Blogs On Stun

Chris Harris's Blog Archive: October 2013

The worst thing about this October was that Mum's sister, my Aunty Mary died after a long illness. While I was trying to come to terms with that, various things of mine broke, malfunctioned or stopped working. I spent most of the month feeling exhausted.

But there were occasional good things in there, too - I went to some excellent gigs and I released my first bunch of music on Bandcamp. You can read about it all right here.


That's it; wearing a fleece indoors is no longer enough to keep me warm, and I've caved in. Summer is most definitely over. Yesterday afternoon there was a noticeable drop in temperature and by five o'clock I'd had enough of shivering, so I put the central heating on for an hour. I'm glad I did - there was a frost overnight, and the windows upstairs were all steamed up when I opened the curtains this morning. Today the "ICY" warning on the car lit up on the way in to work, dropping down to 2°C as I drove past the Tortworth crossroads. And now even though it's only coming up to half past four in the afternoon, I've put the heating on for an hour just to warm the house up again. So I have set the central heating system timer from Off back to Auto. I didn't quite make it to November before doing so, but the 30th October is pretty good as far as I'm concerned; looking at the blog entries from autumn over the past decade, I see at least one mention of having the heating on in September. The conservatory is doing okay, too: outside it was 0.4°C but inside it was 8.5°C. That'll do.


Omigawd, it's nearly November. Tomorrow I will don my gaudy yellow NaNoWriMo wristband as I prepare once again to rise to the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. As usual, November's blog will feature badges and graphs so that you can track my progress towards "winning" - getting a word count in excess of 50k.

However, this year I'm going to mix things up a bit. I've installed a trial version of Scrivener, word processor software that is specifically designed for people who write novels. I know Charlie Stross uses it and so does Michael Marshall Smith. It's intrigued me for a while, but when I found out that the trial version that's available right now is good until the second week of December (i.e. well after NaNoWriMo concludes), and that if you win this year you can buy the full version at a 50% discount, I jumped right in. I've worked through about half the tutorials so far (guess what I'll be doing this evening, kids) and I already really like the way Scrivener works. I still have to do all the heavy lifting like come up with a plot, and characters, and all that writerly stuff, of course, but I think it will be easier to keep track of it all once I get under way. I'll be blogging about how I get on.


Tonight's bedtime reading will be Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen. I've had a quick skim and it looks very promising...


The leaves on the virginia creeper that grows up the side of the house have all dropped off - when I got home on Friday night they were all over the drive. Here in the UK the clocks moved back an hour on Saturday night. Today it's the last Monday in October, and I'm back on Greenwich Mean Time. This morning the sun rose here at 06:56 and it set at 16:49 - so it's lighter when I get up, but dark by tea time. Winter is nearly upon us.

The weekend where the clocks go back is my favourite time of year. It's not just because I can spend an extra hour in bed, though. I spend all of the first Sunday on GMT rediscovering that it's an hour earlier than I thought it was, and there's a lovely absence of pressure or rush. When we're on BST I always feel like I ought to be outside gardening or doing something productive. Once we revert to GMT any guilt I might feel about staying indoors goes away. Staying in is what winter is for. So when it got dark last night, I drew the curtains, poured myself a beer and vegged out in front of the TV watching a documentary on iPlayer about the making of the Who's LP Quadrophenia. It took a while to get my head around the fact that it's 40 years since the album was recorded.

Another bonus of being back on GMT is that I don't have to convert the time stamp on my RSS feed file any more. Thanks to a lack of attention to international details in the early days of the Internet, British Summer Time (BST) isn't allowed as a valid time zone, so I have to keep it as GMT all year. This irritates the hell out of me, and it has done for years.


Last night's storm has passed, leaving four people dead but here in the West Country we seem to have got off lightly; the local council reported just 8 fallen trees and some minor flooding. I spent the day working at home and waiting for the Parcelforce van to arrive and pick up the M3. They're taking it back to Korg in Milton Keynes for repair. Given how dull and grey the weather looked outside for most of the day, I was glad I didn't have to go anywhere. It also helped to preserve a little of the relaxed feel of the weekend, too.

Despite the stormy weather, I've still not put the central heating on. The house doesn't feel cold at all. The temperature in the front bedroom stays at around 19°C all day at the moment, and it doesn't drop that much overnight. I'm beginning to think I can get to November without caving in. Given how much energy prices are going up, this is an extremely good thing.


