Last night I dug out a dusty bottle from the back of the cupboard and made myself a mug of drinking chocolate with a blob of cream on the top and a shot of Ströh Inländer rum in it. It was the first time I'd drunk the stuff in years, and it stirred up all sorts of memories...
I first encountered this remarkable concoction amongst the snows of Austria back in the 1980s. I'd gone skiing with a bunch of friends that became the enterprise commemorated by this website. And after hurtling down mountains during the day we'd head into town to unwind during the evenings. On the way back to the Gasthof, we would stumble across alarming, giant figures lurking in the snow-filled darkness...
Naturally with advertising that memorable we had to try the stuff; being young and reckless the idea of drinking anything that was 160 degrees proof sounded brilliant, and of course if you drank enough of it, it was. I developed a taste for drinking it neat, which was quite pleasant if you like drinking something that tastes like a cross between rum and raisin ice cream and napalm. But when it was tipped into a steaming mug of hot chocolate with a squirt of cream on the top, it became something else entirely. It became the Beverage of the Gods. It became the main drink I ordered when we stopped anywhere on the mountains for a break, and the default beverage to have with dinner. Apart from the alcoholic kick, the rum adds flavours of aniseed, raisins and a hint of orange to the drink. The aroma is an experience in itself, with a complex nose of vanilla and aniseed blended with other, more darkly mysterious spices. The whipped cream on the top is important, too, as it takes the edge off Ströh's aggressive tendencies and adds a hit of sweetness. The result is one of the most richly satisfying drinks I have ever come across.
As I was hooked on the stuff, I bought a bottle at the local Spar supermarket in Ellmau and brought it home with me. You know what those holiday purchases are normally like: years later the bottle is still lurking in the kitchen, untouched. Not so the Ströh. By the beginning of spring I'd finished the bottle, so when we went back to Ellmau the following year I bought another one. That went the way of the first, although this time I had help: one very memorable cold winter night I persuaded my girlfriend at the time to try it in hot chocolate, and to my great surprise (she didn't drink alcohol at all) it met with her approval.
Nowadays, drinking it instantly brings on a bout of nostalgia, it's associated so strongly with some of my happiest experiences. The only drink that comes close to evoking these feelings is Ribena diluted with lemonade, which I will always associate with summer holidays spent at my Grandmother's house in Lytham St Anne's during my childhood. But where lemonade helps to recall vacations spent together with family and endless hot summer afternoons, hot chocolate with Ströh means more grown-up pleasures: dinner with old friends, fantastic food, memorable conversations by crackling fires and, frankly, awesome sex.
Away from Austria, the stuff is harder to come by, so the last time I came across anywhere that sold it, I bought a couple of bottles. The first of those is nearly done, but it still turns hot chocolate on a winter's night from a mundane bedtime drink into a very special indulgence. Sadly, I was drinking it on my own, but I drank a toast to absent friends, happy days, and past loves.
And it was delicious.
As you can see from the spiffy winner's badge at the top of the page, I've successfully completed NaNoWriMo once again. I broke the 50k barrier last night, and it was a very satisfying feeling. This year NaNoWriMo has even been mentioned in the Magazine section of the BBC news website, albeit in a typically condescending fashion.
But this year I'm glad it's over. It was a hard slog getting to my word count target, and I couldn't find the spark to the story. In past years I've suddenly "got" what I was trying to do with the plot, and roared off to the finish line. This year, what I've ended up with is more a series of vignettes than a fleshed-out novel. Over the last few days, too, I've been coming down with a cold (and sitting directly under the air-conditioning chiller in the office doesn't help matters there, believe me). I only got to sleep last night after taking a couple of painkillers. Today I feel lousy. My voice is little more than a croak and my tonsils feel like somebody had a go at them with sandpaper during the night. I have spent most of this morning in bed, and I'm quite tempted to head back there once I've had something to eat. Somehow, I doubt I'll be getting up to much over the weekend.
But as always, the writing experience has been educational, and I've learned more about what works (and what doesn't) in a scene with dialog. And I'm now a fully committed convert to Scrivener, so I will be collecting my winner's discount next week and buying a full copy of the software.
