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The Christmas Machine was wheeled out. It conquered. We quailed. It was merciful. We boogied.
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Our first Halloween in Letchworth. Lovely to live in a road where the adults enter into the spirit, and children who visit are not bigger than us. This was our first pumpkin. How it suffered.
2013-07 New home in bloom
Our idea to put the pots above door and windows to make the front of the house a bit less plain. The triffid hollyhocks, however, were a complete surprise!
2013-02 to blah!
A spring and summer spent making our new house a home. Too many pictures to add. Too many splinters to pull (and visit hospital with). Too many paint pots to herniize over. Too much dust. Too much checking of bank imbalances. A quick autumn holiday to blow those cobwebs away. Too many grindstones for our noses. Can't wait for holiday season. Discovered a new line in fun veg figures: the GINGER!
2012-12 to 2013-02 Leaving Eltham
Sad to see the end of our old house in Eltham, South London. Good bye to our snug rooms, fond farewell to the lovely garden and the frogs in the pond. All packed up to move north of London - fresher air and higher bills.
2012-08 Climb Ev'ry Mountain
Some years ago we went camping somewhere in the southern Lake District. It was a bit lush and low, and we saw some nice little mountains off to the north and knew we'd return some day. August was that day. And we frickin' conquered those mountains!
Also some nice separate pictures mostly from James's trusty camera. (Beware large file sizes).
2012-02-22 Bowtie exhibition (last Friday)
Finally caught the Doctor Who Experience at Olympia (London). Well worth the visit. Even the fun bit of 3D film was wizard.
2012-02-19. Bath and Stone Henge
A nice mid-week break planned in ignorance of halfterm and Valentine's made our visit to Bath a bit of a worry but it turned out very nice, even for February. A lovely B&B, wanders round town, eating at the Pump Room and Sally Lunn's (not just the buns), heritage at the Roman Baths and Prior Park, culture from the Horbourne Museum, history from Bath Abbey and a trip to Stone Henge, fresh air from the surrounds of various parks, architecture from the Crescent, Circus, and Palladian and Pulteney Bridges. And a great time watching The Artist and The Muppets at one of the local cinemas. How civilised.
2011-10. Respect and National Service
Cycling to work can sometimes, although not often enough, bring clear-headed consideration of ideas, or at least a direct approach to working out how I really feel and what I really think about an issue. It might be afterlife-sized or did-I-forget-to-unplug-the-phone-charger-sized. This morning (and being Saturday, I consider this overtime and plan on treating my brain to some mind-numbing telly tonight in recompense) I wandered onto the subject of "respect". One of those words that gets bandied about in all walks of life and seems to mean something different depending on whose agenda is at stake. To your average thug (chap acting tough) on the street it basically means either fear (and is entirely one-way) or a manly comradship with someone who has a similar approach on life and inspires fear in the same way but not towards the person in question. To the Daily Mail editor it generally means dressing like and submitting to the wishes of the age group the paper targets. Last night I watched a television news item discussing the perrenial question of whether the UK should re-introduce National Service in order to instill upon the young a sense of respect for authority, and it struck me (admittedly belatedly) that this was a very odd way of selling National Service. To those of us who consider joining the army lies under the same category as brain-washing, institutionalised bullying, war mongering and firearm fetishism, a little more in the way of positive argument needs to be given beyond the promise to take the young out of the pub and give them guns. The argument of those who lived through the Second World War and its aftermath that the dropping of National Service lost Britain its sense of patriotism, fair play and stiff upper lip seems blissfully ignorant of the fact that open news, cheap travel, instantaneous communication and violent and morally charged entertainment negate any short time spent in a glorified boiler suit being shouted at by a man with an exotic caterpillar glued to his upper lip. In my head I tried to link National Service with "Respect" in a way that did not rely on glassy-eyed nostalgia, social outrage and wishful thinking. It occured to me that should an armed service be run efficiently on a more pure ideal of respect the social "brain-washing" might occur in a purer, more natural form. The building blocks are already there, and many an old 1940's low key war film can demonstrate it. It hangs on the interpretation of respect as meaning a loyalty earned through an act of responsibility. In the armed forces the command structure sets this up: one starts at the low end, earning some respect for doing one's orders to the letter; working as a team with your unit lifts you a level; going beyond this and selflessly promoting the welfare of comrads earns promotion in command as well as fuller respect; and at this point one's responsibilities are set in stone as a minimum, and one must go beyond these boundaries to go further in one's career. There are of course factors that must be relied upon for this to work: 1. the person above must recognise where official recognition of respect is due and act on rewarding it promptly, and 2. the aims of achieving career promotions, wage rises and machismo reputation must not be allowed to pollute the purity of the ideal that respect can provide. Who knows, perhaps this is precisely what those stiff-backed gents are trying to get at, but they describe themselves so poorly, and their rose-tinted views might be at odds with the way the mainstream armed forces operate today. To be honest, I see it all as hit and miss. Respect can be earned in many ways (it just cannot be instilled, laws passed, orders given, fists raised, indignation broadcast), from simply standing up for each other to getting stuck in to social work on a personal scale, but giving police tazers is not a route to respect, likewise adding cameras to high streets, restricting access to places and people and commodities, censoring, fining, shouting, excluding. Fear of violence or punishment have their place in keeping the peace, but they never have had anything to do with respect and do nothing to refine anyone's sense of right and wrong.
The dreaded tour. It had to happen. No self-respecting classical music lover should live within a thousand miles of Europe and not have visited Vienna. Strange how despite being famous for housing composers from Schubert to Schoenberg that the place be so dominated by Mozart and Johann Strauss II. Nice to leave one crumbled Imperial capital and visit another more lovingly preserved. Thinking to catch the place in autumnal quiet, we somehow flew into a late heatwave and spent the final day dipping in and out of the Badeschiff.
2011-07. Rousdon, nr Lyme Regis
Doggy-sitting in style, we took Charlie to see the Jurassic Coast, but he had most fun in the woods.
Click on image to enlarge. Yes, I know, I can't spell the name.
2011-05. Edale, Peak District
Belated update. For the end of May bank holiday weekend we went for our first camping holiday in the Peak District. A rail line cuts right through the middle and each small station is riddled with campsites like lice. This was our first volitless, injury free camping holiday, but instead our tent started to leak. It needs serious medication.
3 June 2011
The Old PC is dead. Long live the new PC. Unfortunately I was quite happy with the old one. A serious hardware and OS upgrade mean't I had to spend more on software upgrades and the new versions aren't much better and hog resources. You know who you arem PaintShop Pro and Outlook.
20 March 2011
Girded our loins and chanced a ludicrous train trip (roughly 2.5hrs each way) to Dover for a walk northwards to Deal (just under 10 miles). Being a coast walk, it didn't really take advantage of the spring bulb weather, but it stayed sunny and quiet, and coastal walks are at least easier to keep track of! Dover isn't pretty (we didn't check out the castle, though), you can't see the cliffs all that well from the top, and Deal was unimpressive (and its rail station needs a warden), but the walk itself was very pleasant, and the stop half way at St Margaret's Bay was very nice. On spotting a sign for the closest pub to France I had a text message welcoming me to that very country. We waved but France didn't wave back (or it has very small hands). A brief paddle convinced that it's still winter at the seaside whatever our daffs are telling us back home. Thank goodness for chips. Bonus points were added for spotting a butterfly, lots of collies and plenty of wild cabbage. Photo below edited a little too liberally. Can you spot how?
Click on photo for larger image.
4 March 2011
A tentative first exploration of spring. Box Hill on Sunday 27th February was not quite ready for spring. A glance of sunshine warmed our arrival and made for a balmy trip up the steep side of the hill (from Box Hill & Westhumble Rail Station), but the winds were against us and all was clouded as we reached the top. The view was bare and unspectacular, the woods devoid of colour, and the drizzle soon caught up with us. After an embarrassingly expensive sunday roast at the Running Horses (opposite St Michael & All Angels church, Mickleham) we completed the journey to Leatherhead through some nice mossy woodland. Perhaps give it a few weeks and the bulbs and sun would have made a big difference.
(Link here to the Walking Club directions we used. They were awesomely detailed.)
31 December 2010
That Christmas feeling is starting to drift, and 2011 beckons. Christmas tree's looking okay, still, though.
20 December 2010
Yesterday we took the buses down to Westerham for the carol service. It went very well and was decently attended despite the snow, but the weather mean't we could also go sledging. Mum stood by holding her breath as my brother took photos of us and my nephew braving the slopes of Mount Westerham. :o)
We chose late autumn to go to Iceland. Still figuring that one out, but James had his wish of spending his birthday on holiday, and we got to see the Northern Lights, plenty of waterfalls, rugged landscapes, bubbling stuff... and got to swim in warm water surrounded by ice and snow, stand on two continents at the same time, walk on a black beach, and spend £1.20 on a twix.
Click on picture for larger version
And some additionals, all courtesy (though shrunk) of James's
12 September 2010
Yesterday went to see Hampton Court Palace with some friends. Bought a magnetic scorpion. Coool!
Click on image for larger version.
