Overcaffeinated Blog

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: June 2014

To borrow a World Cup metaphor (and that's the only mention the World Cup's going to get here), this was a month of two halves. I started out doing lots of DIY, tiling the conservatory floor, and finished in a musical frame of mind, working to finish the Beyond Neptune ambient album I started last year. I bought a shiny new electric guitar, and I went to the village's music festival.

Aside from that, I went to an exhibition in London and visited my father in Norfolk. Not a bad month at all.

STEEPED IN MUSIC

Despite threatening clouds and the morning's thunder, it stayed dry for Charfest yesterday.

Charfest 2014

I had a great afternoon sitting on the school playing field with friends, listening to a selection of bands play music and there was an ample supply of Wickwar Bob at the bar. There was a hog roast, with a "name the pig" competition and a raffle. I picked "bacon" as the pig's name from a wide selection of improbable names, but it turned out to be "Maradona". Who'd have thought? I didn't mind not winning - he tasted delicious.

When I got home, I fired up the TV to watch the BBC's coverage of Glastonbury. Goldfrapp were on, and sounded amazing so I will be watching the rest of their set on iPlayer this afternoon. I had to watch Metallica's set, of course - they thundered through a selection of classics and had the crowd bellowing along as if Glastonbury had always embraced metal bands. I watched Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters' set, too. I saw them at the Colston Hall last August and they were just as good as I remembered, although I suspect the BBC edited down Mr Plant's wryly amusing introductions to each song. He was having fun with the weather, though: his set started in pouring rain and ended in brilliant sunshine. That's Glastonbury for you.

This weekend has been all about music. The other thing I discovered yesterday was that the site for this year's 50/90 has gone live, and my fellow participants are already getting in to the swing of things in the forums even if we don't start recording music until Friday. Once again I've made a donation to help keep things running and sign up for file hosting, which will make sharing my stuff easier. In case you're new here, I should explain: 50/90 is a songwriting challenge. The goal is to write fifty songs in the ninety days between July 4th and October 1st, and I took part for the first time last year (I ended up writing fifty two songs). It's a bigger, more sustained version of February Album Writing Month, and while the number of participants is lower than it is for FAWM, the sense of community is still very strong. Not only is it huge fun, it's also a learning experience. The only way to get better at doing something is to keep doing it, and everyone provides feedback and constructive criticism to help one another improve their skills. It works, too; I was definitely writing better stuff by the end of the three months than I was at the beginning.

When I'd finished watching all the music on the TV last night, I couldn't head off to bed without playing a little of my own, so I plugged a set of headphones into the Blackstar and picked up the guitar. I've played six strings more this month than I have in the last couple of years, as the ends of my fingers will testify. One of my goals for 50/90 is to achieve a noticeable improvement in my guitar playing, so I've been busy practising; I'll be back on the guitar later today, too. I'm beginning to see signs of improvement already, even if right now this just means I don't suck quite as badly as I used to. Having a spiffy new guitar has definitely helped things along, but the truth will only start to become clear when I hit the "record" button on Friday...

RESTFUL

The warm dry weather of the last couple of weeks has come to an end. Hardly surprising, as the Glastonbury Festival is on at the moment. Back on Wednesday, Tomasz Shafernaker was using the words "quagmire" and "Glastonbury" in the same sentence during the BBC's weather forecast and he wasn't wrong. Dance act Rudimental had to leave the stage yesterday afternoon and all power to the festival was shut down after lightning struck close by. I heard a few more rumbles of thunder this morning, which is a bit of a downer as Charfield is holding its own music festival this afternoon.

But the cooler weather means that I can get a decent night's sleep once again. This morning I woke up after a whole 7 hours' worth of restorative sleep, which was a welcome change from recent nights. I felt rather sorry for the folks at Glastonbury when it started to rain again, though.