I was watching NASA's Google hangout (don't laugh) about Comet ISON last night, and watched along with thirty or forty thousand others as the ball of ice and rock hurtled into the sun's corona and - well, for the first hour or so it really looked like the comet had broken up and evaporated. The tail we'd watched over the last month or so fizzled and died, and there was no sign of the nucleus. But today, it's beginning to look like something did survive after all. Brian Blessed didn't miss the opportunity to post something on Twitter that captured the excitement. Well done, sir.
Over the last few weeks, I found myself becoming increasingly worried about the build up to last weekend's 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, The Day of the Doctor. Why? Because the build-ups to past "end of an era" episodes on the show have laid on the hyperbole so thickly that what the programme eventually delivered could only ever be a pale shadow of what I imagined. In particular, the "heartbreaking" conclusion to the story of Amy and Rory was a prime example of my expectations being built up to an unreasonable degree to be crushed heartlessly and utterly by something that was, it has to be said, not one of the show's better episodes. I so wanted things to be different this time. Fifty years is a big deal, and I wanted everything about the Doctor's big birthday to be a big deal too.
Well, I've now watched Saturday's special episode three times, and I have to say that it has exceeded my expectations by a ridiculously wide margin. A ludicrously wide margin, in fact. It more than lived up to the unimaginably daft amount of hype that's been lavished on the production. The hour seemed to flash by in next to no time, without any need for a Tardis.
The stand-out star of the show was, without question, John Hurt. His Doctor was tired, vulnerable, weary and delightfully grumpy. That hangdog, weatherbeaten face oozed pathos. Despite the darkness of the character, he came at the role with gentle humour and a deft touch that reminded me why he's garnered two Oscar nominations and a fistful of BAFTAs during his career. But the thing that he absolutely excelled at on Saturday night was resigned exasperation. The first sign of this was his spluttering indignation when Matt Smith and David Tennant flinched as he walked towards them, and raised their sonic screwdrivers:
Why are you pointing your screwdrivers like that? They're scientific instruments, not water pistols!
And then, shortly afterwards:
Oh, the pointing again! They're screwdrivers! What are you going to do? Assemble a cabinet at them?
The grumpiness notched up a level when Matt Smith used the expression "Timey Wimey"; David Tennant's deadpanned "I've no idea where he picks that stuff up" was priceless. But Mr Hurt's subsequent digs at the childishness of Matt Smith and David Tennant's Doctors were worth the price of admission by themselves, such as him irritably berating Matt Smith's Doctor:
Are you capable of speaking without flapping your hands about?
Yes! No. I demand to be incarcerated in the tower immediately with my co-conspirators, sand shoes and granddad.
But the Ninth Doctor (and isn't that number going to cause some frantic rewriting of Wiki pages) reached quite spectacular heights of grumpiness when the three Doctors set off for the final resolution of the plot:
Oh, for God's sake...
That exasperation highlighted the main point of the story, I think: that the actions of John Hurt's Doctor have resulted in the subsequent doctors reverting to a child-like state. The last couple of Doctors have dealt with the trauma of the Time War and its brutal conclusion with infantilism and juvenilia. Just look at the stony silence with which they respond to Hurt's question, "What it it that makes you so ashamed of being a grown up?" And that's been the whole point of the Doctor since he rebooted. Christopher Eccleston's Doctor was a hurting, damaged PTSD sufferer, but from the regeneration into Tennant's Doctor onwards the character has been almost always playful and childlike - wibbly wobbly timey wimey, fish fingers and custard, drunk giraffe dancing - apart from the odd flashes of numbing weariness that Matt Smith occasionally injects into the role (and damn, he's good at it.)
As the episode unfolded, the plot allowed the Doctors to finally acknowledge that they need to grow up again - look at Tennant's aside when he uses the word "equidistant." By averting the War Doctor's genocide of both Daleks and Time Lords in a way that brilliantly avoids having to rewrite the last few seasons of the show, Steven Moffat has thrown everything up in the air again as Peter Capaldi takes over. I hope that we do get a more grown-up Doctor next time around, because if we do, Capaldi will be brilliant.
