Blog Harderer

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: August 2014

Friends, family, food, art and music: August was huge fun.

It's as simple as that.


It's been quite a month. It seems far more than four and a half weeks ago that I was packing my bag in the car, ready to drive to London. It was lovely to hang out with family and friends, and explore some of the world's finest tourist attractions, but it was my first experience of London in the summer holidays for many years and I really wasn't prepared for how crazy the place was. The number of people on the streets was insane. It brought home how much I love village life, far away from the hustle and bustle. I enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, yes - but I need to escape and recharge afterwards. And I have also needed to recover from walking further in those first two weeks than I normally do in six months. I'm pretty much back to normal now, although I still have a couple of dull aches and pains.

Looking back at the blog entries below I realised I was also lucky enough to see lots of bands, too. I'd forgotten how much fun metal gigs can be. I should continue that trend, I think.


Last night's Doctor Who was a slight improvement on last week's episode, but - Doctor turns up at a military establishment, encounters a damaged Dalek, Dalek gets loose and starts shooting soldiers, Doctor and his companion talk the Dalek into not shooting them? Didn't I see that episode already?


I have now caught up with my music writing schedule for Fifty Ninety, as I have written thirty-three songs since the 4th of July. Two of those were collaborations with other folks, which is always a very different experience to writing on my own. The challenge of making what you write fit in with something else is great fun.

I managed to write two tracks yesterday, which even puts me slightly ahead of my target. I haven't got too much feedback on them yet, as the site is fairly quiet. There aren't as many people participating as there were last year, but the reactions I have got have been very positive. I'm enjoying myself a lot, because I can produce music now that is so far ahead of what I ever thought I'd manage that I can't resist seeing what else I can come up with.


I read a lot of books. Publishers must love me, too, because I buy them rather than borrowing them from the library or from friends. How many books get added to my collection each year? Well, the pile here shows what I've acquired since the beginning of this month but haven't read yet...

August's Book Stack

In addition to that little lot, there's Benford and Niven's Bowl of Heaven which I'm reading at the moment. It harks back to Niven's seminal work Ringworld in many ways, particularly with the encounters with engineering on interplanetary scales, but it omits the fantastical technologies such as teleportation, faster-than-light travel, or stasis fields that were so much fun in the earlier book. I've been a fan of Niven's world-building ever since I read Ringworld as a teenager, so this book went to the top of the queue and I started it as soon as I'd finished Joe Haldeman's Peace and War, which gathers together his three Forever War books in one hefty volume. I'm about two-thirds of the way through Bowl of Heaven right now; it's an enjoyable read and the environment in which the characters find themselves is fascinating, but the action takes place at a slower pace than in Ringworld and although sticking to the rules of physics allows characters to speculate convincingly on how things work in the Bowl, it robs the plot of much of the material that would provoke the "whoa!" reaction which the SF trope of the Big Dumb Object was originally designed to spark. There's an awful lot of running around in forests.

The VanderMeers' collection, The Weird has proved irresistible, too. I had a true "WTF?" moment as I read the first story in the collection, which is an excerpt from The Other Side by Alfred Kubin. In it, the world has changed after everyone suffers a bout of sleeping sickness. Animals invade the cities and the author relates how the pork-butcher's widow was consumed by a bear that made its way into her apartment. The widow's name is Apollonia Six. I didn't know Prince was a fan of weirdness...

I don't just read science fiction. I'm also a sucker for biographies, autobiographies and general works of fiction and non-fiction. Heck, I'm a sucker for books, full stop. I bought Caroline Taggart's book on London Place Names as soon as I saw it on sale in the British Library bookshop, and I've already delved into it to find out why my old haunts got the names they did. Bromley was "a clearing or glade where broom grows", Chiselhurst was "a gravelly, wooded hill" and Croydon "the valley where crog (saffron) grows." Oh, and for those of you familiar with William Gibson's novel Spook Country: the column in Seven Dials outside the coffee shop where Milgrim encounters Agent Winnie was only erected in 1989. The original, which is now in Weybridge, was removed in 1773 after rumours spread that there was treasure buried beneath it. Its replacement was the first monumental column to be erected in London since the 1840s, when Nelson's Column was built. Finding out things like that is one of the reasons why I love reading so much.