CULTURAL PURSUITS

I met up with fellow wigber Julian on Thursday to visit the British Library in London. We were there to see the Comics Unmasked exhibition. I've been a comics fan since I was very small, and for a time I even drew comics of my own - if you were in the Motorhead fan club in the 1980s and 1990s you may even have seen some of my stuff - so I couldn't miss this. The British Library show gathers together an eclectic mix of publications from its immense archives; the oldest work on display was a pauper's bible that dated back to 1470 and yet, as curator Paul Gravett explained as he led us round the exhibition, it has all the elements of the modern comic in place: a story, split into frames, with "speech bubble" text describing what's going on at each point in the narrative.

More recent works on display included a lot of stuff from my favourites, such as scripts by Alan Moore and Pat Mills, old editions of Punch magazine, and original artwork by Steve Yeowell for Grant Morrison's epic strip for 2000AD, Zenith. My friend Woodrow Phoenix's amazing work She Lives was on display, but to keep the one-of-its-kind, one-metre-square book safe, it was locked inside a display cabinet. There were a few things I didn't know about - including a disturbing strip by a very young Bob Monkhouse featuring a superhero called The Tornado. The Tornado fought villains who appear to be giant phalluses - god knows how this ever got past the censors of the day. Even in more enlightened times it warranted being hidden behind a curtained-off section of the show deemed as being for adults only. There was also a comic on display written by someone else I'd never have thought of as a comics author: Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. There was a comic by Gareth Brookes called The Black Project that was produced in a very unusual combination of media for the form: linocut and embroidery. The amount of physical effort that must have gone into producing it was awe-inspiring. A row of computer terminals brought things right up to date with work by John Allison and Paul Duffield. It was great to see how alive and active the UK comics scene is - and it's past time I got back to drawing some of my own.

Comics Unmasked was a fascinating way to spend an afternoon and if you've ever enjoyed a comic, whether it was the Beano, the Dandy, 2000AD or Crisis! then you'll have a whale of a time here. The exhibition's on until the middle of August.

IT'S THE BLOG'S BIRTHDAY

When I started this blog I really didn't expect I'd still be writing it regularly eleven years later, but here we are. Perhaps one reason for that is, quite simply, that I didn't realise when I started just how much fun it was going to be.

The blog and I weren't going to celebrate with anything in particular, but when I sat down at the computer this morning my office chair collapsed. It was knackered; I've written pretty much every word on this website while sitting in it so when I say it's been used heavily over the past fifteen or so years you know what I mean. It's been distinctly frayed around the edges for some time, but this morning when I sat in it one of the arms came off and I nearly ended up on the floor. That wasn't the first time it's disintegrated on me either; I've already had to glue it back together twice. So after breakfast, I took it to the dump and the blog and I went shopping. Joy of joys: the first office supplies shop I visited in town was selling off furniture at knockdown prices. Hooray!

Now I'm sitting in a comfy new chair with padded arm rests and way more lumbar support than the old one (I'm getting on a bit, so my shopping criteria for chairs have expanded from "must look cool"). The tilt mechanism on this one has a nice solid latch, which is an improvement on the old one - several times recently I leaned back and kept going, which gave me quite a surprise. To go with the new chair, I bought a new floor protector, too. The old one was looking pretty grubby. All in all, blogging is now taking place in more opulent surroundings than before. So, happy birthday, blog.

Of course, I had to get the studio something too. After sitting for many hours over the last week in an old IKEA chair, I rediscovered just how rock hard the thing was. Even after adding a cushion, I realised that sitting on it for five hours at a stretch definitely wasn't a good idea and I'd gone numb from the waist down. I bought it back when I lived in Milton Keynes, so it must be getting on for twenty years old. During my shopping spree today I found a mesh-backed chair that was considerably easier on my backside, so it's now assembled, installed and ready to use. I will be giving it a thorough road test later on, as I continue work on the "Beyond Neptune" album.

WORKING METHODS

Even though I have a few tracks left to record, I've got to the point with the album that I'm making test pressings. These let me listen to what I've put together on my main hi-fi system and the mini system upstairs. I get a lot out of doing this, as I'm using very different sets of speakers to my KRK monitors, and I can judge whether or not the mix needs anything doing to it. The main system is in a bigger room, and I've been surprised by how much of a difference that makes. I've gone back to a couple of tracks and made them a little quieter, as they came across a little too enthusiastically for what's supposed to be a contemplative, ambient album.