Doctor Who wouldn't be as enjoyable without a good smattering of comedic touches, though, and we got some great ones on Saturday night. It has to be said, the vast majority of them were delivered by David Tennant. They ranged from the Pythonesque machine that goes 'ding' (but "also can microwave frozen dinners from up to twenty feet and downloads comics from the future, I never know when to stop") to the dramatic posturing about being The Oncoming Storm which crumbles into embarrassment when he realises he's not talking to a rabbit disguised as a Zygon, he's talking to a real rabbit (and, it has to be said, the rabbit's performance was amazingly good). I laughed out loud at the dig at the Doctor's most famous catch phrase:
It's not working.
We're both reversing the polarity.
Yes, I know that.
There's two of us. I'm reversing it, you're reversing it back again! We're confusing the polarity!
There was also a lovely exchange when David Tennant and Matt Smith brandished their sonic screwdrivers at each other:
Regeneration. It's a lottery...
Ingrid Oliver's character Osgood intrigued me - first of all because she appeared to address Jemma Redgrave's character Kate Stewart as "Mum" (although subsequent examination of the subtitles revealed that she was just pronouncing "ma'am" as it is supposed to be pronounced, and that was surprising enough in itself). Secondly, of course, there was her Tom Baker scarf. But - Osgood? That's a name we've heard before, isn't it? And her Zygon double's mocking reference to a cleverer sister? Is there a link to Clara lurking somewhere here? If there is, Clara doesn't appear to know about it, because she didn't react when they met.
It was great to see Billie Piper return to the show, too - although the glowy eyes thing in the trailer had rather given the game away that she would not be playing Rose Tyler. Instead, she was tackling the rather challenging role of a bomb's sentient operating system pretending to be Bad Wolf, in a very quirky performance that was hampered by only being able to play off John Hurt's character. Nobody else could see her.
We got to see the Time War that the show has referenced for so long. The Daleks and the Time Lords, fighting each other in a conflict so epic that it threatened to burn the Universe. Well, mildly epic, at least. All right, we got the fall of Arcadia, but there was no Could've Been King, no Army of Meanwhiles and Never-weres, no Horde of Travesties, no Nightmare Child. Does this mean that we will be returning to the time war again? It's not like Mr Moffat to leave loose ends; he does like tying things together.
One thing that I found particularly gratifying about yesterday's show was the change in the way that the incidental music was used. Or rather, in the way that it wasn't. The score was nowhere near as obtrusive as it usually is; in a refreshing change from normal, many scenes played out with little or no musical accompaniment at all, and this made them far, far more moving. There was far more focus on what was being said and the jokes were allowed to play out without wah wah sad trumpets elbowing us in the ribs every time. Okay, we still got Murray Gold on full-on John Williams mode during the Battle of Arcadia, but in the context it was used, it worked. The lack of bombast added a much more stately sense of gravitas to the episode, and this is to be applauded - and encouraged in the future, please!
Of course, there were lots of the standard Doctor Who tropes: there was the opening with messages through time, there were signs and portents of the nasty thing that's going to happen, that will be absolutely dreadful; yet somehow the Doctor manages to subvert the narrative in such a way that the nasty event still appears to happen but really it doesn't; in achieving the denouement he relies on actions or events hidden in plain sight that we watch, but don't register these asides which turn out to be immensely significant. There was an abundance of fezzes.
Some day, you could just walk past a fez.
Never gonna happen.
There was the "hero walk" where the Doctor strides into the action at the height of the third act to sort everything out (and, incidentally, arrives preceded by the flaming wreckage of a Dalek.) And there were enough nodding references to the Doctor's past lives and the show's continuity to keep the fans in raptures. I loved Hurt's line about hoping that his ears would be a bit less conspicuous next time just before he regenerated (which we didn't see, but which would have been into Christopher Eccleston's Tenth Doctor). But there were some departures from the norm, too. I loved the brief cameo by the next Doctor, Peter Capaldi. And I loved Clara's knowing deflation of that hero walk:
Sorry about the Dalek.
And the showing off.
But the biggest departure, the thing that made me yelp with utter delight, the scene that was completely unexpected, but absolutely perfect, was the appearance at the end of the episode of a character whom we'll call The Curator, who appears as the Doctor sits in the National Gallery.
