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Altered Scales & Tritone Substitutions


In a simple chord sequence, in which all the chords come from the same key, it’s easy to select the scale to improvise over the sequence. The standard choice is to use the scale of the key.

In this example (a I-VI-II-V7 in G), in which all the chords are in the key of G major, the simplest choice is to use the scale of G major to improvise over the entire sequence.


The chords are said to be diatonic to G major, because every note in each chord is in the G major scale.


You can easily extend the chords by adding more diatonic notes such as 9ths, 11ths and 13ths:


Adding these extensions to the chords creates a richer texture with more colour but it doesn’t affect the scale choice, since we’re still only using notes of the G major scale to create chords with.

In jazz, adding altered extensions is a skilled operation: altered extensions can fundamentally change the sound of the chord; they can change the role of the chord (known as the function); and, of course, altered extensions can change the choice of scale to play over the affected chord.

However, there’s one chord type where altered extensions can actually emphasise the function of the chord and create a more interesting sound: chord V7. Looking at D7, you can strip it back to its bare essentials by having a D (the root of the chord) and also F and C (the 3rd and the 7th, which together create a tritone, which is the source of the tension in D7). No other note is necessary. The 5th of the chord (A) doesn’t add any function or colour to the chord, so it really only needs three notes: the root, and the tritone pair above the root: D, F and C.


One very common alteration is to flatten the 5th. Here’s the same sequence again. D7 is now played as D7(♭5). The chord contains D, F♯, A♭ and C.


This 7(♭5) chord is pretty interesting. The notes it contains are also found in A♭7(♭5), an identical chord that is half an octave away.

Tritone Substitution

Try playing the sequence again, but this time substituting D7(♭5) for A♭7(♭5). You have the same notes, but you’ll notice that the root—A♭—descends chromatically from chord II and eventually on to chord I, creating a smooth, elegant sound. Since it is half an octave away, using this chord is known as a tritone substitution. Remember, D7(♭5) and A♭7(♭5) are essentially the same chord, since they contain the same notes. Which one you play will depend on the bass line you want to create.


Try these shapes—all of which can be played six frets higher or lower to ‘flip’ them from D to A♭ and vice versa.


As a guitarist or pianist, providing chords for an accompaniment, feel free to use the tritone substitution for V7 chords. Whether it sounds any good will be a question of taste and experience. You obviously need to let the bassist know, and any other musicians who might be playing chord notes. You’ll find tritone substitutions in bossa nova, swing, ballads, bebop… and it’s an essential part of a jazz musician’s repertoire.

Now try playing the D7(♭5) & A♭7(♭5) chords over this backing track. Each chord lasts for two bars, so the whole sequence is 8 bars long. In bars 7 & 8, try playing D7(♭5) or A♭7(♭5). They’ll both work fine. The backing track is 64 bars long, meaning the 8-bar sequence is played a total of 8 times through. I’ve created the backing track with the bass playing roots of D7(♭5) and A♭7(♭5) in bars 7 & 8. It’s ambiguous, to allow you to hear how interchangeable the two chords are.


Scale Choice for the Tritone Substitution

So… what scale do you use to play over it? Well, the ‘rule’ is this: any scale that contains the notes of the chord you want to play over is a candidate. It might not be obvious which scale contains the notes D, F♯, A♭ and C, but if you call the A♭ a G♯ instead, then there’s common scale that is an obvious choice:

A melodic minor contains all the notes in D7(♭5)—or A♭7(♭5), of course, since it’s really the same thing.


Playing it over D7(♭5) means we’re using the fourth mode of A melodic minor. You can see that the G♯ is a sharpened fourth, and that the original fifth of D7 (A) is actually still in the scale. Theorists will refer to this sharpened fourth as a ♯11.


[D7(♭5) could be called  D7(♯11) instead. In fact, since we’re talking about G♯ now instead of A♭, maybe #11 is a better description than ♭5…]

Anyway, the scale has a ♯11 (G#), and a flattened seventh (C), so the common name for this scale is lydian dominant.

