Joint European Blog

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: August 2012

I began August in the middle of an amazing holiday which saw me visiting Washington State and British Columbia, drinking damn fine coffee and eating cherry pie in the Double R Diner in Twin Peaks, and generally having a whale of a time. When I got home I headed to Norfolk to join in the celebrations for my brother's 50th birthday. I may have run myself into the ground as a result, but it was definitely worth it.


It's the last day of August, and this morning when I opened the curtains the windows were steamed up - a good indicator that the temperature dropped well into single figures last night. When they compile weather statistics, the Met Office takes today as the last day of summer, and boy does it feel like it. This summer has been the wettest since records began and the UK got 100 hours less sunshine than normal. When I walk across the lawn to top up the feeders on the bird table my feet are squelching in mud and I'm thankful for all the lovely sunshine I got while I was in California and British Columbia, as I certainly haven't seen much here since I got back. The weather has been miserable.

It's not been boring, though. This week a number of tornadoes were spotted in Somerset. Have you noticed that the BBC have a thing about reporting such things in the UK? The next time you see one of their reports, check for yourself: they won't refer to any report from the UK as a proper tornado. Where possible they'll avoid using the word altogether, preferring to use the term funnel cloud. In cases where they do end up having to use the T-word, it will be carefully surrounded by meaningless quote marks, or diminished (so the UK frequently gets "mini-tornadoes"). You'd think the UK just can't be trusted with grown-up weather. It's not as if tornadoes don't happen fairly regularly over here, either.

And that reminds me: if you've been waiting for anything that only happens "once every blue moon" then you're in luck, because tonight there's a blue moon on the rise.


If there's one thing I've learned since I first started to use a PC thirty years ago, it's that you never have enough disk space. I bought a couple of replacement hard disk drives (HDDs) today, but for two very different reasons.

The first drive is for my Foxsat PVR, which is now mostly full of episodes of Doctor Who. The existing drive is a 320Gb drive and it's done sterling service since I bought the machine, but now it's time to invalidate its warranty and open it up so I can stick in a 1Tb drive instead. When I set up the new drive, I'll be reducing the amount of disk space it sets aside for recording radio programmes. It's a feature I've used just once since I bought the recorder, and the machine's OS maintains separate, dedicated disk partitions for radio and TV programmes. In other words I can't use the empty space in the radio partition for TV shows, which is annoying, although I can see why HUMAX's engineers would have designed it that way. When the drive is delivered I'll switch the old drive to an external USB enclosure (I always have a spare hanging around because they're a fantastically useful bit of kit) and - hopefully - transfer the existing programmes on to the new drive.

The other drive is an upgrade for my trusty old ASUS Eee. Although I've got a spiffy new laptop, the Eee is still useful as it's small enough to chuck in a backpack and its battery lasts about three times longer than the Dell's. But the Eee's original HDD is small, particularly when you're using it to back up RAW photos from a 15 megapixel camera, and its performance is never going to be what you'd describe as fast. So I'm going to see what it's like after replacing the HDD with a solid state drive as they're now cheap enough and large enough to make this a viable proposition. I hope it'll boot a bit quicker, at the very least.

Next month I'll let you know how I get on with both upgrades.


You may have noticed that here on the blog the second half of the month has been pretty quiet. That may be so, but it still feels like it's been an exceptionally long month. The adage that if you want time to pass more slowly, you should work on having lots of novel experiences holds true as far as I'm concerned. I really enjoyed my visit to the US and Canada but I'm still recovering from it and I am really, really glad that today is a Friday. This morning when I got out of bed walking about was very painful. I'm a bit more mobile than I was last week but even with new insoles in my shoes I'm still hobbling about - and I have learned an important lesson about playing Frisbee with the younger generation, believe me. It's called "letting them get on with it by themselves."

At the moment the best part of the day is when I sink into a hot bath and get to soak all my aches and pains away for a while while I read a book (and the reason I have yet to buy a Kindle is not because I have luddite tendencies but rather that the bath is the place where I do most of my reading.) I have to get my habit of buying bottles of bubble bath under control, though. I've got more than half a dozen of the things on the go at the moment.


I'll be tuning in to BBC1 tomorrow evening for the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who, of course. It features the Doctor's most notorious enemies and the trailer looks very promising. While we're talking about the pepper pots, I'm not sure exactly why there should be a Dalek lurking in the undergrowth on Cleeve Hill up the road in Gloucestershire, but there is. If you find out, let me know, okay?


Congratulations to Rob, who passed his driving test yesterday!


So far I've managed to stick with the 5+2 diet and today is one of my "fast" days where I'm limited to an intake of just 600 calories. I think my metabolism has noticed, as my stomach is rumbling away to itself this evening.

To distract myself I sat down to watch Kate Humble's programme on the BBC about Icelandic volcanoes, but it worked too well and I found myself muttering in a curmudgeonly fashion at several points during the show. If my feet hadn't been so painful I'd have been rushing to the computer to check assertions about the lava field she visited at Laki, which was described as "the most extensive lava field on Earth." Laki's disastrous 1783 eruption is thought to have produced 14 cubic kilometres of material (by comparison, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo produced about 10 cubic kilometres), and it resulted in the death of a quarter of Iceland's population. In Europe the resulting cloud of sulphur dioxide killed thousands; in the UK alone the death toll was estimated at 23,000. The Laki eruption was a big deal, then, but - the biggest ever? No way. Even in Iceland there are bigger lava fields (one of the biggest, the Storavitishraun lava field, contains roughly 30-50 cubic kilometers of lava). Even if you combined all of Iceland's lava fields together they would still be dwarfed by the Deccan Traps in India which produced more than half a million cubic kilometres of material. The distinction with Laki is, I guess, that the lava at Laki was produced in a single eruption that lasted a few months; the Deccan Traps kept going for millennia. And that is an extremely sobering thought.


To say that I was somewhat impressed by the aerial antics of the Red Bull Soul Flyers is putting it mildly. The video of them performing coordinated manoeuvres in an indoor wind tunnel in Prague is stunning.


It's the last Bank Holiday of the year and it is, of course, raining. It's an improvement on Saturday, when I got two thunderstorms, but I think I will be staying inside again today. After the alarm clock went off this morning I managed to get back to sleep and had a couple of hours of vivid dreams, almost as if I needed some sort of event to recognise that I'm allowed to relax for another day. Now I'm up, I've made myself my morning mug of coffee and I'm sitting here with a croissant, ready to start the day at a civilised time.