In the panic over what Warren Ellis dubbed Death Storm Doris yesterday David Cameron was telling everyone to stay tuned to their local news channels just hours after his chairman Michael Green - er, sorry, Grant Shapps - had threatened to cut the funding that makes many of those stations possible. What a pair of prats.


My initial reaction to yesterday's news that Lou Reed had died was disbelief. I naturally assumed that he was indestructable, that he would continue to be around and making music for years to come. It makes me sad that this isn't going to happen.


The weather forecast for the next couple of days is giving cause for concern. The UK gets winds of 80 mph every now and again, but usually in winter. In the autumn, when the leaves are still on the trees, they're more of a problem. That was certainly the case back in the great storm of 1987 when millions of trees were uprooted. And the forecast for Sunday night is predicting an intense area of low pressure to pass across the country, with wind gusts here in excess of 50 mph. Yikes.


Did I mention it's been a rubbish week? My Korg M3 has stopped working. It won't even boot up; it's completely dead. So that's being shipped back to Korg on Monday to see if they can resuscitate it. I've just put it back in its original packaging ready for collection. I already miss being able to play it, but I have the Push (and an entire room full of other instruments) to keep me occupied in the interim.


This morning Joe Straczynski tweeted that he had just binge-watched a set of YouTube videos called Katie Watches Babylon 5 with the comment "Much fun." So, of course, I had to do exactly the same thing.

In my opinion Babylon 5 is one of the finest and best-written science fiction series ever to be made, and the YouTube videos show Katie as she discovers this fact. Katie goes into things with little or no information on what the show's about, or how things will unfold, so it's fun to watch her reaction to things as they play out. She's young, bright, and perceptive, and by no means does she give the show an easy ride. Stephen Furst's character Vir is "irritating" and Garibaldi's taste in shirts is cruelly mocked. But she's quick to identify the ambiguity of the Vorlons and the Shadows. It's nice to see her reactions to characters change as the plot unfolds and JMS's writing starts to give more insight into their personalities and motivations (such as Ivanova by the 4th video). Her comments on the departure of Sinclair are particularly moving given that we now know about Michael O'Hare's illness. And as she gets drawn in to the show, the videos get more contemplative, and longer, and longer and Vir becomes her favourite character....


Aunty Mary died yesterday. She was 90. She'd been ill since the beginning of the year, and I guess we all knew it was coming, but the news has till left me feeling very sad. She was my mother's Big Sister, and she was a good friend (I have spent every Christmas with her for most of the last twenty years) and I will miss her terribly.

The funeral will probably be some time next week. But I smiled when I realised that as an ex-teacher, she managed to organise things so that it took place during half term!


It's been one of those weeks. I went to London on Monday night to see Peter Gabriel in concert at the O2. More about the gig itself in a moment, but...

What should have been a half-hour trip from my brother's house in Orpington took over an hour and three quarters thanks to overrunning engineering works by Southeastern trains, who are now my least favourite company ever. Their customer service mission statement was, rather obviously, "I can't do anything about that." Or possibly "That's nothing to do with us." When the train did arrive, over an hour late, it was strewn with abandoned newspapers and empty fast food containers.

You know what, Southeastern? Playing a prerecorded announcement that says "We apologise for any inconvenience caused" in rotation with several other announcements along the lines of "Don't smoke!" "Don't misbehave because you're being recorded on CCTV!" and "Don't leave your luggage unattended or we'll blow it up!" kind of undermines the contrite message that you ought to be aiming for. In fact, it makes you come across as passive-aggressive dicks who don't give a toss - but who really get off on nagging their customers. I think I'll be making other arrangements to get to the O2 in future, and believe me, they won't rely on you any more if I can possibly avoid it.


Once I got to the O2 itself, things improved. For one thing I bumped into fellow stick player Bucky Muttel busking at the top of the escalator at North Greenwich tube station. I stayed and chatted for a while (and we were even joined by another Stick player - what are the chances?) Then I headed over to the big dome. The staff at the O2 seem to have had a bit of customer service training since the last time I was there, too - they were all smiles, much more polite than they were back in May when I saw Rush. I met up with my friends Richard and Wendy, who had arrived earlier after a much easier journey by car.

