It's got to the point where I dread travelling anywhere on Fridays. It took me nearly three hours to get home last night. There had been a collision between two lorries and a car on the A34, so the road around Oxford was closed and I had to battle through all the diverted traffic. Once I got to the motorway, the M4 was frequently so congested that I was crawling along in first gear. The road network around Swindon in particular is unable to cope with the levels of traffic it experiences at rush hour without grinding to a halt. It's soul-destroying, even when I have a selection of diverting and entertaining podcasts to listen to.
The UK's roads seem to go into meltdown far more regularly these days than I remember them doing back in the 90s. This summer there have been problems almost every Friday, and the number of road closures as a result of police incidents this summer feels like it's been much higher than usual.
I guess I'd prefer to work from home instead of spending the equivalent of two working days a week just sitting in my car, which is what I do at the moment. What was I saying about work/life balance last week?
It says something about my creative process that I went back to this week's Saturday single several days after recording it and pulled it to bits again, rewriting the second verse because I'd thought of a much better lyric and then rerecording the vocals for all three verses and singing them an octave lower because I didn't like how the original version sounded. FiftyNinety encourages a "get it done, move on" approach to help songwriters to actually finish things and release them, but I struggle with letting go of a song if I'm not happy with it. Of all the songs I write in a year, you could probably count the number of tracks that I feel genuinely proud of when I click on "render audio" for the first time on the fingers of one hand, and Observer Effect definitely did not fall into that category. I'm much happier with the new mix I've put on Bandcamp this morning, but getting there took considerablly more effort and reflection than originally planned.
And you can tell we're getting to the closing stages of FiftyNinety when I end up writing songs about the misinterpretation of the quantum wave function and its application to nostalgia for old girlfriends...
If you follow me on Facebook or on the FiftyNinety site you may have noticed that I have already hit my goal of writing (or co-writing) fifty songs between July 4th and October 1st. I've currently got 51 songs uploaded to the site. It's a good feeling, but the month is not over yet and I plan on producing at least a couple more songs this weekend.
It's been quite a challenge completing FiftyNinety this year. Work takes up most of my time during the week and my energy levels in the evenings have more or less evaporated. As a result I've tended to leave working on music for the weekends. This is a change to previous years, when I'd do creative work almost continuously; I'd get home on a weekday, grab a bite to eat, and then head into the back room to record something. When you're continuously involved in creative activities like that, there are interesting effects: I've found that you get more inspiration, more ideas for new things, and more insights into what you're producing. The classical idea of a guiding muse who responds to increased attention is an attractive one, and even though the concept of a spirit that guides your creative endeavours is metaphorical, it gained traction because for centuries, artists have had experiences that could be interpreted in that fashion often enough for people to notice them and start thinking about what's going on. I've blogged before about waking up at three in the morning with an idea for a new song stuck in my head; that doesn't happen so often if you keep taking your foot off the gas. While I've still been waking up in the middle of the night over the summer, it's been because my collection of aches and pains has woken me up, not because I've had an idea for my latest masterpiece.
But I've managed to keep on writing songs this summer, and the well has not run dry just yet. I will continue to write songs after this weekend even though FiftyNinety is over and my Saturday Singles challenge has drawn to a close - not because of any overwhelming plan to get rich on the proceeds of my endeavours, but simply because I can't imagine not doing so. It's what I do. It's who I am.
It's been an odd few days. I'm a terrible procrastinator when it comes to sorting out things at home. I'm most definitely not used to doing grown-up things like sorting out pensions, but this week that's exactly what I found myself doing. I was pleased to discover that the multitude of plans that I've acquired over the years has left me in much better shape than I thought, which was nice. Kids, if you don't have a pension plan set up, the sooner you start one, the better. It's what you pay in when you're young that makes all the difference, thanks to the wonders of compound interest. I'm not planning on doing so, but when I found out what my situation would be like if I chose to retire early, I realised with a shock that it would actually be feasible to do so. Not having a mortgage any more clearly helps here, too. Somehow I've made it this far making financial decisions that have actually paid off, and I'm still trying to figure out how I managed that.