Last night reports started coming in that a lion had been heard roaring in Essex. The police were obliged to take reports seriously and revealed that someone had taken a photograph of the beast. However, the photograph has yet to be made public and people are beginning to suspect that there may not be a lion roaming the English countryside after all.

Meanwhile, the lion in question has already set up three Twitter accounts - the first appeared almost immediately after the first news reports and has just under 30,000 followers as I write this. Very nicely done.


I've been struggling with very painful feet since I got home from Vancouver and on Wednesday morning it got really bad - I had to crawl out of bed. But many thanks to Roz, who instantly diagnosed what was wrong with me and told me how to fix it.

I'd already started a diet, but this is additional motivation (should any more be needed) for sticking with it. A couple of days working at home and keeping my feet up, combined with a new pair of shoes, has already made things much better.


So, yes. Forget flying cars, I want a flying bike. It may only have a flight ceiling of 15 feet, but I can live with that.


After work on Tuesday I headed down to the Watershed in Bristol for a talk by Seattle-based writer Neal Stephenson. Getting there proved quite an adventure, as there had been a security alert in the Cabot Circus shopping centre and the city's traffic was in chaos. As I made my way to the Watershed from the car park a quick thunderstorm was thrown into the mix, sending me scurrying back up 6 flights of stairs to retrieve an umbrella from the car. I finally got to the Watershed flustered and rather damp, but it made for a memorable evening.

I've been reading Neal's stuff since the exceptional Snow Crash, and the opportunity to hear him talk in real life was much too good to pass up. The evening took the form of a conversation with the Watershed's Andrew Kelly, and they talked about Neal's latest book (and his first collection of non-fiction writing in quite a while), Some Remarks.

In particular, Andrew asked Neal to talk about the section of the book which concerns the shape of the internet, how the first intercontinental data cables were laid, and where they went. He told us about William Thomson's involvement in the development of effective signalling, and the rather less successful endeavours of one Wildman Whitehouse who was Thomson's rival and in Neal's words "a spectacular asshole." Wildman eventually applied 2000 volts to the first cable that was laid and damaged it beyond repair. Neal had picked up on a connection with Bristol, wryly asking "I've noticed a certain amount of Brunel hagiography around here, did he have some connection with the city?" - as Brunel's ship the Great Eastern ended up being used as a cable-laying vessel, a role to which it turned out to be remarkably well suited. The Great Eastern eventually laid a replacement cable and Thomson was celebrated as a great hero.

The discussion ranged widely, covering Leibniz and Newton's work in some detail (the two men play a significant role in his epic trilogy of historical novels The Baroque Cycle) but also innovation, language, David Foster Wallace, and more via riffs on John Irving and growing up in a midwestern university town as the child of two Ph.Ds.

Neal described how engineering projects have changed over the last century. In San Francisco a new onramp is being built for the Golden Gate Bridge. It's just an onramp that people can drive up to get to the bridge, but he explained that building this onramp has taken longer than it took to build the rest of the bridge. He wonders whether the fact that the "big science, big infrastructure" projects of the 1950s and 60s dried up might have had something to do with SF moving away from such things, with writers becoming far more interested in dystopian futures rather than utopian ones. Together with Cory Doctorow he has set up Project Hieroglyph to try and encourage writers to return to golden age themes and, with luck, inspire a new generation of engineers. He said he'd received expressions of interest from a number of writers but couldn't go into details. It's a lovely idea, and I really hope it's successful. We need big ideas.

Neal is also a bit of a swordfighting aficionado and he talked about the kickstarter project he started this year, Clang. Clang is now fully funded; it's intended to be the first video game that provides an authentic swordfighting experience, and the video that he showed had me laughing my head off and, more importantly, wanting a copy of the game when it's developed.

Neal then took questions and answers from the audience. The very first one was simple, and no doubt a FAQ: "How do you pronounce 'that place'?" The answer appears to be that unless you grew up on Qwghlm, your voice won't have developed in a way which would let you use the obscure brand of glottal stops, pops and clicks involved, but for the rest of us the best approach is just to say "Taggum."

Another questioner mentioned the occasion of H P Lovecraft's 120th birthday this week, which led into more discussion about Cryptonomicon. Asked for his opinion of bitcoin, he explained that this was "a way of getting rewards for doing maths" but that he hadn't got the maths skills to get involved with the project in a meaningful way.

Afterwards Mr Stephenson chatted and signed books. I picked up signed copies of Some Remarks and Reamde, so that's my reading material sorted for the next couple of weeks. Bristol's streets were very quiet when I got back on the road, and I returned home a very happy geek.


Christmas came early to Bristol this week in the form of a location film crew working on Doctor Who. Matt Smith and company were shooting scenes from the Christmas Special in Corn Street on Monday night and Portland Square in St Paul's on Tuesday night. Subsequent reports in the papers indicate that at least one Sontaran was involved.


Funny how I always sleep better when I know I have a day at home to look forwards to. For the first time in nearly a month, I've spent the last 24 hours at home. I've been fiddling with stuff in Ableton, sorting out photos, chatting with my sister on the phone, and generally chilling out. It's been good.


I was so tired when I got home yesterday that I went to bed straight after supper. That proved to be a mistake, of course, and I found myself unable to doze off properly until about two o'clock in the morning. I just couldn't get comfortable; I was tossing and turning and moving backwards and forwards from one side of the bed to the other. Outside the wind was howling and every now and again a band of rain would hammer on the windows. It was only when I shut the windows completely that I was able to drift off. I hate not being able to get a good night's sleep.


The weather since I got back from Norfolk has been a bit of a shock after three weeks of warmth and sunshine. It's been nothing but high winds and torrential rain (the car park at work started to flood on Wednesday and it did so again on Thursday.) So this weekend I have a feeling I'll be staying in, and concentrating on things that don't involve leaving the house. There's plenty to do.

