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Fiery Heart, Fiery Mind - Alice Phoebe Lou

We all have things we regret in our lives. And some of them give us twinges of guilt from time to time. I had one such moment today when my three year old granddaughter and a friend were playing with balloons in the back garden. It was very windy, so soon enough - and inevitably - sharp gusts took the balloons and blew them high and away, over the fields in the direction of the sea.

Back in the nineties, as part of an annual Islington Fun Day in Highbury Felds for local play groups and any children that cared to turn up, we gave all the kids balloons filled with helium which they later all released up into the air together after an ensemble countdown from three. The owner of each balloon was recorded with their name age, phone number and address or playgroup, then it was filled from a gigantic canister , and handed to them to await the planned lift-off moment. Attached to each balloon was a postcard addressed to Islington Council, and the idea was that these should be sent back to us by any finder. There was to be a prize to the person whose balloon travelled the furthest. Those were (relatively) innocent days and most of what we did on that occasion is no longer permitted: the handing over of children's personal details, the en masse releasing of balloons, the use of helium at a children's event.

I was surprised a few days later to get a postcard from Dover, and even more so from Belgium and Northern France, near Reims, the following week. A week later we were satisfied we had the winner when we received a card from the Italian Lake district but even then we didn't award the prize as there was a certain amount of scepticism amongst colleagues that a balloon should make it so far. It was suggested that perhaps, especially given the time delay between the release of the balloon and the receipt of the card, there might have been some underhand transporting of the latter by someone who was on holiday. I therefore made enquiries of the Met Office to see if the journey was possible which in itself, in the days before emails, took a further fortnight to establish, and yes it was possible. By this time we had received a further card from a twelve year old boy who had found one of the balloons by his village in the foothills of the Vermio mountains in Northern Greece. A double check with my new friend in the Met Office ensued, and he assured me that the winds on the day of the launch and those following would, had the balloon survived, have taken it to that area.

We arranged for the prize to go to the Islington child, which was presented to him by the Mayor at his local playgroup and merited a picture in the Islington Gazette. But when we finally decided on the prize to be sent to the young Greek boy, a lavish book on the history of Islington, the postcard had disappeared. Perhaps, it had become lost in the perpetual bombsite that was my desk at the time, perhaps a colleague or a cleaner had found it on the floor and binned it, I never found out. I thought I'd put it in a safe place, but evidently I hadn't. So he never knew that he had won or more importantly, something that may have had a positive impact on his life never happened. I have no excuse. I should have done better.

His note was in classic schoolboy English, with simple words stating that he found the balloon caught in a bush, that he was pleased to return it, and that he and his family and school were looking forward to hearing from us. He could have become a local hero, it could have been the stroke of luck that lifted him up from the crowd for a while, perhaps made him believe in himself a bit more. I hope he doesn't hate the English because we never replied. But I wouldn't blame him. The London boy got his prize, the village boy from the Greek hills got nothing and I can wallow in the middle class guilt engendered by the part I played in a speck of cultural imperialism. Every time I see a balloon caught by the wind and escaping into the sky I think of him.

This is from Alice Phoebe Lou's first release, her 2014 EP "Momentum" recorded when she was just 21. Which goes to show that she was a phenomenal songwriter from the very start. Having been raised in South Africa, she now lives in Berlin which sadly, isn't quite on the route to the Vermio Mountains, although the song is.

"...and I've been hearing some whispers on the wind

and they said run, run, run, run away for your sins

but don't leave that fiery mind behind -

take it along for the ride

and don't leave that fiery mind behind -

take it along for the ride;

there'll be an airplane flying across my soul

and it will role right on

I'll have to say farewell so long

there'll be a steam train rolling across my heart

and I will have to depart,

I will have to depart;

but don't leave that fiery heart now

don't leave that fiery heart behind -

take it along for the ride,

and don't leave that fiery mind behind

take it along for the ride;

and I've been running away from the wise man in my head

and he said go, go, go, go, go, go get lost in the wind."


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