10 August 2010 (ish)
Back from a cheapo weekend trip to Leeds, from which we visited "historic York" (where they make those chunky choc bars) and Haworth (where the Brontës lived, wrote stuff and died, but were never fortunate enough to see the Railway Children down the line at Oakfield). Leeds itself is a pleasurable place to shop at (we didn't but watched people who did!), not least because it wisely spreads its bank outlets and coffee shops evenly and liberally. In the evening, though, the city centre turns into a scene crossing Night Of The Living Dead with Police Camera Action. Or maybe it seemed that way to us stuffed shirts. Speaking of stuffy: almost died in the Travelodge. Next time I'm pitching a tent outside a CAFE NERD.
Click for a bigger version.
Early August 2010
But imagine it's still July and we've just come back from Cornwall; not to Padstow, but to St Ives, with trips Lands End etc. How exotic! Recommend Porthcurno for a beautiful beach and nice but jumpable surf, but do not recommend eating too much at a St Ives beach where the sea gulls go round in gangs, raid bags and snatch food out of people's hands... I want my flapjack back!! Nice capsite at Carbis Bay, where we were serenaded one morning by a hooded crow.
Click on the picture for larger image...
Or click here for my irreverent alternative tour.
31 July 2010. I am a Coca-Cola addict...
I can officially announce that after careful trials under scientific conditions whereby no animals were hurt or injured, this is certified my latest uncontrollable vice. I can also state that Diet Coke is just coke watered down with sweeteners, whereas Coca-Cola Zero is like being hit by a black acrid sweetener juggernaut, and, worst of all, warm flat cola of any kind is like drinking one's own bile through a used nappy. And don't get me started on Pepsi...
29 May 2010. Is Greenwich green enough? More pertinent: are its green credentials selfish pillock-proof?
Been cycling round town today, picking up the weekly shop, and wondering how it is that it is so easy for people to dump their stuff rather than recycle or get the local council to collect. There's a perfectly good service for collections, and then we get a huge wheelie bin for mixed recycling (which covers practically any non-mixed form of packaging), another for organic waste, and, if we want, another for whatever's left (or a small black sack for those of us who used their heads and recycled during the week). If that weren't overkill, up at my local Sainscos there are these lovely beauties:
1 May 2010. The Summer Cyclist
It's May! Maymaymay, the month where we in the Northern hemisphere thumb our collectively hayfevered noses at the South and start shopping for the bargain swimwear we hope won't go transparent when splashed with water/gin/burger fat. It's also the time of year that coincides with the post-London Marathon health panic (a.k.a. "oh my God my bum really does look big in this") in which whole swathes of Blighty's capital city rediscover the rusted pedal-powered device in their sheds (or, if you bypassed higher education and took a job swindling the rest of us out of our life savings in the City, a carefully bubble-wrapped Brompton suspended from the ceiling of the games room) and take to the streets to wreak havoc with other cyclists, the traffic laws and common decency. You will wear one of two uniforms, you summer cyclists, and they will either be real caj summerwear (join my club - my winter jeans are fraying towards shorts with every commute) or gleaming new lycra that emphasizes every physical grotesquery you would normally claw eyes out to have unnoticed at any other time. Yes, the summer is here, and the streets will never be the same (unless it's wet out) until you get a slight chill on returning from that cheap autumn tropical gettaway, and the rest of us can reclaim our dignity when arguing with non-indicating white van drivers. Rule on.
28 April 2010. A brief tour of SoundScapes on the cheap.
I love soundscapes. There's nothing like sitting at your desk at home or at work, putting on some headphones, and finding yourself in the middle of a jungle. Or lying on a warm beach. Or fighting your way through an arctic snowstorm. Or perching on an alpine branch to hear the tweet of a rare bird. Or, just for fun, hearing a dust cart collect rubbish from a London street in the 1970s. Soundscapes, wildlife sounds and sound effects are a mesh of overlapping sound genres that can fascinate and enthrall, opening up a vista of imagination that so often shuts down in an age of 3D, HD and Wii. Just as video and photography have become 'born digital' and widely shared on YouTube or Picasa, there will always be a niche for non-music audio-only, not only because there is a century of archived history hidden away but also because it focusses the mind in a slightly different and therefore novel way. Close your eyes and listen to background sounds in the latest independent movie (one without wall-to-wall sound), seek out holiday videos on YouTube, rent a Scary Sound Effects CD from your local library (avoid the synthy fx-looping 'meditation' discs if you value your sanity), or, as an alternative, check out the dedicated websites... The British Library Sound Archive has a beta section of map-naviated sounds at http://sounds.bl.uk/Maps.aspx; http://www.findsounds.com/types.html links to plenty at various web locations; then there's http://www.freesound.org; recently featured on BBC radio, Trevor Cox's Sound Tourism site (http://www.sonicwonders.org/) suggests and reviews areas of the world to visit for strange and interesting aural experiences. Go on, make a noise.
27 March 2010
Yesterday, being Friday, I decided to do something different and make my cycle to work (Eltham to London) different from the norm. I'd woken up very much without God in my heart (it was more like indigestion) and decided to search him out. I brought my camera.
Click on the image to see a slightly larger version. Here are the places I passed:
Christ Family Assembly Outreach (Gathering of Blessed People)
Emmanuel Pentacostal Church
Lee New Testament Church of God (Home of Fresh Fire Ministries)
Christ Church (Church of England)
The Everlasting Arms Ministries U.K.
HolyGhost Christian Centre
New Covenant Church
Trinity Church (Henry Wood Hall)
Holy Cross Church (Anglo-Catholic)
St George The Martyr (Anglo-Catholic)
Cliwom Sanctuary of Praise
Holy Ghost Zone (House of Refuge)
Breath of God Ministry (House of Refuge)
Winners Temple (Redeemed Church of God)
All Saints (Church of England?)
Rhema Chapel (Home of the Blessed People)
Grace Christian Centre
St Paul's Cathedral
Winners House (Redeemed Christian Church of God)
Spirit & Life Bible Church
House of Glory (Victory Life Bible Church)
Anglican Parish Church of SS Stephen & Mark
Lee Bible Study Centre (Christadelphians)
12 November 2009
On the 8th went for a walk from Send to a nearby pub. Very nice day - bit too sunny for photos, but fewer opportunities this time of year. In photo are James, Anna and Gavin. They really are those heights. Honest.
Click above for larger image.
3 December 2009
Ten Commandments summarised: no, no, no, church on Sunday, love your parents, no, no, no, no, no, and not if she isn't yours. Disclaimer: the order differs a little depending on your denomination.
11 October 2009
Trip no.6? Sadly not a camping trip (someone played his veto on account of possible October weather) which was probably just as well. Chattier update this time round. Nice days mixed with slightly damper weather made for comfortable walks, occasional paddles and cosey evenings in a local cottage. We plumped for the Gower region of South Wales (just west of Swansea). October's panorama is a mix of greens and browns; the coastline mixes limestone and sandstone, the former protecting the area with its upended layered cliffs, the latter no doubt accounting for the large beaches and sand burrows. We take our hats off to anyone who lives there without a car: the bus timetable is a maze, with most journeys from A to B involving a change at a distant C, and which work only through the close cooporation of drivers under the watchful eye of the 100% friendly locals; in addition, do ignore any recent maps claiming post offices exist in most villages - many are now quietly vanished. Many places seem to rely on caravan site shops, which often shut by this time of year as the sites themselves turn to ghost towns. The shop in Llanmadoc is therefore an oasis in the desert of western Gower in that it houses food, provisions, homemade cake and coffees, the post office and cheerful staff who keep it going as a community after businesses moved out. Not knowing what to expect, however, we got Tesco to deliver. Otherwise it could have been one very tricky week and perhaps only one of us would have returned.
The usual mess below. Highlights for us were the overly friendly dog (Twm followed us out of the village, down a mile of road, deftly dodging cars) and onto the beach, at which point he impressed us with his sand dune stalking and rock climbing abilities), almost tame robin, walking through a former military firing range (with nicely overstated signs about exploding debris), resorting to hangover fizzy-pills to cope with nasty head cold, and watching Doctor Who reruns by a log fire with a whisky and ginger ale.
Click above for 233Kb version.
2 September 2009
Camping trip no.5 was just an overnight stay with my parents in an ultra-cheap campsite which took the form of a nice quiet field with water tap. By now dab hands at the ol' tent-pitching, we got there just in time to catch the remaining rays of sunlight to see where we were thrusting our pegs. Next day we got a head start on the visitors to Longleat Safari Park (etc.). Lots of fun, but a shame about the August Bank Holiday crowds. More snaking traffic jam than safari, and it did kindof defeat the object of letting the animals roam free because they were somewhat penned in and distracted by the stream of cars. Better than a zoo, but still a little disquieting. The usual mash is below (no enlargement this time) which cunningly cuts out the dreary weather (which was actually a good thing for us) and cars and crowds.
2 August 2009
Camping trip no.4 was a lot more adventurous. 8 days on a field in south Devon with James's family, 2 dogs, a few portaloos and one very dubious waterpipe that, when working at all, gushed water which needed filtering, allowing sediment to settle, then (for good measure) boiling. Having transport mean't much easier food shopping and a few excursions, but when the torrents fell and gales blew, we huddled in our tents the old fashioned way (cards, books, snoozing). Best bit was that for the first camping trip we were near the sea, so walked down for a dip every morning irrespective of weather and surf. Splendido!
Click above for 413Kb large pic.