I realised today that I haven't switched on the TV since I got back home in the small hours of Tuesday morning. My younger self would have been amazed by this, but on the other hand my younger self didn't have quite as many other distractions available. My computer usage would be the most surprising aspect of my lifestyle; that's where I seek out the vast majority of my leisure entertainment, and it's all free. I gave up paying for subscription television over a decade ago. Partly it was because of cost; I didn't think the content I was getting justified the price I was paying for it (and I don't think anything has changed in that regard) and partly because of the dreadful level of customer service that my service provider decided was appropriate (and if that's changed in the interim, I don't care - it was so bad I swore I'd never go back). I seldom sit down to watch an evening's worth of TV any more because there are so many other more interesting things I could be doing. I've been reading Bill Moggridge's 2010 book, Designing Media this week and in it IDEO's Neil Stevenson distinguishes between "sitting back" entertainment experiences like reading a magazine or watching TV, where you passively browse content that flows over you, and "leaning forward" entertainment which is much more task oriented, directed toward a specific goal. It's a useful distinction, not one I'd encountered before. Most of what I do in my spare time involves "leaning forward" activities of one sort or another and many of them involve creating something as an end result, whether it's writing this blog, uploading photographs to my Flickr stream, or writing and recording music that I can upload to my Soundcloud account. It seems I'm no longer happy being a consumer of content. I only feel happy when I'm creating it instead; I just feel guilty about spending time doing stuff like that rather than, say, painting the window frames. When it's raining, some of that guilt goes away.


I woke up late this morning, rushed round the house feeling flustered and left the house nearly two hours after my normal departure time - and then as I tried to open the garage door I realised I was still asleep. When I woke up for real and checked the clock it was just a quarter past six in the morning. I haven't had a vivid waking dream like that for years, but last night I had a number of really spectacular dreams. I'm hoping that's because I've got back into the habit of getting a decent night's sleep. I only had one cup of coffee yesterday, which I'm sure helped and I'll continue to limit my caffeine consumption after the excesses of my holiday, but I still feel like I need more rest. When the alarm clock went off today it was really tempting to just turn over, go back to sleep and try to catch a few more minutes' shuteye, but instead I dragged myself out of bed and made it in to work at my usual time. Is it really only Thursday today?


Last weekend I saw a few good shooting stars in the annual Perseid meteor shower. But I doubt I'll ever get a view of the Perseids that equals that of astronaut Ron Garan, because last year he managed to photograph a Perseid from the ISS.

From above.

HARRY HARRISON 1925 - 2012

Dammit, I'm spending too much time this year writing memorial entries for my childhood heroes, and today I find myself writing one for a favourite writer of mine, the science fiction author Harry Harrison, who died yesterday. I grew up on a diet of his works, and I loved every single one of them. Harry is probably best known for the Stainless Steel Rat books but he also wrote Make Room! Make Room! - a novel about overpopulation which provided the inspiration for the movie Soylent Green. He always had an uncanny knack for coming up with catchy titles for his works, my favourites being A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hoorah! Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers and Bill, the Galactic Hero but the stories themselves were just as good as the titles. He had a taste for dreadful puns and ludicrous situations which really tickled my funny bone. Not for nothing was he described by one reviewer as "the Monty Python of the spaceways." However, as I got older I began to realise just how effective he was as a satirist; the Bill books in particular are expert skewerings of Heinlein's work. Harrison also had a lifelong fascination with the constructed language Esperanto, and several characters in his books occasionally lapse into the language during dialogue. This lent the proceedings an exotic air which as a small boy I found irresistible. When we moved to London I went to Forbidden Planet one afternoon and got some books signed, the only time that I ever met him. Faced with an intimidating queue that literally stretched out of the building, he was affable and good-natured.

He was involved in some great collaborative endeavours, writing the text for a couple of Jim Burns's great graphic works, Mechanismo and Planet Story; he wrote The Turing Option with Marvin Minsky; and he was compiler, together with Brian Aldiss, of a series of annual anthologies published under the ambitious but justified title of The Year's Best Science Fiction.

When 2000AD serialised the first of his novels featuring Slippery Jim DiGriz, better known as The Stainless Steel Rat, he worked with IPC to make sure they did things right (and wrote a stern letter to the Mighty Tharg when they didn't!) Artist Carlos Ezquerra modelled the Rat's appearance closely on James Coburn, which exactly matched my image of what the universe's greatest criminal mastermind and lawman would look like; I have a vague recollection of Ezquerra mentioning that this was Harrison's idea but I can't find a reference for it (and it may even have been on one of the two occasions when I met Ezquerra at a 2000AD signing session and gushed wildly about his work). The books (and the comic) are great fun, and while just about every chapter begins with a "with one bound he was free" escape, it's done with so much panache that you don't really care. The first book in the series was so successful it spawned a number of sequels - the twelfth book appeared in 2010. It has to be said that towards the end of his career Harrison would occasionally phone in works (the last couple of Stainless Steel Rat books are somewhat disappointing when you put them up against the first three) but he leaves behind an impressive body of work and it's sad to think that he won't be adding to it any more. Christopher Priest provided an obituary for the Guardian that will go some way to explaining exactly why he was such a hero of mine.

Thanks, Harry.


Oh yes, I'm back home. I've been in to work today and I'm very glad that I only have two working days to go this week before it's the weekend again. While I'm supposedly over my jet lag I still find I'm flagging after lunch and I'll be going to bed early tonight. I'm really looking forwards to a lie in on Saturday morning.

I won't be doing any gardening his evening, that's for sure. The weather has returned to normal, and it's been chucking it down; the car park had flooded at work and the Environment Agency issued warnings of flooding across the south west thanks to some severe summer storms. California already seems a distant memory but I hope it will be a few weeks before my tan starts to fade.


There was a flyer on the doormat when I got home this evening from BT. It had the London 2012 Olympics logos on the back, and bore the slogan "London 2012 is here. What will you see?" Inside, the flyer (which, I'll admit, was nicely presented) promised me "You can enjoy all the Games with our most reliable signal ever..."and explained that I could use their WiFi "at any of our four million UK hotspots, including 1,800 hotspots around the Olympic Games Stadium itself." Do you want to tell them that the closing ceremony took place three days ago, or shall I?

Like every other bit of BT's marketing gumph that I receive, it went into the recycling bin. Until BT sort out broadband provision to the village there's precious little chance of me taking up any of their additional products and services. It doesn't look like they've got the message yet, though.


I woke up once or twice during the night (and at six thirty I discovered that I hadn't turned my alarm clock off, so I was woken by the news on Radio 3) but today I didn't get up until nearly twelve. And you know what? It felt really good! I am rested and relaxed and I've had a very nice long weekend.

