Tuesday, December 21, 2021

It's Christmas, Jim, But Not As We Know It.

And so this is Christmas, and what have we done? Or, more to the point, what are we doing, and what are we going to do?

Last week I spent an even as a safety steward for Santa as he hauled his sleigh around the village raising money for charity. The week before I took part in the village nativity play in the local church. The tree and the decorations are up. Cards are displayed while others have been written and delivered. I've even done a bit of Christmas shopping, both in person and online.

But for every moment of Christmas normality, there is something Christmas under pandemic life. Work Christmas party was conducted online with everyone at home. There have been no Christmas drinks or catchups with friends and colleagues. And I have no reason to go into town in the evenings when the lights and displays are at their best.

As for Christmas day itself, we've been cautiously making plans. We knew the Prime Minister had announced that he wouldn't bring in any restrictions this year, but I don't think anyone can blame me if I didn't think this would stop him from reversing his decisions.

We planned for seven people, although there was the possibility of six. But then we were aware of circumstances that might bring in another three to make ten. Or even eleven. But what happens if County lines are closed, which could mean three.

So anywhere from three to ten people. What size turkey should we order for that range of guests?

In the end, the Prime Minister met with his Cabinet yesterday and made no decision. In hindsight, he was never going to make an unpopular decision for Christmas while his government is mired in a number of scandals and he's teetering on the edge of a leadership challenge anyway. Which  means Christmas should go ahead. Or will it? I have little confidence in the clarity and surety of events beyond this evening.

For now, at least, Christmas will be normal. Or as normal as it can be in the middle of a pandemic.

But whatever happens, whatever unfolds, however it is spent, enjoy your time. Relax, recharge and refresh, ready for 2022.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

It's Not Going Away Anytime Soon, Is It?

It was almost two years ago that we first heard of a new virus in China. I recall seeing it unfold in China, and while it was worrying, it wasn't something I thought would effect us too much. I mean, there had been SARS, and Ebola, and a few others. But each of these had been contained and geographically limited and controlled. And they were no longer a threat.

How wrong I was.

A few months later then world changed in ways we could never imagine. We were sent home to work, which I figured might be a month or two. Again, I was very, very wrong.

I've been back in my office about 4 times since then. All in the past few months. I saw some members of my team in real life for the first time in more than 18 months. I met the "new guy" who'd actually been with us for more than a year. The office was sterile. We'd taken all our personal items home a couple of months ago and the office was now a "hub", used by other teams as well.

On the one hand, I was happy to be around other people, and yet I didn't enjoy that as much as I should have. Is it because I'm not used to it yet, or simply that I am generally avoiding groups and gatherings anyway?

But I'm hearing whispers there may be another lockdown before Christmas. I'm hearing that we may be asked to not come into the office again, at least for a while. I'm also hearing Christmas may revert to bubbles only, limited meetings and numbers, and so on.

It's all unknown. It's constantly changing. And none of us can plan for Christmas because we're not being adequately informed. And, of course, some of us are starting to think this may still be a round next Christmas.

Lights on, trees up, masks at the ready!

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

And All Went Well At The Book Club!

I wrote a while back that I would be attending my first Book Club meeting, and that I hadn't enjoyed the book we'd been set. But I survived it. More than that, I really enjoyed it. And went back for my second meeting a month later.

We met in an old pub in town, perhaps the oldest in Lincoln, as it dates back at least three centuries. I was about the fourth to arrive and sipped a fine ale as fellow members arrives gradually, including acouple of other newbies. Then there were brief introductions and it was on to the book.

As previously promised, I behaved myself and stayed fairly quiet. But I could see the leader glancing in my direction several times, and gently broke the news that I felt the book didn't live up to its promise, its reputation or its awards recognition. I also mentioned serious flaws in the narrative and editing, and that although there was a story there, it was in desperate need of a rewrite and serious editing.

And it was received well. And there was another there who also agreed with me.

The conversation was civil, people chose to differ in opinion with no snarkiness or efforts to "recruit" opposers, and at the end of the evening while most gave scores of 8 or 9 out of 10, a couple of us gave 5s, and that was fine.

Afterwards there was general conversation on a range of subjects, just "getting to know you" type chat, which was easily the most social thing I've done in the past two years, and I came home relaxed and content.

November's meeting was good too, with a broader spread of opinions on the book - I was somewhere in the middle in that I enjoyed parts of it well enough but not enough to follow on and read the sequels.

And then I made the terrible mistake of accidentally double booking for December's meeting, and much to my own dismay, was unable to attend.

But this reminds me. I need to get stuck into January's book. Now, where did I put it?

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Steeleye Span. Again!

We went to see Steeleye Span again this week.

I last saw them on their 50th anniversary tour about two and a half years ago. They were touring on the back of a new album, Estd 1969, which I think is one of their strongest recordings in many years. The lineup, too, is perhaps the best since the classic lineup(s) of the late 70s.

The show was good. The band was great, sounded wonderful, were really tight, and rocked out. It was, however, well into the tour, and Maddy's voice was patchy. 

