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Chris Harris's Blog

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Current: September 2014

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30 September 14 (permalink)

FLICKR'S DOWNWARD SPIRAL CONTINUES...

You may notice that some of the photos on this site are missing; that's because I use Flickr for image hosting. A large chunk of their server farm has fallen off the internet in a mass of red "X" icons and broken links. The forum page explaining what's going on is marked as "resolved" even though it obviously isn't. So my website looks like it's not working properly. Thanks, Yahoo.

What can I say? I wasn't always a masochist. I started using Flickr for hosting images back in the days when they were a cool website. By the time Yahoo! bought them and things started to go pear-shaped I'd got so many links to there from here that I couldn't face changing them all. But today I'm thinking about jumping ship once again.

I hate the "new" interface on Flickr. I hate what Yahoo have done to what used to be one of my favourite sites on the internet. The user interface is progressively degraded with every revision and actions that you could do in the old days with a single click of a mouse now require two, three or four separate interactions. That's assuming the functionality still exists at all; this week I wanted to annotate one of the photos I uploaded to explain what something was. In the good old days it was easy: you clicked on the "Add note" button and lo and behold, you could drag a rectangular area around the image and once it was in position you could add text to it. Since the loathsome "New Photo Experience" was introduced, this functionality has been missing. It's been over a year now, but there's no sign of notes coming back. And although this website has lots of links to Flickr I can't see myself every paying them any more money when they clearly aren't interested in maintaining a decent level of service.

ANOTHER ONE

I couldn't resist writing another piece for 50/90 today, which takes my total to 55 pieces of music written and recorded since July 4th. And that's it, I think. I'm going to be busy tomorrow and I'm not expecting to get another song written before the site no longer accepts submissions. 55 is a good number; it's more than I managed last year, and as I have been taking more time over each song this year I'm really pleased with the count.

MAKING PROGRESS

So, what have I learned after recording so many pieces of music this year? I'm going to stick with the five points I made after FAWM, because they all still apply. Even more so now that I've upgraded from EZDrummer to EZDrummer2 and bought a few more expansion packs as well. As I said in February, I think my music now sounds like it's being played by a proper band with a real drummer, and that to me is incredibly inspiring from a creative point of view. Buying a couple of new guitars has also worked wonders for my guitar chops in the same way that getting the Korg M3 back in February 2011 gave my keyboard playing skills a boot in the rear end. If you listen to what I've produced in the last three months I think you'll agree with me when I say that I'm not the same musician that I was this time last year.

The most important lesson I've learnt, I think, is not to rush things. Now that I record to a click track I can listen to a song in progress and if the structure doesn't feel right, I'll go back and fix it. In the old days I'd have been so focussed on getting things done and moving on the the next song that I'd have ploughed ahead regardless and ended up with something that I wasn't entirely happy with. But not now. I sit and listen to things, and ask myself, "does this sound right?" Several times this year it's meant that I've taken a rough track and added an extra four bars here, removed eight bars there and generally tightened things up.Of course yes, sometimes it's nice to let a song meander, and more than a few of mine do; equally, sometimes you want a song to rattle through from start to finish without taking a breath, and that's fine too - but the best songs deserve a bit more care and attention. And for the first time ever this year I went back and started a couple of songs completely from scratch because I felt that there was no spark in the first versions I'd recorded. I can hear the difference it's made to what I've produced, even when the whole song only took a couple of hours to write and record.

I've had huge fun doing 50/90 again, even though it has been much quieter than last year. However, Rocktober gets under way tomorrow, which is when FAWMers record cover versions of other people's songs, and I may well do something for that. If I do, I'll let you know.