The gig itself was excellent. It's over thirty years since I first went to a Peter Gabriel show and he's one of my favourite artists. It's thanks to bass player Tony Levin that I started playing the Stick, and Peter's unique ear for music has been a huge influence on my own development as a musician. Going in to this gig my expectations were very high, but as usual Mr Gabriel and his team surpassed them. First off, Peter strode out on stage unannounced - which seemed to catch quite a few people by surprise - to introduce the first section of the evening: four songs from his backing singers, Jennie Abrahamson and Linnea Olsson. I could have listened to a lot more from them - they're both talented musicians and they both have crystal-clear voices. "Thank you for listening so nicely," they said after they'd finished - and they got an extra round of applause for that.

There was a short break after they left the stage, but then another figure from previous Gabriel tours walked into the spotlight: the Armenian grand master of the duduk, Lévon Minassian, who played The Feeling Begins from Peter's soundtrack to The Passion. When he'd finished, Peter joined him on stage. "There's a saying in Armenia," he told us, "That you can always tell when someone plays the duduk well, because everyone is crying. So, to keep you thoroughly miserable..." He walked over to the piano and explained that the set from him this evening would start off with an unfinished composition. "My wife says I have to explain that the lyrics don't mean anything," he said, "because otherwise everyone will think that I'm drunk." And with that he brought out "The King of the Bottom End" to help him out. Tony Levin started off on upright bass with an incredible sound. Maybe it was because I was listening to the gig without earplugs for the first time in years (I'd stupidly forgotten to bring them) but I can't remember ever hearing frequencies that low at a gig before. The music was quite overwhelming at times.

The rest of the show was split into three: a quiet, subdued "acoustic" set played with the house lights up, followed by a noisier "electric" set that featured a stunning light show (and tracks ranging from Family Snapshot, Solsbury Hill and No Self Control to The Family and the Fishing Net and Secret World) then finishing off with a performance of the album So in its entirety in its original running order, by the original line-up of musicians who helped record it. I cheered when Tony used Stick for That Voice Again (and this tour is the first time it's been performed live, we were told). There were many times through the evening that I had a lump in my throat or was blinking back tears, and I can't begin to explain why. I've tried, but it's impossible to convey why those songs affect me so deeply. Monday's gig was one of the most emotional experiences I've had for years. I grew up listening to Mr Gabriel's music, and it has been a constant companion for the last thirty-odd years. I'm delighted that he's still performing - and quite obviously enjoying himself in the process. When I first went to one of his gigs he visibly struggled to talk to the audience in between songs. Now he's far more comfortable relating to what is, let's face it, a cavernous space full of thousands upon thousands of people.

After the traditional final encore of Biko, it was over. I headed back to Orpington, picked up the car, and drove back to Gloucestershire. I felt utterly drained by the time I put the car in the garage, but then again, it was three o'clock in the morning...


I have always loved reading. As an introvert, I spent as much of my childhood as I possibly could sitting in a quiet corner somewhere with a book. At the age of five I'd already moved beyond Dick and Dora, Nip and Fluff and was transfixed by encyclopedias. Within a few years I'd discovered fiction. When we moved to Stafford in 1968 the house had a tiny upstairs "box room" for storage; joy of joys, it had a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in it. I would sit on a pile of blankets in there, reading whatever came to hand, soothed by the drone of traffic on the M6 across the road. There were my Mother's text books from when she was a nurse; there were novels by Daphne du Maurier and Nevil Shute that my Father had read when he was younger; there were Reader's Digest condensed books and works by Enid Blyton, Malcolm Saville and E C Eliott that I assume my parents had been given by colleagues, friends and relatives to keep me and my siblings amused; I certainly can't remember Mum and Dad having money available to spend on things like building up a library. So I read a very strange and esoteric mixture of works.

By the time I was ten I devoured novels. Around this time I joined the local library down in Rising Brook of which I have particularly fond memories - a building absolutely full of books, and I could take any of them home to read? This was paradise! After the eleven plus I ended up at a school which had a library of its own for pupils to use, and I used it as much as I could. In my teens I discovered science fiction, and the genre has been a passion ever since. Any book in the library with the distinctive yellow dust jacket and black "G" on the spine of the Gollancz imprint would be grabbed and read before all others. This broadened my reading considerably as, while they published a lot of SF, they also printed many classics. So it was that I came to works like Cronin's The Stars Look Down - despite the initial disappointment that the promising title did not belong to a science fiction novel, I read it anyway and discovered how literature could communicate issues such as social justice and politics.