Holiday keywords: Stokenham campsite; swimming onSlapton Sands (Torcross); pub meals; I left my stomach at Kingsbridge fayre; sevens fever; Dartmouth fudgeshop and castle; Dartmoor (walks and Widecombe); rain and wind; walk: Torcross to Beesands (ice cream) to Hallsands (swam) with ruined village, to Start Point (met up with rest of family) to Lanacombe Bay (swam together). Back to Start Point via light house. Butterflies.
4 July 2009
Here's the stats: Back from camping trip 3. 4 nights at Hawkeshead in England's Lake District (Cumbria). With the aid of our 4 legs (total) and the rather limited bus service, we managed 4 lakes, 2 tarns, 1 Beatrix Potter house (Hill Top - the garden and nearby tarn were infinitely more fascinating than the house, which you can see clearer in the Miss Potter DVD) and about 12 bites, mostly delivered to James by something akin to a horsefly. They really had it in for him. Despite the heatwave sadly we only swam in 1 lake since noone else was swimming in the lakes - we thought either it was out of bounds or somehow polluted. (Only braved it at the end. Then wished we could stay another few nights!) How innocent we are. Enjoy the green. It really was very green. Except were it was wet. And, yes, I have a pregnancy-like craving for rice pudding. Eternal memory: the sheer variety and humour of the sheep calls.
Click on photo for larger version (1.5Mb)
21 June 2009
The house is empty. After 8 days (7 nights) looking after Charlie which mum and dad had a well-deserved break touring some of Norway's fjords, he is back in his own home and we're left with just a few hairs, yellow grass spots and the occasional paw print to remind us of the fun he brought. I took a week off work to give him the walk of his life (4 times) and below is a little souvenir. Other souvenirs include his scavenge tally of 1 bone, 1 cupcake, 1 chocolate bourbon biscuit, 1/2 chicken roll (inc. tom and lettuce); also 5 x short train rides; travel by tunnel (under the Thames). He was the perfect pooch and we spoiled him rotten. Here's to Charlie's next holiday.
Click on picture for 1MB full size version. (and, yes, I know I mis-spelled "stile").
late May 2009
If our last camping trip was blue in hue, this one was most certainly yellow. Fields of oil seed rape mixed with plenty of more natural countryside flooded with buttercups. A real dazzler. We stayed at a campsite in Crowhurst (an easy 5 min walk from the rail station for us non-drivers) called Brakes Coppice Park. It's a very modest affair, with separate fields for family and adult-only camping, and facilities that are a little stretched but just about adequate. The reception doubles as a mini shop, and the tourist information centre is a small toolshed, but the people are very nice, and in a village that doesn't boast much other than peace and quiet (the large houses attest), their help is handy. The best part is that Battle is to the north and Bexhill/Hastings a little further to the south. There are footpaths everywhere and although they aren't always perflectly signposted, pointing yourself in the right general direction still makes for a pleasant walk without getting too lost. James may scoff but I treasure my mini keyring compass! Bexhill and Hastings are a bit run down, and the coastal management (longshore drift pulls the shingle across) is at times a bit on the brutal side, but the sea is the sea, and Hastings has plenty of shops. Battle was more carefully preserved, but in the end, it's a small town with a heritage site doubling as a public school. And, like most battlefields, the 1066 one is just a field, and the bunnies say thank you. My favourite place ended up being the ragged coppice wood behind and round the campsite. Wish just one of the photos came out how it looked to the naked eye.
First image is the usual mash of image-memories. Click for bigger
These others were too nice to hide away. Click for medium-sized
early May 2009
2009 is the year of the campsite! We decided. Just back from a 2-nighter on Hollands Park campsite in the New Forest National Park, christening the new tent and hunting for dappled glades of bluebells. Both were a palpable hit, and we got bonuses of good weather, a spendid campsite near Brockenhurst rail station, and plenty of aw-cute ponies (not to mention donkeys, horsie-worsies and doggy-woggies). The site lacked a shop to provide for the things us newbies had forgotten, but the nearby town was pretty decent (good hardware store, chemist, etc.), and the facilities (delicate name for bogs, showers, etc.) were spic and span. Great place, but maybe we should have rented bikes (good trails) or stayed longer to explore far and wide.
First image is the usual mash of image-memories. Click for bigger
These others were too nice to hide away. Click for medium-sized
Our big anniversary trip to Venice was perfect. The weather just right, even warm enough to brave the deserted Lido to leisurely read books and splash around. The peace and quiet away from traffic plus having water everywhere just made everything so relaxing despite the crowds, and St Mark's was like a golden Aladin's cave. We decided to have a drink in the square, where your bill includes the little band of live music provided, and no sooner did we sit down as they stopped playing gypsy waltzes in favour of a medley from the Sound of Music. Must have seen us coming! Click on the photo for a larger version, although the mini pictures aren't all that big anyway. Can you spot the couple of shots from our excursion to Verona?
2nd September 2008
Spent a glorious few days last month in home-from-home, Cornwall. It may be a slave to the tourist trade and penguins (our name for the wet-suited body-boarders who have eaten all the game swimmers and merry wave-jumpers of yester-year) but it's still ours our ours!
Click above for a larger version. Trevone, Padstow, Harlyn
20 June 2008
My partner's nice zoom lense caught this (regrettably) grey squirrel taking advantage of a park bin byPriory Church of St Peter, Dunstable. Click on the image below for the large (1.87Mb) bin-pic.
11 June 2008
Yep, another collage, this time to commemmorate our holiday in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. Click on the image to see the full collage.
26 May 2008
Our neighbour's long grass is harbouring foxes! We've seen the dog, vixen and two springy cubs, and are convinced there is a third cub who keeps near to mummy, but it's difficult to see. The cubs enjoy using our garden as a play area and spa.
Click links below to see photos:
01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06
13 April 2008
Sunday the 8th of April was a very packed day. Not only did London and the South East of England get snow, but my neice Hannah was Christened. It mean't travelling from S London to Westerham in some gloriously white weather. The bus driver wished us a Merry Christmas, and I spent ages running round catching snow in my mouth. After the Christening the family and friends met up in a school hall, but the highlight for us "kids" was snowball fights and snowman building in the field next door. Just a few pictures pasted together as one are linked to the button below. The snow cleared away in most places by nightfall. Sad, but made the day all the more odd and dreamlike for April.
9 December 2007
Betty Davis (born Edith Kathleen Luscan) 26th June 1927-2nd November 2007
Tribute read at Nanny Betty's cremation (MS Word doc)
21 October 2007
Hello peeps. This accidental tarmac spillage against a wall near where I live has fascinated me for years (shows how sad I am, doesn't it?), but doesn't it remind you of a glitch in the matrix? Creepy!
12th August 2007:
THE FILCH FANCLUB
Young upcoming star Argos Filch (stage name David Bradley) is dashing Hogwarts caretaker hunk. A hero to cat lovers, torture fetishists, and anyone who remembers the bad-old-days, this talented newcomer has recently posed as centre-fold for the July ediition of Squib Magazine. Nude but for tastefully placed red-eyed pussy (Mrs. Norris, stuffed), the character of Filch shows his with-it status, styled with this year's must-have greasy shoulder-length hair and mothball accessories. The Ministry was thrown into chaos last week when he revealed in a kiss-and-tell interview that Mrs Norris is in fact failed animagus witch Mrs Wimple Norris of Hogsmeade. Filch claimed exclusively to the Squibbler that their love was genuine, but a Mr Wallace Norris, also of Hogsmeade, has recently been seen in the Ministry claiming pet ownership rights.
1st August 2007
Yet another holiday? We decided to get away from temptations of work and home to read the new (and last) Harry Potter book. Never tried North Devon before but found a nice mix of rocky bays, sandy beaches and green countryside. Staying at Ilfracombe wasn't idyllic, but there were plenty of buses, and a coastal walk that we had to give up on due to the unpredictability of the weather: muggy sunshine in the morning followed by torrential rain in the afternoon. Amazing we kept our Potters dry! Tried to sum up our surroundings in this postcard. Qualified thanks to Varley House hotel whose new owners were not quite sure what to do with us, not realising their predecessors had advertised in purpleroofs.com. Let's wait and see... Anyhow, we can certainly recommend Roly's Fudge.
3rd April 2007 (should have posted early March)
A very belated update to the site to commemorate a brief trip to Amsterdam. Not for the kind of sordid or spaced-out pleasures most commonly associated with the place by outsiders but to soak up some of the culture. A Biber opera, a visit to Ann Frank's house (recommended), canal biking, checking out Sweelink's organ, missing a Concertgebouworkest concert by going on a cycle tour to see clog-making, cheese making, etc., strolling along the canals, taking photos and generally being 100% paid up tourists. A fun long weekend. Ended when we had to wait on our Easyjet plane a little longer than usual and watched agog as staff needlessly threw and kicked every piece of luggage out of the hold. Ahh, back in London...
Thanks go to Ken and Vladimir of Heren Bed & Breakfast. The set-up was friendly, clean, efficient. Great to have a decent kitchen to use at our leisure, and the Jordaan area of Amsterdam is by far the nicest. We took an apartment at the very top of the Herenstraat 20, which was splendid and far nicer than a hotel room.