28 September 14 (permalink)

TARGET ACHIEVED

I just uploaded my fiftieth solo composition to 50/90 for this year. Add on the three collaborations known as "exquisite corpses" that I contributed to, and the bass I added to a complex and challenging piece by my friend Martin, and that means I've surpassed what I did last year. There are still two days left in September, so I'm not going to say that's it just yet. Inspiration is a funny thing and it may strike again before things draw to a close, but for the moment I'm quite satisfied with what I've written. I think that my overall quality is much higher than I achieved last year and my favourites (marked with stars on my profile page) are songs I am really rather proud of. I am amazed by the improvement in my guitar playing; maybe I should buy a new guitar more often?

BLIMEY

The late comedian Phil Hartman was a staple of Saturday Night Live and a regular on The Simpsons, where amongst other roles you may remember him as Troy McClure. I read this week that he originally made a living as a graphic designer. He had over 40 album covers to his name, and when I saw number four I raised an eyebrow in surprise; the original sleeve notes don't mention Hartman at all, naming Geoff Westen and Patricia Mitsui as the designers. So, is it true? I can't find out, but I must admit I'm more than a little bit sceptical...

VOICES FROM THE PAST

I discovered a box of cassettes last night that included three C-90s that I bought in 1973, shortly after getting my first cassette recorder. On one of them, I was amazed to discover, was a recording made at the local youth club in Rising Brook in Stafford. I was demonstrating what the recorder could do to my mate Paul, without telling him that the thing ran on batteries. Listening to that recording now, more than forty years later, the thing that strikes me most is how strong my midlands accent was. The second is the fact that although we're in a Methodist youth club you can hear Black Sabbath's album "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" playing in the background - and with delving around to date the other recordings on the cassette, I reckon this would have been taped back in April or May 1974.

I also found a tape of me playing keyboards at Sound Service rehearsals from November or December 1986. I might upload a couple of tracks from those later this week, as I think you'll find them entertaining...

WHAT NEXT?

As September draws to a close I'm going to start thinking about moving back into employment again. It's been fun having a break, and the last few months have been both restful and spectacularly productive from a creative point of view, but I really ought to start thinking about earning my keep once more. It's time to start a new chapter. If you've got anything that might be of interest, please let me know. The email address at the top of the page will do fine.

25 September 14 (permalink)

HOME COMFORTS

The Sun doesn't rise until after 7 now, and it sets at 7 in the evening (that's what the equinox does for you). That's a good quarter of an hour later than in Norfolk, and I've been surprised how much I noticed the difference. I love sitting in an armchair reading as it goes dark. There's something very satisfying and grounding about autumn. It's the a time of year when staying inside and reading a book becomes exactly the right thing to be doing. Guilt about not being outside enjoying the sunshine or going for long walks to appreciate the good weather disappears (although it has been a remarkably mild month, with very little rain.)

At the moment I'm reading the third volume of Michael Palin's diaries, which I bought on Monday night at the Colston Hall, prior to an evening in which Mr Palin regaled us with stories and photographs from his career and travels. The life of this particular Python seems to be a good one, as he looked fit and tanned and there's still a distinct twinkle in his eye. He's remarkably sprightly for 71, rushing onstage at one point in a bright red Cardinal's hat from the Spanish Inquisition sketch. He read several passages from Dr Fegg's Encyclopedia of All World Knowledge, which was a treat. Although he didn't meet and greet afterwards, he had signed all the copies of the diaries that were on sale. The latest volume is just as entertaining and well-written as its predecessors, and I'm enjoying it immensely.

The rate at which I'm getting through my stack of books seems to be accelerating, which is just as well considering I added several more items to it this week. I finally got round to reading Jeff Noon's extraordinary first novel Vurt, which might be described as the sort of tale that Philip K Dick would have written if he'd lived in Manchester in the 90s and decided to rewrite the story of Orpheus in the Underworld. There are references to Blade Runner and Lewis Carroll, to Joseph Campbell and the KLF. The world inhabited by the principal characters is, at best, tangential to ours; it has been warped by high strangeness and the virtual reality drug/programs that give the book its title. It's a heady mix.