Science fiction didn't really help my introversion, of course. When I was fifteen I read Frank Herbert's epic Dune and its first two sequels over the course of the summer holidays, and I barely spoke to anyone while I did so. I had discovered literature's ability to transport you entirely away from your own mental landscape and explore that of someone else. The house could have burned down while I read and I wouldn't have noticed. Once I'd engaged with a book at that level, I wanted to find other works that had the same effect. Sometimes a book would let me down, but when you find one that sparkles with wit and intellect, and you sit down and start reading it, the rest of the world goes away. When we moved to London in the seventies I discovered the SF bookshops Dark They Were And Golden Eyed and Forbidden Planet and spent all my spare cash at these temples of the imagination. And when I joined the library in West Wickham, I discovered that their chief librarian had exactly the same name as me. Clearly, books were meant to be an important part of my identity!

Eventually I bought a place of my own, and my career got to the point where I could start to build up my own collection. I bought Billy bookshelves from Ikea with abandon, and filled them up rapidly. It was a fairly scattershot affair at first. I would raid second-hand bookshops for anything about science, science fiction, or parascience without critical assessment or attention to quality. For a time I joined a "book of the month" club, but once I hit forty my tastes started to become more discerning and getting something that was the latest thing no longer appealed. I began to take an interest in the process of writing as a practitioner as well as a consumer. I started paying attention to the books that my favourite writers said they enjoyed. Thanks to William Gibson, I discovered artists like Borges. That changed everything.

Now, the house where I live is full of books. I even have a reading armchair, which is a favourite haunt during the winter months (and especially at Christmas)...

Festive reading

Every available flat surface in the house is adorned by at least one publication. I don't just have one "reading stack" in the house, I have three: one in each of the locations where I'm likely to get the opportunity to read something for a few minutes. That armchair currently has a pile of a dozen books on one arm. A few years ago I even added a page to this website about my reading habits; I really should get round to updating it. I am a book fiend.

I read at least one book every month, and I usually have at least four in progress at any given time. If you love reading, you will never be bored. There are always more books to be read. When I took seven bags of books to the recycle shop last month, I was under the impression that this would leave gaps on my bookshelves and help the house to appear slightly less untidy than it normally does. Of course, I was mistaken; it simply removed the pressure on me not to make more purchases. I always have a mental list of books that I really ought to get round to reading at some point, and with space to put them somewhere, it became time to do something about crossing a few novels off that list.

First up was a quartet of novels that I've been meaning to read for decades: the Saga of Pliocene Exile series by Julian May. I know several people for whom this was as pivotal a work as the Dune series was for me. In particular, fellow FAWMer Tim Fatchen has been creating spectacular music for a soundtrack to the books for several years now. Tim's enthusiasm for the series is one of the reasons why I decided to track down copies. I tried to find them a couple of years ago but they didn't seem to be in print. When I looked again on Friday I found that things had changed, as Tor had brought out a new set of the paperbacks earlier this year. I ordered all four novels - ahh, the dangers of Amazon Prime - and they were in my hands less than 24 hours later. I've just started reading the first one, and it's living up to expectations. Always a good sign!


It's still incredibly mild here. The temperature in the conservatory during the day hovers around 20°C and I still haven't needed to switch the heating on this autumn. It's quite a surprise, given that it's getting dark by six o'clock now. The forecast for next week expects daytime temperatures to reach 18°C in the south as a mass of warm air is drawn up from the Bay of Biscay by a low pressure system. But that low pressure means it'll be raining a fair bit. This afternoon, the previous low was doing its thing:

I cleaned and vacuumed the inside of the car before the rain arrived, but I don't think I'll bother doing the outside. Tomorrow I'll be driving to London in the rain (I'm seeing Peter Gabriel at the O2) so the car will be filthy by the time I get back.


I first heard about Ueli Steck back in 2011, when I came across a clip from his DVD on YouTube which shows him soloing the north face of the Eiger in well under three hours. I don't know much about climbing - it's been over ten years since I spent a day in Yosemite learning the basics - but I know enough that this really made me sit up and take notice. Now he's back in the news after soloing the south face of Anapurna I in the Himalayas, and he did it without ropes or oxygen. I can't wait to find out more details.

Incidentally, Ueli's Eiger video features the track Welcome Home by Ben Cooper, who performs under the name Radical Face. It's a classic pop song, and I love the album it's from, Ghost. I'm pleased to say that I'll be seeing Ben in concert at The Lantern in the Colston Hall next month.