On the other hand, I've also pulled a couple of tracks apart for major reconstruction, as I decided they were a little too contemplative and ambient in their current forms. One four-minute track was, frankly, just too boring. I finished working on it this morning and - as weirdly as these things go sometimes, it's now well over five minutes long but it feels shorter than the original version. There's more development in the sound and things get mixed up a bit to maintain the listener's attention. At least, I hope so!

WHAT'S THE VERDICT

You know, this is a comfy chair. Very comfy indeed. That was a good purchase. I'm really glad the blog talked me into it.

HITTING MY STRIDE

It feels odd working intensively on pieces of music outside FAWM or 50/90, but that's what I've ended up doing for the past week. I'm in the middle of the final push to complete my album about a journey across the Kuiper Belt, Beyond Neptune. Yesterday I finished another track, which features me playing my new guitar through my new amp. It really does the business! Here's a clip; the whole thing will be available on Bandcamp when the album's complete.

I'm really noticing a difference in my approach to music now that I'm not miserable or stressed out about work all the time. Listening to earlier tracks I've recorded I've thought of improvements or new approaches to take with them, and gone back and edited the stems in Ableton. In some cases it was just tweaking the timing and velocities of MIDI note information but for others I've recorded new parts entirely. I've remastered every track on the album, too. I have to say that the updated tracks sound much stronger. I have also come up with a running order mapped out for the thing, which fell out of deciding on a narrative - yes, I'm afraid I've only gone and recorded a full-on concept album.

I have three tracks left to record, and my plan is to have everything finished before the 50/90 challenge starts up again on July 4th. Stay tuned - it's going to be good. And don't worry: I'll announce the album properly when it's available.

PROGRESS

BT Openreach have started work around the corner in Little Bristol Lane to install fibre to my local telephone cabinet. Superfast broadband edges ever closer...

EARLY RISER

I was up and about by 7:30 this morning. In the run up to the summer solstice next weekend it gets light here before 4am and not even my black-out blind can keep the bright sunshine out of my bedroom. While I waited for the coffee machine to warm up I popped outside to top up the bird seed on the bird table. While I was doing this, I heard a strange roaring sound. It took me a moment to realise what it was, and then I looked up...

G-LOKI comes in for a landing

They were coming in for a landing in the field at the back of the estate, and disappeared behind my neighbour's house. It was a lovely morning and the view up there must have been fantastic. Balloons flying over the house isn't that unusual an event around here. This is because Bristol, to answer They Might Be Giants's question, is where they make balloons. The city is famous for its Balloon Fiesta, which this year takes place from the 7th to the 10th of August. It's the largest event of its kind in Europe and when the mass ascents take place with up to 100 balloons in the air at the same time, it is a truly spectacular sight. But balloons are a regular sight in Bristol's skies throughout the summer. There are quite a few companies that offer flights over Bristol or Bath on calm mornings and if the breeze is blowing from the south, the fields round the village offer a useful landing site that's not far from the M5.

Note the blue sky in that photo. The sun may have been shining brightly when I got up, but it didn't last. Less than an hour after that picture was taken it had clouded over and even the birds sound subdued this morning. At least it's not as humid; it feels quite fresh outside.

PRE 50/90 GAS

Why GAS? It stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. It's a condition every musician suffers from, and it can strike at any time. I've visited a fair few guitar shops over the last few years and managed to resist buying something new, but back in February when I put fresh strings on my trusty old Aria ready for FAWM I noticed that the bridge and frets were seriously worn. The bridge saddles on the locking tremelo unit have grooves worn in to them. It's not surprising, really, as I've had the thing for nearly 35 years and while it's not been gigged, it's been used a lot. When I saw how much wear there was on my favourite guitar I realised its days were probably more numbered than I'd thought. At the time I soldiered on and used it to produce some tracks I'm rather proud of, but at the back of my mind the seeds had been sown: it was time to retire it as my main guitar and get something new.