The lydian dominant is very popular, especially over this kind of chord, but you could also play it over an unaltered V7 (because really we haven’t changed the fifth at all—we’ve actually just added a ♯11 so the scale doesn’t conflict with a standard V7).

Now try improvising over the backing track. Use a G major scale for the first three chords but, when we get to bars 7 & 8, try playing D lydian dominant: that is, A melodic minor. In fact all you’re doing is replacing G with G♯ for those two bars.

You’ll hear that there’s subtle additional tension in the V7 chord and your melodic ideas will control and negotiate that tension to create structure in your improvisation.

So, we now know that we can play D lydian dominant over D7(♭5)—and of course we can play it over A♭7(♭5) too.

Altered Scale

To finish off, let’s revisit our D7 chord. So far, we’ve added one altered extension, the ♭5 (or ♯11 if you prefer). Let’s see what happens when we add every possible altered extension. Remember, we only ‘need’ D, F♯ and C to make this chord D7. The flattened ninth, Eb, can be added, along with the sharpened ninth, F. We already have a ♯11, and the only other altered extension we can add is the flattened thirteenth. Altogether, then, we’d have D7(♭9/♯9/♯11/♭13), which looks a bit ridiculous. But actually all that’s happened is that we’ve just piled up as much tension as possible on top of the bare bones of a D7 chord.

Starting on D, let’s lay all these notes out in order—three chord notes and four altered extensions.


Spelling the same notes slightly differently makes it easier to comprehend:


It creates E♭ melodic minor, starting on the seventh degree. To come at this a different way, consider that E♭ melodic minor has the same relationship to A♭7(♭5) that A melodic minor has to D7(♭5).

The seventh mode of the melodic minor is also known as the altered scale, or the superlocrian scale.

Another way to produce the same scale is to take an ordinary major scale and raise the root by a semitone. This might be a useful way of visualising the scale. In the case of the D altered scale, you could create it by starting with a D♭ major scale and raising the root to D.

Try improvising over the backing track again. This time, over bars 7 & 8, try either the D lydian dominant or the D altered scale. The lydian dominant has a bright, fresh quality that just gives the V7 chord a little lift; whereas the altered scale creates a darker sound with more tension. Listen out for the ♭9 and ♯9 notes (E♭ and F in this key) and the ♭13 (B♭) for more interesting melodic possibilities.

Here’s my demonstration, soloing over the backing track. I’ve incorporated a few ‘features’ for you to hear. For the first four play-throughs of the sequence I’m using the lydian dominant scale, and on the other four I’m using the altered scale. See below for a few ‘notes’, especially over the V7(♭5) chord.

2nd time through [0:35]
The melodic minor scale contains a long stretch of whole tones—in this key, from C to G♯, and I’m using this part of the scale to create an expansive feel.

3rd time through [0:52]
I’m playing notes of an E chord—E, G♯ and B. They’re all notes of the A melodic minor scale, so even though I’m not playing over an E chord, these notes are a legitimate choice. Try other arpeggios that are contained within the A melodic minor scale, such as Bm7 and Caug, for a more unusual angle.

5th time through [1:27]
I’m playing notes of the altered scale in an ascending phrase, and I’ve timed it so that the final two notes are F (♯9) and F♯ (major 3rd), leading up chromatically to G, the key note, for the start of the chord I that follows.

6th time through [1:40]
Over the Am7 that precedes D7(♭5) I consciously played a G pentatonic phrase. Since the D altered scale (E♭ melodic minor) contains the notes of A♭ pentatonic, I was able to repeat the G pentatonic phrase a semitone higher over D7(♭5).



By the way, how do you write the chord symbol that demands an altered scale be played over it? In fact, the simplest way is to write D7alt. But any dominant chord with an altered extension, such as D7♭13, D7♯9, D7♭9♯11, D7♯9♭13 etc will be an opportunity to stretch out with an altered scale. Even a plain old D7(♭9), where you might normally play G harmonic minor, or a diminished scale, can stand to have an altered scale played over it. It depends how ‘in’ or ‘out’ you want to be—and on stylistic choices too. Experiment and learn to calibrate your sensibilities.