I know Maddy doesn't have the range she once had - that happens to mature voices, but this was more than that. Either she was (or had been) ill, or her voice was tired from the tour.

When tickets were announced for a show in Lincoln, I didn't hesitate. I still wanted to see them. Again. A band which has been around since the late 60s? Who knows how long they can continue.

I was a little disappointed Benji Kirkpatrick didn't appear on stage. And then I noticed the fiddle player wasn't Jessie May Smart but another woman. The rest of the band, however, were the current lineup. And they were good. They were a precision unit. Maddy introduced the fiddle player, Violeta Vicci, but didn't explain whether she was replacing or covering for the fabulous Jessie May Smart. Alas, there was no mention of Benji Kirkpatrick at all, so I have no idea if he was unavailable or had left.

Violeta did an admiral job, on apparently her 6th gig with the band. As a multi-instrumentalist, Benji was sorely missing - especially on tracks like the January Man, where his loping banjo sets the tone and meaning of the song. Liam Genockey and Roger Carey were as solid as ever on drums and bass respectively, while Julian Littman (guitar) seemed to have an even better outing than the last time I saw them, and Andrew Sinclair (other guitar) shone yet again.

But the best part? Maddy's voice was in fine form. Sure, we weren't treated to Gaudete (although I suspect with some arrangement and a drop in key she could handle it), but they either chose songs to suit her range, or she reworked her vocal lines to suit her range.

They opened with Little Sir Hugh, which was especially meaningful as not only is it the very first song I ever heard from Steeleye (and I became an instant fan within seconds), but his remains lie less than a mile from this venue. For those unfamiliar with his tale, I have previously told his (and my) tale.

During the intermission, I grabbed their new album (a re-recording of their 1969 original release) and managed to find Maddy tucked away in the foyer. She graciously signed it for me, and I was able to apologise to her for embarrassing myself the last time I had met her in Melbourne in the early 1980s. I didn't explain, but she laughed and told me not to worry as it was all forgotten.

But I'll save that story for another post. 

And Maddy, should you by any chance ever be reading this, thank you for all the recordings, all the shows I've seen, and for the time you took to sign an album or two for me. It is truly appreciated.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Rainbows, Smiles and Leaving the Urghhh Behind.

I was sitting at work this afternoon, one of the few times I have ventured into the office since we were allowed to return, and rather enjoying the change of location after so much time at home, and the comfortable companionship that comes with the presence of others working quietly in the office. 

I was sitting in  the corner, with large windows behind me. The clouds were low, darkening, and it started to rain heavily. After a while it stopped, and the ladies facing me from across the office started pointing and laughing. Through the window, behind me, was a large, bright rainbow. I turned to look at it, and the colours were broad and clear.  The ladies informed me that from where they sat, it appeared to come down into my head.

"Ah yes", I said. "I am the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in an otherwise dark and dismal world."

I was, of course, joking. I can be grumpy along with the best of them, and I actively have to work to remember to smile at gatherings of family and friends in case they think I am bored and angry with them. But it did remind me that it is important to maintain a positive outlook in these times.

Recently, I felt slighted. A social media post I made (no surprises there) resulted in a stupid and thoughtless comment. Instead of responding, I simply deleted their comment. My wall, my rules, and I can say what stays on my wall.

For similar reasons, I left a couple of Facebook groups which I used to enjoy, but were bringing me down with their negativity. And do you know, I haven't missed them at all.

Some may have noticed that, for the most part, I try and maintain a positive attitude on social media. There is a fine line between keeping an "up" attitude online and creating a fake, happy persona. I don't want to the be the guy who makes out he has the perfect life, posting only images of holidays, meals and so on, but I do want to not be brought down by the angst and anger which pervades social media.

And so into my real life.

I started each week at work (from home) with some gentle, pleasant music. I am well aware of the emotional effect music can have on me, and so I figure choosing the right tunes early on can shape my mood for the day, if not the week. I login to my team's chat and try and say hi, offering virtual coffee, and having a laugh with anyone who happens to be around.

I get up from the desk and stretch, take time out to play with my dog, and go for walks. I also try to eat healthily and not drink too much coffee.

And that's all we can do, isn't it?  The best we can in trying times.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Book Clubs and Opinions.

Many years ago, I wanted to join a book club.

There was a sign in the local library advertising some, suggesting we ask the librarian about them. I did, and she shook her head.

"There are a few, but I don't think they're what you're looking for. Do you want to chat about the book for five minutes and spend an hour talking about grandchildren you obviously don't have?"

We had a laugh about that, and discussed the books these groups read. They didn't really suit my reading patterns. Now, I am very happy to read broadly, outside my usual choices and comfort zone, and I do. But I recall looking at the lists and thinking that after one or two of those books, I'd simply give up.

While I was thrilled there were book clubs which were well attended, and there were people reading, I was really disappointed there wasn't one locally that suited me. This was pre-Facebook days, and so we didn't have that avenue to explore. I kept my ears open, but nothing ever popped up in my area. And then I stopped thinking about it, stopped looking, moved to the UK and got caught up in life.

Occasionally I would watch the Book Group, a dark comedy series about, of course, a book club. Oh, how I wished I could have joined that group.