My fingers are a bit sore this morning. This is entirely my own fault, and can be ascribed to the fact that yesterday I played this sweet little setup for about six hours straight...

The guitar is a Jackson Guitars Adrian Smith signature model, which I selected yesterday as an outstanding axe after I'd played half a dozen guitars, including some that were on sale at twice its price. Despite resolving to give every possibility a try, I stuck with a maple neck; I just don't get on with rosewood necks and while the Strat I tried looked and sounded lovely, my fingers stuck to its fingerboard too much. The Jackson felt right as soon as I picked it up. The neck profile on this guitar instantly felt right, too. Tonally it does just what I wanted; I tried a few guitars with humbuckers front and back, but they just didn't sound as good. That Floyd Rose tremelo is a step up from the system I have on the Aria, too.

I still have the amp I bought together with that first electric guitar. It's a Vox Escort, and it's still in full working order. While I continue to use it as a practice amp, it can't provide a good distorted tone at low volumes suitable for recording. Two and a half watts just isn't enough! A few months after I bought the Vox, I bought an H and H 100 watt solid state guitar amp second hand. That's been showing its age, too - but more importantly it's big and ungainly and as this review of it says, it's cripplingly heavy. While it's fantastic for clean sounds, distorted guitar sounds come over as a bit clinical. Up until now the alternative has meant firing up my Marshall stack which gets exactly the tone I want, but it's not really fair on the neighbours. I wanted to get something with a bit more grunt that could provide a large range of sounds at low volumes, but which was easy on my wallet. I've been looking at Blackstar's range for a couple of years, and as the guitar shop had them in stock I tried out the ID:15 "True Valve Power" combo. It's a solid state amp like the VS Musician, but it uses software to model a selection of different power valve responses and the resulting sound is, quite frankly, glorious. As soon as I heard the satisfyingly crunchy noise it got out of the Jackson, I was sold. The headphone output on it is extraordinarily good and will be perfect for recording even without miking the speaker.

50/90 starts again on July 4th. Once again I've accepted the challenge of writing fifty songs in ninety days, and I suspect I will be using the Blackstar in preference to the Marshall for recording all my guitar parts. In just over three weeks' time we'll find out!

RIK IS DEAD, THE PEOPLE'S POET IS DEAD

Back in 1990 I saw Cliff Richard sing at Knebworth. He was on the same bill as artists like Tears for Fears, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Genesis and Pink Floyd. One of the most vivid memories I have of that day occurred when Cliff sang "Living Doll" and the entire audience (which, at some 120,000 people was the biggest show I have ever been to) shouted "Get Down!" at the appropriate point. The person responsible for that moment wasn't a musician, he was a comedian. And he wasn't even there.

I still can't believe that Rik Mayall has passed away. He was only a couple of years older than me, and that tends to bring you up a bit short, even without him being a comedic genius who is responsible for some of the funniest things I have ever seen on television in the last thirty years. Finding out that some of them were filmed in Bristol when I moved here made me more proud of the city than any of the other items in its rich cultural heritage.

When comedians die the tributes from other comedians usually focus on "how much of an influence x had on me," but Rik was different. He didn't just influence people, he changed what comedy was. That first broadcast of The Young Ones has had my generation quoting lines ever since. And unlike other step changes in how things were done that have taken place during my lifetime, I watched it as it happened and knew immediately that something earth-shatteringly significant had arrived on the scene. Robin Ince put it succinctly in his blog:

"There are writers, comics, and actors whose possible futures changed when they saw him for the first time. I grew up to be a professional idiot, thank you Rik."

GOT GLASS?

Shaeffer were ahead of the game back in 1963, weren't they?

The advert was on the back of a post card that was enclosed with an order I received from Cult Pens recently. Be warned: if you have the slightest tendency towards stationery addiction, visiting their website is like letting a three-year-old loose inside the world's biggest sweetshop. They keep me stocked up with ink and nibs and make sure that my fountain pen habit is still kicking over nicely.