I could be a curator. I'd be great at curating. I'd be 'The Great Curator.' Ha ha! I could retire, and do that. I could retire, and be the curator of this place.
You know, I really think you might.
I never forget a face.
I know you don't. And in years to come you might find yourself revisiting a few. But just the old favourites, eh?
I was sitting on the couch, cheering, nearly in tears. I could not have been more surprised, both by the character's appearance and by my emotional response to it. At that moment, Doctor Who just could not have got any better. I actually have a tear in my eye as I type this now, a couple of days later. As a result of that tiny little scene, the show for me has acquired a whole new level of warmth and heart, and sheer unmitigated awesomeness. And it has left me with a deep and lasting sense of joy and satisfaction that this time, there was no disappointment. Things worked out brilliantly.
There was other awesomeness to be found at the weekend. Special mention has to be made of the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, who came up with a lovely fiftieth anniversary tribute, ably assisted by some very familiar faces, called the Five(ish) Doctors. Here's the trailer: watch out for the scene featuring Olivia Colman and Sean Pertwee (whose dad, let's not forget, was the Third Doctor). Olivia's final line is a classic.
The cast of this show is even more mind-boggling than the fiftieth anniversary episode itself. Saying any more would spoil things, just go and watch it. It's on the BBC's website and it's also available on iTunes.
You may be surprised to learn that I didn't spend last night stuck in front of the TV. And although I've seen the 50th anniversary episode, I won't be writing about it for a few days because (a) I need to watch it again and (b) I know some regular readers haven't had a chance to see it just yet and I don't want to spoil it for them.
Instead, I was at The Fleece in Bristol to see a gig with three bands from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (abbreviated at the time to NWOBHM and pronounced nuh-WOB-um). I can remember NWOBHM when it happened, and the bands performing last night can too...
First up were Dream Overkill, who were already on stage by the time I got there. In the finest rock tradition, they were ear-blisteringly loud and I was very glad I wear earplugs at gigs these days. With three bands on the bill things had to get off to a very early start and frontman Mick Fowler was working hard to get an atmosphere going in almost empty room. But people were filing in all the time and to his credit, he managed it. They had a good sound, and the twin guitar line-up (also favoured by the next band on the bill) lets the music take a much more interesting form harmonically. Good stuff - I had a quick chat with Mick afterwards and got myself a t-shirt and their latest 2-track EP. Cheers Mick!
Next up were the rockers from the UK's 2017 city of culture, Salem. Guitarist Paul has been a mate of mine for the best part of twenty years and quite a few folk had travelled down from Charfield to give their support as well. After initial problems with a wireless system they really got into their stride, and delivered a fine set of twin-guitar, melodic rock with plenty of tracks from their new album Forgotten Dreams. It's good stuff, and I'm not just saying that because Paul's a mate. I have a copy of the album right here, and it's excellent: packed full of good songs, with impressive production by the band's bassist Adrian Jenkinson in his own studio. The band enjoyed themselves, and so did the crowd - the venue had filled up a fair bit by this time. It was a shame they only had a short set, but it was good fun!
Headliners Jaguar took to the stage at around nine o'clock. They have an almost punk attitude to the genre, and their energy soon had the folks at the front moshing away happily. As an old git, I edged further away from the stage and watched safely from the sidelines. The band, who originally hail from Bristol, have been through a fair few line up changes in the last thirty years but they still know how to deliver. Despite suffering from a heavy cold, vocalist Jamie Manton spent most of the set climbing on the PA, walking around in the audience or leaning over them while clinging to the Fleece's ceiling columns and all the while, singing away at the top of his voice.
It was a most excellent gig. Many thanks to Julie for the lift, too.
I didn't entirely escape Doctor Who: to stage left, where the bands were storing their gear, there was a guitar stand that reminded me of something...
Fifty years ago today the BBC broadcast the first episode of Doctor Who. The BBC has been broadcasting lots of special programmes about the show in the run up to tonight's special episode, The Day of the Doctor. Mark Gatiss's An Adventure in Space and Time about the show's inception was quite exceptional, and I'm not just saying that because it had Jessica Raine in it. David Bradley's portrayal of William Hartnell was bang on the nose and the sets were so good that I was tempted to believe that Gatiss had just borrowed the Tardis to nip back to 1963 to do the filming. There was a nice cameo from current Dalek voice Nicholas Briggs as original Dalek voice Peter Hawkins. And yes, that was Sir Tony Robinson playing the "eager caveman" as they filmed An Unearthly Child...