It feels very strange being here at home on my own after spending most of the last three weeks hanging out with lots of people. I live a fairly solitary life outside of work, but on Saturday and Sunday there were 16 of us at Dad's place. All eight of my nieces and nephews were there, and it was fun watching them all playing together and getting on with each other.

Today's been a bit of a housekeeping day. While the washing machine worked its way through even more piles of laundry, I spent the day putting stuff from my trip away, sorting through the pile of mail that was lying on the doormat when I got home, and bringing the blog up to date with a marathon writing session.

Driving home list night I suddenly realised that one of the reasons I enjoy writing so much is that it's somewhere where I manage to finish a sentence. It almost never happens at Dad's place. I'm not alone in this, though; any story that anyone starts to tell rapidly becomes about Dad, and he will always take over the thread of the conversation. When I was younger I thought this was how people normally behaved and I'd do it myself, but when I see him do it these days it makes me cringe. He has no idea he's doing anything wrong, of course; for him, the world is run exclusively for his benefit and entertainment, as became painfully evident on Saturday night. Even when Dad's not running things, when you have a large number of siblings and other close relatives there is always a battle for attention, even if it's a good-natured one. Most of the time, the better story gets told so nobody really loses out and I love listening to the stories my family have to relate. As I trundled along on the A14 last night I realised that aside from reminding myself of what happened on a particular day and how I felt about it, writing is how I get to finish off those stories I never get to tell during family conversations.


I slept until nearly midday today, and I think it's doing me good. My legs are nowhere near as sore as they were by the time I got back from Canada and my limp is beginning to go away. My feet still hurt, and I'm still covered in very itchy insect bites, but at least I'm more mobile than I was and I no longer wince when I get out of bed. I am actually beginning to feel rested. Not surprising, really, as in the last three weeks I've only been at work for three days; bliss.

I stayed at Dad's with the intent of doing as little as possible today. Andy and Dave went off with Tom and Che to Duxford but the rest of us chilled out on the patio, eating crisps and watching the kids play in the garden. It has stayed fine; good flying weather for the USAF, who were throwing a couple of F-15's around the sky overhead. I caught up with a bit of the blog, then hooked up the laptop to the TV so the others could look at old photographs of everyone, and generally managed to unwind.

When the others arrived home they were bearing fish and chips from the chip shop in Albert Street in Holt. It was warm enough for us all to eat outside on the patio, with the children picnicking on rugs on the front lawn. It was a lovely end to my stay, but sadly it was time to pack my stuff in the car and head for home. I've had a great weekend and it's been lovely to spend some time with all of my family. It doesn't happen often enough.

I said my goodbyes and headed out onto roads that were strangely quiet. Norfolk isn't normally like this during the summer. Usually I have to wait for anything up to ten minutes to get out on to the main road in the evening, but tonight there was nothing about. I didn't see another car heading in the same direction as me until I got to Downham Market. Maybe everyone had stayed at home this week to watch the end of the Olympics, or there was something more interesting going on elsewhere. Whatever the reasons, it was weird driving along with nobody else around.

The weather finally broke as I crossed the fens, and it started to rain quite heavily. This always seems to happen when I make my way home from Norfolk. Maybe it's one of the quirks of East Anglia's climate; the place always seems to be drier than the rest of the country. I'd left High Kelling quite late; it was after half past nine when I pulled out of the driveway which meant I'd be home somewhere between 1:30 and 2 am, all being well. I have Tuesday to recover, as that's a pretty late night even for me. In the end, I made good time. The roads were really quiet and although I'd seen warnings of roadworks on the M42 and driven past one sign saying that the M5 was closed at junction 4, I decided to stick with the motorways and go with any diversions set up. There weren't any; the roadworks were only on the eastbound carriageway and the M5 was clear. I got home at about quarter to two in the morning.


I think I'm back on BST as today I didn't really wake up until quarter to one in the afternoon! Today is Andy's 50th birthday. I'd put up a banner in the living room and when Dave and Cathy arrived they added another one so the place looks very festive. Andy opened his presents over brunch (I was much too late to have breakfast) and then we sat outside in the sunshine while the kids played in the garden.

In the afternoon I headed out with Andy and Che to see the Muckleburgh Collection at Weybourne. Although the place opened way back in 1988 I'd never been there before. They have an interesting collection of military paraphernalia and vehicles on display, including a large collection of tanks that are in working order. I took lots of photos, particularly of their T-34. it's the most unsubtle piece of military hardware I know. The things were produced in their thousands during the second world war and the desperate requirement to get each one out of the factory as soon as possible meant that all attempts at gloss or finery were abandoned. The quality of the casting on the turret is about as bad as it could be and still be structurally sound, and inside is cramped and fitted with equipment which looks like it belongs to the stone age. Andy and I walked round the halls reminiscing about the model kits of these vehicles we built as kids, much to Che's amusement.

Just after we got back to Dad's place, David and Cathy and their children arrived. We sat out in the sunshine on the patio in the front garden, chatting, and then all 16 of us headed out to dinner at the King's Head in Leatheringsett.

Andy's 50th

As you can see from the photo above, we had a great time. We had a whole room to ourselves and the meal was excellent. Somehow I even managed to find room for dessert. :-)

When we got back to Dad's we put the Olympics Closing Ceremony on the TV. We'd missed the first 40 minutes of things, but as we watched we realised that actually that was probably a good thing. Eric Idle's performance of "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" was brilliant (and full marks for getting to say "shit" on global television), Darcey Bussell's appearance descending from the sky in a flaming phoenix was impressive, Muse were one of the few bands not miming and The Who were The Who, but the rest was just dire. Rather than any coherent theme or narrative it relied on throwing a bunch of celebrities on stage and expecting people to be impressed. We weren't. In fact some acts were embarrassingly bad. Twitter responded with derision and scorn, and provided much more entertainment than the event itself.

Not only did the ceremony have no overall theme, several times it built up to something quite promising and then failed to deliver. For example, at one point giant screens started showing photographs of David Bowie while clips from his hits played over the PA. Let's face it, if you're going to do something like this you're going to finish off with the man himself appearing to sing something, right? Er, no. This section of the show culminated not with the Thin White Duke on stage but with Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and their friends jumping out of boxes and walking off. WHERE'S BOWIE? Twitter demanded, to no avail. He never appeared.

