Seven weeks after becoming ill with a kidney infection, I'm still nowhere near fully recovered, although I'm gradually improving. I am still not sleeping well, although I'm managing to get more rest than I was. The weather continues to be terrible (I was woken up in the early hours of last night by a thunderstorm) so I feel totally justified in maintaining my current low activity levels for a while longer. I've been staying in and making music. I can't think of a better way to recuperate.
I'm still hard at work with Fifty/Ninety either writing lyrics or recording entire songs. By yesterday evening I'd added 61 tracks to my profile on the site; I want to beat my highest-ever song count of 67, which I managed back in 2015. I think I can manage that if I focus primarily on writing lyrics and just record the occasional instrumental. I've been having a lot of fun making new music this year, and I'll be very sorry to see proceedings draw to a close on October the first (although things don't stop then, as I will switch back to listening and commenting on other people's tracks).
I've found myself wanting to listen to Radio 3, Radio 4 Extra and BBC 6Music less and less over recent months. The organization has lurched alarmingly to the right in its politics, and when it continues to give a wholly unmerited platform to an extremist and failed politician who once managed to garner fewer votes in an election than a man dressed as a dolphin, or when it behaves like this toward any employee who calls out its behaviour, the fact that I am required to fund them by paying a license fee is beginning to annoy me.
This week I finally got round to setting up the Internet radio function on the surround sound amplifier that I bought last year so that I can listen to stations like WFMU while I write, and that's what I'm doing right now. Other stations that have already been added to my favourites list include CINEMIX (nothing but movie soundtracks), Resonance 104.4 FM (a London-based radio station run entirely by volunteers), and ambient sleeping pill (which does exactly what it says on the tin). There are some great channels out there, and I'm still finding more and more of them.
Since the village got fibre to the cabinet, Internet speeds have made streaming services practical; I couldn't have done this a few years ago. I've been pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the audio and the reliability of the stream (there's enough of a buffer built into the amp that breaks in transmission have been almost non-existent.) The amp even provides a web control interface so that I can connect to it with a web browser and edit its settings or change channels without needing to get out of my chair to find the remote control. I'm a net radio convert!
Two things stand out on a rewatch (it's been a while since I last saw the film). The immediate first thing is the film bears the Paramount logo at the beginning: this film was made before Marvel Studios became the behemoth that it is now, so its logo appears afterwards. The second is the picture quality. Although some of the film was shot on 35 mm film, much of it was shot digitally. Many scenes have a slightly soft feel to them and some of the forest action sequences have a distinct "TV movie" look to them. Watching the film on a 4K television really shows up lower-resolution source material (and yes, I have turned off all the weird interpolation functions—a.k.a. motion smoothing—that my TV has, what do you take me for?)
The film itself is fun, and Chris Evans's metamorphosis from skinny nerd into Super Soldier Steve Rogers is still an impressive moment, even after eight years of improvements to special effects technology.
Several things happen in the film that pay off in later movies, of course. Cap's photograph of Peggy is highlighted several times. The Tesseract is found, lost, and then found again as the plot develops. Cap's "I can do this all day" line crops up twice, and his response to Bucky's line of "Don't do anything stupid while I'm gone" will end up nicely reversed in the closing moments of Avengers: Endgame. But how have I missed up until now the fact that Howard Stark was demonstrating a flying car in the New York World's Fair sequence early on in the film? Tony Stark's subsequent use of "repulsor technology" to make his Iron Man suit fly makes so much sense if his dear old Dad had been working on the idea for thirty or forty years.
Next up in the sequence is this year's Captain Marvel, which has already become one of my favourite MCU films. I'm looking forward to giving that another watch.
It was the autumnal equinox at 08:50 this morning, marking the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. It feels autumnal this afternoon, too—after a sunny but windy morning, it's damp and grey outside. It's been raining for the past hour and it looks set to carry on for the rest of the afternoon.
Despite this, it's actually a lot brighter in the living room. This morning I took the big hedge trimmer to the magnolia in the front garden and finished trimming it back. It's now half the height it was a month ago and I can see out of the window again. Once again, my garden waste bin is completely full and I had to stand in it to get all the clippings to fit.
I'm glad I got the gardening done when I did, because the forecast for the rest of the week goes like this: a yellow warning of rain tomorrow with the possibility of thunderstorms, followed by rain on Wednesday and rain again on Thursday, with more rain on Friday and additional rain over the weekend as well. Yes, summer is definitely over and done with.