Soirée with Luce #menton

A photo posted by David Harrison (@dalstondavid) on

The Pootle

12 Aug 2015
A couple of days on the road. Hoping to reach Lyon by nightfall on Saturday, we made good progress until Chalon sur Saône where, as tradition dictates, we entered the Pootle, the obligatory routine initiated by Heather on the first night of driving.


It generally begins something like this. At around 5, I’ll be googling hotels that fulfil a short list of criteria—they should be reasonably priced, they should be on the way, oh and they should preferably actually exist. At some point I’ll say something like “Right, the Ibis just north of Mâcon has a triple for 65 euros”, and Heather will stab at the map on my lap with her index finger. At no point will her eyes leave the road.


“Show me Lyon.” I point to it.


“Show me where we are.” I move my finger a few inches north and point again.


“What’s all that?” she asks, pointing at a military base, or a lake, or maybe my sudoku, close by.


And then it happens. She utters the terrible phrase that puts ice in my veins. “Is there maybe a green road…”


The general gist of a green road is that it takes us away from the motorway and is mainly characterised by a remarkable adjacency to a number of beauty spots and places of interest. A green road travels not only through the countryside but also back in time to an era resembling the 1930s but without all the fascism and genocide, in which geranium-bedecked chalets cluster the foothills, old maids sit in the square making lace and little anchovy pastries, the menfolk return from their honest toil in the field, stopping only to adjust their berets, smoke cigarettes and shrug manfully over a pop-up game of pétanque. The gable ends of houses are painted brightly with the names of dangerous alcoholic drinks spelled out in capital letters and, as you round the bend in the warm evening sun, you see a little handwritten sign hung in the window of an impossibly picturesque little cottage with a snoozing cat on the sill: Chambres d’hôtes. The rooms are at once dark and cosy, and light and airy. The thick, crisp, sweet-scented cotton sheets are turned down and there’s a promising smell of a hearty cassoulet from the simple restaurant opposite. Edith Piaf walks past humming ‘La Vie en Rose’ and a pair of high, groomed carthorses saunters by. The green road is not always easy to find, but to stand the best chance of locating it, it is necessary to enter the Pootle.


We had bought a new road map of France this year, 400 pages of identical random diagrams. The most exciting thing about it is that the colours used to represent the roads are limited to red and yellow. I haven’t had the heart to tell Heather this yet. But, much like HG Wells’ Green Door, the green road will reveal itself, according to my wife, by sheer Process of Pootle.


Tonight’s pootle began, as they do, innocently enough. We left the concrete & asphalt certainty of the A6 and soon found ourselves on a windy D road, yellow and in the high nine-hundreds. Heather had seen a sign with a picture of a bed on it. There was a chance, she reasoned, that it might lead to some sort of accommodation. I’ve long held the belief that the French simply like to put pictures of everyday objects on pointy panels attached to posts and that one shouldn’t necessarily expect any sort of tangible outcome, but instead simply enjoy them as examples of outsider art. With dusk the pootle entered the next inevitable phase—a weariness began to nibble at our spirits and little drops of rain gathered on the windshield. The pootle changes nature at this point. The casual wander, the absent-minded browse, becomes the earnest search. We had careered through a couple of villages, and asked people, we had retraced our tracks… now, headlights on, chin on the steering wheel, we looked at the map again and resorted to heading for actual named places.