The casual sexism and racism of the era that Gatiss depicts was depressing, but almost as bad was the realisation that the BBC no longer operate from the Television Centre in White City. The building's distinctive architecture gave An Adventure a massive dose of authenticity. Moving out will, I think, turn out to be one of the worst decisions in the Corporation's history.
BBC Three also got in on the birthday act this week with their Guide To Doctor Who. There were contributions from many of the doctors and companions, and for me it was particularly interesting to hear what Noel Clarke, Sophie Aldred and Colin Baker had to say about their time on the show. But the majority of the programme was, quite frankly, excruciatingly bad: lots of z-list talking heads making vapid comments about the clips they'd just been shown whilst pretending that they were describing them from memory. And even then, some of them couldn't get their lines right. It would have been interesting to hear what other people who actually work in the field of science fiction actually thought of the Doctor's universe. There are a lot of authors out there with connections to the show: after a moment's thought I came up with Neil Gaiman, Alastair Reynolds and Nick Harkaway who have all written episodes or novels about the Doctor. I would have loved to hear what Al had to say about the Master, for example, because I know he's as big a fan of Roger Delgado as I am (why do you think I sport a goatee?) But no, instead we got those well-known authorities on the genre, Channel 4 presenter Rick Edwards, Connie Huq, comedian Al Murray, and the boy band McFly. I mean - seriously, BBC Three: McFly? Why?
Far better was Matthew Sweet's programme for BBC Two's Culture Show, Me, You and Doctor Who. Sweet is a long-time fan of the show who went on to write for it, and it showed. His programme focussed on what we actually wanted to know, and there were enlightening chats with Matt Smith and others, as well as archive interviews with a bewildering variety of people associated with the show including Christopher Eccleston, Tom Baker, and even Douglas Adams (the interview, with DNA draped in his Hitch Hiker's Towel, is an extra on the City of Death DVD). It was very well done indeed.
Can tonight's episode top Thursday's docudrama? It's going to be difficult, I think. The hype for tonight's show has been exceptional, but it's got the Zygons in it, who were big favourites of mine back in the day. We'll have to see...
It was -2°C outside last night, but even though the roof of the conservatory was frosted over, the temperature in it didn't drop below 5°C. This morning is bright and clear, and the sun is shining but it's still cold. I'm sitting here listening to Radio 3 as they broadcast live from the Snape Maltings near Aldeburgh in Suffolk; they're celebrating another birthday this weekend, Benjamin Britten would have been 100 years old yesterday. I've been to the Maltings several times, and it's a magical place. Hearing Andrew McGregor describe the sun coming up over the reed beds on this cold winter morning makes me wish I was there right now.
I've just got home for the weekend, and the house is so cold that my fingers are numb. Pretty much all the leaves have fallen off the trees outside and I'll have to rake the front lawn tomorrow. Yep, it's winter. Most mornings this week I've been driving to work with the ICY warning light on the car's dashboard on, and this evening I must admit to feeling like just crawling into bed and setting the alarm for next spring. I don't know if it's just getting old, or the cold and damp, or because I've lost weight, but I am a mass of aches and pains these days. I wake myself when I turn over in the night, because it hurts.
On Tuesday night after work I got in the car and drove down the M4 to London, hopped on the tube to Shepherd's Bush Market and then wandered over to the Empire on the south side of Shepherd's Bush Green. It's the first time I've been to the venue in nearly twenty years, as the last time I went I swore I'd never go back. The place was run so shambolically that when I went to see King Crimson a large chunk of the audience (including me) didn't actually get inside until the Crims had been playing on stage for half an hour. When I got there to find a notice on the door saying that because of technical problems the doors weren't going to open until 7:30 it looked like nothing had changed. I stood around outside in the plummeting temperatures (it was below freezing even when I parked the car) but in the event the doors opened at about 7:10 and we made our way inside.