27 March 2007 - Great Composer Die Young pt.20. Meditation no.6
Once more into the turgid morbidity (or morbid turgidity, whatever you fancy) of the Meditation mire. Yes, the last one. Now please give me credit for trying to play this one on the piano. Granted the recorder "twitters", the piano sounds like it has spent too many years in a Wild West saloon, and my playing is occasionally painful (the picture heading this site is indeed apposite!), but it saves this Meditation from an unavoidable death-by-midi, which would have been assured due to its reliance on gently placed simple chords rather than melody or showy writing. As usual my pianistic skill (or rather lack of same) has informed the style of the piece.
Read the music; immortalised on mp3.
11 March 2007 - Great Composers Die Young pt.19. Ave Maria
Minus the text setting (which is dodgy at times) this is my favourite choral piece. Very choral-Brucknerian in harmonic flavour, it is short, sweet and has a neat ebb and flow to it that other more lengthly gestated works lack. I enjoy it both as a piano piece (which is how I ultimately had to play it for my own amusement) and as a choral work (which is how I hear it clearly), but the piano midi is marginally less appalling. Here's both.
Choral midi; piano midi; notation and midis
24 February 2007 - Great Composers Die Young pt.18. Freudian Slip
This piece is an exercise in vindictive behaviour. Not at all modern or adventurous in context of 20th century output, it was a nasty little number for me, and made strictly by channelling a few ideas (tone row, moto perpetuum) through a bit of anger at the composition tutor who turned his nose up at the first string quartet but loved someone else's droning psycho-babble enhanced piece. My tip: if you can't find someone who just wants to help you get the music you're reaching for, he/she isn't worth coming to. The opening adagio (utilising the tone row segment, but eschewing Schoenbergian techniques that might bring it beyond the boundaries of the chosen pitches) is rendered completely lifeless by midi but should be slightly mesmerising in a sympathetic performance. It is followed by an allegro which I quite frankly do not remember composing. It is definitely me, though, since through all the bluster, it doesn't flinch at using simple chords and themes beneath the dissonances. If you can stick it past the adagio, the allegro might prove a neat contrast to the tepid a-pianistic meditations of previous works.
Midi; notation and midi
10 February 2007 - Great Composers Die Young pt.17. Agnus dei
I wrote a number of short choral pieces aged 16-18, most of which weren't finished, and the few that were now sound frankly pathetic. Those that slip through the net are normally kindly remembered either for the process of composition or because they sound unaffected enough to pass as acceptable for amateur choirs. This piece works on both these latter counts. I wrote it in haste for a conducting examination. I was rubbish by the way, and most of the blame can be levied at, despite the seeming simlicity of the music, aiming above the sighreading capabilities of the singers. This was in spite of adding parts for two student friends - a violinist and double bass player (upgraded to flute and cello here). The music incorporates my contemporary interests: minor key, simple chromaticism, antiphonal choral effects and a supposedly spine-tingling shock modulation. The mp3s here are of the original a cappella and of the conducting version with added instruments, all from midi source, I'm afraid. Mutton dressed as mutton. Fitting, really.
Chorus; chorus and instruments; notation
28 January 2007 - Great Composers Die Young pt.17. Meditation no.7
For all its bluster, this little piano piece is one of my most conventional. Trickier to compose "conventional" than one might suppose, since while some of these works were dashed off in the heat of an afternoon, this one incubated 5 days before completion. No idea why, since I seem to remember it spinning out pretty easily, so perhaps the timescale reflected a break for other work. In case you are wondering whether these Meditations will ever end, well, there's just the one more. They actually total 9, although 'Fugue 8' (which would have been Meditation 8) and 'Simple Piece for Piano or Organ' stand a little distant.
27th January 2007. Preaching intolerance of tolerance.
I've been grudgingly following the recent UK TV news coverage of the Catholic Church's refusal to allow gay couples to apply for adoption rights at Catholic-run establishments. Apparently a shared disgust for same sex relationships and refusal to acknowledge them beyond a warped lifestyle choice (yup, I know, I'll do my very best to maximise my chances of getting bullied at school, depressed at college, mistrusted at work, and put my family and friends through a social nightmare, whilst living with the possibility that one day someone returning from a footie match will try to impress his friends by beating the living s**t out of me) is pretty much the only thing that brings organised religions together these days. But as usual the coverage was all about tolerance, a word which I have always viewed with abject mistrust. These days the primary dictionary definition of tolerance is "an acceptance of different views... and fairness toward people who hold these views" (Encarta online, 2007); however, the truest meaning of the term is in pretty much all the alternative definitions, and these add up to enduring something different, unpleasant or harsh. It suggests the person showing tolerance is, by sheer force of will, and against better judgement or instinct, putting up with something that rightly shouldn't be... tolerated. Yes, exactly, tolerance is basically intolerance carefully hidden. The danger of such a notion is that something pent up and hidden can build, be played upon, and finally released. It is a power to be tapped by the unscrupulous from the uninformed or credulous. It is the way Hitler turned a liberal but weak (politically, economically, etc.) Weimar Republic into a blindly self-righteous and ambitious Germany. The key to dispursing tolerance rather than unlocking the poison it hides is by turning that "tapping" potential on its head, by being open to the uninformed and respectful of the credulous in everyone. We all have prejudices - niggles, worries, jealousies built on social traditions, beliefs and teachings, whether from socio-political bodies, parents, or friends. When Celebrity Big Brother (UK this month) broadcast Jade Goodie and others making veiled (and occaionally more substantial) comments about someone's racial origins, then following it up by Jade protesting she was not xenophobic and didn't mean what she said, it showed accurately how fragile tolerance is, how the loss of control through anger or desperation (or anything else one might mention that might withdraw the safety net of forethought) can wipe away a few decades of well-meaning but painful political maneuvre and spin.
So tolerance is simply camouflage, which may or may not progress to something real and heartfelt in a few generations. Acceptance of difference is the aim of true liberals for religion, sexual appetite, race, etc. - those who actively try to keep their minds open and avoid the pitfalls of selfrighteousness. Finding the tightrope, let alone walking on it, is difficult enough, especially as variations in each are so foreign to the other. Sexual attraction is traditionally highly decompartmentalised (one must be straight, gay, lesbian, sicko/paedophile); racial and country differences hide cultures built on war, segregation and disenfanchisement, normally ingrained with greed or a feeling of superiority; organised religions are predominantly prescriptive of their own exclusivity so salvation and a moral code that potentially engenders discrimination against any who by nature or nurture do not conform.
So I watched with the usual mixture of frustration and amusement as the same old moral high grounds were gleefully ascended, the old fallacy that organised religion might be politicised (religion has always been political. Politics is an executive or legislative response to the need or want of the enfranchised, so as long as a religion has followers inside and outside government it always has a political voice), and the idea that tolerance of intolerance doesn't make even the slightest bit of sence was avoided with breathtaking pigheadedness.
Feel free to ignore me. That's what I'm here for. I have nothing against belief in God, Gods or any other spiritual refuge for the departed - I respect, understand and hope to agree with the idea. I find the alternative quite literally petrifying. What I have always had trouble is the use of this most important and pervasive human condition as the basis of a construct, whether written or dictated, that claims order or rectitude and breeds contempt.
13 January 2007 - Great Composers Die Young pt.16. Love not the world.
I was going to leave this update for Easter but haven't had much chance to work on non-meditations recently, so am using this piece to break the monotony. Very much a product of my depressive years, but after I had finished the Meditations, this one sounds fantastically scrunchy on piano because the thick octave-doubled chords (translating to faux 8-part choral writing, with soprano 1 mostly doubling tenor 1, etc.) but might be weaker when sung. I have only my own aural imagination to tell me that it works since the midi voices are plainly horrid, and furthermore I made no attempt at transferring dynamic markings to the "performance".
Listen; text, blobs and squiggles
1 January 2007 - Great Composers Die Young pt.15. Meditation no.3.
A happy new year, and what better to ground you in the drudgery of everyday life than yet another selection from the interminable 'Meditation' sequence of compositions I made mostly pre-university. As with all these miniatures it was written moreorless for my own depressing amusement, giving me the opportunity to hammer out the same phrase over and over until I felt better and other people's ears started to bleed. This must surely have been the case this time round because of all the meditations, the 10 day gestation for no.3 is the longest in the set. It made full use of a very metallic, and hence loud and hugely resonant piano: the heavier the bass doublings and the thicker the chords, all the better to deafen you, my dear. This piece is a kind of free-wheeling 'meditation' on a single melodic phrase (heard at bar 8), with each repetition gaining force and grandiosity. The climax is not the 2-voice fugato, but a slow-motion ultra-grand (although naturally not virtuosic, which might have helped), chromatically inflected return to static chords. As usual, the midi fails to communicate both the more delicate phrases and the empassioned (or at least how I imagined at the the time) statements (and worse still, this is an mp3 of the midi because the tempo changes didn't translate properly), but anything is better than listening to me trying to pick out the fugato painfully on a piano!
Hear the pain; see the torture
15 December 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.14. Light of a Star.
At last, the update you've (both?) been waiting for! The fabled but long-thought-lost Christmas carol I wrote when about 15 years old. At a time of life when Mozart would have been composing symphonies and playful operettas before breakfast, I had the confidence to get my mum to make up some rhyming verse for me to think up music to as a challenge. And here is the result. It's a proper recording for once since some kind locals banded together so I'd have a tape to send for my music exams. And I'm even playing the flute! And we're out of tune. And the singers struggle with my awkward part-writing. And. Heck. Have a genuinely purple Merry Christmas, and here's to more divertingly useless updates for the year to come. May they be flakey and feature bad web design, because the world just doesn't have enough amateur web rubbish, does it?