About a month ago, Lindsey mentioned she'd been told of a book club that might suit me. I looked into it, saw the broad range of books they had read in the previous twelve months, noted they met in a fine pub, and decided I'd give it a go. I also wanted to be straight in, and so with less than a week to go I bought a copy of that month's book, read it in three days, really enjoyed most aspects of it, and was ready to go and discuss.

The big day arrived and I couldn't go. That morning I was told my friend Jev had passed. I needed to stay home.

The next meeting is a couple of weeks away. The book is Shuggie Bain, which won the Booker prize and has been well received. I borrowed it, read it, and don't love it. In fact, I can't understand how it was worthy of inclusion in the shortlist.

There is a story in there, but it is flawed in many ways. Oh, and it needs a hard edit.

I'm pretty excited about my first meeting. But as the newbie I'll have to sit back and be restrained until I get a feel for the group. What if they all love the book? How do they feel about dissent?

I may just sit quietly for a few months until I feel confident I can have a different opinion that is received well. Even then I will have to be gentle.

In the meantime, that's me in the corner sipping an ale and listening with interest.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Vale Jev Telford: Colleague, Mentor and Friend.

I was told a couple of days ago that one of my closest friends had passed away suddenly. I didn't post or share anything immediately, as I didn't know who knew. Also, I was devastated, too numb to write. And I didn't have the words anyway.

When I started teaching, Jev was my manager (Head of English) and mentor, but we soon became firm friends over a shared love of music, guitars, film, art and books. And, of course teaching. We spent the next 13 years at desks alongside each other until I moved to the UK. We talked about all of the above, obviously, but also everything else, including philosophy and spirituality - both of which were a huge part of Jev's life.

We also became confidantes, seeking advice from each other - both professional and private, sharing ideas and managing student situations as a team. When I messed up, I could always talk to him and trust his advice.

We team taught, and supported each other, often falling in with the other's cues instantly when dealing with students - playing the good cop to the other's bad, the straight man to the other's comedian and so on. Often there would be pop, TV or film references inserted. I almost lost it one day when I was meant to keep a straight face while he was talking to a student. He started gesticulating wildly as he emphasised points. There were others present, but I alone knew he was imitating Gus McCrae, a character from the Lonesome Dove mini-series.

And cards. Almost every day for those 13 years, we played 500s over lunch with wild tales and stories aplenty. We laughed a lot.

Jev loved to draw. He would attend curriculum (and other) meetings and draw comics and cartoons. When he returned from these meetings, I'd ask how it had gone, and he would show me the cartoons which was his way of explaining the mood of the meeting without going into details.

He was a musician, having played in theatre and bands in his native New Zealand and in Australia. He released albums as a kids' entertainer, and then wrote and recorded an album as the Honey Eaters with Natasha-Lee on vocals. He also played on Songdance by Malcolm McNeill, a New Zealand album. I have been told this is one of the best selling foreign jazz albums in Japan.

And, just like Vince Noir and Howard Moon, I would kid him about his jazz leanings, while he told me I feared jazz and joked about my harder rock preferences.

Outside of work we ate together, watched films together, listened to music together, made music together and, most of the time, just hung out and chatted.

I have lost a great friend. An encourager, supporter, mentor, adviser and confidante.

My thoughts are with his family, his friends, and my colleagues at Moorolbark College.

And Jev. Goodbye, old friend. I have missed seeing you while I've been in the UK, but if there is a great beyond, I look forward to catching up.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Vale: Charlie Watts

Charlie Watts passed away yesterday.

I knew he hadn't been well, and that Steve Jordan had been tagged, with Charlie's blessing, to stand in for Charlie in some upcoming live shows while Charlie recovered from some surgery. And it certainly crossed my mind we might not see Charlie playing again. It was still somewhat of a surprise.

Mick and Keith are the visible Stones, the personalities, the front men. They're the yin and yang, the necessary tension. Music and words, although not as clearly defined there as you would expect. Ronnie is the glue that kept Mick and Keith from ripping each other's throats out, and has been since 1975 or so. Charlie was the foundation on which they were built.

I'll go further than that. He was the heart, and the heartbeat of the Stones, and a true gentleman.

Like Ringo in the Beatles, he was rarely flashy, but he was always spot on - both in timing, and with what was required to make the song complete. Steady as a rock.

I grew up a Beatles fan - from the age of 9 or so. In my early teens, my friends were all a few years older than me, and one of them, Paul, is a huge Stones fan. He lent me Rolled Gold, a lovely compilation with a good overview of their early career. I remember him asking me what I thought, and I told him it wasn't as good as the Beatles because it sounded dirty. He told me that was the point. I still didn't get it.

I was probably about 12 or so at this time, and I simply didn't get them. There were a couple of tracks I liked, but didn't fall in love with. A few years later and I was into them. I bought two albums in quick succession. Let It Bleed, and Get Yer Ya-Yas Out - I can't remember which was first, but both are excellent albums which I played over and over. And still do.

On Ya-Yas, just before Honky Tonk Women, Jagger says "Charlie’s good tonight, ain’t he?" And he was. But I can't think of a Stones recording where Charlie wasn't good. He was always good.