I followed that up by burning through Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey, another book with an endorsement by William Gibson on the cover. The plot is a hoot, driven along by allusions and references to the Tom Waits song Alice, about someone who has returned to Los Angeles after eleven years away and is looking for revenge. Given that he's spent the last eleven years quite literally fighting demons in hell, James Stark (a.k.a. Sandman Slim) is somewhat pissed off. From the fact that I finished the novel in a single day you've probably discerned that I loved it, and you'd be right. I will be treating myself to the four sequels as soon as I can.

MALKOVICH MALKOVICH MALKOVICH

In a nod to my favourite Spike Jonze movie, the photographer Sandro Miller's latest project is to recreate iconic photographs from the past, but with the actor John Malkovich replacing the original subject. Malkovich, often in the same costume and make-up as the original (even when the original, such as John Lennon or Simone de Beavoir, was nude) does a spectacular job. My favourite would have to be his interpretation of Dali, which is quite extraordinary.

I GIVE UP

I'm sorry, but I just haven't the heart to blog about Doctor Who any more. Saturday's episode was even more of a mess than the week before, and the occasional one liner (and Malcolm Tucker-esque outbursts of "shutitty-up up up!") really aren't enough to paper over the very large cracks that have appeared in the show this season.

But to cheer you up, keep in mind that the Tardis is still the fastest mode of transport in science fiction, provided that you want to arrive at your destination the same species as you were when you set off. (Yes, it's a Hitch Hiker's reference. I thought the whale in the interactive graphics was a lovely touch.)

22 September 14 (permalink)

TRAVELLING MAN

I drove over to Norfolk on Thursday evening. I'd taken one look at the road traffic reports on the web and decided that using the motorways was a complete non-starter, as large stretches were reporting an average speed below 10 mph. There are major roadworks taking place on several sections of my regular route to East Anglia. So instead, I took the cross-country route. It wasn't such a good idea, as it turned out - three or four times I found myself staring at "Road Closed" signs. There was a street fair taking place in Chipping Norton, but the rest appeared to be roadworks. It was after midnight when I arrived at my destination. It had taken me over five and a half hours to get there. Maybe I would have been better off sitting in that traffic...

BACK IN TIME

Whenever I go across to Norfolk to see my father, there's a sense of travelling back in time: the pace of life is slower, people drive like they used to do in the days before driving tests, there's no mobile phone signal (coverage in most of East Anglia is patchy, but where dad lives it disappears completely) and there's less connection with what's going on elsewhere.

When I looked out of the window on Friday morning it looked as if the hedge ran along the edge of the World. Beyond there was nothing but grey fog...

Edge of the world

However, this weekend while I was there, the sense of time travel was more profound than usual...

The Band

Soldiering On

Parked

Now Boarding

Departing

More Jeeps

The North Norfolk Railway was holding its annual 1940s weekend, and hundreds of people had descended on the village, many of them driving vehicles from back then and wearing 1940s attire. There were lots of gorgeous old cars, more jeeps than you could shake a stick at, and regular steam train services between Holt and Sheringham where more events were taking place. Take it from me, there are few finer smells than a steam locomotive with a full head of steam...

AWAY FROM IT ALL

On Sunday afternoon I went for a drive along the coast. As usual I ended up at Salthouse, where I went for a walk across the marsh to the shore.

Salthouse Church from the marsh

Deserted

The car park is closed

The sea defences are no longer being maintained, and the shingle bank has collapsed. That piece of wood in the photograph above was a piece of fencing at the entrance to what used to be the beach car park. You can see what the car park used to look like in the photo below, taken back in 2008. The posts are to the right of the Citroen van, which was a mobile coffee shop...

How things used to be

I must admit seeing the shingle bank in such a state left me feeling very sad. I doubt that the marshes will survive for much longer before they're reclaimed by the sea, together with the rabbit warren and the coastal defence pill box where we used to play when we were younger. And I wouldn't want to be living on the coast road at Salthouse when the bank fails. Winter storms in Norfolk can be vicious. But this year at least, the marshes have provided plenty of grazing for the geese passing through on migration.