Yesterday I posted a set of lyrics to the Fifty/Ninety site as part of a "lyric morph" challenge. The idea is that you take 50% of the lyrics of the previous song in the chain and meld them into a new song; the next participant in the challenge then takes half of your song's lyrics and does the same thing again, and so on and so on. I'd not had a go at this before, and it was a lot of fun. This challenge is lyrics only, but I'm sure I'll end up recording them as a proper song before the end of the week, because that's what I love doing.
It was the fifty-first track I have submitted this summer, so once again I have achieved my goal of writing fifty songs in the ninety days between July 4th and October 1st. I have no doubt that I'll be adding to my total over the next few days, too. Thanks to the weather, I won't be feeling guilty about not being outside and I can sit at my DAW without feeling any pangs of guilt.
My sudden burst of getting things done stems in part from the fact that I am feeling considerably better than I was last week. Just four nights of sleeping on my new mattress has worked wonders on my aching back, and although I am still extremely wary of jinxing things, I think I have finally shaken off the kidney infection that has plagued me for the last six weeks. There are no further signs of internal bleeding and the aches and pains have subsided to the point where I got through yesterday without taking any painkillers at all.
To say that this is a relief is a considerable understatment...
NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day yesterday was a humdinger of a photograph taken from an aircraft flying past a thunderstorm in India. It shows something that is part of a family of unusual phenomena that weren't widely known about until 1989 and which were only captured on video for the first time in 1994. The phenomena are known collectively as Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) or Upper Atmospheric Lightning and although a Mr Henry Toynbee wrote to Nature magazine in January 1886 describing his observation of something that is now thought to have been a TLE, the first science paper to formally describe one was only published in Nature in 2003. More recently, ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen has conducted research on them from the International Space Station and even managed to capture several examples on video. Yesterday's APOD photograph shows an example of a TLE called a Gigantic Jet. Other examples have the evocative (and slightly mysterious) names of Red Sprites, Blue Jets, Elves, Trolls, Gnomes, and Pixies. Clearly, scientists are not always staid, sober types and they do occasionally have fun allocating names to things.
I've been fascinated with TLEs since I first saw that original black and white video sometime back in the late nineties; this isn't the first time that sprites been mentioned on the Blog. TLEs are still being investigated and the physics involved in their creation is uncertain, but it seems to involve some form of electrical coupling between the lower atmosphere and the ionosphere, which extends up to 1000 km above the Earth's surface.
However they are formed, the phenomena are visually striking and you can be sure that if I come across any more examples, they'll end up in the blog.
I finish my second course of antibiotics this evening. While I don't want to jinx anything by claiming that the problems I've been having have been solved, I feel much better than I did a week ago. For the first time in a month I am able to get through the day without needing a nap in the late afternoon. I have more energy. I'd surpassed my average daily step count for last week by nine o'clock this morning.
I've been channelling that extra energy into making music, and I've been making much better progress on Fifty/Ninety. My profile page now has 48 tracks for you to listen to. I reckon that I can hear a marked improvement in my work over the last half a dozen or so tracks; please do have a listen and let me know what you think.
My new mattress was delivered before nine this morning and I'm looking forward to finding out whether that is going to help me get to sleep faster. I've already given it a quick test. It was immediately apparent that my old mattress was absolutely knackered. Because the support it used to give had degraded so slowly over the years, I hadn't realised just what a dreadful state it was in. The new mattress is nice and firm. When I laid down on the bed earlier, I could feel my back relaxing straight away. Here's to a good night's sleep to come...
The symptoms I had last month with that kidney infection have returned, and I'm back on antibiotics. No wonder I felt so rough this week. I have also been referred for an ultrasound scan so they can check what's going on inside me in case it's something nastier. Not the best of news for Friday the Thirteenth, really...
Down the road in Somerset, the world's largest crane has arrived at the Hinkley Point C construction site. Big Carl is 250 metres high and will be in use at Hinkley for the next four years lifting prefabricated sections of the building into place.
A whole month after I picked up a kidney infection, I'm still nowhere near recovered. I have little or no energy at the moment and my normal level of enthusiasm for things has evaporated—naps currently figure far more in my daily schedule than they ought to do. I'm leading a primarily sedentary life at the moment. The most energetic thing I've done in the last few days has been to make a start on cutting back the magnolia in the front garden. I left it to grow unchecked last year and as a result the tops of the branches have grown level with my bedroom windows. The living room has been getting progressively more gloomy since the spring as little or no light was coming through the front windows. There was (and still is) a lot of foliage to get rid of, and the green garden waste bin was full to the brim before I'd got half way through cutting it back, even after I'd climbed into the bin and jumped up and down on the cuttings a couple of times to compact them. I'll have to finish off the job once the bins have been emptied. To be honest, I was glad to have a reason to call a stop when I did; by the time I'd cleared up and put the big hedge-trimmer away, I was a wreck and the t-shirt I was wearing was soaked with sweat. I ended up spending an hour in the bath to recover. I think the days when I could spend an entire day at work in my garden are behind me.
