Blog Anxiety

Chris's Blog Archive: June 2018

June's blog title turned out to be eerily prescient. I'm permanently tired from lack of sleep (I'm a light sleeper at the best of times, but it's light here by four in the morning at the moment) and as it's peak hayfever season I was very stupidly taking antihistamine tablets as well as antidepressants. The resulting reaction between the two left me so unsettled and exhausted that on my day off instead of going to see a great show at the Royal Albert Hall, I didn't leave the house. For most of the day I couldn't even get out of bed.

I only really started to perk up again by the end of the month.

But don't forget - my new album is available here.


My Onkyo AV receiver has continued to play up, so today it went back to the shop. When it worked, it sounded great. The problem was that it continued to not work for much of the time. Let's see if I have better luck with a receiver made by a different company...


So, it's official: following a limited run of an "unrestored" print of Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey in cinemas recently, it's getting BD and 4K UHD release on October 30th to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the film's premiere.

"Unrestored" here means that the film will look very different from the version that is currently available on DVD and BD. In preparing the film for digital reproduction, Warner Brothers radically changed the colour palette from the original release, making the picture much less warm. They also did quite a lot of contrast enhancement on it, which resulted in cross-hatched brush marks becoming visible on the front projection screen in several scenes during the "Dawn of Man" sequence at the beginning of the film. That is something that has irritated me since I first bought the film on disc and I'm not the only one, The director Steven Soderburgh is quite forceful about it in his discussion of the film.

Mr Soderburgh is clearly as obsessed about the film as I am. At present I have one copy of 2001 on DVD and two on BD. I also have a large number of books about the movie, including the Making of paperback by Jerome Agel (currently exchanging hands on Amazon for serious amounts of money, it appears) and a glorious collection of the film's designs curated by Chris Frayling

While the brush marks on the screen are annoying, they are not the worst thing that's ever happened to the film. I have a VHS tape somewhere of the notorious "extra stars" version that the BBC broadcast in the late 80s or early 90s. Back then, televisions weren't the 16:9 widescreen shape that we know today. Instead, TVs had screens with a 4:3 ratio that was nearly square, so widescreen films were regularly butchered with a process called "pan and scan" which involved an editor moving the 4:3 window of a scanner over the film to determine which part of the image was seen on TV. The process not only cut actors out of shots, it would also frequently foul up tracking camera moves if the window moved at the same time as the camera. Here's Siskel and Ebert in 1990 showing just what a mess the process made of the VHS release of "Raiders of the Lost Ark", for example. The process was so destructive that the film director Sidney Pollack abandoned shooting in widescreen entirely for more than two decades. He switched to what's known as Academy Format, or 1.66:1 just to avoid having his vision of the frame mangled. Given the prevalence of pan and scan at the time, the opportunity to watch a film broadcast in its original aspect ratio of 2.20:1 was a rare occasion and with a film as striking as 2001, the screening was an unmissable event. Except that a misguided tape op decided that all that black, empty space above and below the film would be enhanced by adding stars to it. The result was almost as bad as if pan and scan had been used, and I remember the letters page of the Radio Times and the BBC's feedback programme Points of View being filled with letters of almost incandescent rage for several weeks after the broadcast.

The irony of a company advertising a film almost entirely on the grounds that this version fixes the mess they'd made of the previous version is not lost on me. But when you compare the current BD print and the unrestored, 50th Anniversary release side by side, the difference is striking. I will, of course, be getting a copy. I can't wait to see it in its entirety.


Tomorrow I'll have been writing this blog for fifteen years. Where does the time go, eh?


So it turns out I can either not have depression, or not be clobbered by the pollen count, but not both at the same time; always read the little bits of paper that come in your hayfever pills box, folks. Once I did that and realised what the problem was, it stopped being a problem and apart from having regular violent sneezing fits and sinuses that feel like they've been filled with glue, I'm feeling much more my old self. The panic attacks have stopped and I no longer feel so ill that I could barely get out of bed. Which is nice.

I was - and still am - profoundly touched by the many messages of support that people have sent me this week. It literally brought a lump to my throat, because I wasn't expecting that at all. Thank you, each and every one of you. You're all wonderful.

I'm feeling pissed off at myself for missing Monday's event at the Royal Albert Hall, though; I let anxiety get the better of me. As I get older I realise how much of an effect mental health has on my life in general, and how many opportunities I've passed up over the years because I wasn't in a fit state to take advantage of them. Those opportunities don't come around twice, and I need to keep reminding myself of that fact.


It's only taken me four months, but I have finally sussed out how to get the best picture out of the 4K UHD player that's connected to my new TV. On Thursday night I was trying to watch the 4K Blu-Ray of Black Panther but there was a faint overlay of sparkling interference on the picture and every five minutes, the TV dropped the player's signal completely. Then the player's screen saver started kicking in at random intervals; clearly, something wasn't right. After reading about problems that other Samsung owners were having with an earlier model of the player, I did a factory reset to return it to its original settings. Then I spent a tedious 20 minutes installing the apps that I'd downloaded the first time and re-registering them with my Google, Amazon and Netflix accounts. But it was switching off the player's 24/25fps function that finally did the trick. Lo and behold, all the problems I'd experienced before went away and I finally got the sort of picture I was expecting to see in the first place.