And talking of pens...

SETTLING IN

Yesterday I finished off setting up the conservatory as a space in which I can draw and sketch. I bought a dresser to keep all my pens and pencils in from the very nice people at Global Furniture in Yate, and a matching blanket box to store the bigger items of crap that have been cluttering the place up. Once I'd got everything tidied away I sat down at the drawing board and drew another page of blog banners for the website. I now have enough banners to last me through to November 2019. That date ring any bells? Let's hope that the world turns out somewhat better than Ridley Scott imagined it would back in 1982.

TRUTHINESS

On the Internet, the underlying nature of reality is a fluid and amorphous thing. A large number of people out there believe that truth can be determined not by science, but from what is, at best (or worst) a kind of popularity contest. New revelations on this and that crop up every day, and are repeated eagerly by disciples of whatever school of thought they appeal to. None of the really shocking ones appear in peer-reviewed websites, though. And take a look at any sample of the latest sensational "disclosures" about chemicals being pumped out of civil aircraft, or flying saucers, or alien DNA being worked into vaccines, or dozens of other wingnut theories that have gained traction in recent years and you'll see a complete absence of sites with .edu or .ac.uk carrying them. And that's for a very simple reason: they're made up. They're intended to bolster the ego of the person disseminating that "information." More prosaically, they're designed to get people linking to web pages so that people will visit and be advertised at. Clicks mean business, and business means money. Who benefits? Not you, that's for sure.

If a story's plausible and entertaining enough it'll grow legs, regardless of whether or not it's actually true out here in the real world. A grand (and, for once, harmless) example of this has been going on this week, with the appearance - first on Twitter, of course - of a letter purportedly written by Stanley Kubrick to a producer who was trying to make a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. There were clues to its bogus nature, of course: the header is not centred on the page and I can't imagine Stanley ever settling for that, given how strongly symmetry plays a part in his work. Stanley would also have been unlikely to misspell "Beverley Hills" in the recipient's address, I think.

From the lack of symmetry then, the layout had to have been lifted from a cropped scan of a genuine letter. The footer, spelling the studio's location at Borehamwood as two words rather than one made me think that it might be this letter from 1967 which I'd seen before. But it turns out that Kubrick habitually used the two-word spelling - and David Snyder found this letter reproduced in The Atlantic, where Kubrick worries about damaging IBM's reputation as a result of depicting a computer that was psychotic, which has a signature that is an exact match for the fake. Incidentally, that photo in the MGM Studios link is Stanley, with Arthur C Clarke on his right and the Mercury and Apollo-Soyuz astronaut Deke Slayton on his right, taken either before or during filming of 2001 at the studio.

The letter is actually part of a larger blog post by Steve Cox from his excellent "Films that almost got made but time forgot" blog over at Electric Underpants. Go and read it: as well as the letter, there is a purported storyboard page showing a sequence that the sequel's proposed director (Roger Corman, no less!) intended to shoot. The treatment is just the sort of thing you'd imagine a brainless studio exec would slaver over: no high art here, just a "Knight Rider meeets the Dukes of Hazzard" knockoff where HAL stands for Hot As Lightning and the computer has been installed in the dash of a Chevy Camaro. From the concept poster that Steve helpfully supplies, we learn that this time round the computer would have been voiced not by Douglas Rain but by Ernest Borgnine. The whole thing is hilarious; it's so on the money in terms of complete lack of taste that it makes me cringe.

Let's be clear: I'm sure Steve wasn't at fault here. His blog is quite clearly a very amusing work of fiction. As satire, it absolutely nails Hollywood's approach to film making of "if a film makes us money, then a sequel will make us even more money." And it has that ring of plausibility - much more so than Hitchcock originally deciding that Phyllis Diller, rather than Janet Leigh, would be the actress to star in his movie Psycho, or that Mel Brooks tried to put a sequel to The Elephant Man together that would star Tom Hanks, called The Lobster Boy. The thing is, if you take Steve's letter out of context by circulating it as a separate item, particularly if you're the sort of person who likes winding people up by insisting that something that might be plausible in a favourable light is true when you know damn well that it isn't, then you end up with the sort of thing we saw happen this week. The letter didn't even need any work in Photoshop to make it more attractive as an internet hoax, it was fine just as it was. Once Twitter got hold of it, it was away.