Top of the Rhône valley, first weekend in August, by the time we reached Tournus in the teeming rain, it was pitch black. Dex & Heather cowered in the car tucked into the station car park and I ran the length of the road, splashing from one ‘Complet’ sign to another. All pretence of the pootle now washed from our evening, we headed deliberately, immediately, to Mâcon and its endless cheap motorway hotels. Presently we passed another picture of an everyday object on a post. Heather must have secreted a last emergency handful of pootle in her knickers and now released it into the stormy night. As the windscreen wipers thrashed, she suddenly jerked the steering wheel to the left, across the water-spattered glare of the oncoming traffic, tearing us clear off the highway. Only then did I make the connection. That picture of an everyday object had ‘300m’ written below it. It was a picture of a tent.


Over the next 5 kilometres or so, various other pictures of tents appeared enticingly out of the gloom. The headlights picked out rows of trees through the sheets of rain, on and on, stone walls, a gaggle of low buildings huddling in the night. Another tiny picture of a tent. Suddenly, a junction. A gate. A large hoarding with a picture of some colourful camping arrangements in the sun, complete with a pool and parasols.


There were lights coming from a building that turned out to be a bar. There was a scattering of caravans under some tall trees. The paths ran as little brooks. The courtyard in front of the bar was under water. Thunder flashed. It was six minutes to ten. There was a shack leaning against the bar with the word ‘Restaurant’ on it. It apparently closed at ten, so we bundled ourselves in and ordered three lots of ham and chips with dark beers and coke. We had no cash, and despite the clear notice on the menu that cards were not accepted we went through the pantomime of going up to the guy on the cash register and giving him a card. In the proper pootle version this is never an issue, but then in the pootle version I don’t then stand among a small, bedraggled group of campers drinking at the bar, my toes two inches under, shouting to hold a conversation above the clatter of the rainfall on the fibreglass roof and offer them money to put up my tent for me.


We did pretty well. We snapped into some sort of survival mode like a low-budget pilot for a doomed game show format. I love our tent, though. I love how easily the poles extend, how they slip through the sleeves, how the inner section buttons into place, how the guys tighten, the flaps zip… and I love how all three of us can get busy simultaneously in the steaming glow of Volvo headlights and have an address in under ten minutes, one that looked a lot like a picture of an everyday object.

Ellie’s Finger




Can you help Mikey?

If you’ve lived in Dalston for any length of time, or even just walked through the shopping centre at Dalston Cross, you’re bound to have seen Mikey, Dalston’s favourite busker and Hackney’s friendliest man.

He’s out in all weathers. He’s had his ups and downs, and sometimes he struggles to make ends meet, but he fills the walkway at the back of the centre with music, chatter and laughter. He knows an impressive number of passers-by by name; knows their business; and shares his wisdom and local tales with anyone who’ll listen. He often collars me to ask about the chords to a song he’s working on, and I twist my head around to his left-handed way of seeing the world and talk him through voicings or bass lines—and next time I’m passing he’ll excitedly show me the progress he’s made. It makes us both very proud.

Today I stopped and I could tell that it wasn’t a good day for Mikey. He’d made 40p all morning, and his fingers are raw. He tells me he’s going to lose his flat; he’s got a pile of bills and the walls are closing in.

—“Can I tell you what I think?” I asked him. “You might not like it.”
—“Sure, someone needs to tell me something. I can’t keep on like this.”
—“Excuse me for saying it, but it’s almost like you have to punish yourself with this. No one tells you to come here. We love it that you’re here, but if you’re not making enough money to survive you have to do something else.”

As I’m saying this, he’s already walking up to one of the minicab drivers and puts his arm around him. He takes his hand and says something quietly to him.

He comes back to me.

—“That’s Muhammad,” he says, “he’s just back from Pakistan. He was in Peshawar when the earthquake struck last month. Some people in his village were made homeless. I haven’t seen him since he got back… Thing is, David” he continues, “I don’t have a family. This is my family.” He takes a big, expansive swing at the scene before us, people strolling by, kids running, buggies, a guy smoking, a mobility scooter, the man collecting the Sainsbury’s trolleys together, and me. “And everyone wants to spend time with their family. I can’t give that up.”

And that’s the long and short of it. Mikey is embedded in our lives, he is right at the heart of our community but his life is falling apart. Mikey was homeless for 15 years and finally got homed by the council last year. But all that’s about to change unless he sorts something out.