Geese!

Sunshine and Gloom at Salthouse

Despite my apprehension and the weather making a decent stab at underlining my forebodings of gloom it was nice to pay the place a visit and blow the cobwebs away. I'm sure I'll be back before too long.

18 September 14 (permalink)

INSPIRATION FROM STRANGE PLACES

I'm still ploughing through the 50/90 challenge and have just five songs left to write to meet my target. It's been huge fun, although the site has become rather quiet; there aren't as many people trying to write fifty songs between July 4th and October 1st this year. Last year things kept busy right up to the finish, but since September started and the holidays drew to a close, things have really died down. The hardcore of stalwart songwriters are persevering, though, and I've heard some great pieces of music. I've commented on over 450 of them so far!

At forty five songs in, I'm taking inspiration from anywhere I can find it. I saw on Twitter last week that a customer who had been online shopping at Tesco was rather surprised to find what they had substituted for his order for walnut loaf that was out of stock. "I must write a song about that," I thought, so I did. I'm rather proud of it, too - it's one of my better efforts. Click on the "Soundcloud" logo on the link below to go to the song's page if you want to know what the lyrics are.

In the past week I've written an instrumental with a title taken from the random link page on Wikipedia, a song about where I used to live inspired by a typo (since corrected) on a friend's astronomy blog, and a ZZ-Top homage inspired by a Clint Eastwood line in Pale Rider that turned into an examination of horror movie tropes. Who knows what I'll come up with today? I certainly don't!

THAT'S HOW YOU DO IT

While the 'loose whole octopus' story above shows what happens when businesses momentarily lose the plot, some do occasionally get it right in grand style. The folks at the department store John Lewis really are quite lovely.

BIG DAY

If you live in Scotland, today's the day that you get to vote on whether your country should be an independent state. It's a day for empowerment and hope. You get to have a say in whether you want your country to be run by people with your best interests at heart, who are proud of where they live - or by a clique of out-of-touch public schoolboys in London with Dunning-Kruger Syndrome who couldn't care less about how well (or badly) the general public is doing.

Good luck, Scotland. And spare the occasional thought for us poor sods south of the border who will be stuck with them regardless.

14 September 14 (permalink)

WHO NEEDS HELP

Last night's episode of Doctor Who started off in a very promising fashion, I thought. A good, old-fashioned, "what's under the bed?" episode - literally, it turned out. The Doctor had discovered that a dream of people getting out of bed and something grabbing their ankles recurred over and over again in Earth's history. As he investigated, we got a spooky sequence where whatever it was was standing behind him and Clara underneath a bedspread. Then at the end of time, the Doctor faced off whatever it was outside a time ship and got beaten up for his troubles. What terrible thing was stalking humanity across time and space?

The premise of the tale was completely annihilated by the last five minutes, when we found out that the answer was: Clara. Clara had been the presence under the bed when the Doctor had the dream as a child. This ending completely ignored everyone else's dreams, it ignored what was under the bedspread at the children's home, it ignored whatever it was the Doctor confronted that gave him a cut on his forehead. The hand-wavy nature of Who plots get stretched thin from time to time, I know, but last night the idea of an actual story just evaporated completely. The payoff was that there was no payoff; the resolution was utter tosh. It was incoherent. Forty five minutes of television constucted around a single, weak gag, a concept that hadn't been thought through, delivering a non-conclusion that left me wanting that three-quarters of an hour of my life back, so I could do something else with it.

I expect better than that, particularly from Steven Moffat, who wrote the episode. It could have been helped by better direction - by making the presence of the "monster" ambiguous, for example, and removing its physical presence on screen. If you never see anything behind the Doctor or Clara, then they might be imagining a physical entity. But:

  • There's a physical presence on the bed above Clara and Rupert, and we have to take Rupert's word for it that nobody came in to the room.
  • There is something under the bedspread.
  • When the bedspread is removed, the out-of-focus figure is very definitely not Clara, or a child; it's played by the actor and stunt legend Kiran Shah (and if the figure takes the bedspread off, why does it then leave with it?)
  • At "the end of time" (more tosh - where's the Restaurant then?) the Doctor opens the door and confronts whatever it is without going "oh, it was you all along, ha ha aren't I silly?"