There are few bands that would convince me to return to the Empire, but They Might Be Giants had absolutely no difficulty in doing so. They took the stage at just after eight o'clock and treated us to a set full of new material. They started off with You're On Fire from Nanobots, but also played a rollicking version of Call You Mom as well as Icky, Tesla, Black Ops, Circular Karate Chop and the album's title track. Needless to say there were also some old favourites (I was delighted to hear them do Number Three, Ana Ng and Thirty Two Footsteps in particular) and they couldn't miss out the stuff that everyone knows them for so we got Birdhouse (the third or fourth number in the set) and the "TV version" of Boss of Me, but they also mixed a few things up - the extended rendition of Istanbul with Flansy begging to be allowed to return to the city via any means of transportation available ("even a bicycle, and I don't like bicycles") and John L singing chromatic "no"s into an echo machine - had me in stitches. When Linnell finally relented and sang "okay" there were cheers.
The between-song chats were well up to TMBG’s high standards of off the wall randomness, too. “This place is great, Ladies and Gentlemen. Every three or four years we find ourselves playing somewhere that isn’t a shithole…” “We came here via two methods of transportation,” Flansy told us. “They both worked, which was a surprise; we were gearing up for a full-on pity party.” Dan Miller’s “cheap-ass melodica” was cruelly mocked: “You’d think a band of our standing would spend twenty five dollars to get a new melodica, one that was actually in tune… “ Even the Avatars of They got into the act with lines like “Good evening insert venue name here!”
The audience was split into two halves, and those of us on the left had to pump our left fists in the air and shout “People! People!” and then listen to those on the right pumping their right fists in the air and chanting “Apes! Apes!” Flansy worked hard to get the folks in the balcony on their feet. “I’m fifty-three years old, and even I’m standing up!” The band gave a shout out to the folks from Rough Trade for their support during the early years of their careers, and John F thanked everyone effusively for coming several times. They looked like they had really enjoyed themselves, and I most certainly did.
Sadly, their set was over far too quickly, and I was back on the M4 heading home by 11pm.
I'd learned my lesson after the last London gig I went to and I'd booked a day off on Wednesday. I was glad I did, as UPS delivered my Korg M3, now fully repaired and upgraded to version 2.05 of the operating system for good measure. Hooray!
I hit 35k on NaNoWriMo last night. Tonight's session will be fuelled by hot gammon and mushroom sandwiches in a Tiger Bread baton, and a glass or two of red. Bring it on!
I've been to a couple of events over the last week. Last weekend I was in Bristol again, at The Lantern in the Colston Hall to see Florida's Radical Face, a.k.a. Ben Cooper. I bought the album Ghost in 2011, and it rapidly became one of my favourite albums to listen to on headphones. There's so much going on in the sound design, with environment wildtracks and samples complementing truly excellent songs. Those windchimes at the beginning of Welcome Home, for example - they lift the track up to a completely different level. I was intrigued to find out how Mr Cooper would manage the complex orchestrations live, but I needn't have worried: he had four excellent musicians with him to help things along and a sampler to throw in the atmospheric noises.
It turned out to be one of the most extraordinary gigs I've been to for a long time. It's the first time I've seen an artist play the Lantern as a standing venue (it's normally seated) and before the music started there were people just sitting on the floor chatting. It felt much more laid-back than the place usually does. Support act Rickolus (a.k.a. Richard Colado) turned out to be another resident of Jacksonville and a childhood friend of Ben Cooper's. He'd taken the other approach for a solo artist when performing complex arrangements live: do everything yourself. He sang, played guitar and used his feet to create an impressively complex percussion backing and he worked his ass off to deliver a set of strong, introspective songs. It was a great pity that the two young wannabe-Sloane-Ranger girls behind me spent most of the set talking loudly about nothing of any consequence. What is it with young kids (particularly upper-middle class ones) at gigs these days? They don't seem to have any respect for the artists at all.
There was a pause while the stage was set up for the main act. There was shifting of equipment, and the placement of many electronic tealight candles around the stage. I was reminded of another excellent gig I saw in Bristol a few years ago when Calexico had lots of fairy lights scattered around the stage. When the lights went down and the band came on stage, it looked very similar.