[Photo: David Altheer / Loving Dalston]

Mikey was a sound engineer. He worked on albums with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page; he had gold records on his walls and he travelled the world. And Mikey had his demons, and his demons won.

How can you help? I said I’d tweet something, and this is my best effort. Do you have work for Mikey? Maybe a few hours a week? Perhaps sorting cables in a rehearsal studio, or shifting boxes in a warehouse, or clearing up, or lugging something, or a gazillion other things he could do. He needs to be out busking too, but he cannot earn a living that way right now, and winter’s coming. So a few hours here and there, a bit of cash-in-hand, could make all the difference. If you needed a reference or guarantor, I’d vouch for him. So get in touch with me @dalstondavid if you think you have anything for Mikey. He’s family.

Calais Jungle—a visit




The journey is delayed by a couple of hours due to ‘intruders’ in the tunnel. We can’t get in because they are in.

On the approaches and exits on both sides of the channel, the wet roads and grass banks are lined with multi-layered steel mesh fences, pristine cream curtains reaching up to their glinting fringe of coiled razor wire, beautiful, new sanitised borders within borders. They mask the world beyond the A16. We drive through Calais and out again, into a tidy little suburban street. At the bottom, a gate, a track, and when our five-o’clock-start eyes finally come up to it, it’s difficult to process the sight.

Parking up, a gaggle of young men jostle at the back of the car. This is a routine I see repeated over and again as cars arrive. Always British cars. We have nothing, we explain, we are clearing up. Elspeth opens the boot and shows the men our rolls of dustbin bags, rubber gloves, boots and stupid little litter pickers. They point to our boots. We need our boots. Heather gives a man her wellies and he clutches them to his chest. I pull out a pair of dry socks from my bag and pass them to him. They are my favourite light blue cotton ones with the grey heel and it’s touch and go whether I try grab them back off him. He nods gratitude. He is wearing plastic sandals in two inches of mud. It is pouring with rain.

We load up and walk into the camp. My rucksack is heavy. Three young East African women are caught in the downpour, and Heather fashions capes for them out of our bin bags. They are giggling, bright smiles and laughter. She makes them a bonnet each and I take their picture. They are happy to pose for their impromptu fashion parade, and we have made a difference with some refuse sacks.


All along the cratered landscape, off into infinity, little tents huddle in groups. As we walk up the track, the water deepens. We slosh past the leaning whiteboard church and a broken caravan, the smell of sewage at our feet. People scurry in the rain along the edge of the path, hopping from high spot to high spot in flip-flops, broken trainers, town shoes. I see a man wearing a pair of red suede slippers, soles flapping. I think of my socks again.

Men are building timber frames, hammering and sawing. Under shelter, men are crouching, smoking, scrolling on phone screens. At a water stand, men are washing their feet and heads. A very clean tube of toothpaste sits on a post, spattered with fresh rainfall.

Cobbled structures of damp blankets and tarpaulin hold gloomy spaces, men idly sitting. Men walking, staring. Almost no one is talking.


We reach the church caravan and the volunteers’ field and Clare gives us our instructions. She’s wearing a large grubby yellow parka with a huge hood. We walk down to the crossroads where, on the concrete square, an enormous empty white skip stands like some shrine to litter picking. It’s the size of a swimming pool. Down a slippery path, on a sodden brown art deco sofa, a pile of garden forks, bin bags, gloves and more stupid little litter pickers.