And I'm sorry if you think that scene is ambiguous in any way: just as in Rupert's bedroom, the director clearly intends us to accept that there is a physical being present besides the Doctor, Clara and Pink. So the episode falls apart. Even if the story had somehow successfully negotiated that scene, the subsequent "it was Clara all along" resolution still wouldn't work, because it can't always be Clara under the bed in everyone's dreams or outside the time ship.

The sad thing is, last night's show was still miles better than the previous three episodes.

NEARLY THERE

I notice that the BT Openreach availability checker now shows Charfield as an enabled area:

"Your area is enabled for Superfast Fibre but your cabinet is not ready yet so you can’t place an order today. It is in our plans to be upgraded and we update this info weekly, so please check back later."

Promising news!

BEGINNING OF THE END

Brain damage, drugs, violence against women, homophobia and pay-to-play: American football is in big trouble and fans are switching off in droves. I used to like watching, but I haven't watched a game for years.

12 September 14 (permalink)

THE HAPPY MEAL OF MUSIC

Along with the other 500 million iTunes users out there, I discovered this week that Apple had given me a present in the shape of a free download of U2's new album. Apple were giving it away as part of the publicity drive surrounding the launch of their new phone, the iPhone 6. But yes, Tim Cook brought Bono and the lads out on stage at the end of the launch presentation. At least, the photographs I've seen of the event showed that happening; the live streaming was a complete and utter shambles. I can't even be bothered to find you a link to a summary of what happened, that's how engaged I was by the whole affair. I'm really not that interested in a watch that you have to recharge every couple of days, anyway. My watch, to borrow somebody else's expression, just works. I don't have to wind it, I don't have to send it off to have the battery replaced every couple of years, and it tells me what time it is.

And no, I haven't listened to U2's new album yet. I can't even remember what it's called. And isn't that interesting, in itself? Back in the day I'd really want to know what the band from Dublin had come up with. I can remember spending considerably more than £10 on the CD of The Unforgettable Fire when it came out and sat down to listen to it with rapt attention as soon as I got home. I can still tell you who produced and engineered the album (Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois) and who took the photograph on the cover (Anton Corbijn). But not for the new album. I don't even know what the album cover looks like. Does it even have a cover? Did the band assign any importance in producing artwork for something so ephemeral?

The fact that this release was given away for nothing means that, to most of the people who received it, it's worth nothing. It's the happy meal toy of popular music. Cheap, disposable; not worth critical assessment, and produced in mind-boggling quantities for a target audience, the vast majority of whom are so disinterested in the thing that will forget they even possess it in a matter of days.

This is what the music industry has become. Despite all its wailing and gnashing of teeth about filesharing killing them off, when it comes down to it they'll happily pile in to play a part in what must have been the biggest file-sharing event in musical history. I don't really do online music. I happen to think that streaming music services like Spotify are little better than the folk who pirate albums and share them on the internet; the artists involved see about the same recompense for both sets of activities. If I like an artist, I will buy their music. And I'll buy it as a physical object, too. I'm not really a downloads person (with the Internet speeds we get here in the village, that's not necessarily by choice, I know). But I don't think that streaming services are the root of the problem.