Okay, the rest of you can stop doing the ice bucket challenge now. You'll never do it as well as David Lynch did.


I was rather surprised when the BBC Springwatch Twitter feed retweeted Graham Field yesterday. Graham lives in Durham, and he'd photographed a rather unusual visitor to his garden: a raccoon. But I then discovered that there have been reports of raccoons in the Durham area for quite some time. At least there aren't skunks in Oxfordshire just yet.


A joint study by psychologists at Princeton University and the University of California in Los Angeles has concluded that students who take notes on their laptops perform worse than students who take notes in longhand. Importantly, however, the abstract mentions that laptop users tended to transcribe lectures verbatim while longhand writers reframed things in their own words, so an extra round of information processing was taking place in the writers' brains compared with the typers. This is the second article I've read in the last fortnight which suggests that we process information differently on digital devices as opposed to paper. In both cases, paper wins out.

This dosn't surprise me. I still write my song lyrics in longhand with a fountain pen, and on the rare occasions when I have tried to write them sitting here at the keyboard, I've had little success. It feels different somehow; the creative act seems thinner, more distant. I get profound satisfaction from the process of writing with a pen, and over the years I've tried to make my handwriting aesthetically pleasing. When I look at a sheet of lyrics afterwards, even the crossings out and revisions feel important to the process. I'd go so far as to say that the shape of the lines on the page will also tell me whether or not the song is going to hang together. If one line is a lot longer than the others, it probably needs more work. Another study suggests that this feeling has a solid grounding in fact, too: writers using paper take less time to create their first draft, but take longer to finalise the text and were more likely to carry out a systematic revision of the work. The longhand users also focussed more on the higher linguistic properties of what they'd written (word-processor users paid more attention to individual letters and words).

Other people feel the same way, it seems. Neil Gaiman writes his novels in longhand. Stephen Fry and J K Rowling also enthuse about writing on paper. Even before the days of word processors and personal computers, many successful writers preferred pen and paper to the typewriter. So I will continue feeding my stationery habit in the knowledge that it's helping me to be a more creative writer.


I've been mulling over last Saturday's episode of Doctor Who a fair bit, but I can't put it off any longer and it's time to write down what I thought of Peter Capaldi's first adventure as Time Lord. Capaldi is a charismatic actor and an episode that includes the Paternoster Gang (Strax, Jenny and Madam Vastra) should have had me in raptures, but when the extra-long episode finished I just felt disappointed. In one word, I'd sum up the episode as "inconsistent."

Firstly, the dinosaur. Yes, there were some lovely gags from the Doctor ("Oooh! You've got a dinosaur too!") and the idea of anyone from Gallifrey flirting with a giant reptile raised a smile, but - a T-Rex big enough to swallow the Tardis? Really? And then it gets killed off and bursts into flames. This didn't make sense in the light of the Doctor's subsequent discovery that the automaton was burning his victims to conceal organ thefts, because the dinosaur was clearly still alive when it combusted. So this was just a throwaway gag to get a dinosaur walking past Big Ben and a lazy way of avoiding having the Tardis just materialise like it normally does.

Then - the villain. How long had a man with half a head been walking around London? Without anyone remarking that this might have been somewhat unusual? Peter Ferdinando did what he could with a role in which he was frequently reduced to playing second fiddle to a bunch of prosthetics and a model of himself, but the part was barely sketched in. The fact that the character's name is just Half-Face Man in the credits on iMDB shows how much effort went in to creating a plausible bad guy. His minions, the episode's "monsters" were little more than a call back to The Girl In The Fireplace and their portrayal, again, was deeply inconsistent. The Paternoster Gang wipe out all the diners in the restaurant upstairs without any trouble, yet spectacularly fail to triumph over the ones in the villain's dungeon. Why?

And the resolution of the story effectively takes place off screen. I get that the idea was to preserve the ambiguity of the Doctor's actions (did the bad guy jump, or was he pushed? Did the Doctor really mug a tramp for his coat?) but it gutted the impact of the episode. I felt cheated.