Our job is to empty the pits between the groups of tents. People dig out earth and place it around the bases of the tents to help waterproof them and to weigh them down in the wind. Once dug out, the pits are soon filled with rubbish. I join a group of three or four others already at work. They have little plastic hoops to keep their bags open, and they are stooping down, lifting individual pieces of garbage with a litter picker and placing them in their bags. One of them is gagging and they have placed scarves over their faces to shield them from the smell. This, I can’t help thinking, is going to take forever. I take off my raincoat, step into the pit, and begin shovelling handfuls with my gloved hands. I shudder as the smell meets my face. My boots are ankle deep in a filthy liquid the consistency of gravy. It has bright yellow kernels of corn floating in it. “Ew”, says the gagging girl, “vomit-soup”—and we all laugh, coughing and flinching at the stink. Gratefully, the others hold their bags out for me to fill. The stench is spectacular. “How can you do that?” one of them asks, “how come you’re not throwing up?” I explain: “tonight I’ll have a hot shower and drink expensive whisky with my cats.” Now on a roll, and to emphasise my own privilege, I add “my cats have medical insurance”. A sixth-former pulls up with an empty wheelbarrow to collect our filled bags. “What’s wrong with your cats?” he asks.

The pit is full of rusting tin cans, rotting bread and rice, potatoes and bags of pasta, all swimming in the slimy, fetid vomit-soup. The potatoes have rooted in the bottom of the pit, sending up uncertain yellow-green lanky stalks. There are toy cars, toothbrushes, worthless tiny coins; packaging, clothing and wrapped boiled sweets. I find an aluminium shaving bowl and think to keep it for a moment. My bag-holder rattles her bag expectantly so I toss it in.

There’s a lot of uneaten food. No one goes hungry here. There are some funny donations, though. Boil-in-the-bag fish fillets. Tins of mackerel. Chinese-style noodles. These go uneaten, along with the tuna, rice pudding and instant breakfast porridge. People here eat chickpeas and rice. A little chicken, and fresh vegetables too, and there are biscuits and cakes. No one eats the cornflakes, since there’s no milk and when there is it makes people sick. Elspeth tells me that someone dropped in a pair of high-heeled shoes at the collection centre in Hackney because “they might be good for a job interview.” Later, in the car home, she tells me one of the men she met walks into Calais every night to a restaurant for a meal. Some people have money: there are phones and there are little shops. But no one can move from the camp. Unless, of course, they strap themselves to the underside of a train or conceal themselves in a lorry. I notice that all the young men wear dark clothing.


There are almost no women or children and very few older men. The camp is home overwhelmingly to young men. They are exhausted and wander along the paths in a waking daze. Occasionally we are asked for shoes, but mostly people simply watch us clearing up the rotting garbage. We clear the pit, and at the bottom I dig up a forkful of big fresh potatoes, grown strong in the slurry.


Into the afternoon, the skip starts to fill. Vans draw up; a group of twenty British South Asian men from Sheffield in brand new hi-viz jackets ask me where their donations should go. They have blankets and cooking pots; tents, food and clothing. Their clean white trainers sink into the mire. I walk down to the auberge, where the Médecins sans Frontières volunteers are sorting though a truckload of sleeping bags. My new charges snake behind me, hopping from brick to rock to bank like some fluorescent conga. I translate between the two groups, the French asking where they’re parked; the British guys listening intently. I make decisions; we move vans; suddenly I am in charge of something I barely comprehend. This, I learn, is the fluid process that keeps the chaos in check and by which everything happens. Several young men wade over to shake my hand, their new bedding tucked under one arm. Evidently I am responsible for the supplies and they are very grateful. I consider asking if anyone’s seen a pair of light blue cotton socks.

Down towards the motorway, before the line of portaloos, I come across a tidy, well-stocked grocery. It’s one of several shops along the main track, together with a couple of rudimentary restaurants, some with generators purring and spluttering. The shopkeeper smiles; he displays madeleines, biscuits and chocolate bars behind a grille. Around his neck hangs a red & white striped scarf with a picture of a canon embroidered in golden thread. I point to it and grin: “Arsenal”. He smiles blankly. “Gooner. Arsenal. Your scarf,” I speak more slowly “Tony Adams, Highbury. The flat back four.” Still nothing. I point again and now I mime a kick, followed by a cheer. He reaches under the counter and retrieves a packet of paracetamol. “No”, I say, now pointing to the mud and then forming an imaginary sphere with my hands. “Foot. Ball.” He begins to open the packet. This is becoming trickier than I had imagined. “Aha!” I cry, snatching at a eureka moment, and begin singing the Match of the Day theme, reasoning that even if he’s not familiar with soccer he must have heard of the BBC. A small crowd gathers behind me and I sense a shift of mood. “Des Lynham?” I ask, a little desperately. His face suddenly lights up. He pushes two Snickers bars through the grill and says “one euro”.