I've been listening to a bunch of Stones albums in the past 24 hours.

And yes, he's good.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Scotland, Again.

I left Scotland as a small child and grew up in Australia. My younger years were, of course, pre-internet days, and so most of my knowledge of Scotland was gained through books and stories from my Dad and grandparents. In my young mind, it was a magical place, a mythical place. A country where my ancestral warriors once walked, where the loch near my birthplace contained a monster, and where castle ruins dotted the landscape.

Heather and thistles, moors and mountains. A land of barren beauty, but warm and generous people. Haggis, mealy puddings, rowies and black puddings. Accents that sang as they spoke, the Doric with it's own vocabulary and grammar, and music that stirred my soul and speak to my spirit.

I first returned to Scotland 21 years after leaving, and found all this to be true. The land did call to me in ways I didn't understand. It was barren and beautiful and moody. Snow and mists. Wild and angry seas, yet calm and comforting.

One thing I will never forget from that trip was the light. People often talk of the light being different in Scotland, and it is. But it's difficult to describe.

I was there in Spring, but it was cold and misty much of the time. We even encountered a heavy snow storm on our way up from England, but even on a clear day the light was glorious. I remember going into shops and feeling warm and cosy, yet the light through the windows was soft, gentle and diffused. I suppose in many ways it was similar to the light and sparseness seen in Scandinavian dramas which have become popular over the past few years. It's a light I've tried to find elsewhere, but have never been able to.

Last week, I went up to Aberdeen for a few days to visit family. It is, of course, the middle of summer. But it was an odd week, weather wise. For the most part it was overcast and mild, and there was only one day I needed a jumper. And that was the day I walked into a cafe and BAM, there it was. That soft, cool, diffused light I had been chasing all those years. I sat and ate my soup and soaked in that atmosphere. My senses were working overtime trying to take it all in and retain it.

And it was glorious.

That trip away was probably the antidote I needed to the lockdowns here in England. The radio was playing reels and Scottish country dance music which fed my soul. The food and the accents were nostalgic and homey. The scenery was calming, and I felt a connection to the land as it called to me.

It was and still is a magical place. And I loved every second of being home again.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Jack of All Trades, But Masters Of None?

I haven't written much fiction (if at all) in recent times. Mostly this is due to my studies which have consumed most of my free time for the past few years. These studies, however, can no longer be used as an excuse for my lack of fiction writing, as I completed my dissertation last month and next week those results will be ratified at the official Board of Examiners.

So I am very pleased to (shortly) possess a Master of Arts in Digital Technologies, Communication and Education (with Distincion).

I commenced this course in saner times, as it tied together my interests and experience in Education and Digital Technology. It was also integral to landing a job in this field, which I commenced early in 2020. Little did I know that the world as we knew it would soon end, and my role and training would soon be very much in demand.

And so with a new job I was trying to learn while working remotely and away from the team, I completed my studies under a lot of pressure and difficulty. But completed they were, and now I'm free. Of study, at least. For the time being.

And before you ask, No, I am not going on to do a PhD. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Don't Get Around Much Anymore.

It's coming up on two years since I last visited family and friends in Australia. What a fabulous trip! Spent time with family and friends, visited my old stomping grounds, picked up some Australian albums which had been released while I'd been away, and the same with a few books. That trip really settled and recharged me.

I have no idea when I'll be able to visit again. 

Recently, it has hit me quite hard that it may be a year or two - or even more. Technically I could travel now, if I wanted to go through the hassle of being on a plane, wearing a mask, surrounded by strangers and not receiving even the current low standards of food and drink, then going into quarantine at the other end and facing the prospect that here or there closes their borders and I'm unable to travel for extended periods. I would have to add two weeks to the trip, just to sit in a hotel in quarantine, and then possibly the same coming back here, but no-one seems sure of the rules in the UK, not even the government. But the biggest thing is the cost would be prohibitive. 

I hadn't looked at airfares for nearly two years, but was stunned to see this morning they are currently four times what I usually pay. And then the two week quarantine at the other end apparently costs about the same as 1.5 times the usual airfare price. So a trip home which I normally get for around £900 would be closer to £5000. (As I said, I'm not even sure of the quarantine coming back into the UK - that could also add to the expense.)

So no, I can't travel at the moment. And I have no desire to sit on a plane for extended hours with strangers. Heck, I'm even cautious about going to the supermarket, and limit that unless I must.

But my mental health says I need to get out and do things, see people, interact beyond the monitor in front of me. I need to chat in person, be around others and have a laugh.

Good news is always appreciated, and I've had some this week which helped. Making plans with friends and family also helps, and I've taken time to do this during the week as well. And fine wine and eating never hurts. And yes, I've partaken this week - although I've been good and watched my intake on both counts.

It's draining, isn't it? And it made me think of all those people who applied for the one way trip to Mars, including 8 months or more with a bunch of other people in a tin can ship the size of a minibus. Yup, I wonder how many of them are going crazy after a year in an actual house.

Is NASA using this time to study the psychology of people in lockdown?

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Elasticity of Time.