So, dear Internet, remember this: if something you read seems so hilarious (or confirms your political, religious or scientific expectations so perfectly) that you just have to share it, bear in mind that it has probably been contrived exactly so that you will do so. Always check Snopes first. The world might be a little less amusing, but the Internet will have moved a little closer back to reality.

NOT LONG NOW

When I started this blog twelve years ago in June 2003, I was using a 48k dial-up modem for Internet access. Right now I'm getting between 1.5 and 2 Mb/s on ADSL, but in the next few months I will be moving to Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC) and once the move is completed I hope to get something up to 60 Mb/s. Preparation for this move is well under way, with the latest report from the council reading as follows:

"In Falfield Telephone Exchange Area, cabinet 1 on the junction of Wotton Road and Manor Road, cabinet 3 on Rockhampton Green, cabinet 6 on Little Bristol Lane and cabinet 8 on Charfield Hill are in the ‘installation’ stage. Cabinets 1, 3 and 8 have been ‘stood’ in their new locations. Cabinet 6 will be stood in the coming weeks. These communities are also our second communities, and residents and businesses in these areas will be able to order the new fibre service this summer."

Cabinet 6 will be the one I'll use, as far as I know. FTTC will be a huge step change for me. I'll need a new modem/router (it doesn't work with ADSL modems) but the increase in speed will mean I can start using streaming video services like iPlayer or YouTube in HD without having to wait every five minutes or so for the data stream to catch up. I'm really looking forwards to seeing what a difference it makes.

SLEEPLESS

I had a restive night last night, and got very little sleep. For one thing, it now begins to get light at half past three in the morning and the dawn chorus is well under way by four; for want of something better to do today I recorded some of it. The first bird I heard singing was a robin, but it was soon drowned out by the neighbourhood's population of blackbirds. The loudest one you can hear was sitting on my neighbour Matthew's television aerial. Although it sounds like it's right on top of the recorder, it was perched on the other side of the street. Once it shuts up, you can hear a number of other birds more clearly, including the piercing song of a wren which was skulking somewhere in the bushes close by. I like the reverberant quality of the more distant birdsong, but the Zoom's automatic gain control had kicked in to give a decent level and the resulting background rumble is a bit distracting. I'm not sure what's causing it, either; the unit was running on batteries, so it's not 50Hz mains hum, the central heating wasn't on, there were no cars about, and I didn't have any other electrical equipment near the recorder. Very odd.

I had no problems with the gain control an hour later at 5 am. The thunderstorm we'd been promised duly arrived, and it went on for quite a while. The instability in the atmosphere was high up, which meant that the lightning was cloud-to-cloud rather than cloud-to-ground, and that always gives much more impressive thunder, in my opinion. There were lots of long, booming rumbles that went on and on rather than the short, violent cracks of ground strikes. Things really start to get going at around 10:00 into the recording, when the rain starts to arrive. It even shuts the woodpigeons up, although not for long.

By half past eight I'd given up any hope of nodding off again, so I got up and had breakfast. Then I spent an entertaining ten minutes catching woodlice in the conservatory with the dustpan and brush; they must have been on the bottom of the plant pots that I'd brought in from the garden. There were dozens of the things, and they have all been returned safely to the lawn. A few more stragglers appeared later on, but I think I've caught them all now. And here I am, blogging about it. I live such an exciting life...

FINISHED IT

The conservatory floor's complete, and I'm really pleased with my handiwork. I've already moved my stuff back inside, which means that the living room is a lot less cluttered.

Ready to go

As you can see, it's a gorgeous day today but with all the windows open the place is full of flies. I've opened the doors to encourage them to leave, but they're just buzzing against the glass. Bah!