I trudge back to my wheelbarrow. Large numbers of men mill around. Mid-afternoon, they emerge from damp and broken sleep. They gather themselves, they eat, and then in early evening they set off to the tunnels. A few get through some nights; almost always they fail; but every night they return to the tunnels in darkness and try again. The previous night, five had been killed. Almost no one plans to be here for more than a few days, although many stay for much longer than that. Some carry injuries. One young guy is sitting, nursing a broken arm. He tells me he fell from a train. He has no painkillers and he cannot sleep. He looks distraught.


Later, as we pass back through passport control, we are met by a policeman rather than an immigration officer. He is quite interested in our car and spends a little while checking our faces against our passport photos. I ask him whether they ever uncover any smuggled people in cars. He is perfectly candid. “Every day,” he says.

A View of Monaco from the Jardin Exotique

Monaco Panorama

A Christmas Tale of Tolerance & Goodwill

Those who know me mostly know me for my wit and charm, for my fine social skills and above all for my discretion. Those who know me better also know also that I have a brother with whom I never speak. I have literally had two short conversations with him since 1978.

One of the many wonderful things about life here in Darkest Dalston is that I’ve now lived here for over twenty years. The Uncertainties of the Transformation are always mitigated by the familiarity of so many old faces among the new. I can be at a pop-up bijou vegan eaterie or alt-vintage coffee installation, alone in a sea of extravagant facial hair and checked shirts, and I’ll spot a face I know, someone I recognise from Not-Sure-Where and Can’t-Quite-Place. We’ll wave, or nod, or smile, gnarled and knotty old things in a forest of spindly saplings climbing for the light.

There’s the old boy with the two chows, one cream and one caramel, straining at the leash. His matching beard is a living record of his breakfast. There’s the tattooed woman, bare-armed and skinny, on her bike with tinsel around the basket. There’s Mikey, the busker at Sainsbury’s. There’s Nicola, and Rowena, and there’s the fruit & veg man on the market, and there’s the lollipop lady. There’s Ali, who runs the café at The Premises and who I bump into at the barbers, or at the Turkish Food Centre. Cat people, neighbours, shopkeepers, people whose paths criss-cross with mine, binding us into a community.

Then there’s Gareth, the photographer. He’s quite well known, and smiley, and his son was a classmate of my son, and Heather knows him from photo stuff, and I’d see him at parents’ evenings or photo events, and we’d chat a bit. And then I saw him in the Post Office and said hello, and he said “ah, I think you know my brother, Gareth, people often confuse us. We’re not twins, but we do look alike. I’m Simon.”

Then I saw him in the stationers, and wasn’t sure if it was Gareth or Simon, but I said hello anyway, and he said that he was Simon, and then every time I saw him it turned out to be Simon.

Once, we bumped into each other in Sainsbury’s, and had a long conversation about brothers. He told me he hadn’t spoken to his brother for decades. We connected in that moment, and parted with a little self-conscious man-embrace.

So when I saw him at the Eastern Curve last night, listening to Andy Diagram’s electronic trumpet performance, I put my hand on his shoulder and grinned warmly and said “Ha! Remember that chat we had the other day in Sainsbury’s, when we agreed our brothers were utter cunts?”

And now, of course, I’m working out the probabilities. Was that Gareth or Simon? The only certainty, from the puzzled, crushed look I got in the cosy Christmas candelight, is that whoever it was at Sainsbury’s, it was the other last night.

Merry Christmas, one and all.