When I was in primary school, in the early 70s, my friends and I played soldiers - both physically acting out scenes as well as with our toy Airfix soldiers. I don't know if we were truly aware of what was happening in Vietnam, but I don't think it even entered our consciousness and, and so we always played WW2 soldiers, and being British immigrants, watching shows like Colditz, and reading those WW2 comics, we always played British soldiers fighting the Germans.

The early 40s seemed so long ago to us, a world from another time, a time when the world was dismal and black & white. It was a time my mum and dad had been kids and told stories of their lives during the war years. I couldn't imagine how long ago that was. And yet it was only 30 years earlier.

Sitting here in 2021, and subtracting that same 30 year time period, I think back to 1991 and it's not that long ago or remote. It seems quite bizarre to me that the time in which I played those soldiers is almost 20 years further in time than those thirty years between the war and my primary schooling.

It all seems very strange. Where has the time gone since then? How can it have passed so quickly?

As I sit here writing this, I'm listening to an album of mid 60s music (no, not Beatles). A psychedelic collection of tracks and artists that are now largely forgotten. A collection of songs that is around 55 years old. And if I take it back to when I was a child playing soldiers, it would be comparable to my Dad actively and frequently listening to music from around 1918.

I do listen to current music, I read current science fiction and fantasy. A lot of both, actually, but I must say the music and the SF of the 60s, 70s & 80s, are the ones I hold closest to my heart.

And I suspect I'm not alone.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud.

Last week was good. I went to Norfolk for a week, staying in a lovely stone cottage. I managed to catch up with an old friend, ate lovely food, drank some wine, had some of the local beer, and went for walks with my wife and puppy.  I also visited Holt and Norwich, two of my favourite places. Visited some vinyl shops and made some purchases, and generally enjoyed myself on the Norfolk coast.

But, as George Harrsion once famously (and bravely) told some Californian Hells Angels when they came to visit and asked him if he "dug" them, "Yin and yang, heads and tails, yes and no."

Clouds, silver linings, and all that. 

Some sobering news, some plans gone astray and some other disappointments. It all balances, doesn't it? At least, I hope it does.

None of this is world shattering, and there are many in far worse positions.

I woke up this morning to a rejection. Due to circumstances, I haven't submitted any stories for a while, but I managed to get this one out during an extremely busy time. I watched as Submission Grinder and Duotrope counted down through their recorded submissions, until there were very few left standing. I started to have hopes I was in the last few, which it turned out I was. Unfortunately I didn't quite make it past the very final cut.

How final? The Table of Contents was announced within a couple of hours of my rejection being sent to me, and I saw the TOC before I'd managed to check my emails.

This is a story I love, and a publisher I regard highly, so it was disppointing to say the least. But I managed to receive a personal and quite lovely rejection.

But onwards and upwards, send it out again, and hope for the best.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Sad Gits. Sad Gits Everywhere.

People are fascinated by all manner of things, and I find that fascinating.

I'm not just talking about people who like or love something, I'm talking about the collectors or fans who love every aspect of their passion, and thrive on a tiny tidbit of new information that others would roll their eyes at. 

There can be a certain amount of elitism and snobbery in fandom. I've witnessed and experienced it myself. A few years ago I was told I wasn't a real football fan as I didn't go to every match. But there are different degrees of fandom and ways to be a fan.

These types of comments remind me of the Detectorists, a TV show about two guys whose hobby is to walk around farm fields with metal detectors looking for treasure, in whatever form that may come. There is one scene, in the video below,  where one of the detectors beeps, and they both pause as one of them digs for the item before recovering a ring pull from a can of soda.

Andy:  What you got?

Lance: Ring pull... '83... Tizer.

Andy: What do you do with 'em?

Lance: Bag 'em up... Stick 'em on eBay... People buy this shit.

Andy: Sad gits.

Never mind the fact that he was instantly able to tell us the year and the brand the ring pull was from. It's also telling that these guys think the ring pull collectors are the "sad gits". The ring pull collectors probably think the same about these guys. 

I sometimes see in the Speculative Fiction world a number of readers or writers who refer to some sports as "sportsball" when pointing out how much they don't like football. I find this term quite condescending as these are people who, for many years, have had to sigh and explain to others that science fiction isn't all about rockets and robots. Perhaps sports fans should start calling SF "robot books" or something.

A bunch of people I know think I'm a Beatles obsessive. I'm not. I collect bits that I can afford and see by chance, but I generally don't hunt for items. On the other hand, I know some fans who want every available pressing of a particular album - even from the same country but pressed at different plants. I know people who can look at a photo of the fabs and tell you the date and the location instantly. (Yeah, I can do that with some photos, but these guys make me look like a know-nothing newbie) 

I just love their music, and want to learn more about them. Maybe it's partly because I'm a frustrated guitar player who always wanted to be a real musician.

It's great to be passionate about something, isn't it? To have something that sparks your interest, that makes you want to learn more, to collect and gather and to enjoy. Does it matter if it's wine, fine art or train time-tables?

Sad Gits of the world, unite!

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Looking Brighter?