We heard Kate Bush singing "Running up that hill" while a bunch of dancers built a hill out of large white boxes. "If Kate's in one of those boxes, she's going to be feeling pretty ill," Twitter opined. But Kate didn't appear either. Twitter was not impressed.

A bit later on, we got a montage of clips of Freddie Mercury appearing on giant screens. Oooh, were we going to get a hologram Freddie like they did with Tupac at Coachella? No, we weren't - although we did get Brian May performing Brighton Rock.

George Michael came on and sang "Freedom" but then stuck around to perform his latest single which, frankly, wasn't really good enough to warrant being included in the proceedings. Ed Sheeran came onstage and massacred Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and Nick Mason helped him do it. We got no less than four songs from Jessie J and to be honest, one was more than enough for the folks I was watching with. And the less said about the rendition of "Wonderwall" by the other Gallagher brother, the better. The whole thing just felt like a bunch of record companies had got together to plug a bunch of artists and shift some product with the minimum possible outlay on presentation and absolutely no pretence of doing anything engaging or uplifting. This ceremony had nothing to do with creative expression or art; the message they wanted to convey was simply "Wow, here's Jessie J! You can buy her single on iTunes!"

The organisers' knowledge of popular music was less than encyclopedic, it appears: they had emailed The Who's management asking whether Keith Moon would be available to appear. Surviving members Daltrey and Townshend were, it has to be said, one of the better parts of the show. Things overran quite considerably and it was going up to midnight when we decided we'd all had enough. Dave and Cathy headed off to their hotel and the rest of us retired to bed.


Today I celebrated getting another year older. It was nice to spend it with my family, as I don't get to see them that often. Andy and Sophie and I headed into town for lunch and to meet up with Anna, who had walked into Holt to do some shopping. The roads were quiet, and so was the town - in fact I haven't seen it this quiet during the school holidays, ever. We managed to park in the car park at Budgens without any difficulty and there were lots of spaces. That never happens during the summer.

I bought lunch: I had a very nice crab linguine and a pint of Woodforde's Wherry at Bakers. Anna mentioned that she'd visited the second hand book store on Fish Hill. It's now run by Simon Finch from Voewood and she told us that there were lots of books we'd be interested in; of course we had to go and investigate. I ended up buying a few books on photography, including a superb collection of Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs and a biography of Jaques-Henri Lartigue. I also bought a couple of SF books, including an old Asimov I hadn't got. At least I don't have to worry about blowing any baggage allowance getting this lot home; I can just chuck them in the boot. If I'd had a bigger budget (and a bigger car) I'd have cleared them out of their collection of 1970s SF magazines like Analog and Amazing Stories, too.

When we got back to the house Annabelle and Ed had arrived with their kids, and I sat outside in the sunshine opening my presents. I got some very cool stuff this year, including some lovely beer glasses, a Flynn's Arcade shirt and a Tron lightcycle that we fired up and drove around on the garage ceiling!

For dinner we headed over to the Pigs in Edgefield, and while the food was very nice I could have done without Dad drinking himself into a stupor to the extent that Andy had to go back to High Kelling and get Mum's wheelchair so we could trundle him out to the car. The evening would have ended on a sour note if it had finished at that point, but when we got back to High Kelling the sky was dark and clear and I couldn't resist spending a nice hour watching out for shooting stars in the back garden. We even saw the ISS go over, rising high in the sky and travelling from west to east. There are few places I've been to that are better for stargazing than North Norfolk.


I bought cakes for the office on the way in to work today as it's my birthday tomorrow, I filled up the car with unleaded (the garage had run out of premium) and then limped in to the office. My feet still hurt, although the blisters are beginning to go down. It was a quiet day as I'd managed to do all the stuff I'd got scheduled this week by close of business yesterday. The cakes seemed to go down well, and I made full use of them to keep my blood sugar topped up during the day. Somehow I made it through to the afternoon without falling asleep.

When I got home I spent an hour or so doing some gardening and trying to get the lawn into a more manageable state. I can't believe how much everything has grown and the buddleia in the back garden is in full bloom. By the time I'd finished I'd filled the wheely bin but the garden looks reasonable. I was dripping with sweat and my feet were killing me so I went and had a bath. It was tempting to just lie there soaking and fall asleep, but I had to keep going. At 8pm I was packed and ready to set out, so with the exhaust blowing on the car I headed down to the motorway.

The M5 was incredibly busy. I've not seen traffic so heavy that late in the day for years, but I guess it was to be expected given that it's a Friday evening in the middle of the summer holidays. Once I got on to the A14, things were much quieter and by the time I'd made my way to King's Lynn via March there was very little traffic. With a non-stop drive I got to Dad's place just after midnight.


I'm not really with it today - I went in to work, did some shopping at the mall, came home and crashed out. I was too tired to do anything more than gaze blankly at the computer screen this evening. End of story for today, I think.


I slept fairly well given that I'd been awake for nearly a day and a half, but it didn't last and at 5am I was wide awake. I was in the office by 7, much to the astonishment of my colleagues who, it turned out, hadn't expected that I would make it in to work after such a long flight. They turned out to be right, though: by half past two in the afternoon my eyes were crossing and I could hardly focus on my monitor, so I headed home. After I'd put the car away I barely had the energy to climb the stairs - I fell into bed, my head hit the pillow, and I went out like a light.

Three hours later I awoke so jet lagged that I spent a good couple of minutes looking round the room trying to figure out where the hell I was. I eventually determined (with a big sigh of relief) that I was in my own bed at home. It's good to be back home, but the fridge is empty and I'm too tired to go shopping. Instead I've been catching up on the board and eating a pot noodle. It's not really the same, somehow.


I didn't really get much sleep on the flight back. To start with, until it went dark the view out of the window was too good to ignore.

Over the Canadian Rockies

At one point I could see a thunderstorm below the plane, off in the darkness. Lightning was lighting up the whole cloud system from top to bottom and it looked spectacular. But inside the aircraft there was a small child in some distress a few rows forward and he spent most of the flight screaming his head off.