Maybe I'd just been too ambitious in thinking I'd recovered enough to do something that strenuous. I've certainly been trying to be much kinder to my kidneys since I became ill. I make sure to drink plenty of fluids every day, and I think look better for it; the bags under my eyes aren't as bad as they used to be. I only wish that I felt as good on the inside. I know that the older you get, the longer your body takes to heal, but I'm at the stage now where I really wish it would get on with it just a little bit faster.
My creative progress has stalled this week. I've been too tired, and I've only recorded one more song since the weekend. It's had some nice comments on the Fifty/Ninety site, but a four-track mix of drums, synth, guitar and vocals is some way off the usual extravagant levels of production that I'm used to. When I'm really enjoying myself I frequently have more tracks than that just dedicated to the guitars! This week's song has also exhausted the buffer of lyrics that I'd built up over the last fortnight. Although I felt too knackered to record much music while I was on antibiotics, I did manage to write down a few sets of lyrics, but I've turned them all into tracks now and whatever I record next will have to be an instrumental while I think about where my next batch of lyrical content will come from. The load of books that I'd rescued from Dad's last month has proved a fertile source of inspiration for songs, but this week my reading has dropped off significantly. Part of the reason for this is that I've been trying to chill out, and avoid constant stimulation. I need to relearn how to just switch off and be comfortable doing nothing, particularly when I'm lying in bed trying to get to sleep. But instead, I've been stupid, and "relaxing" by playing video games, which is probably the most overstimulating pastime I could possibly choose (aside, perhaps, from drinking double espressos all day). And yes, I feel guilty for doing so, which is a good sign, I think, as over the last couple of days the guilt has finally become uncomfortable enough for me to start weaning myself off the habit. Not only is it diverting me from more creative pursuits, but also it's not good for me, and I know it.
At this point you may be thinking that my current behaviours are exactly the same as those that I exhibit when I'm having a particularly bad time with depression, and you'd be absolutely correct, but I don't feel down at the moment. If anything, I'm rather enjoying not having to commute and I'm definitely not missing having to get out of bed at half past five in the morning. I'm just worn out.
The reason that "getting more exercise" has become such a cliché in discussions about improving one's well-being and fitness is because it works. But I'm at an age where I'm not about to buy a membership at the local gym. I know of too many people over the age of fifty (including my cousin) who started a keep fit regime that very rapidly killed them. I'm going to be very cautious. But I'm tired of feeling tired all of the time. Although my previous blog entry showed how much I'm counting on my new mattress, which will be delivered next week, to make a difference to the quality of sleep that I get and the energy levels I have as a result, I need to make getting more exercise a priority. I must become better at looking after myself, which quite clearly is not something I've been good at in recent years—arguably in decades. What I need to do is build my fitness back up gently, so I'm going to start going out for walks. The weather forecast for the rest of the week is good, so let's see if I can boost my daily step count above the level it's been stuck at for the last month, which has been so abysmal I'm not even going to tell you what it is.
While I'm on the subject of fitness tracking, the battery on my Withings watch ran out a couple of weeks ago. It lasted eleven months, which was exactly what the product reviews I'd read suggested that it would be. I visited three different jewellers and watch repair places in town and every one of them told me that Withings wasn't a watch brand that they supported and they couldn't do anything to help me.
So I went to the Withings website, downloaded the instructions for replacing the battery that they provide free of charge, then ordered a £10 watch repair kit that included a holder and a case-opening tool from Amazon and bought a CR2025 battery at the same time (in fact I got two for £1.50) and did it myself. I'm happy to report that the watch is still waterproof and working perfectly. I feel very pleased with myself.
I uploaded song number forty to my Fifty/Ninety profile yesterday, so I'm eighty per cent of the way to achieving my target. I'm still ahead of schedule, too—which is just as well, because I'm still not feeling my usual creative self. On a good weekend in previous years I've recorded five or six good songs; this weekend I have a feeling that yesterday's single song will be all I achieve.
At least I now have both a working theory of why I feel so knackered and a means of testing it...
Over the last few months I've found myself unable to settle when I go to bed. I can't get comfortable. Every five minutes I'll roll from one side to the other as I try to find a sleeping position that doesn't hurt. On average it takes me over an hour before I finally drift off. This week I finally realised that it might not be my aching back that's the cause of the problem. I now think that it's probably not me at all, and that my aching back might be a result of the real problem, not the cause of it.