For sure, there were some enjoyable moments. The Doctor's conversation with the tramp (who was played by Brian Miller, Lis Sladen's partner) had some great lines, particularly the "attack eyebrows" one. Madam Vastra's exasperation with Inspector Gregson's idiocy was amusing:

(Shocked) It's just laid an egg!

It dropped a blue box marked “Police” out of its mouth. Your grasp of biology troubles me.

The long scene in the restaurant between the Doctor and Clara was well done, as each discovers that the Doctor's reference to an "egomaniac game-player" is not who they initially thought it was. And the Doctor got a number of particularly good lines to chew on, from a massive dose of self-centredness:

I’m having difficulty sleeping.

Oh? Oh, well I wouldn’t bother with that. I never bother with sleeping. I just do standing-up cat naps.

Oh, really? How interesting! And when do you do those?

Well, generally whenever anyone else starts talking.
I like to skip ahead to my bits; it saves time.

To the dawning realisation of his new accent...

I am Scottish! I can complain about things! I can really complain about things now!

And, towards the end of the episode, my favourite line of the show (where the Doctor appears to be channeling James Bond):

I’ve got the horrible feeling I’m going to have to kill you; I thought you might appreciate a drink first. I know I would.

But there were three things that really jarred with me. The first was Matt Smith's appearance (finally explaining why Clara found the phone hanging out of the Tardis at the end of The Day of the Doctor) to tell her to look after his new regeneration. It felt like it took away from Capaldi's Doctor too much, as if the producers felt that not just Clara but we - the audience - needed to be told to give the new guy a break. Matt Smith is a fine actor and he was a superlative Doctor, but this felt a bit like the part of Star Trek Into Darkness where Old Spock turns up. It was a big misstep. I didn't quite throw my hands up in despair (as I did several times during J. J. Abrams's film) but I came close.

The second was the tone of the episode - Ben Wheatley's an accomplished director but his approach felt much too grown-up for what is, after all, a children's television series. Some of his scenes (particularly where Clara is trying to escape) were nail-bitingly tense, even for me. He set up situations where there was a genuine sense of threat to Clara, and given that JLC has revealed that she will be leaving the show there was no guarantee that she really was going to survive until next week, it was an uncomfortable thing to watch.

But the thing I liked least about the episode was the introduction right at the end of the character who seems to be intended as this season's Big Bad: Missy, played by Michelle Gomez. The Doctor is a time traveller, and the show works best when it accepts that his life as it appears to anyone not on the Tardis is non-linear. Missy isn't on the Tardis, so setting her up as the Doctor's pursuer, closing in over the course of the next dozen episodes, makes little sense. To borrow the Doctor's line from above, why would anyone do this when they can, effectively, "skip to my bit"? The whole dressed-in-black pantomime villain aspect was well to the fore, too, which made me cringe. The character seems much too close to 2011's Madame Kovarian, who was set up to be a really sinister, manipulative enemy, but in the end turned out to be one of the Doctor's most easily defeated foes.

So that's one episode down, and plenty to go. I hope the episodes improve over the following weeks, but for now I'm not convinced I'm going to be enjoying them quite as much as I used to.


I had another infusion of good old-fashioned NWOBHM at the weekend. I was at The Rock Den in Hatfield for their Power & Glory Fest which started at midday and went on until closing time. Paul and I missed the opening act Toledo Steel thanks to the traffic nightmare that envelops Britain's motorways on any Bank Holiday Weekend, but we arrived in time to catch Midnight Messiah (a new band formed by two of the guys from Elixir), who rattled through an enjoyable set. I bought their CD on the strength of what I heard.

Midnight Messiah at the Rock Den 23-8-14

Next up were Dream Overkill, who supported Jaguar and Paul's band Salem at the Fleece last year. It was good to see them again. Mick and the guys delivered a fine collection of tracks despite having some problems with the on-stage sound (Simon was running his bass amp flat-out, but it sounded fine from the front). I was glad to see they had a larger audience this time around, and their sound was a lot tighter. Good fun!