Listen to the mp3 (awww, cute!)
29 November 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.13. Meditation no.2.
Back to more comfortable early territory. Another piano doodle, taking advantage of a mellow day. Nothing special but brings back smooth memories, and still relaxing to play. Except for the gloomier central section. Again this takes advantage of my low pianistic skills and love of low double-octave basslines. Simple, that's me.
Midimidimidi; or Buck Rogers the notation (not all that interesting in this case)
12 November 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.12. String Quartet No.2, A flat major. Mvt 3.
This text's a bit lengthy. Sorry, but I've drafted so many different versions to explain the Finale that I've given up and pasted in the least garbled:
I rather liked the first movement actually, mostly because it felt comfortable in all but a few telling places. The real problems started with the finale which I distinctly remember composing while at a rather odd point - dead depression, but that sounds melodramatic in reprospect - at university I gradually fell into a pattern of semi-catatonia punctuated by brief and totally random periods of clarity. At the time it felt somewhere between manic depression and a drugs rollercoaster, but I don't think I've been victim of either so.. anyway.. With the finale I was fixated on the repeated chugging notes of the first movement and somehow hammering away at the same note(s) was pleasurable to me, although no doubt a source of frustration, madness and finally the inevitable gibbering suicide to anyone trying to get in an honest day's instrument practice in the next room. The resulting textures (and also perhaps the cruel abrupt tempo changes) were a big step down for the string quartet idiom, and the more and more frenetic key changing (something which was also pressing my buttons like wild) was improvised rather than planned. I reprised nearly ALL earlier themes in the finale, but some only as 'memories', others developed or strategically reprised, eventually returning to one snippet for an ending fugue - not because the theme was any good but, on the contrary, because I'd felt it was the weakest link in the first movement (most boring, sounding like the worst kind of filler) and could be transformed here into something more meaningful (the tonal stability used to cap off the madness of the rest of the movement). So what happened to the middle movement? Well, I'd just missed it out because of that hammering desire, but at about the point where I bottomed out of the phase and started trying to cap off the insanity (by adding the fugue, filling in missing parts, etc.) I realised where I was and decided the inner movement would have to be both deeply strange and thematically dependent on the finale especially to offset the incompatibility between opening movements. Now the finale had done one odd thing - it had, of its own accord - started in 4/4 metre and ended with the more calming 3/4 that had characterised the first movement. Excellent, I said, let's link the idea, pushing the current that had weakened the triple metre in the first movement until it broke into quadruple. And in the process, use both the tug of syncopation from the first together with the more menacing motivic aspects of the outer movements. And it just about works but the finale is complete rubbish - I have no idea what I was doing, and the midi can't keep up with the pregnant pauses and accelerandi. And the cracks are absolutely everywhere. Why did I write a finale starting in completely the wrong key? How could I get a middle movement to reflect a turmoil enough to link the two without sounding completely alien to the secure mood created by the first movement? It's a piece that's hanging on by its fingernails, blood spattering down the precipice, wildly flinging its themes in all directions in search of a ledge to jump to. Not a pretty sight and by the end it has jumped. But interesting? See what you think.
Think of this quartet as the first one's evil, sad, deranged twin. What an excellent way to introduce a listener to a new work: "Hey, it's rubbish! Wanna look?" But then that's what this site's all about! When you listen to the midi for this, just keep in the back of your mind that I'm saving you from the really crummy stuff, the choral pieces that bored bluebottles from windowsills, the fugues that I never finished... or maybe you'll catch one in a fortnight. :o)
Listen; read and listen (heck, you might as well if you got this far)
01 November 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.11. Meditation no.4 (1994.04.16-18)
Welcome back to the mad scientist's laboratory. Another Frankenstein's monster for piano this time round, written while very obviously depressed and otherwise mentally catatonic. What else could excuse the becalmed air of the piece as it plumbs the stale depths of the horrid tinny piano I was using at the time. Low notes made the room hum. Loud notes could shatter windows. I think I was testing the strength of both, but obviously not the strength of any pianist's technique, so it was evidently for my own pleasure only, in keeping with all the Meditations. So for me it brings back feelings of being smothered in darkness, while you, dear listener, might be wondering whether smothering might be a preferable option...
Have a listen; check out the blueberries-on-stalks
20th October 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.10. String Quartet No.2, A flat major. Mvt 2.
The middle movement of the second quartet was started last, and boy does it show. It was at this point that I was not so much losing interest in the genre but losing the feeling of confidence that had previously allowed me to experiment first and ask questions later. I had just two ideas in mind for this movement: first to provide a thematic link between the outer movements (developing themes from the first and foreshadowing those from the finale) and second, more importantly, to extend the feeling of gentle disruption suffered by the cosey triple rhythm of the first movement into something a great deal more disturbing. Indeed, I rather over-egged the "disturbing" by giving the only real triple-rhythm theme a nasty jarring feel that doesn't quite work in context of the rest of the work. Never mind. I tried to integrate it, especially in the agitated central section, where duple rhythms finally take full control, morphing the opening section repeat into 2/4 - can you hear the join? While it isn't the most pleasant music to listen to, it does just about serve its purpose of showing duple triumphing over an uncertain triple rhythm, and thereby setting up the challange for the finale. In terms of key structure I wasn't so concerned. The first movement had been rooted in A flat major, the middle in F minor (the relative minor), although it does shift back to A flat major via that incomprehensible E flat minor route. What the listener doesn't realise is that I had already set myself an even more obscure challenge in the finale: what would happen if I started in C major.. hmmm.. and let's forget the theme..
Listen; read and listen (you poor fool)
13 October 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.9. Simple Piece for Piano or Organ (1995.05.03)
Yes, if you have got here on the upload day, then Friday the 13th really has been unlucky! As filler this fortnight I've added a piano Meditation which I downgraded subsequently to 'Simple piece for piano or organ' as the gentle shock of déjà vu started to settle upon me like a chilly autumn shower on the moors. I am convinced I am channelling some long forgotten pseudo-Bach prelude, perhaps heard at a church service, hence the satisfactory organ sound (sorry the midi doesn't take to 3 voices at once very well). Other than that this piece couldn't be drier and more conventionally structured (and the score, once spread over 3 staves rather than two, looks terribly sparse). If it wasn't for the MINOR KEY indulgence which is generally enough to sustain me through the dullest of baroquian works, I wouldn't have bothered 'archiving' this for posterity. Bit as it is, I have the idea that it would actually do quite well in a local well-starched church, assuming the organist is mischievious enough to offer something so turgid and pessimistic...
1 October 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.8. String Quartet No.2, A flat major. Mvt 1.
Mindful of the lessons I'd learned from the first quartet, I tried in this second to develop in slightly different directions. The first movement has a far more leisurely pace and more drawn-out themes, a victim of my more Schubertian leanings of the time. You will notice, though, that there are repeated notes a-plenty, which I wasn't too keen on afterwards, but set about making them into a "feature" in later movements so that by the end the repeated notes ARE the quartet and they stab away beneath the second running thread of the quartet: the clash of triple and duple metres. In this first movement the seeds are sown in the way the main thematic material often leans into the third beat and through the barline. In the second movement this blurring of edges makes for uncomfortable ambiguity and the brisker central section eventually forces duple metre into the reprise of the opening material, with triple rhythms very much subservient. The finale starts well-and-truly glued to quadruple time, but the pace is continually fraught with interruptions, and as thematic material from previous movements bleeds through, the battle eventually turns in triple-time's favour until a fugue based on a short passage from the first movement leads everything to a happy close.
Worries - the fragmented pacing, some accidentally naff (rather than deliberate) thematic material, coping with those repeated notes, and finally the possibility that I took some of the harmonic shifts a little too hard by the throat at times. And double-finally, the last movement has only been reconstructed from pencilled notation - it was essentially complete but not refined in any way, and the reason is that at this time I had totally lost any sense of fun in composition. The quartet was very much a victim of that lack of confidence, and from about that time I have not composed anything. More background details to come with the second movement.
First movement: Listen to the midi (as usual inhuman and without dynamics, etc.); follow the score
12 September 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.7. Wind quintet (movement)
This was the ne plus ultra for my experiment in classical-simplicity-with-a-knowing-edge that started with the quartet. At this point I should have started filtering in other influences, other ideas, experiments, but I felt too discouraged and lacked the time to compose just for myself. In future weeks I hope to combine the unbelievable mess that was my second quartet effort (I am even now attempting to decypher the criss-cross of pencilled sketches joined by numbers, letters, arrows and directions of varying ambiguity) with further glimpses of past miniatures, from the diverting to the downright embarrassing.
Walk-through: The first theme is catchy and suffers as many repetitions, inversions and alterations as I could think up, and the second theme is little more than an arpeggio, which, as with many classical themes, can be adapted to pretty well anything (including the obligatory fugato). Put this with an odd ensemble of two flutes, two clarinets and bassoon, with mission to write the silliest, most blithely undemanding fluff imaginable, and you can see how comparatively easy it was. A pity it never got performed because it was in fact written for a specific group.
Unfortunately I never wrote more than that one quintet movement and never got round to organising a play-through. Mr Midi shall have to suffice.
Dedicated to Eloise, the cheeky bassoonist.