2020 was quite the year, wasn't it? And when it rolled over into 2021, I just felt fatigued and didn't think there was much to look forward to. There was a definite blurring of days, weeks and months and an expectation that the Sisyphean struggle would continue.

We're a third of the year through, and while life in limbo continues, it doesn't feel as bleak as it did. Perhaps it's the weather. The days are longer, brighter, warmer. Perhaps it's the vaccinations - I've had my first and am waiting to hear on my second. Perhaps it's a few other bits that have fallen into place for me.

Whatever the reason, I'm quite enjoying my life at the moment. 

Work has been really busy, but I've enjoyed every moment. I'm listening to some great music at the moment. Really enjoying the films I'm watching and the books I'm devouring. I am very close to completing several projects which have been haunting me for a couple of years. And we got a new puppy.

We lost our two girls over the past two years - good girls who moved with us from Australia and lived to be almost 17. A ripe old age, but we missed them terribly and the house was empty without them

So now we have a new presence in the house, and the house feel like a home again.

Is there anything more joyous than a puppy, bouncing around for no reason, exploring all he can, and excited by everything?

He is a good boy, completely adorable, and is filled with personality.  You'll all get to know him, and love him as we do.

Good boy.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Rule of Three?

For many, three is a lucky number.

In some religions, it's seen as the perfect number. Certainly I've seen Christians use 333 to counteract the devil's 666. It represents many things - past, present and future, for example. Or harmony, wisdom and understanding.

And sometimes it seems the rule of three applies. Good things happen in threes? We've all heard that, haven't we? But do they?

Many years ago I was a member of an astronomical society. Over the summer, we would head out to public land with our telescopes, once a week, and offer astronomy for the people. Any one could attend and we would show them the wonders of the universe. People would ask some great questions - about all manner of things. Some questions were about constellations, and would occasionally veer into astrological territory. We were politic and polite, and explained that the stars in a constellation may be very different distances from us, and weren't on a flat plane as they appeared. It was also a matter of people creating those shapes from bright stars. Our brains love patterns, and so we try to make sense of randomnity.

On one of those occasions, when talking about constellations, I recall someone asking one of my friends why all the stars made triangle shapes. I remember we had a chuckle about that one, later on of course. But that was simply someone looking for shapes and, so to speak, joining the dots.

As for the rule of three with good things happening to us? It's the same. Good things happen to people all the time, but I suppose if you're looking for three good things then it's easy to find them.

But for me, in the past two weeks, I have now had four good things happen to me. Four really good things that are occurring effortlessly, and making my life comfortable and happy in these weird times.

And while a couple of these fell into the "it was meant to be" category, simply because of the ease in which they occurred and the manner in which I am benefited, they are just good things which coincidentally occurred around the same time.

Oh, and I am anticipating one more good thing to occur shortly.  Perhaps yet another will occur around that time, and I'll be able to claim two groups of three.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Would You Burn It?

I love the KLF. 

I've been listening to their music since I first heard Doctorin' The Tardis. Of course they were called the Timelords for that release.  They've also been the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, the JAMS and even 2K.

After the Timelords single, I didn't really hear them again until the early 90s. I was living in Japan, saw a couple of used CDs with great covers, and picked them up. It was their music I loved. And I had a couple of videos which were visually brilliant and a lot of fun. From time to time I'd hear something about them, something weird. This, of course, was pre-internet days, and I didn't read much music press in Tokyo. But the KLF continued to sit like a blip on the edge of my "weird" radar.

By the time I left Japan, they'd left the music business, through a very public onstage announcement at the 1992 Brit Awards. But with the now burgeoning internet, I managed to learn more about them. They'd done this, they'd said that, they'd threatened to do the other, then in 1995 they'd announced they would cease all activities for 23 years.

Ah yes, the number 23. Illuminati and all that.

They were fans of the Illuminatus! Trilogy of novels by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. And they seemed to live much of the behaviours and conspiracy theories within. Their press releases were cryptic and mysterious. Their images, logos and iconography were all part of the mythos.  They published a book on how to beat the music industry and have a hit. 

The more I read, the more I learned, the more I wondered whether they truly were a bit mad and believed in this stuff, or whether it was all a brilliant marketing strategy. I mean, there were reports Bill Drummond considered cutting off his hand at a music award ceremony during an onstage performance. 

On the other hand, they apparently shocked everyone at that ceremony when they appeared with grindcore band Extreme Noise Terror, performing an unrecognisable version of 3 a.m. Eternal. But that can't happen by accident. They rehearsed, it was approved and signed off on by the producers.

So is the KLF performance art or are they living their reality? Or some weird mix of both? My opinion shifts from time to time.

And what do the letters KLF stand for? They have claimed a number of things over the year, most commonly the Kopyright Liberation Front. But it shifts, and you get the feeling you're not in on the secret. None of the secrets.

I personally suspect it either stands for nothing at all but just sounds great, or it's some inside joke they'll never explain.

But the biggest secret has to do with the burning of a million pounds on a remote Scottish island. Many ask whether they really did it, and why, and they've never been able to articulate that clearly. In fact, it seems they spent a lot of time trying to sort that out for themselves. All indications, by the way, are that they really did burn it. Apparently they later admitted they regretted it. They were also routinely criticised for destroying money that could have benefited others.

