was also an excellent caricaturist and produced a wonderful “likeness” of my father which still hangs in their kitchen.

Jak’s imaginative skill, apart from tapestry weaving, lay in comic books. He wrote and illustrated numerous comic books around his own quirky invented characters which provided much entertainment.

Bob had a car as well as a motorbike and was very happy to do the driving on all our outings. There were four of us – Bob, Jak, me and Alan, who is still alive and well and running his own graphics business. There are two or three memories amongst many of our escapades as a group of friends that stand out in my mind.

The first is a trip we had into the Yorkshire Dales – the day was good and I seem to remember visiting Richmond, where there was fun to be had on a Summer’s day down by the river. But it was clambering blindly through fields and down a steep wooded bank in pitch darkness that same night that sticks in my mind. We were intent on exploring the flood lit wonder of Fountains Abbey well after it had closed for the day – what a laugh. Although I had a camera (no digital in those days), taking pictures of our activities was not to the forefront of our minds but I cannot consider, even now, that having no photos is a loss as the memories themselves serve very well.

The second memory to stand out was a weekend camping trip to the the Lake District in Cumbria. We camped near the side of a single track road in the mountains, ate cold beans straight from the tins and stared up at a starry night sky for an evening of bliss – wild camping that would be called these days.

Lastly is my memory of the time Jak and Bob visited me and my family in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1978. The “Troubles” there at the time were very active but everyone living there treated the situation as “normal”. Soldiers were everywhere, there were guarded barricades on the city centre streets and on top of the searches made when passing through these,  everyone was also  searched on entry to every shop in the city. Police and army barracks were protected by super-high fences and barbed wire was everywhere, to say nothing of the “pigs” (armoured vehicles) driving around like it was a war zone – which I suppose it was.

Coming from a more peaceful England, Jak and Bob were shocked at the reality of the situation in N. Ireland – it was anything but normal for them. But life carried on and the most memorable part (for me) of their stay with us was our visit to the Ormeau cinema to see the first Star Wars film when it opened. The cinemas back then (at least in N. Ireland) were single screen and large. The auditorium was full but we were lucky enough to get the last three seats in the back row. Star Wars was eagerly  anticipated and I was so pleased that it lived up to our expectations – every minute of it. That doesn’t make me a Star Wars fanatic, though I do enjoy them, but it did mark a very memorable occasion.

Having left college in Middlesbrough in 1980, we moved to South Wales in ’83 and during 1984 Jak and his wife Karen visited us. Following that Jak wrote a new series of comic books called Radar Invader. He had been very interested in the Welsh language and as a token towards this wrote “Diwedd” at the end of the first comic in place of “The End”.

I have seven of these comics and I don’t think he would mind if I show the first one here. Karen was pregnant when they visited us in Wales and subsequently asked me to be the Godfather to their daughter Faye, who now has her own children. And so life goes on . . .

R.I.P. Jak – you were a good friend.


Posted in Field Recording, Soundscape, Uncategorized, Walks and tagged , , , , .


  1. What talented and loyal friends you had — I can see why you miss them and why you had to remember them publicly.

    And what a strange coincidence that we should both post about Star Wars — though in very different contexts.

  2. Thank you for sharing this experience, Alastair, it is a warm tribute to your life, your friends, and the delicate times that grieving brings. Your quiet walk, fully recorded, surrounded by nature and singing birds, something you’ve never done in full recording before, does seem like a walk with memories of your recently passed friend, Jak. I really liked hearing about your escapades with Jak and friends, the northern Ireland visit was especially intriguing. And after enjoying Jak’s comics, I can see what a spirited and fun person he must have been. I hope your continued walks help fill the hole that is sadly felt. My best wishes to you~~

    • Thank you Jet. I appreciate your thoughts. Sometimes I think walking is the answer to everything – I exaggerate of course but it is a powerful means of exercising both body and mind.

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