Listen to the midi; follow the score (apologies - no dynamic markings added)
18 August 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.6. Tota pulchra es.
Ever felt you were flogging the proverbial dead horse but couldn't resist wearing yourself out just because you rather like to torture yourself? That's the way I felt about composition by the mid-point of my year's course. Shortly after completing, championing, and depressing over the fate of my treasured little string quartet (see below) I was a little at a loss for new ground to cover. Now little does the reader know (you just wait...), but I spent a lot of my composing time sweating over oft-set religious texts, so I returned to the old faithful method and tried to bring out something different. Unfortunately "different" sounds horribly like early Renaissance mixed with Bruckner motet, and while I was quite chuffed with having come up with this next piece in the space of a morning, I couldn't help but sympathise with the blandly disinterested response.
Tota pulchra es pitches stark open fifths against imitative polyphony in a responsory manner that most choristers should instantly identify with. It's simplicity of line is marred by a hidden nasty chromaticism and false relations1 which means that a half-decent choir would be needed to avoid chaos. I was most happy with the uncharacteristic way it ended itself satisfyingly fading as it started. For small four-part a capella choir.
Listen to the motet; follow the music
1 To the uninitiated this is the parallel or almost parallel use of the same note with a different accidental marking - the result is mean't to make sense within the part but clash harmonically with other parts
09 August 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.5. String Quartet, E major. Mvt 3.
Aha, the end is in sight. Finales always give me that feeling when I'm in a concert hall, especially when it's a string quartet, and I'm overdue on the steak'n'chips front. The best bit about Finales is that you can usually let rip on all fronts so long as you incorporate and resolve knotty features from earlier movements. Here we have a rondo (A B A C A D etc., although it's rarely exactly that) in E minor - E major has been forced to concede to including the C-natural and has therefore turned to the dark side of the force (cue heavy breathing from the cellist and violinist wielding glowing bow sabres.. I guess that makes the viola player a wookie). But C major keeps rudely interrupting (like R2D2 with the next round of drinks) with a stately theme of its own until the two keys clash violently (bvvvmmmm, sizzle) and E major at last wins through for the final lap of the rondo (escape from the Death Star!). It leaps for joy! Remember to watch out for those reprised themes and the obligatory fugue (Yoda voice: hit me not, young one, but the fugue feel you).
So, that was that. My unperformable quartet. Nothing to do with Star Wars, by the way. Probably the only reasonably extended work I composed, and certainly the easiest to write. With this cheerful anachronism under my belt I felt I could handle more chamber music but that's another story of infinite woe.
Listen to the final jigsaw puzzle; see Da Strinqui Code
28 May 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.5. Meditation no.1 (1994.02.08-10)
The first meditiation piece I wrote (the first non-fugue piano work. ever) was designed to be depressing, simple and haunted, which probably just about describes how I was at the time. Must have been hell on other people. Ah well, one must suffer for one's art. ;o) Once again this piece really needs to be played because the .midi here rents it of any kind of subtlety. I've tried to force some dynamics into it but the effect isn't the same as picking he notes out on the old piano. And yes, this one's playable!
Listen to the midi file; follow the blobs.
21 May 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.4. String Quartet, E major. Mvt 2.
Okay, I gave you your respite with that piano piece and naff photos. Back to the main game. This time we can get a bit more technical!
With the first movement under my belt I wondered how I could extend the power of the distruptive influence of C on E minor. What I came up with was an extremely simple slow movement in C major, encompassing (just as you wonder how long the boredom can continue) a natty F minor fugue with enough chromatics to give string players rheumatics. F minor (four flats, furious) was not only the furthest I could drag the music from E major (four sharps, chirpy) but it also remained resolutely linked to C (part of the F minor chord). As you can tell, the urge to write a fugue again simply took control, and the jitters of the triplets from the 12/8 allegro section even carry on as it calms back down into an extended reprise of the slow 3/4 ditty. For anyone who knows or cares, at this point I had moved on from my Haydn fixation to the lesser-known Berwald, whose quartets and symphonies both use the slow-fast-slow inner movement idea mercilessly (if you've never heard of him, Berwald is like "Haydn Trek: The Next Generation" - with everything clear, open, engaging, cheeky and not afraid to experiment), and it struck me as a nice neat way to avoid the boredom of two inner movements. It never feels balanced. So then how might I wrest control from the evil C in the finale? Hmmm. Wait and see.
Listen to the music, sans all emotion; follow it on score.
15 May 2006 - Civil Partnership / Roman Holiday
April 11th marked our 7.5 anniversary, but also (not entirely coincidentally) the date of our Civil Partnership ceremony (which we ended up titling a "wedding" for sake of sanity). A little event at Guildford registry office (a nice place, not at all matching the mental image we had of such places), followed by a few photos and a meal at the local eatery. We invited some close family and a few friends, and it all went off very well. Thanks to Anna and Gavin for "giving us away", feeding us up and providing general support, to Suzanne for the beautiful reading and to everyone else for taking photos and being generally very jolly.
We followed it up with a semi-honeymoon-slash-Easter-Holiday in Rome for a week, waving to the Pope, baking by the orange trees, eating in the piazzas, trying to look intellectual next to the crumbly ruins (sorry, historical remains), gawping at the statues and fountains, wandering through churches and generally looking every inch the tourists from hell. The weather did us proud and the B&B (situated right next to the church that controversially displayed the Da Vinci Code poster) was clean and (most vital of all!) had internet access.
6 May 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.3. Meditation no.5 (1994.03.18-19)
Heard the quartet first movement yet? Hmm, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. In the interegnum (I think you need a little rest) I thought I'd add a small piano work from before university. I've searched long an hard for something that isn't a fugue and isn't in the minor key. That narrowed things down rather a lot, so it wasn't too difficult picking this very slightly Spanish effort. You can tell how non-pianisty I was (and still am) by the scary overuse of octaves in the bassline. It means you can (a) thump hard to keep time and (b) spend most of your frantic key-finding efforts on your right hand. Good, eh? On the plus side it works reasonably well with this particular ditty, but on the minus side you do realise how much it turns any piece of music into a bit of a plod. But my love of heavy low notes won out on most occasions and here is one that is at least brief and rounded. It was also the first and only time someone ever heard me thump out my own music and ask for a copy. Mind you, he spent most of his day thumping out the same Schubert sonata movement at the same mind-bending volume and lack of attention to dynamic markings as I with my dogeared scrap of manuscript, so after one of our incongurous duets in adjoining rooms we probably felt some limited sense of kinship, kind of like surviving a plane crash together. I think in return I showed my admiration for his arpeggiated A minor chords.
Listen to the music to hear how easily midi brutally assaults any possible thought of rubato, and take a quick look at those octaves in gleaming black'n'white.
30 April 2006 - Great Composers Die Young pt.2. String Quartet, E major. Mvt 1.
Check out that last update. Hear the morbidity? The thumping minor key? It was with countless drab versions of fugues all in the minor key that my pre-university composing years were shaped, while I was immersed in everything from minor key Bach concerti to the symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner. At university I kept well away from composition tuition until my final year, when in a moment of sheer self-indulgence (not to say pig-ignorance or emotional suicide) I opted for a composition course with one John Woolrich (don't worry - most people haven't either). Is it me or do composers listen to what their students say rather than what they write? Yes, you can guess that I had a tough year, and received the lowest grades of my degree, but strangely enough I achieved a quiet revolution that you could only grasp had you heard every single one of those mind-numblingly depressing fugues. I discovered the major key. And a sense of humour and fun. All thanks to Papa Haydn and his opus 33 string quartets. Listening to them was a complete revelation - one could hear all the instruments as soloists and tutti, and they all "spoke" to each other, and there was a twinkle in the eye of every performer when I got to hear them care of the resident Emperor String Quartet at the time. I had found my key to freer composition. My mistake was, when completing the first movement of this work, mentioning my influence, especially since, once composed, I found it impossible to play the music and had no outdated notation software to help me out. Haydn may not be the musicological dredge he used to be, but in terms of contemporary composing tastes his name pretty much sealed my fate. Which is a pity because this is another one of my small corpus that I love listening to - not least because I know precisely what I am doing, what themes I have, how I use the irreverent C-natural in the prime theme to dictate not only the course of the movement but also the rest of the quartet... and because I know I had fun with it. But most prideful of all, there is no fugue!
So here is the first movement in all its glory. Listen to the .midi file (you will have to imagine the dynamics, rubato and voice-distinction)
If your modem can stand the strain, here is the score, with at least some of the dynamic markings and directions that I had in the original ms. To save space, the images are much smaller - not least because my lack of string playing knowledge means these works are probably unplayable!!
May update: also added an introduction and analysis to the score page.
9th April 2006
Great Composers Die Young pt.1. Fugue, piano, F# minor.
After many months of musing I decided my philosophies are simply too mentally stimulating to unleash upon such a flabby-lobed world. I shall have to wait until genetic engineering allows humanity to catch up. In the meantime I have decided to upload the fruits of my rather depressing youth, much of it spent head-bowed over a steaming piano, coaxing the dredges of creativity I felt must lurk somewhere in that pit of ecological despair. The results were almost universally barren and morbid, but occasionally I thumped out (I am not a pianist, as many a weeping piano would tell) something that I could bear to listen to later, and somehow these pieces have stuck with me well after I wised up to the fact that neighbours have sanity that needs to be conserved for those days when the freezer fails and you are left with next year's cunningly purchased half-price Christmas turkey rapidly thawing in a washingup bowl.