I had another day off yesterday, getting the things done that I had planned to do last Friday, but had to postpone. The car passed its MOT with flying colours, and I was very pleased about that after having four new tyres and a new windscreen fitted.
Having a new windscreen is a novel experience. Every screen acquires minute chips and dings as the miles build up, and you don't consciously realise they're there until they're taken away. Now that I've drawn attention to it, you are likely to notice them, sorry. But at least you know they're normal; there are cases, such as the Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic of 1954, where people ascribe all sorts of bizarre causes (from radioactivity to invisible vandals) to something that was always there but they didn't see before.
This, folks, is prime wingnut territory. People noticing mundane things for the first time and believing that they've identified something novel and sinister is why we have websites about "chemtrails" and "rods" and such like. When these people are quite rightly mocked for their stupidity in believing such things, their beliefs only become stronger, because (their reasoning goes) everyone who doesn't share their belief system must be part of a conspiracy to hide the truth. They've fallen into a thinking trap known as confirmation bias and whilst contrary evidence might provoke a state of discomfort that Leon Festinger named cognitive dissonance, it becomes impossible for them to change their minds or abandon their theories. I'm friends with one or two people on Facebook whose feeds are full of this sort of thing, and I've long since given up trying to engage with them about it. It's pointless.
The problem, as I'm sure you've already realised, is that some of these wingnuts are now in control.
I'm really pleased with this week's single, which is an extended instrumental featuring my Godin xtSA running the Roland GR-55 guitar synth for the bass, and the Jackson "Adrian Smith" SDX for the lead work. It's called Crushing It.
I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed playing it!
In recent months I've been getting rid of things that I've been hanging on to for years. Another batch of old stuff ended up in the recycling bins today: all my old paperwork from the Operational Telecommunications Systems course I took when I worked for British Telecom back in the 1980s. Not only does the technology described in the files no longer exist, even many of the buildings it was housed in have been demolished. This was brought home powerfully yesterday when I stumbled across a website devoted to Mondial House, home of BT's main international telephone exchange, which was demolished back in 2006. It's a shame; I was rather fond of the building, which I used to see every morning when I commuted in to Cannon Street station in London. It always reminded me of a gigantic liquorice allsort.
You may have noticed that in recent months I have only been writing updates for the blog at the weekends. My new job takes up a lot of my time, and the blog tends to be at the bottom of the stack when it comes to prioritising things to do when I'm not at work. I suspect that the only tasks that are lower in the heap than blogging are doing the ironing, and decorating. So the fact that I'm writing a blog entry at teatime on a Tuesday is perhaps worthy of note.
Today I have been working at home, cataloguing shots from a recent video shoot ready for an editing session with the producer. It's been a more productive day than usual, and just as importantly I haven't spent several hours driving to the office and back. That means I'm not in the state of exhaustion and cognitive overload that I've found myself in for most evenings during the last month. There are days in recent weeks when I've felt so befuddled by bedtime that reading more than a couple of pages from a book is too much of a challenge. In contrast, this evening I plan on writing and recording another track for FiftyNinety, and that will be the first time I'll have fired up the studio on a work night for about six weeks. I don't like being too tired to think. I most emphatically do not like not having the energy to be creative. Songwriting has become one of my favourite indulgences - but is it fair to call something that has not only helped keep me sane in recent years but has also improved my sense of self-esteem an indulgence? Maybe not.
At the risk of droning on about such things as work/life balance, I need to put a little more pleasure into my life. And I'm surprised to discover that even something as mundane as writing this blog falls in to the pleasure category for me these days. What a rock and roll lifestyle I have, eh?
I had a day off yesterday. It was rather nice not to have to get up before dawn on a weekday. I did a bit of shopping and watched a few episodes from the series box set of Warehouse 13, which has rapidly become my new favourite thing on television. Why wasn't I raving about the show when it came out? Primarily because it started out when I was in the middle of my "not having time to watch TV" phase, and these days I usually wait until something's finished its run before I buy the box set and binge watch the whole thing. Which I am am now doing.