Talking of albums, yesterday was a big day for me.

My first release on Bandcamp has gone live. As you've probably deduced from the title, it's an album of instrumental music, and it was all recorded this year. I went back to the original recordings and remixed and remastered them and I'm really happy with the results. Twelve songs can be yours in shiny, high quality Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, 320kb MP3, Apple Lossless or AAC format for a paltry £7. Next week I'll be releasing the companion album, which features tracks with me singing on them. There are no prizes for guessing what that one's going to be called...


I had an excellent night out in Bristol last night to see Steven Wilson and his band at the Colston Hall. I have to admit that a big factor in deciding to see this tour was that Nick Beggs is playing bass - and Stick - but after I bought The Raven That Refused to Sing, attending the show became an absolute no-brainer. It's an extraordinary album and last night they performed the entire thing, in order (along with a bunch of Steven's other material). The sound at the Colston Hall was the best that I have ever experienced there and despite the fact that it was the first night of the tour, starting a scant week since they all got back from the Australian tour, the level of musicianship and professionalism was, quite frankly, intimidating. Mr Wilson has the sort of band that I would have given my eye teeth to have been in a couple of decades ago. But frankly my chops could never match up to those of the musicians last night. There was Guthrie Govan on guitar, and Chad Wackerman on drums just for starters - it was awesome.

The down side of all this was that I got to bed well after midnight last night and tonight I'm tired and grumpy. The 350Z's malfunction light came on. There were far too many dickish drivers about on the way home - cutting me up, not giving way, and one white van man who actually came out of the M5 junction against a red light - and when I got home this evening it has taken a gin and tonic, a pizza, and a couple of glasses of shiraz to regain my equilibrium.

At the weekend we had a deep and interesting conversation about introverts and extroverts; Rob is a dyed-in-the-wool extrovert and his sister is the exact opposite. The twins couldn't be more different, as far as personality goes. My sympathies tend to lie with Ruth more than Rob as I've always been heavily introverted and while I can deal with the occasional foray into town or social event, I need to take time and recharge my batteries afterwards. Sadly, my ideal weekend consists of shutting the door on Friday afternoon and not leaving the house until Monday morning. I think I may be overreaching myself at the moment as I've been going to gigs, comedy shows and social events with wild abandon over the last couple of months. I think it's caught up with me today and this evening I'm knackered. To recover I've been listening to records (I've got the Vapor Trails remix playing right now) and I suspect it won't be long before I run the bath and spend an hour or so reading in the steam, then head for bed. But here we are, half way through October, and I still haven't put the heating on. Tonight I'm sitting here in a t-shirt; it was 14.4°C in the conservatory just now. That's not too shabby for the time of year, is it?


I'm up in Solihull for the weekend with Rebecca, Ruth and Will. I suspect we're going to spend the weekend indoors, as the weather outside is cold, grey and damp: a real change from last weekend. At the moment the principal activity in the living room is focusing on the assembly of a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. And we're talking about a serious approach to jigsaws here - the Special Folding Board for Assembling Jigsaw Puzzles has been deployed on the coffee table. I'm not entirely sure what the picture is, but recent pieces have been described as "a bit more giraffe butt" and "a camel smoking a cigarette." It's very entertaining.

I'm sitting here on the sofa, blogging and yawning; my nose is running, and I still don't feel all that great after Thursday night's upset. I woke up at four this morning and utterly failed to get to sleep again. This doesn't normally happen to me here. I feel worn out, as though I'm coming down with a cold. On the other hand, the others are sitting here sniffling or sneezing as well, and Ruth is wearing the Gryffindor scarf she got for her birthday, so maybe it's just the weather.

Meanwhile, I've been watching this extraordinary young keyboard player from Japan...

Geddy's reaction to to this was simple: "This is just unbelievable. Crazy, man. I'd love to pat her on the back. Again, this is awesome."


Rob and Ruth are celebrating their 24th birthday today. I've been privileged to know them for over ten years now, and it's been an absolute pleasure to do so. Happy birthday!