Marcella Detroit nails it when she writes about the U2 release on Facebook "All I can see is they are contributing to the further devaluation of music." For sure, U2 are rich enough that they can afford to give away something that they've spent time and effort creating. But even Bono said "I don't believe in free music," and my friend Deborah points out that U2 were paid an unspecified but no doubt considerable sum of money for their work. U2 were lucky enough to start their careers at a time when it was still possible for bands to make huge sums of money by writing, recording and performing music. Their legacy is such that they can still make a very good living from it. But that's not the case for new bands starting out these days. And it's a slap in the face to those musicians who are struggling just to make a living by doing the same thing. Making good music is not easy. It's a task that not everyone can do. People who are cabable of creating it deserve our respect and they deserve to be rewarded equably for their efforts. The manufactured and contrived music created by popularity contests like the X Factor and the like completely fails to represent what making music is actually about: instead the message is that widespread fame can be yours based on a three minute session standing in front of Simon Cowell. Well sure, it can. But you won't be famous for being a musician that way, kids. As a result, all music is devalued.

Listen to Dave Grohl, he knows what it's really about.

While we're at it, I'll just finish by reminding you that my album Beyond Neptune is currently available on Bandcamp. Seventy three minutes of synthesiser goodness spread across fourteen tracks, with extensive sleeve notes thrown in for good measure at the bargain price of just £7. It took me a year and a half to create it - why not treat youself to a copy?

11 September 14 (permalink)

ON THE TOUR

It was a glorious day yesterday. It was just right for cycling: Stage Four of the Tour of Britain cycle race came through the village, although the television coverage went to a commercial break just as the lead riders passed The Plough. I was waiting on Charfield Hill and got a good view as the lead group passed the Pear Tree and started the climb.

Hitting The Climb

Albert Timmer (in white in the photo above) came second in the stage, while stage winner Michal Kwiatkowski was at this point still in the peloton (he's on the right in the photo below), just ahead of Sir Bradley Wiggins (in the centre, wearing his National Champion's union flag armband):

Go Wiggo

They were followed by the travelling circus that is the Tour: over a hundred riders, marshalls, police motorcyclists, support vehicles and paramedics barrelling through the stage at an average speed of more than 25 mph.

Still More Peloton

And behind them was the traffic waiting to continue on its way, with the occasional group of stragglers who had fallen off the back of the peloton gamely trying to keep pace while weaving in and out of the cars and vans. The kids from the village Primary School cheered them all on, regardless.

Procession

It was great to get a national event like this right on my doorstep, and lovely to see how much of the village had turned out to cheer on the riders.

ENOUGH WITH THE DIY

I have spent a few days this past week preparing the garden and garage for winter. I managed to strip the dead ivy off the woodwork on the garage and then gave it all a fresh coat of paint. The garage door is no longer the mess that it was. I've spruced up the fence and the back gate (the first coat of fence treatment came from a tub I bought at Texas Homecare, which ceased trading in 1999) and I even got some folks in to give the back hedge its first trim since 2011. It all looks much better than it did. But I've got a nice hole in my finger where the paintbrushes rubbed the skin off and I ache all over. I don't remember doing-it-yourself being quite this much hard work when I was younger. So today I've been back in the studio making music and when I wasn't doing that, I have been sitting quietly in an armchair, working my way through the giant stack of books that are waiting to be read.

WHAT WAS ALL THAT ABOUT

I really have no idea what they're playing at with Doctor Who. Saturday's episode was all over the place, with Ben Miller and Tom Riley both wearing the fakest looking fake beards I have seen on a television show in years and a script that just couldn't seem to get a handle on things. "I really hope we get a Mark Gatiss episode soon," one of my friends groaned on Facebook. "This IS the Gatiss episode," the response came back. Miller was impressive, though - and I was struck by how much he resembled Roger Delgado, the actor who originally played the Master.

LOVE THAT FILM

I went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy again at the weekend, this time in 2D. I actually got more out of seeing the film flat, to be honest. But this time I've written a proper review.

4 September 14 (permalink)

THE NEIGHBOURHOOD JUST GOT BIGGER

Space is big.

Really big.