It took a couple of numbers for the band to scope out the audience and get used to the room. It was the first night of the Euopean tour, so that was understandable. Before things got too uncomfortable, Ben started to talk. "I tend to talk a lot," he told us. This was partly as a result of the morbid and/or sombre nature of his songs. There's a lot of death. But he also explained that the strange creaking noises at the beginning of Along The Road were made by his office chair - "I couldn't get it to shut up," he said, "so at the end of the recording I took it outside and smashed it to pieces." His explanations got progressively darker. "This one's a bit lighter," he said at one point. "Does anybody die?" a woman in the audience shouted. That got a laugh from the band as well as the audience.
But as he tapped the switches on his effects pedal board for the next song, there was a loud "bzzt" sound from the PA. "Uh oh. I think I just killed my pedal board." He looked mortified. "I've lost everything too," his guitarist/melodica/keyboard player Jeremiah told him. One of their American power strips had blown and taken out the supply to half the stage. So while it was stripped out and replaced, Ben grabbed an acoustic guitar and played a song with viola da gamba player Josh Lee that they hadn't rehearsed, or even planned to play on the tour. It sounded great.
After that song was over, power was restored, and the full band resumed musicianly duties. But then they started to play Ghost Towns...
Fortunately Josh was okay, and so was the viola da gamba he was playing. When they'd finished, Ben told us "This is now officially my favourite gig in months."
Then, in a break before songs, Ben pulled out a piece of paper from his shirt pocket. "I've got a couple of things that people have asked me to say..." The first was pretty straightforwards: a 'happy birthday' to someone in the crowd. But the second one was a "Your boyfriend has something to say to you..." type of thing. A chap at the side of the room went down on one knee in front of his girlfriend while everyone in the audience was watching them. Fortunately she said yes...
A bit later on there was yet another hitch and this time Ben called drummer Jack Ringca to the front of the stage to fill in. He entertained us with - of all things - a masterclass in yo-yo technique. Jack, it turns out, is pretty good. The rest of the gig went without a hitch, and they finished off by getting the crowd to sing along on the choruses of Welcome Home. After a couple of encores, the band left the stage, but I stuck around and got a couple of CDs signed. Ben turned out to be a lovely chap - we must have chatted for five minutes about mastering, and festivals, and stage fright and all sorts of random stuff that wasn't at all what I'd expected. I had a look at the piano stool that Josh had been sitting on; the clips where the legs met the seat had sheared off - which was worrying, as I've got one that's the same design...
I left the building at about half past eleven and made my way home. That was a very memorable gig!
On Thursday evening I headed over to the Gables Hotel for the annual Intersound Guitars show. This year the guest of honour was the one and only Gordon Giltrap, who performed several pieces of music and yes, one of them was Heartsong. Marvellous stuff.
I managed to escape with my wallet intact, but it was a very close thing. I so very nearly bought a John Verity signature edition Fret King guitar. I nearly bought a Blackstar Amp. And I came this close to buying a Hughes and Kettner amp. And a Parker bass, and a set of effects pedals, and... In the end I limited myself to a couple of sets of Rotosound bass strings; I got off lightly, I reckon.
We got up very early on Sunday morning last weekend to send Ruth off with her Uncle Matthew to represent TocH at the Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph in London. Rebecca and I had watched the event on the TV when it was on, and hadn't spotted them, but when Ruth arrived back home and she watched the recording, she said, "There I am!" - and there she was.
It was nice to have Ruth and Rebecca to stay for the weekend, and good to catch up with Matthew and the boys for dinner on Sunday.
This week has been somewhat quieter. Yesterday I painted the exterior wall in the conservatory with damp proofer (rock and roll, eh?) I've spent most evenings sitting in front of the computer. As you can see from the NoNoWriMo badge at the top of the page, I'm staying on target with this year's novel. I finally figured out the basic thread of the plot yesterday morning, and I have a good idea what I'm going to write for the next few days at least. It's a nice feeling and I'm over half way to my 50,000 word target. But right now I'm going to upload this to the FTP server and then watch The Science of Doctor Who that I recorded on Thursday night, and just chill.