Then there had been a cock-up with the cabin equipment refresh so that none of the headphones that had been put out for passemgers had the right jack plugs to fit the sockets in the seat arms. So I could watch the in-flight entertainment, but not listen to it - which was a bit of a drag. I was pretty tired and I'd soon given up trying to read. Instead I dozed fitfully for most of the flight. I couldn't call it sleep - the screaming child in front of me put paid to any hopes of that - but by the time the cabin lights came back on and the attendants came round with breakfast I only felt half-dead rather than completely obliterated.

We had to hold for 15 minutes or so over London, but we touched down by half past one. Great, I thought, not long now until I can get home and relax. Fate had other ideas, however: when I got back to the car the back tyre was completely flat. When I tried jacking the car up, I realised that there was a piece missing from the jack and I couldn't get the tyre off the ground. I'd been up for about 30 hours at this point and I really felt like just sitting on the ground and crying. Instead I phoned the RAC. After a detour to a local tyre fitters the car had two new tyres on the back and I finally joined the M4 to head west. It had started to rain by the time I hit Reading, and continued to do so for the rest of the journey. The roads were very busy but things kept moving and at 7pm I finally got home. It's been a very intense couple of weeks and I've had a great time, but I was pleased to step through my front door and sit down in my armchair again. The back garden looks like a jungle - everything has grown tremendously while I've been away (well, it has been three weeks since I last cut the lawn). But I am utterly shattered so all I'm going to do this evening is have a hot bath and then collapse into bed.


We headed back to Joe's Grill on Denman Street for breakfast today. I decided against the cinnamon roll at Delany's this morning; can't think why. Instead I went for the traditional breakfast of pancakes, sausage and bacon, together with several cups of coffee from the diner's limitless supply - because once again I'd had a very disturbed night's sleep which I suspect was caused by worrying about whether I was going to make my flight or not.

While the others finished off their food, I headed back to the hotel to check out. When I took a last look out of the window I noticed that the fences around the statues near the Sylvia had finally been taken down, so when the others arrived I dumped my stuff in the car and we all went to take some more photos. We had one more epic moment of silliness before the holiday drew to a close.

Still being silly

It was still very warm and sunny outside, but as I said goodbye to Jerome, Mano and Peter I could see a line of cloud on the eastern horizon. I retrieved the car from the Sylvia's garage and hit the road. It's a national holiday today, so the roads through the city were quiet but in the half hour it took me to drive over to Scott and Deborah's place it had clouded over and the temperature had dropped considerably. I hung out with them for the rest of the afternoon eating pulled pork sandwiches and playing with the cat while my copies of Scott's recordings from Wednesday copied over to my hard disk. Eventually it came to the point where I had to bid the last of the WGB crew farewell and head on out to the airport. As I drove away it started to rain and for the first time I realised that my epic holiday was finally drawing to a close.

At the airport I checked in without any trouble whatsoever, which was a huge relief. Once again, security checks were fast and efficient and at the gate I was able to fire up the laptop, plug it in for a quick charge and use Vancouver Airport's free WiFi network to catch up on things: that's the way to do it! When I announced I was on my way on Twitter I got a bunch of messages back wishing me bon voyage, which made me feel like I was on top of the world. England, here I come...


After coffee Mr P and I walked up the street to watch the preparations for Vancouver's Pride parade. The city was buzzing and even two hours before anything was due to kick off, the streets were lined with people on lawn chairs staking out the best vantage points. Louis and his daughter Naomi joined us; it was fun watching her dance every time the PA started playing music! The corner where we were standing turned out to be the first "proper" section of the parade and a very colourful character had soon started to heckle the participants and engage the crowd with the goings on, armed with a microphone and a seemingly boundless supply of enthusiasm...

Master of ceremonies

Things kicked off with a group of motorcycle cops riding up and down in formation on their Harleys. I thought they were loud, but then the local LGBT bikers followed suit. The noise was incredible. We watched the parade for the next hour as an incredible assortment of festival participants and civic vehicles filed past us. I felt very sorry for the guys dressed in costume as by this point the temperature had hit thirty degrees Celsius and they were strutting their stuff in direct sunshine.

A new name in law enforcement

Fin gets on down

Somehow Fin, the mascot of the Canucks even found the energy to dance most of the way up the street; I don't know how he managed it. Even standing in the shade I was flagging and the others were too, so we wandered off to have lunch at The Boat House. I've been making sure I get as much of the Pacific North West's excellent seafood as I can while I'm here and today I had steelhead with garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus. It was good food, and we were more entertained by the other diners lining the windows overlooking the street, who were oohing and aahing at the parade. The air conditioning meant we could all cool down a bit too - once again I could have stayed there for the rest of the afternoon but eventually the four of us made our way over to Burrard Street and caught the bus over to Louis's place.

This evening we all had dinner at the Oakwood and yes, I thought the food was really good - I got to sample pork crackling done Canadian style, together with poutine, and octopus, and duck! Using her iPhone Deborah was able to provide us with updates on the progress of NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed successfully on the surface of Mars at around 10:30 local time. I must admit I was staggered that they've achieved a safe landing. I was fully expecting the lander to end up as a smoking crater, but I'm delighted that everything went according to plan and I can't wait to see the pictures from Mars.

Tonight's bus trip back to the hotel was quiet and uneventful. Back at the hotel, I went online to check in for my flight home tomorrow, and was horrified when the British Airways website told me I had no seat assigned and instead had been placed on standby. Uh oh. Was this holiday about to crash and burn in travel hell on my way home? Things didn't look good.


This morning I found myself at Delany's on Denman Street once again. The trip is beginning to catch up with me and I really needed an extra shot of espresso in my latte today. I also needed a big hit of carbs, so I bought myself an enormous cinnamon roll to go with it. Delany's is a great place to just sit and watch the world go by and if you're lucky you can get a seat that overlooks the street...

Breakfast time

I'd definitely overreached myself with that roll, though. By the time I was finished, I was stuffed - which was unfortunate as the next item on the agenda was to leave the coffee shop and grab a bus to meet Scott and Deborah for lunch! Dodging the film crews shooting commercials downtown, we caught a bus east. On the way, the bus drove along East Hastings, providing a sobering illustration of the less privileged side of life in Vancouver. It's been a long time since I lived in a city, so I'm really not used to seeing large groups of homeless people on the streets. The number of folk just sitting on the sidewalk was depressing. Occasionally we'd pass someone engaged in deep conversation with an imaginary companion (and in one case later on in the week we saw a guy in the throes of some form of quite serious delusional attack). On the bus, I felt relatively safe but I don't think I'd have wanted to walk anywhere along there.