Dream Overkill at the Rock Den 23-8-14

After that the stage was taken over by the young Italian band Ruler, from Milan...

Ruler at the Rock Den 23-8-14

...who were followed in turn by old stalwarts Soldier.

Soldier at the Rock Den 23-8-14

At this point I was thinking about the old English music newspaper Sounds. It was required reading for any rock fan in the late 70s and early 80s; we didn't have the Internet back then, remember. If you wanted to know what was going on in the metal scene, Sounds was where you went. They covered the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal pretty much from the outset. The thing is, Sounds had a thing about rock bands with names that ended in "-er". No band with such a name ever made it big, Sounds claimed, conveniently ignoring one obvious exception to that rule. In fact they referred repeatedly to this phenomenon as "the curse of the '-er' band". So I was grinning as I realised that I'd just watched two "-er" bands in a row.

Next up were Sacrilege, with guitarist Steve Weller wielding the first seven-string axe of the day:

Sacrilege at the Rock Den 23-8-14

They were followed by Londoners Deep Machine...

Deep Machine  at the Rock Den 23-8-14

The final act of the day was the one and only Witchfynde. I reckon it's a good 30 years, possibly more since I last saw them perform live, and vocalist Luther Beltz's hair has disappeared even more thoroughly than mine has, but they can still deliver a fine batch of metal songs, both old and new. The candelabra on stage was a nice touch, too. It was a fine end to a great day of music from the good old days.

Witchfynde at the Rock Den 23-8-14


Last night I was back in Bristol at The Lansdown in Clifton, to listen to Jeff and Ann VanderMeer in conversation with Cheryl Morgan. Jeff is the author of the Southern Reach Trilogy that I was enthusing about last month. He also wrote Wonderbook, a "how-to" book on creating imaginative fiction that has been a rich source of inspiration for me recently. I'd also point out that between them, the people sitting at that table have won fistfuls of awards, including five Hugos. This was not your average literary discussion. This was a panel of some of SF's heavy hitters who are at the top of their game.

The VanderMeers in conversation with Cheryl Morgan

There was also some delicious cake...

Squid Cake!

It was a very interesting evening, both intellectually and creatively. In the last four months I've really noticed how much more inspiration I'm getting musically now that I'm not continuously stressed out by office work or shattered in the evenings from the daily commute. Last night brought home the fact that I need to start writing again, too. I can feel the need to write something, like a vague itch that demands to be scratched. Keeping the blog up to date usually keeps that writerly urge at bay, but since I've had more time on my hands my subconscious keeps insinuating that I should put it to better use.

The message that both Jeff and Ann brought home was the same as that in FAWM and Fifty/Ninety: write something. And when it's finished, submit it, and get on with writing something else. That was exactly what I needed to hear, I think. The thing I don't do is submit any of my work for publication, and after last night I realised that I really need to work on that. It's probably because I'm scared of rejection (after the events of this year, I guess that's hardly surprising). Ann pointed out that even if your stuff is rejected, it's been seen - and after a few submissions, you (and how you write) become known. Who knows when that style might become just the thing for an upcoming publication? One story that Ann accepted for publication, that went on to become a fan favourite, had been rejected more than seventy times. She praised the delights of the slush pile (she receives, on average, 50 submissions a day!) as a way of finding out what the world of fiction is focusing on at any moment. And she repeated a message I've heard before, which (I hope) has sunk in: don't write stuff that you think will be attractive to editors, because they will know it's been contrived. Instead, write what you're passionate about.

During the break I was lucky enough to chat to Jeff for a few minutes, and as we talked I realised how much his fascination with The Weird had rubbed off on my work this year. If you listen to I Don't Even, one of my most recent tracks from Fifty/Ninety, the theme is explicitly stated right there on the first line:

The theme is also there in Please Drive Very Slowly Through The Churchyard


The fact that I'm currently scanning in old copies of the Fortean Times for Bob Rickard's archive project has probably helped things along, too.

I will be back in the studio this afternoon; I am still a few songs behind schedule to meet my target of fifty by October 1st. After last night I think it's pretty clear that weirdness will continue to be a regular topic for the music I write.