But I think I understand why they did it. To simply see what it felt like.

When I was packing to move overseas, I found an old roll of film I'd never had developed. I had no idea what was on it or how long it had been there. But in that one instant, I decided never to find out. I don't really know why, but I tore it open and exposed it to the light. And it was gone forever. A mystery.

Maybe, in that moment, I was just tired of sorting through things.

We've all felt the need to do something just to see what it feels like. I guess the difference between me and the KLF is that if I had a spare million pounds lying around, I would never, could never destroy it.

I've felt ill when I thought I'd lost $50.

Sorry KLF, that was one thing you did I can't see as being cool.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

More Passionate, More Emotive.

Over the past few years I have noticed in blogs and other social media, that a reader was so upset or angered by a book that they threw it across the room. 

I usually wonder if this is literal or metaphorical.

Did they really fling the book across the room? I certainly hope it wasn't a large hardback with a cat on the receiving end. The way it usually reads, though, I suspect that whether they did or did not throw the book, they want us to think they did. And the only reason I can see for this is to show how much they love books, how much the written word speaks to them, and just how passionate and emotive they are.

OK, if that's your measure, then you win. I don't throw books, no matter how much I don't like them.

I can get lost in books and music. I have stood in an audience, listening to a band with eyes closed, and just allowed it to wash over me. Simply standing there, a smile on my face, and a moment that transcends. 

The same with books.

I've read through tiredness and beyond any realistic ability to comprehend the words simply because I loved it so much, was removed from this reality so far, and didn't want to lose it.

Yes, they move me - but not every album or book will. There are books I've persevered with and finished because I was determined to do so, but others I've just given up. I am much less forgiving with music but that's partly because I can skip ahead, sampling tracks, then remove the disc from the player before assigning it to a charity shop bag.

And then, like the above example reader, there are the books I don't like because they frustrate me or anger me. Depending on the context I may continue for a bit, or close it and return for another attempt, or simply stop at that point. But never, not once, have I thrown the book across the room.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps there are those who truly have thrown books across the room in anger.  I'm just glad I wasn't at your place when there was a TV show that angered you.

I have no desire to be hit by a large flying flat-screen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Get Back To 1969.

For the last week or so, while working, I've been listening to the Beatles' 1969 Get Back rehearsals.

They were potentially planning a live show, their first in almost 3 years, and so on a cold January morning they arrived at a soundstage at Twickenham film studios with a crew recording the rehearsals for a TV special.

It was cold, the soundstage was cavernous, and their relationship was fraying - for a number of reasons. But they made music, playing old rock 'n' roll standards and learning new songs. After a week or so, George had had enough and quit. The others continued for a day or so before deciding they weren't working as a trio and so they packed up and left.

A week later they had convinced George to return, with the proviso there wouldn't be a concert and they would move to a friendlier studio space. And so, with an 8-track recorder borrowed from EMI, they moved the rehearsals to the basement of their offices at Apple Records, a studio which was being built but was not yet complete. They continued rehearsing for the rest of the month until the climbed the stairs to the roof where they played live for 42 minutes across the rooftops of London. Their last ever live performance.

The film crew captured more than 100 hours of footage, which formed the basis of the Let It Be movie. The sound crew for the film used portable Nagra recorders to tape the audio, all on 16 minutes tapes. 

The 8-track recordings from these rehearsals became the accompanying album.

More than 20 years ago, bootleggers managed to get hold of around 550 of these Nagra tapes, and started releasing the complete rehearsals. They managed around 60% of the rehearsals before they were busted, and all the tapes were returned to Apple. But they made backups, and the backups were then released on the internet for fans.

What this means ifs that I have around 97 hours of audio from these sessions. It has been a long-time ambition to listen to them all chronologically. And now I am living the dream.

It's not for the faint-hearted. There's lots of dialogue and discussion (fascinating if you are a Beatles scholar), sloppy attempts at half-remembered songs, take after take after take of new songs as they learn them. Even I get a little bored after an hour of Maxwell's Silver Hammer with accompanying anvil strikes and whistling intro.

I listen to a couple a day while I'm working, and I'm currently about 17% of the way through.

Yes, they can be tedious, they can be sloppy, they can be flat due to disinterest from a disintegrating band. But when they're on the same page, and focused, they can be absolute magic.

And those are the moments I love.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Lost in Translation?

During the 90s, I lived in Tokyo for around six years in total. First for one year, then after a year back in Australia, back for another five.

It was a great experience, a wonderful time to be in Japan. I made a lot of friends, working with teachers from around the world. We worked all day, socialised after work, and mostly got on very well. There were a lot of transients, young people working to make money to fund the next leg of their adventure, but there were also those we considered "lifers".

Those were the days before the internet was a thing, and so sadly I never really managed to keep in contact with many of my friends.

The last school I worked at was the exception. It was a small Berlitz school in Shimo-Kitazawa, and the core staff there hardly changed for the four years I was there. For the most part, we're all still in touch, and some of us have even caught up occasionally.