Eventually we arrived at Biercraft on Commercial Drive, a considerably more mellow district where the shops offer holistic healing and chakram yoga; Scott and Deborah were already seated at a table when we arrived, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Biercraft specialise in European style beers and had a selection of 120 beers available, brewed in both the old world and the new. Their draft selection was pretty good for a North American establishment (although I'm not a big fan of Kronenbourg Blanc) but their selection of bottled beers was mind-blowing. I had three: Dead Guy Ale (6.5%), from the Rogue Brewery, an old favourite of mine: Paulaner Hefeweissbier (5.6%) and finally La Caracole Troublette (5.5%) which had a beautifully light peachy aftertaste. Although the food looked great all I could face was a caesar salad!

From Biercraft we headed back to the bus to get to Powell Street, so we could take in the Japanese festival in Oppenheimer Park:

Kimono my park

In case you're suffering from cognitive disconnect over the idea of a Japanese festival being held in a park named after someone called Oppenheimer, let me explain that the place is named after David Oppenheimer, the second mayor of Vancouver, who helped to set up many of the city's services and amenities. The festival featured everything from taiko drummers to dance performances and there was lots of cool stuff to look at and listen to. The totem poles dotted around the park lent the proceedings a slightly odd but stylish touch.


There was lots of food on offer, too - although I have to admit I balked at sampling this particular delicacy:

It's the taste

Eventually we headed back to Scott and Deborah's place before collecting some excellent pizzas and taking them over to Louis's in the car. I think it's safe to say that they went down very well:

It's good to be the king

My feet hurt too much to trek to the beach again, so we sat on Louis's deck listening to tonight's fireworks going off. It was the last day of the competition, and Italy were obviously going for it: the noise was incredible. You could hear the echoes from the explosions bouncing off the city's skyscrapers.

We waited for an hour or so before attempting the bus ride back to town, but even after midnight the city was still buzzing - one stop later, the bus was full of spectators from the fireworks and we travelled the rest of the way to downtown without stopping. Davie Street was packed with revellers for the holiday weekend (it's Vancouver's Pride celebrations tomorrow) and the place was heaving with people who obviously had a distinctly alternative lifestyle; I felt very dull and provincial and it was hard to avoid doing the occasional double take. Queues for the nightclubs were spilling out onto the sidewalk and the entire street was closed to traffic, so there was no chance of a bus. We walked back to the hotel and I gratefully settled into a hot bath to soak my aching and blistered feet. It's my last full day in town tomorrow - where has the time gone?


I know I hardly ever sleep well, but I really expected to do so after yesterday's epic drive. I had no such luck - I was awake at five, probably thanks to all that coffee yesterday. After breakfast at Joe's Grill we said goodbye to Sean, who was heading back home to Seattle. He'd also had a disturbed night's sleep, but for other reasons: there was a raccoon rustling about in the virginia creeper outside his window. His room was on the second floor...

Today we headed downtown to the Vancouver Art Gallery and as you can see, the weather was just as glorious as it had been for the rest of the week:

Vancouver Art Gallery

We were there to see the exhibition of the Cone Sisters Collection. The Cone sisters lived in Baltimore, and their father had made a fortune supplying denim to Levi-Strauss. Etta and Claribel spent their allowance collecting modernist art and specialised in acquiring work by artists from the impressionist school. They developed a strong relationship with Matisse and several of his sketches of the sisters were on show. The museum had several of his most famous pieces on display, together with paintings by Gauguin and Renoir and sketches by Picasso. The last two works in the exhibition, both sketches of heads by Matisse that were obviously done at lightning fast speed, made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

There was plenty more to see in the gallery, though. We walked around the remaining three floors to take it all in: I particularly enjoyed Yang Fudong's Fifth Night, a film without dialogue that loops round and round on seven screens, viewing the same action from seven different vantage points. Sometimes it looked like everything was filmed simultanously, yet at others there seemed to be several different films going on. I also spent a long time examining the photographs of Marian Penner Bancroft, which ranged in subject matter from family to desolate landscape. It was absorbing stuff and when we emerged back out into the sunshine a couple of hours had passed in what felt like a few minutes.

We headed over to Vancouver's food sensation Japadog for lunch. I had been briefed on what to order: the kurobuta terimayo...


It was a thick, tasty pork hotdog served with fried seaweed, mayonnaise, onions and ketchup, together with curried french fries. It was a quite extraordinary taste and just as good as I had been told it would be. However it was rather greasy and I suspect it would also be pretty heavy on the calories, so to walk it all off we headed for Gastown again. We didn't have anything planned; in Olga's words, we were taking a "Greek Day" - just walking around to see what we could see and we'd end up wherever the spirit took us. The spirit brought us a nice line in street art...

Street Bull

...but it was obviously more interested in coffee and cookies, so we ended up stopping at a very nice coffee shop that was playing some incredible ambient music. It turned out to be a track called Blissout by the band Lemonade, remixed by Shades: good stuff!

Time was getting on, so after Olga said goodbye and headed off to Louis's, the rest of us headed back to the Sylvia for cocktails. I'd decided to start with the drink named after one of the bar's most famous patrons, Errol Flynn:

The Flynn - The Legend

It had cranberry juice and pineapple juice in it and I could quite happily have drunk these all evening. But further sustained by a mojito, I headed out into the sunshine once again and walked over to The Fish House in Stanley Park for dinner. The food was, once again, excellent. I had a steak with scallops and as "surf and turf" goes it was one of the best I've ever had.

A raccoon crossed the path in front of us as we walked back through Stanley Park. Then when we arrived at the hotel, there was a skunk trotting along the side of the building. We gave it a very wide berth but you could smell it in the lobby, a peculiarly pungent odour that I caught whiffs of several times over the next few days. Back at my hotel room it was time to upload some more photos to Facebook and Flickr and check up on email. When I retired to bed I ended up having the best night's sleep I've had in ages.


Despite my late night last night I was up bright and early this morning. I'd driven over to Scott and Deborah's by 6:30 to pick up Deborah, and we'd crossed the border into the United States and picked up Ian in Seattle by 9:30. Five and six lane highways are a bit of a shock after Vancouver, but with three of us in the car we could use the high occupancy lane which made life a lot easier. We turned east onto i-90 and headed for the mountains, and at just before 10 in the morning we pulled into a parking space outside Twede's diner in North Bend. It looked incredibly familiar...