This morning I woke up thinking that it was about time to switch back to the winter duvet. This past week, the warmth of summer has been fading rapidly and the overnight temperature is back down in single figures. Autumn is upon us, no doubt bringing more blog entries about how it's my favourite time of the year. And it is; I love no longer having to feel guilty about staying inside watching DVDs when it's a glorious evening outside. I love those foggy nights before the start of winter, I love the return to Greenwich Mean Time, and I particularly enjoy the extra hour in bed on the last weekend in October. I'm already thinking about the selection of films I will watch on halloween and plotting the purchase of more sweaters and a new winter coat.
But I will most emphatically NOT be looking forwards to the aroma of pumpkin spice latte pervading my regular coffee shop haunts once again. That stuff is disgusting.
I'm still on target to release a new single every Saturday until the 1st of October as part of my songwriting activities over at FiftyNinety. This week's track is called Flying.
These days I spend too much time in the car driving to and from work. The experience would be unbearable were it not for the fact that the car has a USB port, so I can load up a memory stick with a selection of podcasts to listen to on my journey. At the moment I've started to listen to the Nerdist podcasts again right from the beginning, and I'm working my way through episodes from way back in 2010. It's amazing how quickly we forget the events that provided a lot of the context for the shows and, equally, life has moved on in unexpected ways; when celebrities like Robin Williams are mentioned I find myself wondering whether he was still alive at the time (he was - he died in 2014). Each episode lasts about an hour, so it'll keep me going for the next few months or so.
I also back Robin and Josie's Book Shambles on Patreon, which means I get super-extended versions of each show to listen to. They're hugely entertaining, the guests who come on the show are always fascinating, and listening to a bunch of intelligent people having conversations about interesting subjects does a lot to keep me smiling as I negotiate the country's highways and byways. And boy, sometimes I need it.
Last night it took me nearly three hours to get home from work. Using the M4 was a non-starter, as at lunchtime a caravan had overturned at Swindon, and it was taking traffic an hour just to get from junction 15 to Junction 16, which is less than six miles. The tailback of Westbound traffic reached as far as Membury services. So I headed across country instead, which was mostly fine until I got to the back of the queue for the Air Balloon roundabout on the A417, where then I sat thinking about how I needed to restore my work/life balance for what seemed like an eternity. It was nearly 18:45 when I finally put the car in the garage for the weekend.
I was very glad to get home, but I was wiped out - I was much too tired to pick up a musical instrument, so instead my evening consisted of eating pizza and watching the remaining available episodes of Amazon's series The Tick, which I've really enjoyed. Peter Serafinowicz is a delight.
Today I've recovered a little, but I have no intention of going anywhere this weekend.
I' haven't stopped writing and recording music, though. This week's single is called Pointless.
I had a rough week last week. I couldn't sleep, I was stressed out about nothing in particular, and I kept finding myself wide awake at four o'clock in the morning. I felt pretty low.
But on Thursday night I decided that I'd had enough. I stopped thinking about the things that were bothering me, and in choosing to ignore them I discovered I could sleep like a baby until the alarm clock went off on Friday morning, when I awoke feeling relaxed and refreshed. Weird, eh?
As you can see at the top of the page, I'm still writing, recording and releasing a single every Saturday until the 1st of October. Today's effort is a rather stroppy rock song called Join Us.
The new series of The Tick is available on Amazon and I'm resisting the urge to binge through the whole thing in one go and instead just take in each episode one at a time, savouring ever second. Peter Serafinowicz is perfect in the role, playing the titular character as a well-meaning but demented force of nature. There's no breaking the fourth wall here; unlike Deadpool, The Tick isn't self-aware enough to notice most of what's going on around him, let alone be capable of recognising irony, but he's still just as funny.
And by way of complete contrast, the extremely gory and graphic trailer for Takashi Miike's 100th film Blade of the Immortal arrived this week, and it's utterly bonkers. The premise of a samurai cursed with immortality "until he has taken the lives of enough evil men" has been warped into something that's part Léon: The Professional and part Kill Bill and it looks right up my street.