I was in Bristol last night for a project dinner with colleagues. It was all very nice, until I realised that I'd eaten or drank something that disagreed with me. I made some form of pathetic excuse, bugged out early and headed home. I only just made it through my front door before being quite spectacularly ill. And I continued to be ill at regular intervals thereafter until about eleven o'clock this morning. I won't go into the details; let's just say that I'm spending today at home and I've got all the windows open. I couldn't inflict my current state on anyone in the office, believe me. They'd have moved my desk into the car park very rapidly.


So the rumours I blogged about back in August were true - sort of. The BBC have recovered a cache of missing episodes of Doctor Who, although the "many" episodes turned out to be just nine. It's lovely news, though - and I'm looking forwards to seeing Patrick Troughton battling the Great Intelligence's yetis once again.


After reading the BBC's story about just how bad for you not getting a good night's sleep can be, I've been going to bed earlier. I still wake up in the middle of the night, but now at least when I do so, I have a buffer of extra hours afterwards in which I can (hopefully) drift off again. It seems to be helping. This morning I noticed how much better my back felt as soon as I got up. The BBC article is quite alarming; lack of sleep can affect the expression of hundreds of genes that control things like inflammation and our resistance to diabetes or cancer. The assertion that lack of sleep can result in a 40% drop in cognitive performance should be cause for concern for anyone who suffers from insomnia, too. But there's also part of me that feels like I should be hibernating.

The fact that the evenings are drawing in is definitely a factor here. It's dark by 7pm now, and it's still dark when I leave the house in the morning. Today the wind has swung round to the north, the weather has turned noticeably colder and when I opened the curtains this morning, the windows were steamed up. Last night while I poached gently in the bath there was hail rattling against the windows. The Virginia creeper on the house is beginning to turn red, the leaves are beginning to fall from the trees, and autumn has most definitely arrived. I wonder how long it will be before I need to put the heating on?


Thanks to Mez for pointing me at this one: Activision have unveiled their latest character modelling software. The thing that's surprising about this particular computer-generated person is that actually, she's not in the least bit uncanny. The other examples in Activision's Powerpoint Presentation that you can download from that page are equally convincing. The file's a whopper, though: it's 312 Mb!


The harsh ultraviolet light which bakes the Moon's surface means that, forty years on, the flags left by the Apollo astronauts are now likely to be bleached white. I love the fact that the font used on the commemorative plaque was Futura.


It's Tuesday evening, and I have a plate full of toasted bacon and Stilton sandwiches and a pint of beer. I also have the new version of Rush's Vapor Trails album cranked up on the stereo. Believe me, as my Tuesdays go, this is pretty good. I've changed my fast days around this week, and yesterday I really suffered. Mondays were not meant to be endured with no more than 600 calories. Despite how warm it was outside, the office had cranked up the aircon and I spent the whole day shivering. I went to bed early and had a lousy night's sleep even after taking a couple of painkillers. Tonight will be different.

"But Chris," I can hear you saying, "enough of this idle badinage. Cut to the chase: what's the remix album like? Is it worth getting another version of a Rush CD I already have?" To which I can honestly reply: "My goodness, yes."

As soon as the first track started I could tell that the brutalised original version can be consigned to the history books. This is the album as it should originally have been released. It sounds dynamic and spacious. My ears hadn't closed up within thirty seconds like they did on the original version. The mix is pin sharp, and I'm hearing things that were literally buried before. You can hear exactly what's going on in every note from the guitar, bass and drums, and Geddy's vocals now shine as some of the strongest work he's ever done. David Bottrill has worked some serious magic on the material and, frankly, helped the band to realise the album he should have been allowed to produce in the first place. High spots? "One Little Victory" is now the thundering, rocking statement of intent that the album opener needed. The drumming on "Vapor Trail" shows Neil at his very best, and you can hear every sonic detail. "Peaceable Kingdom" is now a jaw-dropping mixture of light and shade with fantastic harmonies from Geddy. And when the chorus of "And The Stars Look Down" comes in, I could feel my ears relaxing rather than tensing up - thanks to a wash of luxuriant acoustic guitar from Alex. Vapor Trails now it sounds like it may be one of the band's best albums. And that's definitely worth celebrating.

"Between how it is, and how it ought to be" indeed.


It's still very warm outside. The forecast for the next couple of days has highs in the mid to upper teens, which is pretty good for October. As I suspected would happen, I have spent most of today gardening, but I'm very pleased with the results...

I have a rockery...