Look where I am!

Twede's is probably better known as the Double R diner from David Lynch's television series Twin Peaks. I've been wanting to visit the locations used for the show since I saw the series back in the early 90s. When the waitress heard I'd come all the way from England, she looked sad and asked me, "Do you want the bad news?" I'd missed the annual Twin Peaks Festival by a single day. Michael Horse (Deputy Hawk), Charlotte Stewart (Betty Briggs), Phoebe Augustine (Ronette Pulaski) and Al Strobel (The One-armed Man) were attending and there was to be a screening of Fire Walk With Me at the local cinema. There were no tickets left, even if I'd been able to come back at the weekend. But strange as it may seem, I wasn't particularly put out by this; it was enough to finally be in the place where the series had been filmed. The three of us sat down for a slice of cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee (and I have to say it was a damn fine cup of coffee and exceedingly good cherry pie, too), and took in the atmosphere. The cafe has a fine line in memorabilia with plenty of photos and artifacts from the show, all displayed on a wall at the back of the building.

Historical documents

After finishing our pie, we got back in the car and drove around town, spotting filming locations. We passed the local high school where James and Donna sat on the bleachers; we saw several private homes that looked incredibly familiar; we drove over a bridge where traffic was controlled by lights, and then rounded a corner where I spotted a familiar bridge. These days it's used by pedestrians rather than rail traffic, and forms part of the town's nature trail...

Ronette's Bridge from the road

The bridge had some amusing graffiti on it...

Bridge tags #1

Bridge tags #2

Bridge tags #3

After taking dozens of photos here, we returned to the car. Just past the bridge, we took a right hand turn on to SE Reinig Road and as we rounded a bend, there was a small dirt lay-by. We pulled in and parked, and the view in front of us looked like this:

This is the place

We'd arrived at the very same spot where David Lynch's crew had erected the "Welcome to Twin Peaks" sign. The telegraph poles have acquired transformers since the 1990s but the tree to the left of the telegraph pole is recognisably the same...

We turned around and headed over to the Packard Sawmill, although there's not much left of it: just a small part of the brick building and one smokestack. The land is now used by a rallycross school, and their headquarters is the building that was used as the Twin Peaks sheriff's office. Sadly, Sheriff Truman wasn't in.


We got back into the car and drove into the town of Snoqualmie where we marvelled at the giant log, and then parked up by the Salish Lodge hotel and spa, better known to Twin Peaks fans as the Great Northern hotel. The falls are currently being modified to accommodate a hydroelectric power installation, but the iconic shot of the hotel and falls is still pretty much the same as ever...

Thank you David Lynch

And with that, we bade farewell to Twin Peaks and headed back to Seattle to drop Ian off. Traffic was busy but moving and we made good time. We stopped just south of the border to top the car up with gas (it's much cheaper in the US than in Canada), and grabbed a bit to eat at the same time. I had a jalapeno burger at Bob's Burgers and Brew. The mountain of thick-cut fries (known locally as jo-jo's) defeated me completely:

Jalapeno burger with jo-jos

The weather stayed fine: not a cloud in the sky and blazing sunshine. We crossed back into Canada without too long a wait and found ourselves in BC once more. And that's where we hit horrendous traffic: Monday is a holiday in Canada, and it looked like everyone was intending to take Friday off and make a four-day weekend of things. It took nearly two hours baking in the car to negotiate the last few miles back to the city, but eventually we'd made it back to the house. We picked up Scott and then drove over to Louis's place, where we shared the spoils of our trip: takeaway cherry pie!


Bill dropped by too, and the conversation ranged from nearly getting busted while having his picture taken by Anton Corbijn to the relative merits of different countries' Coca Cola by way of the delights of coffee in all its shapes and forms. He has an incredible number of stories to tell and they were all fascinating. Today was a very good day.


This morning Martin drive us over to Louis's place and after collecting him we headed over to the Sunshine Diner on Broadway for breakfast with Elvis again. A steady stream of folk from the WGB arrived over the next hour and breakfast was full of smiles, jokes and laughing people...

Breakfast at the diner

Yes, Bill joined us as well. This time I had eggs benedict, Sinatra style - which meant it came with salmon and shrimp and it's become my number one breakfast of choice... It was washed down with several cups of rocket fuel grade coffee and by the time we headed back to the car I wasn't so much shaking as vibrating.

I needed the coffee this morning, as today was one of the high points of the trip: the Wigber Jam. Scott and Deborah had hired a room at the Vancouver Rockspace for the day and we descended en masse with keyboards, basses, drums, and guitars. Lots of guitars. It took a while to set up the gear; I couldn't get Ableton to talk to Scott's Tascam mixer so we stuck with Logic, recording everything on two channels. It still sounded pretty good, though. Bill arrived shortly afterwards, and so at one point I found myself explaining the Novation Launchpad to William Gibson. As you do.

Over the afternoon we gradually brought a piece of music together. I switched from keyboards to Louis's telecaster, and stuck with it for the rest of the session. My own Tele has a maple neck, but this one had a rosewood neck and I really liked it. Sean rocked out on his Rickenbacker - which had a very strange neck with a trapezoidal profile, which I rather liked; it sounded fantastic, too.

Jam session #10

At around six, people were starting to get hungry, so we all trooped next door to Toko, a Japanese/Chinese Restaurant. The weather was gorgeous, so we all sat at the tables out on the sidewalk chatting and watching the world go by. I had chilli beef, and once again the quality of the food was very good. I could quite happily have sat there for the rest of the evening, but we had a song to finish, so we settled the bill and headed back indoors. By the end of the night Scott and Louis had both recorded four takes and we could play through the track without too many missteps or glitches. By half past eleven people were beginning to flag; Olga had curled up on the sofa and fallen asleep, so it was time to call it a night.

We headed back to the hotel, and realised when we arrived that there had been another fireworks display - the crowds had more or less dispersed but it was really busy for one o'clock in the morning. With all that coffee and music I was still wired; I uploaded lots of photos to Facebook and Flickr and wrote up some comments, and by the time I'd chilled out enough to think about getting to sleep it was nearly 2am.