Item one is the one and only fugue I ever wrote that I am happy with. And I wrote a lot. Really. Bach would have been impressed (unless he got to look at them). This one is in the key of F sharp minor, which alone was singular since the best I could manage on a piano was usually D minor or C minor. It features a number of fugal tricks too, for all you thousands of baroque technique evangelists.
Listen to the .midi file (you will have to imagine the dynamics, rubato and voice-distinction)
Follow the fun on .gif
Find out if they lived happily ever after (yes, .gif page 2)
These files are not for sharing, but (a) when has that ever stopped you, and (b) this music carries its own copyright protection - listen to it and find out why!
2nd August 2005
What does it mean to be English, then?
Well, after careful investigation into the origins of this great and varied tribe of post-Imperialists, Bluntinstrument has come up with the 10 most effective ways of identifying a bona fide Englishman, member of the most depraved clan in the world.
1. He pours scorn on the French (There's no real reason nowadays, just the sport of it, and having his "special love" returned in kind.), and is loathed by the French, the Welsh, the Irish, the Scots...
2. His colonial history is riddled with righteous bloodshed and exploitation.
3. The mother-in-law is a classic joke. (I guess if your mother-in-law is French,
she has much to fear) or based around the systematic humiliation
of its subject (and I'm not just talking 'The Weakest Link' here..).
4. The best films either involve toilet humour (heck, the newest large London building is shaped like a phallus) or end in most of us dying at the hands of fiendish Nazi generals while maintaining a stiff upper-lip.
5. He is seen by the world outside (i.e. America) as posh or cockney. (Northerners are generally identified as Scottish, unless the accent can be linked to the Beatles). See James Marsters' interpretation of a cussing Londoner in Buffy the vampire slayer [click].
6. The English football hooligan is the envy of terrorists and revolutionaries the world over.
7. Knotted handkerchiefs are worn on the head on the beaches. (Okay, not since Butlins was a fashonable holiday destination) [click, or visit here].
8. The land without [classical] music. (When pressed, the average Englishman can name only Elgar and Handel as English composers, and the latter was German anyway).
9. Whatever weather we have we complain about.
For further enlightenment, here is an e-mail which was passed round the world after George Bush won his second term in office in the USA [click].
22nd March 2005
Some people are cat people....
Some people are dog people. And I know a few who loathe each in equal measure. You can't get fairer than that, can you? I confess myself a dog person, and in the spirit of such, I dedicate this poem update of Blunt Instrument to the denigration of their mortal enemy.
A cat might act
As shy, and eye
My outstretched limb,
Its thin tail twitching,
Switching, right to left
To draw me in.
But sly not shy,
This vermin strain,
Its aim to maim
While sucking, your pulsing,
Bleeding heart through
I'll take the tabby, please, butcher.
Here are some links for cat-haters the world over:
"Why I hate cats" newspaper article
Buy your own "I hate cats" calendar
"The I hate cats collection" of cartoons (recommended!)
Okay, I admit it. I defrauded myself. I'm actually a frog lover. We quiet (and slightly slimy) breed hate cats because they sneak into our gardens and kill our beloved hopping bundles of croaky joy. I am already the proud owner of a high-picthed cat scarer and 40ft targeting water gun. And this year I plan on adding a hidden sprinkler system and decoy frogs moulded out of baked laxative powders.
26th September 2004
Greetings to Belgium!
Greetings all. A personal message for this month to say a big "thanks" to the fine people in Belgiumthat's Ken and Tom (and Toby and...) in Brussels, Jurgen and Kurt in Gent, and Jeff and Magda in Antwerpfor letting us stay in their B&B's during our September excursion to follow The English Concert in their quick tour performing Biber's Missa Christi resurgentis. You all were FANTASTIC, taking pity on us with our total lack of maps, ignorance of Flemish, and poor sense of direction. Thanks to you we now have hundreds of correctly labelled digital photos, we know how many times to kiss a Belgian cheek, we have some kind of idea what right pedestrians have on roads, and we have lots of happy memories of clean beds and chatty breakfasts with lots of coffee! Linked here are some very tiny pictures of our stay in your country for everyone else to gawp at and plan to visit next year. We're only sorry we stayed only a few days in each place and missed so much.
Best wishes to you all,
Ian and James
5 September 2004
Millennium Memory Bank
Advert / How-to
The Millennium Memory Bank is a collection of contemporary oral history recordings dating from recent years in a project co'ordinated jointly by the BBC and The British Library. Derived from a project title "The Century Speaks: Millennium Oral History Project", it set about interviewing a wide variety of UK citizens about their lives, experiences and views. These recordings, on minidisc, have recently been in the process of transferral to CDR to make listening appointments at the British Library Sound Archive (previously known as the National Sound Archive) as painless as possible, and represent an historical pinpointer of UK culture at the turn of the millennium.
Sounds boring? It all depends, really. I find it totally absorbing and addictive. Many of these people have led what would be termed "average" lives, but their memories are lovingly extricated, normally in the comfort of their own homes, and by the end you feel you know them personally. In these interviews, some as long as 3 hours, a speaker might talk of rationing in the second World War, or their first kiss, or the hardship of a certain job, or what it was like to experience a new technological or medical breakthrough.
Unfortunately I cannot see these recordings being distributed on the Internet in the immediate future, although the British Library is investigating ways of opening up some of its sound collection to the public or to educational establishments. The best way is to pay a visit. The Library's listening facilities are in the main building on 96 Euston Road, London, very near to Kings Cross/St Pancras rail station, and just down the road from Euston Station. You have to go through the process of applying for a British Library reader's pass [http://www.bl.uk/services/reading/admissions.html] on the day, but just as important, you need to book an appointment to listen in advance of your visit. The best way to do this is to visit the website at: [http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/sound.html], make note of the contact details for appointments and then use the online catalogue to search for "Millenium Memory Bank". A tip: you might need to add more search terms to cut down the number of results, like "Millennium Memory Bank and rationing". Unlike much of what is on the catalogue, the Millennium Memory Bank recordings have been catalogued in loving detail, so searching by subject is a wiz, and you can get a vivid impression of the interview from the notes made before coming to listen to it.
17 July 2004
Just a fortnight after expressing my frustrations over London's cyclist population I feel burnt out and resigned to my fate, watching them get knocked off one-by-one. So I thought I'd cheer myself up by re-iterating my desire never to enter into management. In my quest to maintain this philosophy I have devised a short-lived...
Management Translator: Answering those vocabulary questions you were afraid to ask.
aka. Is management-speak/French for...
And here are some examples...
"Strategic review" ... "Fudged policy u-turn"
"Change management" ... "Finding a reason for more managers"
"Restructuring" ... "Redundancy to cut costs/
maximize profit/budget for chanage management"
"Voluntary redundancy" ... "Afraid of union"
1 July 2004
ANIMAL: HUMAN: ENGLISH: LONDON CYCLIST
My partner and I cycle to work. We cycle a busy route from Eltham (just past Lewisham in South London), via New Cross along the Old Kent Road and right up through to central London, to the British Library at Kings Cross (I myself shift right and go to work near Old Street). We never cycle side-by-side, we never go through red lights, we never push in front of other cyclists waiting at red lights. How stupid we must feel. Although our cycling proficiency training, cycling codes and traffic laws agree with us, we are in a tiny minority of cyclists, a minority which shrinks during the June-to-August period as the "summer cyclist" comes out in force. This particular strain of London Cyclist Animal is very particular over which red lights it stops at (generally speaking, its way must be blocked by a solid line of speeding traffic), and at no point must it EVER allow another cyclist to remain in front. The aim is to be in front at all costs. If this means causing accidents, forcing cyclists off the road, swearing and gesticulating at motorists and pedestrians, or merely making it difficult for faster cyclists to ride safely then this is merely part and parcel of its job.
Bluntinstrument makes a public plea here to the UK government to consider this strain of vermin when looking at cycling laws and regulations. While it argues over a cyclist's rights in the case of accidents, maybe it should reconsider the types of people who cycle and so allow courts to give the motorist the benefit of the doubt. We are not all alike, and it isn't just a troublesome few who give the motorist the "wrong impression" of cyclists in London.
Yours sincerely, etc. etc. :o)
P.S. Anyone else who cycles to the rules, do get in touch. We minorities must stick together!
P.P.S. As a sideline: When the UK government considers widening cycle lanes, perhaps it should also consider the routes these lanes take. I take the busy road routes and not some of the designated back lanes because these back lanes are in quiet roads with cars parked on either side - making accidents through newly-started cars and crossing children more likely, and making serious assaults in quieter and unlit areas more likely. I have a bad enough time cycling past children (whatever their age, they must be considered as children and punished in as Victorian a manner as possible) who throw whatever comes to hand at my face as I cycle; I've been pushed off my bike by L-plated motor cyclists; I've been sandwiched to the curb by many a bus driver who overtakes as he parks; I've been in many near-accidents with car drivers who fail to indicate or see me when turning left. But I still like my cycling on the main road, and it's cheaper, less stressful, and (even though I stop at dozens and dozens of traffic lights) often quicker than taking the train and tube.