The average mattress lasts between seven and ten years before it becomes worn out. After that, it starts to sag in the middle and no longer provides the support needed for a decent night's sleep. When I checked the blog earlier this week I discovered that the one on my bed celebrated its sixteenth birthday at the beginning of this month. That was a surprise, even though I knew not only that I'd had the bed for a while but also that by the time my previous bed was fifteen years old it had became too uncomfortable to get a decent night's sleep on. I'm so tired these days that—clearly—I hadn't made the connection. When I looked at the mattress with a freshly critical eye, I could see how badly it sags in the middle. No wonder I've been struggling to get enough rest.
After a few days surfing the web looking for bargains, I found that one of the big national suppliers in the UK was having a half-price sale on mattresses, so I picked one with the pocket-sprung design that I'm used to that had a decent set of reviews and a comfort rating of "firm" (I've never liked sleeping on soft mattresses) and ordered it. It'll be delivered next week. I'm hoping that it will make a significant difference to the quality of my sleep.
And I'm hoping that will mean my songwriting output rate will pick up once again.
I'm listening to the extended edition of Brian Eno's wonderful album Apollo (Atmospheres and Soundtracks) again this morning. But to listen to it uninterrupted, I've had to switch my Sony television off at the wall.
Why? It's because I have an HDMI function called Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) enabled on my TV and my audio system components. When I want to watch a movie, I don't need to switch on all the different devices individually. Instead I just hit the "eject" button on the player's remote and it will automatically turn on, then use HDMI-CEC to send a signal to my amplifier to tell it to switch on and select the audio signal from the player. Another HDMI-CEC signal from the amplifier to the TV tells the television to switch on with the input connected to the player already selected. The whole surround system powers up and configures itself to show the disc player's output on the screen at the push of a single button. It's very clever stuff, and the ease of use is seductive. But there's a downside to all this. In fact, there are several and the implications are significant.
For a start, my Sony TV will connect to the Internet every now and again while it's in standby, and at the same time it sends those same HDMI-CEC signals to my amplifier. This switches the amplifier's input away from the CD player I'm using to listen to music. The TV doesn't come on, but the audio from the CD player stops until the TV stops transmitting and the player can reclaim control of the amp. And the television doesn't do it just once, either; it's a regular occurrence. I've disabled the TV's settings that automatically check for software updates, but this hasn't stopped it connecting to the Internet when it feels like it. There's clearly data transmission going on, as I can see traffic registering on my router's WiFi indicators. And this is while the television is ostensibly inactive and switched to standby, remember. The TV is a "smart TV" that has a microphone button on the remote control so I can tell it what to do, such as play Devin Townsend videos on YouTube or find out the population of Estonia. But does the TV only listen when I push that little button on the remote control? There has been widespread concern over the proliferation of devices that actively surveil us as we go about our daily lives; not just Amazon's Alexa in the Guardian's report, but the AI programs in our phones like Siri and Google's assistant are expected to be always on and always listening so that they can respond when we need them. Or, if it's Facebook, they just surveil you as a matter of course, even if you don't have a Facebook account. There's a reason that Facebook are desperate for you to install their app on your phone to access their site rather than using the phone's browser, folks, and it has nothing to so with making things easier for you. The proliferation of voice-activated, Internet-connected technology in our homes would make it ridiculously easy for an unscrupulous agency to conduct covert surveillance. Which—surprise surprise—brings us back to Facebook once again. Forget foreign governments; it's Mark Zuckerberg you have to worry about.
Maybe I'm being paranoid; but if my TV is doing lots of stuff I don't know about while it's in standby, I'm not going to leave it in standby any more. It's going to get switched off at the wall. That stops the problems I've been having listening to CDs. It will save me money. Most importantly, given that in somewhere like Australia, more than 5% of domestic power consumption is devoted to vampire power, powering devices left in standby just for the convenience of being able to switch them back on again quickly, it's the only environmentally responsible thing to do.
I'm still getting over the kidney infection I had last month. The aches and pains are nowhere near as bad as they were, but they've yet to disappear completely. As a result I'm still sleeping really badly. I had a truly dreadful night's sleep on Saturday night, and an even worse one on Sunday night and though things were better last night, I suspect that this was simply because I was exhausted. But I've already lost half of the weight that I'd put back on since my birthday. My experiences over the last month have really brought home to me that I have to take better care of myself.
Should I need any more encouragement to eat healthier foods, the awful story in the news today of the Bristol teenager who has lost his sight and hearing as a result of eating little more than chips and Pringles for the last decade made for sobering reading.