It's a Tuesday morning and I'm back sitting at my desk. I've taken it rather slow this morning, as I walked a fair few miles up and down Bristol yesterday and my hips and ankles are letting me know about it in no uncertain terms. I needed the exercise (Rebecca visited me on Sunday and we had a lovely curry at the Spice Mahal in Rangeworthy) but I think I may have overdone it a bit carrying a heavy bag full of books to be signed - and yes, I bought another couple of books while I was at the Small Stories event last night to add to the collection. I hope that the rest of this month should be quieter, which will give my legs a chance to recover, because right now I can barely hobble across the living room.

But now it's time to get writing again!


There's no gadding about for me this week. Instead, I've just spent four hours doing the first batch of gardening I've managed all month. The lawn was in a right state and the flowerbeds need a lot of work. I hate brambles, but it seems I just can't get rid of the things. The back lawn is mainly Japanese knotweed these days, and I hate that stuff, too. The plants in the front garden had grown so much I could barely see out of the living room window. So I've been busy. Now everything looks much more neat and tidy, and I'm knackered, so I am recovering with a restorative gin and tonic.


The images of Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko that have been coming back from ESA's Rosetta spacecraft are absolutely stunning. Did you see APOD yesterday? If not, go and have a look right now. The fact that we can get photographs of a distant comet with that much detail boggles my mind.


I wrote and recorded two songs for Fifty/Ninety on Monday, and another two yesterday. I'll be heading back into the studio later to record another one, which will take me to 25 songs. That's half way to my target. I'm behind schedule, but catching up rapidly. I've noticed that the harder I work at writing songs, the easier it seems to get. Creativity is like a muscle - the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.


August has turned into one of the most hectic, event-filled months I've had in several years. Once again I've spent most of the last week out and about, hanging out with friends, eating some very nice food and going to some fascinating events. I got back on Thursday night from London, tired and footsore but stimulated and refreshed.

Last weekend I spent in Bristol with some friends. On the Saturday we wandered around the M-Shed, which is well worth a visit...


...on Sunday we shopped at Forbidden Planet and climbed Brandon Hill to get a good view of the city from the Cabot Tower...

The View from the Hill

...and for my birthday I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy at the Cinema de Lux. I really enjoyed it. There were some lovely little gags for nerdy types like me, not least when Rocket Raccoon executes a perfect Picard Maneuvre (which made me laugh out loud).

On Tuesday it was back to London, for Woodrow's page turning of She Lives at the British Library. It was great to see Woodrow and Bridge and Mel, and getting to hang out with them all for a couple of days was a delight. I was very touched when they presented me with some birthday gifts. After the British Library event concluded we caught the tube to Tower Hill to see the blood swept lands and seas of red installation by Paul Cummins at the Tower of London...

Tower, Poppies, Shard

...and had dinner with more friends at the branch of Wagamama next door. We were there until late, sitting and talking. Huge fun. On the Wednesday Mel and Peter and I started things off by sampling the cakes and coffee in the Cafe at the top of the new Foyles in Charing Cross Road (I had square crumpets with peanut butter, which were delicious), investigated the books on sale on all five floors, then had some great Korean food in St Giles's, shopped 'til we dropped in Forbidden Planet in Shaftesbury Avenue before investigating the Digital Revolution exhibition at the Barbican (which was well worth a visit)...

Pacman Takes Over

Atari 520ST


Objects on display like the Atari 520ST and Commodore PET above brought memories of the late 70s and early 80s flooding back. I still have my 520 squirrelled away in the loft, and I really must dig it out and have a play with it. I also remember spending hours typing in and playing BASIC games on a Commodore PET that belonged to a friend's father. Happy days. On one memorable occasion their bearded collie ran into the room, slipped on the floor, and knocked the Commodore's plug out of the power socket, wiping the memory of the hundreds of lines of code for a Star Trek game that we'd spent the previous three hours typing in!

But the exhibition also had some objects that were unattainable for me back then, like the Linn Drum LM-2 and the Fairlight CMI...