I was seriously considering taking it back and getting a player from a different manufacturer instead, so I was delighted that I was able to fix the problem (and avoid the considerable expense of buying a replacement) by making one change to its settings. I really feel like I achieved something there...


When I don't have the TV on, I love listening to the radio and since I bought a DAB tuner I've been making the most of being able to listen to BBC 6 Music in the living room. Right now they're playing New Order's theme song from the 1990 World Cup, World in Motion, which reminds me that not only has the time for turning "England" into a word with three syllables come around again, so has the time for experiencing crushing disappointment thanks to our country's woeful lack of football proficiency at the international level. I won't be watching. I'll just keep the radio on instead.


I listen to a lot of podcasts during my commute. I rack up between ten and fifteen hours a week in the car, and that's a lot of air time. I listen to lots and lots of science material such as The Infinite Monkey Cage, Jim Al-Khalili's The Life Scientific, and The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry. I also listen to a whole bunch of arts podcasts, including Robin and Josie's Book Shambles, which is so good that I back it on Patreon, and Harriett Gilbert's A Good Read, which is broadcast on Radio 4. They are all a delightful listen, and I recommend all of them if you're looking for a new podcast to add to your playlist.

It takes a lot for me to decide that I don't want to listen to a podcast any more, particularly if it's one that features interesting guests such as Rob Zombie, Ozzy Osbourne, or Rob Paulsen and Maurice Lamarche (a.k.a. Pinky and the Brain), but last year I decided that there was something about the Nerdist Podcast's original presenter Chris Hardwick that was so disquieting that I not only unsubscribed from the podcast but I also deleted every download of it I'd made from my computer.

Looks like I was ahead of the game.


I'm definitely struggling with something or other at the moment. I feel permanently worried, I've no energy, and it's a struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. I'm beginning to wonder if my anti-depressants have stopped having an effect, because I'm definitely not firing on all cylinders. I've booked an appointment to see my doctor and get things sorted out, but I may be a bit quiet on here until things start to improve.


Summer has very definitely arrived. As I drove home on Friday across country (avoiding the traditional Friday afternoon meltdown that the M4 experiences with tedious regularity) the first poppies of the year were blooming in the hedgerows: every few hundred yards I'd catch glimpses of vivid dots of red amongst all the green. A front swept in a couple of days ago so the air is less humid and the afternoon thunderstorms we were getting earlier in the week have stopped, but it's still been a very warm and sunny weekend here. The warmth is set to continue for a few more days yet, as a high pressure system is building up again; the barometer has been gently creeping upwards for the last couple of days.

The thermometer on the desk clock in front of me shows 23°C right now, and the computer's case display shows 28°C. I have all the windows open upstairs and downstairs, front and back in an attempt to stop the house warming up too much. When I got home on Friday evening, it was 34°C in the conservatory at the back of the house, and as it's a big glass box of hot air, it acts exactly like a radiator. The older I get, the more I realise that I am not a hot weather person. The night-time temperatures over the last few days have exceeded my comfort levels and I have therefore finally caved in and switched from my winter duvet to the much thinner summer one. I'm even sleeping with the bedroom windows open.

The problem with opening all the windows is that it's peak pollen season right now. The Met Office's website has put the pollen count into the "very high" category today. As I mentioned last weekend, my sinuses aren't coping with this at all. I've been taking anti-histamine tablets but they're not really doing much beyond stopping the attacks of repeated sneezing I've been having and making me even more lethargic than usual. I don't think I'll be cutting the lawn this afternoon; instead I'll stay indoors and leave it until the weather cools down later in the week.


I had a lovely pub lunch with some colleagues on Friday, but we ended up having to pay with cash because their card reader wasn't working. I didn't think anything more about it, but when I called in at the Tesco garage in Tetbury to fill up with petrol, their "pay at pump" option fell over with both cards I tried, even though the pump displayed its "PIN accepted" message. Fortunately my card still worked inside at the kiosk. As I neared home, the travel bulletins were all talking about severe delays on the Severn Crossing going in to Wales, with the queues from the toll booths stretching most of the way back across the bridge. It was only when I got home and switched on the news that I realised that all these incidents were linked: VISA had suffered what was being described as "a major hardware failure" and card payments were being affected not just in the southern UK, but across most of Europe as well.

That a system failure could have such widespread effects seemed to come as a surprise to lots of people, but the world as we know it only runs thanks to a vast number of complex, interconnected systems. The more complicated each of those systems is, the more difficult it is to predict the outcome of bits of it failing. And when one system goes down, it can have unforeseen effects on things that at first glance would appear to be entirely separate. It looks like the particular component failure that happened on Friday had knock-on effects that were a lot worse than the designers had anticipated. It's a profound embarrassment for VISA, but it shows how quickly the things that we're used to having can just disappear. Fortunately, it wasn't long before they came back, but it's sobering to think about how people would manage if service hadn't been restored so quickly - or at all...