26 May 2004
Solar Power in the UK
Funny thing, isn't it? While nuclear power, the darling of 1950s futurism, yo-yos in and out of political fashion, with its environmental trade-offs, solar power is as attractive and yet unattainable a solution as ever. Living in cloudy ol' England doesn't help my awareness, so I wondered just what is out there for the environmentally conscious.
First stop was e-bay. An odd choice? Well, not really. E-bay hides in its depths of tacky gadgets a hoard of good ideas from round the globe. Searching here came up with plenty of "hits" but in a limited number of categories. Here I can be of assistance by doing your legwork:
Yes, the old question is "why power an illuminator by the sun?" but really the essence of solar technology in its current inefficient state is to steadily accumulate power for use later. mcbworld sells a nice simple-looking torch with large solar panel, and advertises 8 hours battery life for 6 hours charging. Sounds great for camping trips. Why is the ratio so good? Most likely this has something to do with using LED lights (6 in this case), which can be pretty bright but without the huge drain of your average light bulb. The seller's price to buy is £20 which seems a little steep, but the bidding option could nab a bargain.
2. Outdoor lights
This is a very popular product, fashionable for the past few years in garden furniture shops as well as your average innovations catalogue. I've seen some in action and they really don't impress me, but maybe better ones are available now. The ones I saw were very dim at night - enough to mark out a path or driveway, but not enough to illuminate. Browse through e-bay and your shops and catalogues for a bargain as there are lots of competing brands now on offer. The cheapest I found was for a pair from rtowa, but the hanging version from cinspider online looks like it might shed more light.
3. Illuminated garden ornaments
See no.2, basically. This adds the tackiness to outdoor lighting by illuminating various already-unauthentic-looking statuettes. This is, however, a more successful employment of the idea, since there is no attempt to actually light the vicinity. I rather liked the owl garden feature as sold for £13 by j-enterprises.
4. Water features.
Yes, it is possible for solar energy to power water pumps. Understandably not strong ones, though, so just perfect for gentle trickling water features. Most of these are not cheap just now (an example being gardensupplydirect's nice dove fountain at £50), although I have seen small pond fountains, where the solar panel and pump float on the surface of the pond - not particularly sightly, not very efficient at oxygenating mucky pond water, but getting cheaper and widely available. To go the whole hog with a proper pond pump would set you back £70 from njpring/British Eco.
As I said before, solar power's main strength is in its gradual buildup of charge without the need for mains, and this makes it adequate for battery recharging. Cue a bevy of models for mobile phones, car batteries, and the like. A simple version of this is sold by silverbrit for £11 - simply a charger for AA 1.5v Ni-Cad rechargeable batteries. For anyone who prefers to circulate a collection of rechargable batteries for their personal audio player and other constantly used gadgets, this actually adds up to a rather useful idea. If only AAA batteries for digital cameras and small MP3 players could also be included...
6. The solar powered electric fence
e.g. sold by electricfencingdepotcom. Fantastic idea of powering an electric fence by the sun rather than a mains electric current. Fence not included, but I'm sorely tempted with this one, despite its nasty price of £100. At its heart is a plain-and-simple solar recharger for a 4-volt battery. We're into niche-market territory here, but I'm sure there must be umpteen other uses this basic idea could be applied to, and if popular, the price would soon plummet.
7. Anti-mosquito guard
Huh!?! Actually not as unlikely as it sounds. Devices which emit high-pitched sounds to repel or confuse specific animals use quite low levels of energy. If only onlinetravelshop
(selling the device for £7) sold a version for the cats that infest my garden. Or the snails!!
8. Cycle computer
If only WindowsXP could run on a solar powered PC. Alas this is just a small device, as auctioned by lozdad (perhaps only this once, so click here for the item details) to record speed, distance and temperature on that morning commute. For more details, see Evan's Cycles.
Where would we be without the original solar powered gadget. The pocket calculator, as sold by dozens of e-bay merchants, is as valid today as ever, and sells at ridiculously low prices. If they could manage a calculator, though, why not a personal organizer?
I hope this gives some idea of what's out there - and this is just .CO.UK auctions!! I can see plenty of opportunities missed at the moment, and wish someone would improve the efficiency of solar power to make powering things more immediate. It would be great in the hotter countries, and worth the investment in poorer countries. Anyhow, shop around when you like the sound of an idea, because there's always a competing product or vendor.
So what of the rest of the web? There are places outside e-bay, so maybe a good Google search for your favourite gadget plus "solar" or "Solar-powered" will get a hit. Hi-tech sites like http://www.icpsolar.com/ are good for travellers with money to burn; http://www.britisheco.com/ specialises in the water feature/garden lighting side of things; and somewhere out there you can get large panels on your roof to heat your water tank. But the expense is rather prohibitive...
Early May 2004
Welcome to our new EU partners!
The Englishman greets all you from [insert East European country here] and wishes you luck with the pleasures of Western political scandal, market protection, money wastage and not understanding anyone because we're all talking different languages. Believe it or not, that statement makes me a pro-EU Englishman, because at no time have I mentioned any interest in "Keeping Britain for the British". There's problems, but we could be in much worse doo-dahs.
Here's my own selfish interests for a closer Europe:
(1) I don't drive, so a National Identity card will make all sorts of security
checks and applications far easier.
(2) I buy from European Ebay sellers and visit 'The Continent' from time to time, so the Euro sounds like the cure for my headaches.
(3) Maybe one glorious day we'll invent a language that everyone agrees to learn and understands. My partner's learning Latin, which is like trying to learn 3/4 of European languages... without actually doing so. My brain has room only for two languages. For the moment they are English (my mum persuaded meon that one), and the langauge of luuurve. I'm anticipating that this magical new EU language will come at a time when I'm too feeble to hang on to the latter!
(4) Peace. There's the old 'Mars Attacks!' speech from Jack Nicolson that says 'Why can't we all just... get along?' Unfortunately it was too late for him (the nasty green alien stabbed him with the martian flag), but it isn't too late for us.
And so closes my sermon. Free speech. Fun stuff, so long as you don't offend anybody. Except the French. Would anybody notice the difference? ;o)
To make way for new additions to bluntinstrument.org.uk, I've shifted my waste-of-space fan-review of Danny Elfman's music for Batman Returns on to my personal site. Here it is.
Happy ('v') Easter (( )) -/-"---"--
This month the Englishman (slave to Bluntinstrument) looks at e-mail etiquette.
Okay, this month, the Englishman got tired of sending pleasant messages to
friends and colleagues, tired of using dry signatures, tired of Out-Of-Office
responses, but most of all, tired of those little side-ways
smiles that riddle e-mails. Therefore:
Beware Geeks Bearing Gifts!!
There are a number of pages out there (on the Google-net! Long live Google!) which focus on a few strict rules of e-mail etiquette. The reason being that it is very easy to type as you speak, and in so doing communicate an incorrect impression of your mood or meaning. A good page to use is Cornell Univeristy's because it is clear and simple without being boring and stupid. As with most sites (and interestingly enough this includes many companies and institutions such as the British Library where Englishman works) it champions the use of the "emoticon". The emoticon (or the "smiley" as it was called before the classification crew got to it and neutralised the positive connotation of the word for sake of political correctnessgrumpy people must be entitled to communicate their feelings without fear of prejudice) is a way of deepening the meaning of your previous sentence, perhaps assuring the reader your words are intended to be in good humour:
e.g. You're fired! :-)
The fear is, though, that the emoticon is in danger of becoming stale. How many of you seasoned e-mailers use the same few (or even one) emoticon, day in, day out? How can you reassure your contact that you have not become an automaton? The answer: by visiting your mirror. Now, study your face carefully, because in these few minutes the entire course of your future e-mail communication may be transformed. The possibilities of emoticons, you see, are almost endless. Check out The Unofficial Smiley Dictionary for example to see the range of expressions possible, but remember to focus on your own characteristics. Perhaps think of adding glasses if you feel these are a defining characteristic. Now, the Englishman has always considered himself a bit of a big-nose, so his emoticons take the form of :o) . Cool, eh? The Englishman always knows who he is when he e-mails reminders to himself to home from work, texts such as: Hey, dude, remember to crash out. ;o) ... or ... Check that last paycheque for extraterrestrial involvement :o/ ... See what Eng did there? Now go forth and explore your faces, your personalities, and start e-mailing something memorable for a change!
Well [puts on awfully fake American accent] darn it if this little site hasn't been updated, y'all! [Throws away duff accent and eats plum.] This month's inconsequentiality is a collection of highly stupid .wav files (that's uncompressed sound files anyone can play on their PC) which are tiny clips from popular files. They're short enough for you to add them as a system sound - to play, say, when new mail arrives. I found these on the web ages ago and so cannot now attribute them, although naturally the site's owner didn't have copyright either!
1. Duck soup (Groucho Marx)
2. Dumb and dumber (Carrey's most-annoying-sound masterclass)
3. Austin Powers, International man of mystery (how to impress the inlaws)
4. Airplane (every line's a classic)
5. Silence of the lambs (Hannibal's table manners)
6. Young Frankenstein (the phrase I rarely use)
Ah, something different, and for many totally useless! Click here for a Word-formatted sheet of music manuscript paper. It doesn't scream quality, and I'm looking out for something a lot better, but for anyone who's tried buying pads of this paper, you'll know how expensive it can be. At least this is the perfect opportunity to deplete your college or office laser printer paper supplies. And it's all in the name of the arts!!