Linn Drum LM-2

Fairlight CMI

Next to the Fairlight was a set of headphones where you could listen to work by artists who used the thing like The Art of Noise, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. It's funny looking at the Fairlight now; it looks like a quite mundane piece of technology and calling the qwerty keyboard "clunky" would be generous at best. But back then, it was the ultimate musical instrument. If you could afford one, you were very definitely in the premier league of recording artists. And the music that artists produced with it had an extraordinary effect on my musical development. Happy days, indeed.

After playing some indie games in the GameDev section of the exhibition (including one for the PS3 called The Unfinished Swan which completely drew me in - I think I'm going to have to buy my own copy) and having great fun in the interactive laser show, Mel and I wandered over to Spitalfields to meet up with Woodrow where we had burgers in Byron's (again!) before I saw Mel back to her hotel. I caught the train back to my brother's house and got in at about 11:30. I was pretty much toast by the time I arrived and I could barely make it up their stairs. I think it says a lot about how much walking about I was doing this week (usually carrying a bag full of newly purchased and very heavy books as well as my camera and a raincoat) that despite having quite a few large and delicious meals in restaurants I haven't put any weight on at all!

Thursday was a more relaxed day. I met Mel in Kings Cross and we had a late (but delicious) breakfast of eggs benedict at a little restaurant called Karpo before heading back to the British Library to spend a couple of hours in the permanent collection room. I still get goosebumps when I see W. H. Auden's diary, or the original lyric sheets for Beatles songs, particularly "Yesterday" but the collection now also has manuscripts and diaries by Angela Carter and Hanif Kureshi. We did some serious shopping in Muji in Tottenham Court Road (I got a great long-sleeved shirt in their sale - I'm wearing it right now) then ambled down to Chinatown for dinner. But then it was time to head off in our separate ways. I got back to the village at eleven and when my head hit the pillow in my own bed I went out like a light.

On Friday evening I met up with Andy, Anna and Sophie one more time. They were staying for a couple of days in Bath, and we had a fantastic meal at Clayton's Kitchen in The Porter in George Street. That was one of the best meals I've had in years and the others felt the same way. Highly recommended.


The pace didn't let up yesterday, either. Paul and I headed down into Bristol to The Fleece for their "Midsummer Metal" event. It took a while to get there; the M5 south and the A38 south were both gridlocked with holiday traffic, but when we arrived Phil from Brocken Spectre was outside so we wandered up and said hello. Brocken Spectre were recommended to me by fellow FAWMer Sapient, aka Peter "Abomnium" Watkinson. As soon as I heard their stuff on Reverbnation I knew I was going to enjoy the gig, and that turned out to be the case. And let's face it: any band that has a track called "Man's Benign Existence Matters Little To His Feline Overlords" is going to score pretty highly in my book...

Brocken Spectre at the Fleece

Brocken Spectre at the Fleece

The level of proficiency displayed by Phil (guitar), Jordan (drums) and Duncan (bass) was, quite frankly, intimidating, but they were extremely affable chaps and incredibly enthusiastic about music. It was a pleasure to meet them.

It was also a pleasure to discover the music of Bristolians Franklin Mint, who played later on the same bill...

Franklin Mint at the Fleece

Again, lots of technical wizardry going on from the band, coupled with very entertaining lyrics delivered by a charismatic frontman. They have a great musical fit with the guys from Brocken Spectre, and they were talking about doing more gigs together. If that happens, I'll be there and you can expect a full write-up in the blog. Sadly the later bands didn't achieve the same high standard of excellence so Paul and I had bugged out by 10 pm. But I really enjoyed the day and I got to hear some fine music. And I've already ordered some CDs from two bands who kept cropping up in the conversation over and over again: Animals as Leaders and Chimpspanner.


But now it's time to catch up on my Fifty Ninety schedule. I'm way behind at the moment both in recording stuff and commenting on other people's work. So that's going to be the priority for the coming week. Stay tuned...


