A big lump of high pressure has been sitting over the UK this week, and as it moves off to the east, it's drawn a plume of very warm air up from Spain; winds move clockwise around a high. After a week in which the overnight temperatures in the back garden dropped below freezing, I think spring may finally have arrived. And not before time. This morning I have the windows open in an attempt to let some fresh air into the house. Outside right now, it's 15°C, although it's not as sunny as it was yesterday when I finally gave the lawn its first cut of the year and tried to make the back garden look less like a jungle. But thanks to the current pandemic, garden waste collections have been suspended so I have resorted to starting a compost heap; I really should get round to emptying the compost bin I bought years ago, as I discovered yesterday that it was full to the brim.
The arrival of spring means that the local birds have become much more active. The blue tit family that have used the nest box on the garage every year for the last five years have been very busy, and I've heard great tit calls from the garden as well. Someone on the village forum mentioned that they'd heard skylarks this week. I haven't been that lucky yet, but I have heard the local buzzards calling several times in the last few days. It's one of my favourite sounds from round here.
Before I came indoors from yesterday's gardening session, I used the hosepipe to wash out the bird baths on the patio and then restocked the bird table with suet pellets and mealworms. As I sat at the computer an hour later, I was entertained by a corvid tea party outside. The bird table looks remarkably small when it has four jackdaws sitting on it. The local magpie can be very skittish, as there are a lot of cats in the neighbourhood, but even it joined in the fun. It was there again this morning, sitting on the corner of the conservatory roof and clattering loudly at something or other that was annoying it. Self isolation doesn't seem as bad when there are things like this going on around me.
Yesterday turned out to be a day for forcing myself to handle all the domestic duties that I will normally put off for days. Aside from doing the gardening, I ironed all the laundry and did a bunch of tidying up. The heap of clothes lurking at the bottom of my wardrobe was pulled out, sorted into different categories, folded neatly, and put back in place. And I even cooked; I had home made potato skins for tea (made because I needed to finish off some blue cheese, bacon, and cream cheese that was getting close to its use-by date). They turned out nicely.
I kept myself busy all day, and resisted any temptation to just sit and read or take a nap. So I should have slept well last night, going to bed with a full stomach and satisfied with a productive day. Instead I found myself tossing and turning until after three o'clock. This morning, the data my watch sent to the sleep tracker app on my phone generated an utterly dismal score. All the bad things that I could do, I'd done: there were multiple interruptions, a lack of deep sleep, and a total duration of well under seven hours. I'm not sure exactly why I got myself in such a state, but I suspect that discomfort was the main reason. Aside from my grumbling kidneys, I had plenty of aches and pains from all that gardening—my watch also revealed that yesterday was the most active I've been since the first half of February. The final interruption to my sleep last night was when I got up and went to the kitchen to take a couple of ibuprofen tablets. After that, it seems that I finally got comfortable enough to drift off into some semblance of sleep, although when I woke this morning the duvet was half hanging off the bed, and the blanket I have on top of it had fallen to the floor.
I really struggle when my sleep quality deteriorates. I'm going to take things easy today and see how it goes tonight.
...was a Wednesday. I arrived back home after flying from Tampa, where I had just finished up a project I was working on for the Australian Air Force. It was not one of my better days. In fact it put me off international business travel for life.
To start with, the flight was delayed for two hours. There are few things more stultifying than hanging around in an airport departure lounge. I bought a slew of books and had got most of the way through a Greg Bear novel before the flight was finally called. When I landed at Heathrow I'd had enough; I drove all the way home without stopping, figuring I could get a nice cold drink when I arrived at the house. No such luck; when I popped the lid on a can of Diet Coke and took a swig, it was warm. I opened the fridge again and realised that everything else in it was warm as well. And that was when I noticed the smell: while I was away, the thing had stopped working and everything in the fridge and the freezer had gone off. I spent the next hour mopping up the kitchen and chucking all my spoiled food in the bin. Then I drove down to the Mall at Cribbs Causeway to buy a new one (twenty years later, it's still going) and then called in at the cattery to pick up my cat, Tribble.
When I unpacked, I discovered that at some point on my Virgin Airlines flight, somebody had opened my suitcase and relieved me of all the DVDs I'd bought during my trip, as well as a stack of AA batteries I'd taken with me for my Discman (fortunately the Discman itself—and all the CDs I had with me—had been in my hand baggage in the cabin.) In the end, I retired disconsolately to bed with a book and my cat, who was very pleased to see me.
Another month of lockdown is under way, and as people begin to realise that we're in for the long haul on this, the predominant mood is sombre, rather than outright grim. I am relieved to report that most of the big organisations seem to have recognised that levity is not really what's needed at the moment and called off any planned April fools jokes.
Things are looking a little better than they were last week. The commercial world is starting to develop a more organised response, and although many businesses have closed down for the moment (including my local takeaway, which is a bit of a low blow) food supplies are beginning to look more like they normally do; the only major shortage at the moment is of flour and supermarkets have organised the shopping experience to cut the risk of customers being infected. Needless to say the government is nowhere near as well organised. After a shambolic press conference by Michael Gove yesterday, ITV's political editor Robert Peston politely accused him of lying his ass off. This seems to be the default approach that the Prime Minister's team have adopted; when the UK's decision not to take part in a joint procurement exercise with the EU in buying COVID-19 testing kits became public last week, the health minister's initial claim that "We didn't get the email about it" was rapidly demolished. Meanwhile, after testing positive for the virus, the prime minister has put himself into isolation. We can only hope he stays there for as long as possible.
As the lockdown continues, there's been a lot of creative sharing happening online; on Saturday night I took part in a virtual FAWM Over Party (referred to universally as a FOP) on Facebook Live and I even got my performance anxiety levels low enough to kick off the proceedings by playing some ambient guitar. Last night, I watched Al Murray and Jakko Jakszyk discuss their recent musical collaboration (Al has his own home studio complete with an acoustic drum kit and a very nice collection of guitars) and talk about their favourite albums. The show was hosted by Robin Ince and Michael Legge as part of the Stay At Home Festival and proceedings concluded with a stirring acoustic rendition of Cher's song "Believe" by Grace Petrie and her flatmate Ben. It was better than the original! After that stream concluded, I headed over to Twitch TV to watch a glorious broadcast from Devin Townsend that was, as ever, a delight to watch. Tonight synth guru Martyn Greenwood will be performing a half-hour set as Concept Devices from his home studio at 21:30 BST, and I will be watching. I now have Twitch up and running on the TV and connected to the home audio system, and while it's not the same as attending a live show, it's still a great way to experience performances without leaving the house.
I am still working on new music of my own, although since I upgraded to the latest version of iZotope's Music Production Suite (which was on offer for registered users at a bargain price last month) rather than recording more tracks, I've been digging more deeply into the mixing process and spending an inordinate amount of time getting things I've already recorded to sound as good as I can get them. Fortunately I have an inordinate amount of time available to do this at the moment. The results are sounding very good indeed, at least to my somewhat biased ears.
At the moment the next album—and the one after that, which will be another ambient album—will be more than enough to keep me occupied for the rest of the month. After that, I have plenty of other creative activities I want to work on including a return to both writing and drawing. And now is very much the time to put those plans into action, because when am I going to have a better opportunity than this?