How big? Well, thanks to Robin today I found out about the Laniakea Supercluster, the gravitationally bound collection of some 100,000 galaxies of which our galaxy, the Milky Way, is just a tiny part. It's just been mapped in unprecedented detail which has revealed not only the positions of all these galaxies but also the directions in which they are moving; the Universe is by no means a static place. The idea that galaxies flow across space like water from a watershed is poetic and awe-inspiring and the distances involved in such motion are truly mind-boggling. Most of the supercluster (including our galaxy) is moving towards a region that's about 150 million light years away from us that's known as The Great Attractor. As the force pulling us is gravity, it would be more accurate to say we're falling towards it, but the distance is so great it will be a very long time before we get there. It's not something you need to worry about.

MORE READING MATTER

With a heart-warming thud, another book has just this minute landed on my doormat: What If, by Randall Munroe. The tagline is "serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions" and he's not kidding: from a brief riffle through the pages, questions include "if every person on Earth aimed a laser pointer at the Moon at the same time, would it change colour?" "is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns?" and "if a bullet with the density of a neutron star were fired from a handgun (ignoring the how) at the Earth's surface, would the Earth be destroyed?"

I'm going to enjoy reading this.

1 September 14 (permalink)

THE END OF SUMMER

The schools are back, and summer feels like it's over. This morning it's grey and cool outside and a light drizzle is falling. The nights are beginning to draw in really quickly now, and it's only three weeks until we reach the autumn equinox. The supermarkets have already started to put out their halloween displays, and I've even heard tell of some Christmas products going on sale. It never used to be like this, surely? When I was a kid, it felt like summer evenings went on until at least the end of September. I used to walk home under the trees, crunching the sweet chestnut husks underfoot and picking up conkers that looked promising for matches at school. It was only the clocks going back at the end of October that started us thinking about winter: Bonfire Night would get things off to a good start, and then we'd begin counting the days until Christmas and wishing it would snow. Now the seasons go past in a blur. If I have to drive anywhere in it, I greet snow with an exasperated sigh. I don't miss the 350Z at all when the weather is bad; driving it when there was ice under the tyres was terrifying.

But this time of year has always been a favourite of mine. Summer's warm glow still lingers in the landscape, and when the leaves turn golden the countryside around here is quite lovely. Up the road, Westonbirt Arboretum will look spectacular. They get 350,000 visitors a year, and the largest number of those visitors come to see the autumn colours.

AHEAD OF THE GAME

I've kept up the pace of writing at least one song a day for over a week, now. That puts me ahead of schedule for writing fifty songs in the ninety days between July 4th and October 1st. I think yesterday's song for 50/90 may be the silliest thing I have ever written:

The title is another one that I got by clicking on the Videogame Name Generator. As soon as I read what it had given me, the first couple of lines popped into my head:

There's wild things in the woods and monsters in the park
They're all up to no good so don't go out after dark...

After that it was a case of imagining which playthings from my childhood would be the ones who'd come out on top in a Toyland deathmatch. I reckoned the toys from Play School would pretty much be the cream of the crop; they're survivors, having got through several decades in the brutal environment of children's television relatively unscathed. Just don't mention knitting needles in front of Hamble. Vocally, I used the lower timbre that I used on Gear Acquisition Syndrome a few years ago. The whole jazz-funk feel seems to suit it, and I'm really pleased with how the vocals sound when they're double-tracked.

As for the music - I recently bought the Funkmasters expansion pack for EZDrummer2 and I've been delighted with the drum patterns that come with it. The drum samples themselves are from the Claustrophobic expansion pack that's become my default go-to drum sound over the last six months. Combine that with the Korg M3's great Fender Rhodes and brass section sounds and its extraordinary capabilities for speeding up the compositional process, and I had the whole track put together in about two and a half hours. Not bad at all, if I say so myself.

NOT OVER YET

The Bárðarbunga volcano in Iceland continues to grumble, and a fissure has opened that is emitting lava. But it's all happening in a very calm and non-explosive fashion and with no spectacular eruptions to look at, the story has dropped off the front pages of most news websites. There are still plenty of earth tremors going on in the area though, so things are by no means drawing to a conclusion.

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