I've been away for a few days in London hanging out with my brothers. Andy is visiting from California with his family, so we did lots of touristy things in town: we caught the clipper down the Thames to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, checked out the newly-refurbished Imperial War Museum in Kennington, and on Wednesday we spent the best part of a day in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington. There was much walking about; Cathy reckoned we were covering about ten miles a day and my legs certainly feel like it. It was an enjoyable change from sitting inside at home and I even managed to pick up a bit of a tan. Memorable moments include some truly spectacular weather...

Evening on the river

calling in at the RSPB's pop-up stand outside the Tate Modern and looking through a spotting scope at the peregrine falcon that was perched at the top of the museum's tower...

Tate Modern Resident

...and walking back to my brother's house from Chelsfield station and marvelling at the beam of Ryoji Ikeda's Spectra installation next to the Houses of Parliament that we could see quite clearly when it was switched on as part of the Lights Out event that took place across London on August 4th to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the First World War.


When I got home in the early hours of Thursday morning I fired up the router and tried booting up my six-year-old main PC, only to read a bunch of error messages on the screen. It was not happy about being powered down for the best part of the week. I left it for the night, and when I got up later that morning I managed to resurrect it. This involved opening up the case and giving everything a very careful but thorough clean with the brush attachment on my vacuum cleaner - so much dust had got caught in the fan gratings that they were nearly blocked and the heat sinks for the processors were coated in a thick layer of grey gunk. After putting everything back together I crossed my fingers and hit the power switch. The system booted up without a problem. To say I'm relieved that the thing still works is putting it mildly.


It's taken the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft ten years to get there, but on Wednesday it arrived at its destination, the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. And what a spectacular sight the comet has turned out to be. An irregular-shaped lump of ice and rock that would fit in London's West End, the comet appears to consist of two main bodies connected by a narrow neck. The photographs received back so far show incredible detail. It all looks very different to the murky, dusty images that ESA's Giotto probe returned from Comet Halley back in 1986 as it flew past at high speed.

Rosetta is carrying a small lander called Philae which will attempt to land on the comet in November. Because the comet is so small, "landing" is a little more complicated than just dropping to the ground. To stop the lander bouncing or drifting away once it makes contact, Philae will fire a harpoon at the ground and tether itself to the surface. Comets are thought to consist of materials that have not chanced since the birth of the Solar System, so the lander is packed with science experiments to find out what it's made of. It's going to be very interesting finding out.


Hearty congratulations to Louis and Emilie on the birth of their son Diego, a brother for Naomi. Well done all of you!


I filled the car up with petrol yesterday, as I had some money off coupons from the supermarket that expired at the end of the month. It was the first time I'd gone to the pumps since the end of June, and I'd only driven 168 miles; the tank was nearly three quarters full. I'm not really missing the days when I'd drive 150 or 200 miles a week.

In fact my hermit-like tendencies have been showing over the past month. I've been staying at home, reading, and writing and recording music. It's been fun, too. After finishing my album Beyond Neptune (which is still available on Bandcamp, by the way) I've been busy creating music for 50/90. Yesterday I uploaded my 16th song, so I'm still ahead of schedule for writing fifty songs in the ninety days between July 4th and October 1st.

At present I'm really enjoying the results of treating drum tracks created in Toontrack's EZDrummer 2 software with some of Ableton Live's more esoteric effects. I split the drum track up and throw the snare at something called beat repeat, the hi-hats at something called rising 3-5-6, and do a bunch of other stuff to the sound on a random basis which results in some very interesting and unpredictable rhythms. The resulting groove on the track I produced yesterday was so hypnotic I sat back after pressing record and listened to the rhythm play for fourteen minutes before realising that I was only writing a four minute track!

It's all very different from the early days when I used a four-track cassette recorder and a Movement drum machine. And no, I didn't have the fancy machine that Dave Stewart plays in the Euythmics's Sweet Dreams video, mine was something called a Sequence Memory Rhythm - roughly equivalent to the Boss DR-55 Dr Rhythm beatbox used by Thomas Dolby and many others. It's still kicking around in a box somewhere upstairs. In those heady days of the very early 80s, even the relentless, tinny "biff-smack-biff-smack" beat that such devices produced was an innovation for those of us with no access to a real drummer. Things have come an awfully long way since then.