It has to be said: I am really liking Scrivener. This week I've really sat down and gotten to grips with it, and for the last four days I've blasted through 2k words every evening without any difficulty. Despite being woefully behind last weekend, my word count is now a little bit ahead of target, and the writing is taking interesting directions. Scrivener's notes and structuring system has made it really easy to keep track of what it is I'm doing, and I have already decided that I'll be buying a "proper" version of it once NaNoWriMo is over.
But right now it's quarter to eight on a chilly Friday evening, and I've had enough for the day. I've got a glass of wine, the house is nice and warm, and the ironing I was going to do next can wait until the morning. I had a look at last November's blog a day or so ago, and the blogging side of things pretty much went away while I wrote, didn't it?
I suspect this year is going to follow the same lines...
It's Sunday lunchtime, and I'm taking a break from noveling to fire up another month on the blog. The sun is shining through the living room window and I've been playing the Widerange Hum 6th and Callow EP (thanks Sean!) and a selection of Matmos CDs on the music system while I type. I seem to be going through a Matmos phase at the moment - to the point that I've given each chapter in my draft novel a title cribbed shamelessly from a Matmos track. I'm enjoying using Scrivener, as I thought I would. But at the moment I'm several thousand words behind on my word count. I do have some excuses, trust me.
I was in Lytham on Friday for Mary's funeral. I drove there and back in the day, a round trip of some 400 miles. The trip up was fine - I got up at my normal time for a work day, and hit the road. Traffic was pretty light for a Friday in half term, so I made really good time and even though I stopped at Stafford services on the way up for a coffee (a latté with an extra shot) and a ham and cheese croissant, I was filling the car up at the petrol station on Heyhouses Lane in Ansdell before half past ten. Mary's daughter Janet made sure that I had a cup of coffee in my hand less than a minute after I walked through their front door...
The service was held at Lytham Crematorium at noon and it was fairly low-key. I managed to get through it without bursting into tears. In fact the final piece of music that played over the PA in the service was a huge favourite of Mary's - Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé singing Barcelona - and it brought a smile to my face. It was lovely to see a lot of old friends and relatives, some of whom I hadn't seen for years. Janet and Vic hosted a reception at their house afterwards and we sat and reminisced for hours.
It would have been nice to stay longer, but eventually it was time for me to head home. I left Lytham at half past four and headed for the M55. That was fine, but when I got to the M6 the traffic got slower and slower and slower, until it was stopping and starting. The first forty miles took me three hours. Each time I got to the junction where the information signs had been telling me that traffic would start to flow freely again, there would be a new message warning of further delays. I called in at Sandbach services for another coffee (with an extra shot) and a cheese and mushroom toasted sandwich in the hope that the traffic would ease up while I took a break. When I got back on the road again the traffic was a little better, but the weather was atrocious with high winds and torrential rain. The warning signs were warning of spray, but nobody was going fast enough to cause any. The roads didn't clear until I got on to the M5 and I eventually got home more than five hours after I set off. After all that coffee, I was wired. I stayed up watching a series of programmes about Pink Floyd on BBC Four until it was nearly midnight and even then I was still buzzing. I really didn't sleep well on Friday night at all.
Yesterday I did some shopping in Dursley in the morning. Well, I say shopping; it mainly consisted of chatting to Norm and Steve at Intersound Guitars for an hour and a half while I bought a couple of packets of guitar strings. Norm, it turns out, is a Stick player (what are the chances, etc etc.) But he showed me something that made my jaw hit the floor: the self-tuning Fret King guitar they had on sale. Here's its inventor, Trev Wilkinson, to tell you all about it...
It really does work - and it tunes into each of the six preset tunings within about ten seconds.
In the afternoon there was nothing for it but to head down to the pub with my friends and watch the rugby. After a few pints the rest of the day wasn't that productive, although I did get a few hundred words down on the novel. I surprised myself by starting with a completely different scene to the one I'd got planned, and it's got an interesting feel to it. No idea where it's going to go, but this morning's session has continued to be interesting.
...to Lily and Gary, who have just got engaged!
Korg have been in touch. It was the M3's power supply that had failed, and it needs a new one. The bad news is that they will have to order it (it's not a part they have in stock) but the good news is that it won't cost that much to fix. Phew.