It was such a lovely morning I couldn't resist starting work on the rockery. It's amazing how a couple of hundredweight of stone, shale and shingle disappears when you start laying it out; I had to go to the garden centre to get some more. But my two moai look right at home, and I'm very pleased with how everything has turned out. My tame robin is pleased too, and ever since I started digging up the turf he's been flitting around the garden picking off the bugs I disturbed. He's singing loudly from a bush as I type this. The blackbirds have been having a field day, too. I've also put some bulbs in pots for the spring and I gave the lawn another cut - so much for last weekend's trim being the last one of the year; the grass had taken off like a rocket over the last few days. But it feels like I've accomplished something today, and that's a good feeling.

The garden was a bit on the muddy side, and so was I after I'd finished. I spent half an hour in the bath and right now I'm sitting here having a big mug of tea, trying not to notice the shooting pains in my back. Did I mention the couple of hundredweight of materials that I used? I really should have invested in a wheelbarrow rather than lugging everything around by hand. Even though I remembered to bend at the knees, not the waist, it was still a fair bit more work than I'm used to. I might have to go and find some painkillers in a bit...

This evening I have a feeling I'm just going to veg out in front of the TV. I've been watching Neil Brand's series The Sound of Cinema and really enjoying it. It says a lot about me that several people tweeted or messaged me when it was on saying "are you watching BBC Four?" Oh yes. Very much my sort of thing. The first programme featured the work of one of my favourite film composers, Bernard Hermann and there are interviews with Martin Scorsese, Hans Zimmer and Vangelis to look forwards to as well.


The sun's shining and I'm sitting here listening to music on the 50/90 jukebox, leaving comments and encouragement on another batch of songs (I'm closing in on 400 now). Even though it's the first week of October it's like summer outside. The temperature in the conservatory is nearly 20°C and it's only a couple of degrees cooler in the garden. I've not needed to put the central heating on yet this autumn, which pleases me considerably. I'm hoping that the conservatory will keep the house warmer this winter by reducing the heat lost through the patio doors. I can't really tell so far because the nights haven't been cold enough. We'll have to see.

The weather hasn't been like this all week, though. I was in Bristol on Tuesday evening to see Robin Ince at the Colston Hall and on the way back to the car I got absolutely soaked.

I enjoyed the gig a lot - Robin's current tour is titled The Importance of Being Interested and he took us on a hugely entertaining romp through observations on Charles Darwin, Richard Feynman, neuroscience, cosmology, anthropology and the mighty Brian Blessed at truly breakneck speed. "I've cut about two hours from this," he told us as he started, flipping through three slides that took us from the Big Bang, the formation of the Solar System and the evolution of life on Earth in a couple of seconds, but in his inimitable style he gets diverted from the diversions that occur to him as he got sidetracked from whatever it was that he was originally telling us about, and still manages to tie everything together and throw in a punchline for good measure. His accompanying Powerpoint presentation featured everything from photos of naked mole rats through the Hubble Deep Field and scans of pages from Orbis Publishing's 80's magazine The Unexplained, which made me laugh out loud (it was never the most scientifically oriented or even factually accurate of magazines.) "I've still got mine!" I told him - "So have I!" he replied, grinning.

Robin's still on tour. If you have the opportunity to go and see him, do. You'll have fun.


Rocktober - in which FAWM and 50/90 participants record cover versions of songs by other artists - is well under way. I don't know whether I'll be joining in this year; I'm taking a break from recording music this weekend and we'll have to see how things go after that. At the moment I don't feel like getting up to much at all. I did quite a bit of gardening last weekend and my back has been aching ever since, so I am going to take it easy for the next couple of days. Well, apart from maybe building a rockery. I've got all the materials ready to go. And the lawn has grown a fair bit since last weekend, when I gave it what I thought would be its last cut of the year...


I've just uploaded song number 52 to my profile at the 50/90 site. That will be my last piece for 50/90, as the challenge concludes at midnight tonight. It's been an amazing ninety days of focusing heavily on writing and recording music. I learned a lot about the process of songwriting, and I've written more songs this year than I have in the last five years put together. I'm really going to miss the challenge of coming up with something new every couple of days, although I still have lots of listening and commenting to do on other people's work - the site will stay up for exactly that reason. There's lots of great music to discover in there, and I will be listening to as much of it as I can over the coming weeks.


But after October comes November, and National Novel Writing Month is already looming on the horizon. After failing abjectly in 2011 I cruised to an easy win last year; I hope I'll have a successful month of noveling this year, too.