Last night I was feeling nostalgic, trying to remember names and faces, and wondering what happened to them all. I'm sure I have photos, but unfortunately most of them are currently in storage.

My first teaching job was with Nova in Otsuka, a suburb of Tokyo near Ikebukuro. I worked with Susan, a Canadian, and Heidi and Tim - both Americans. I am still in touch with Heidi, but I do wonder what happened to Tim and Susan. (and yes, I recall their family names).

I don't remember many students there. There was one lady who I think was a reporter, and a trained opera singer. One night I convinced her to sing. She only let one, short note out, but it was intense and I remember the office staff all jumping and looking up. She also managed to get me tickets to the filming of Naruhodo The World, a TV show hosted by Beat Takeshi.

Another student was a huge fan of Mr Big, and gave me one of their CD singles when I left. Another gave me a cassette tape of the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. I hope you're still enjoying your music. 

When I returned a year later, I started working at Nova in Ueno. That is where I met the Doctor, a good friend who remains in contact. We even manage to catch up every couple of years and hang out. But I lost touch with all the others there. (Canadians) Doug and Sean. (New Zealander) Mel. (Americans) Rick, Dan, Brett. (English) Sian, Ed, Elizabeth(?). (Australian) Harold. There was a Japanese-American guy whose name (I think) might have been John. And many others. All good people, all fun.

What became of you all?

I moved to another Nova school for a short time. I think it might have been Okachimachi - very close to Ueno. I only remember one teacher there. I think she was Australian, and her name may have been Lisa.

I hope you're well.

After that I moved to Berlitz at Shimo-Kitazawa. As I said, I am still in touch with many of the teachers there, and one student. But during training, and visiting other schools, I got to know many more. There was the lady who spent a year living in a tepee and dealing drugs in a previous life, Larry - a keen photographer, and John, whose sister was a famous comedienne in Australia. Paul from South Africa, Juliet from the US, Chris from Canada, Oliver who loved cycling, and a few others.

Wouldn't it be great to catch up and reminisce?

And then so many students. Many of these I remember. Kumiko, who was embarrassed when she gave me giri-chocolate. The TV director, who gave me ringside seats to the Sumo and went to America to study film-making. The husband and wife dentist team, the two lovely ladies who took me out for lunch when they heard I was leaving. So many whose first names I forget. Many of these I remember their family names, but I'm leaving those off this page.

Ah what a time it was. And if you remember me from Tokyo days, whether through language schools or elsewhere, please get in touch. It would be wonderful to hear from you.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Soups On!

I've always joked that salad is not a meal, but a decoration that accompanies the steak. I've also joked that soup is not a meal, but a starter before the main course.

Of course this was an exaggeration and meant as a joke. But when I do go to restaurants, I wouldn't order either soup or a salad as the meal - especially for an evening meal. On a cold day a thick soup with crusty bread at lunch does appeal.

Over the years I have sometimes taken soup to work for lunch. These I quite enjoyed - filling, hearty and healthy. Last year I started a new job, and I was in the office for about 5 weeks before I was sent home to work remotely. (And I'm now less than two months from having not set foot in my office for a year.) Despite the short time I was there, one of my colleagues would tease me about having soup for lunch. Is it soup again, Steve?  What a surprise.

I do love cooking, and I'm pretty dab with a recipe. I'm proud of my curries and pizzas, and I've been known to journey into other cuisines with great results. But I'm a recipe follower. I can't do the whole chef thing and make it up as I go along.

Since working from home, I have started making soups. And recently I've even been adventurous enough to "wing it" from time to time. I confess, though, I often call on assistance to make sure I'm not going to destroy anything.  (Do you think I can add this tin of tuna to this pea and ham soup?)

I make enough for the week, not that we have it every single day, but it is warming in winter and healthy. All part of my master plan to not stack on weight during a time when sitting at my desk for extended hours.

And I'm not snacking either.

So me, I'm the thin guy over here, finishing my soup and having a mandarin for afternoon tea.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Happy New Lockdown Year.

Happy New Year.

And for those of us in the UK, we're back in lockdown. The virus seems to be running rampant, and we're confined to the house for the foreseeable future. Not that it changes much for me. I've been working from home since March, have been quite reluctant to got out unless I need to, and generally avoid people where I can. In fact, we even stayed at home for Christmas this year - just the two of us. It was lovely and quiet.

But I'm not going to dwell on the negatives in this world. There are so many at the moment, and I'm surrounded by them all the time.

A new year - the year of the Ox in China. I have no idea what it means for us, but I suppose I will have a look shortly. I could ask my Chinese friend, but the last time I asked him what a particular year meant for us, he advised me to invest in the stock market. I suspect it's similar advice he would offer now. 

The year is fresh, although I recognise it as an arbitrary marker. Simply clicking over a new number in a calendar doesn't actually change anything. Or does it?  I suppose it offers us a chance to reset, forgive and/or forget, and face the future with a new determinism. This year, that could be quite difficult.

But despite that, I do have plans for this year. By December I'll be able to report back on my strike rate.

Have a great year. Don't let the world get you down.