Next items on the DIY list are getting the lawn cut and then painting the garage, but I don't think I'll be doing that for a few days. The forecast for tomorrow is big thunderstorms. Still, I've noticed how much less tiring doing the DIY has been this week compared with last; I guess I was so unused to physical work (as opposed to sitting in front of a screen all day) that it came as a bit of a shock. I may still have aches and pains, but I'm certainly not in the state I was in last week, when I could barely get up the stairs by the end of the day! My plan for this month is to get out for some long walks and build up that fitness a bit more (and lose some weight, too). The countryside round here is so picturesque it would be a shame not to.

BEACH LIFE

The reason it's taken me nearly a week to start June's blog is that I've been over in Norfolk at a family birthday party. My nephew was 18 last week, which doesn't seem possible. Where does the time go?

It was nice to see everyone again, and for once the weather played along: it was warm and sunny. So on Sunday afternoon, I headed to the beach to see how Cley and Salthouse have fared since the winter's storms. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the beach car parks were still there, as I was expecting to find that the shingle bank had been washed away. Even before I'd got out of the car I'd seen a marsh harrier and an avocet; Cley is a prime bird-watching location. I drove down to the beach car park and spent a couple of hours walking along Blakeney Point. I didn't get that far, as the going on all those stones is pretty slow. I managed to cover a couple of kilometres or so. I hadn't brought my binoculars but I did have my camera with me, of course; Cley is spectacularly scenic even in bad weather but with the sun shining brightly in a brilliant blue sky I managed to take one or two calendar-worthy pictures.

Beach Life

Pots and Anchor

I was amazed how quiet it was for a Sunday afternoon, even if it is in term time. After I'd walked a couple of hundred metres from the car park, there was hardly anybody about.

The beaches are just packed

That photo sums up what I love about the Norfolk coast. It's a place where you can still enjoy a spot of solitude and contemplation in a landscape that hasn't changed that much in centuries. The horizon is a dizzying distance away, and the light has a quality that I've not found anywhere else in the UK. When figures do appear off in the distance, they shimmer in and out of view like mirages.

As I walked westward I stayed to the seaward side of the shingle bank, as the inland side was fenced off to protect nesting birds. Terns, gulls and oystercatchers all nest in the area, although not all of them make their nests inside the protected zone.

Church and oystercatcher

Courting Couple

Walking back to the car (taking care to avoid the decomposing seal carcass on the strand line) I noticed a tractor and trailer making its way towards the surf from the car park. A fishing boat gradually approached and I was expecting them to winch it up the beach, but the guy at the back of the boat didn't look all that happy with the arrangements...

Directions

The parties on beach and sea were still shouting and gesticulating at each other when I left. I spent the rest of the day at my Dad's house and then drove home. Signs on the A14 informed me that the M5 was shut between Worcester and Cheltenham, and the roadworks further north had looked pretty congested when I drove over on the Friday, so I did the Fosse Way run on the way back and got home after midnight. With staying off the motorways, the Juke averaged 46 mpg on the trip, which I was delighted with. I'm really enjoying the car, and the crossover design means its suspension is far better suited for driving on sand and shingle than the 350Z's was. And when I fill up with petrol, it cost me less than half the amount I'd spend topping up the Z. I think I'll be making more trips across country this summer.

FRIDAYS WON'T BE FRIDAYS

...without Agents of SHIELD to watch in the evenings. Last week's season finale was highly entertaining, and very satisfying too. The good guys triumphed, the bad guys were given what for, and the scene was set for a very interesting second season. Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson got to deliver some classic Whedon material, particularly the "It's okay guys, I found it!" moment but also the "He's really stepped it up a notch" aside to Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury when Bill Paxton's John Garrett started describing his grandiose evil plans. And boy, did Garrett go off at the deep end. John, don't you know that such behaviour is never successful?

BADASS AUTHOR IS BADASS

George R R Martin will kill you for the princely sum of $20,000. He's helping to raise funds for the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, and the top two donors will be bumped off - in print, as characters in one of the upcoming novels in his A Song of Ice and Fire books. Tuckerization for a good cause!