Friday, 30 December 2011

Silent Running

Not for the first time in my week away from work I wake and think: Shall I try and start jogging today? Nah.

From about March/April to September/October I cycle a lot - often on a Sunday morning or as a less stressful way of getting to and from work than public transport - but once the nights draw in it becomes far to dangerous: most car drivers will happily kill a cyclist to shave thirty seconds off their journey as it is, so the danger of the darkness is just too much for this frail Pixie to risk.

I try and walk at lunch times, or sometimes I walk the three miles or so from my house to the minibus for work - but the truth is that it's during the winter that I miss Gym membership the most.  The grim feeling of wanting to be anywhere else when you go in slowly being replaced by a feeling of achievement, the regularity of exercise, the amusement of not being able to get on a machine during January-February whilst the New Years Resolutioners slowly fade away: the whole man thing of never, under any circumstances, meeting the eyes of anyone else in there (in much the same way as we would never start a conversation at a urinal)

And yet every morning I have woken and thought "nope,  not today" when it comes to running - and the only reason I can give you is the embarrassment factor.

The truth is that I'm just too self conscious to run in public.  In the gym there are lots of other flabby blokes desperately trying to persuade themselves that an hour in the gym once a week will miraculously rid them of their food baby.  Out in public - well, that's a different thing.

For one thing: anyone who has ever run on a treadmill and then run on the street will  be able to tell you that it is an entirely different thing - the impact of the street is much harder for one.

Secondly there is the issue of the local wildlife: the Greater Spotted Pillock (latin name Moronicus Stupidicus), known to all runners by its mating call of "Oi mate, don't have a heart attack" - that person who has never done a day's exercise in their life and yet still feels able to comment on your fatigue when you return from a forty mile bike rid covered in sweat.  As anyone will know it is completely impossible to stop running in front of one of these creatures, and equally one will always manage to appear at the moment where you most need to stop for fear of puking up your lower intestine (IE forty yards outside your front door in my case)

Running in a group or with someone else might be a solution - but the only person I know that might be interested lives too far away to be practical and then there comes the problem of what happens when they are able to keep up running and you are not. 

Also my experience of cycling with others has not enamoured me towards group participation.  Some years ago I joined a group that I still affectionately refer to as The Nutters - who would think of nothing more than cycling a round trip of sixty miles every Sunday morning to a grim tea shop that served scum laced hot beverages before cycling back at a steady pace just faster than most people find comfortable.  Don't get me wrong: it was good training and I got very fit as a result, but it wasn't my idea of fun.

So I guess my options are to get over my feeling of self-awareness or take up some other kind of exercise where I am able to feel less self aware.

Rock climbing anyone?

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Pixie Christmas Message

Well as those of you who read my blog will know it's traditional for us Pixies to try and outdo Her Majesty in the putting people to sleep stakes.

Yes it's true - every Christmas around Britain Men (And Women) Of A Certain Age insist that we MUST watch our monarch's Christmas greeting to her nation at 3pm and then promptly fall asleep for the entire duration - unless someone tries to change channel when they instantly wake and say "Oi!  I was watching that!!"

This year many of my attempts at Christmas Mesi (surely a better plural than messages?) have been scuppered by unduly complicated technology - I had hoped to record my version of Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow - however the little gremlins inside my computer have been dead set against it.

So what can I do instead?  Well there are several other traditions around Christmas

1) The groan-worthy joke.

I say, i say, i say - what's round and angry
I don't know - what is round and angry?
A vicious circle

2) The pointless but nevertheless fascinating fact
Santa's Reindeer are all girls.  We know this because male reindeer shed their antlers in winter, and yet all of Santa's, including Rudolph, have theirs

3) The sudden glow of kindness towards others
Merry Christmas all my readers - and especially to those blogs that I wouldn't miss for the world

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas Tunes: A Saxophone Experience

I have to admit that, as of recent, I've been growing rather weary of my public speaking club. 

Too much content, too much focussing on goals and rushing everything through has begun to take its toll on this basically quite laid back Pixie.

The main thing for me, however, has been the quick turn around: I'm in the office every Wednesday and it's a busy day for me.  When I finish it takes me nearly an hour to get home and eat and then straight back out to set up the room - so if the evening is equally frenetic (as it has been) I often find myself thinking about just staying home instead.

Last night, however, we went to visit our sister club - one that myself and Herself have been supporting for some time as they struggle towards becoming a fully fledged club of their own.  This one is even further away, so an even quicker turn around - but I had another reason for being slightly stressed on this occasion.

For those of you who don't already know I have been playing alto saxophone for nearly two years now and despite struggling with high notes (which have been to attract passing bats with their atonality), notes suddenly being called different things in the same piece of music (It's either c sharp or d flat - make your bloody mind up Mozart!) and rapid finger movements there have been some signs of improvement.

And so, with the festive season upon us, i decided to offer my services as saxophonist during the half-time break and had been practicing several christmas tunes to this effect.

Not being traditional these were not carols - but were:
 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (one of my favourites),
Winter Wonderland (mostly quite easy until the very, very difficult bit)
Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow (another of my favourites and also from one of my favourite Christmas films (see point 1 at the end))
Santa Baby (quite difficult, but fun to try playing)

This was to be my second public appearance, not counting long suffering friends and family.  There had been some discussion about doing this at my own club, but for various reasons I never quite got around to organising it.

So we ate quickly, loaded up the car and drove up the quite heavily congested motorway, fully expecting for no one to be at the meeting - what with Christmas, seasonal illnesses and confirmed absenteeism.

We couldn't have been more wrong - we arrived to find a room full of first time visitors.  So now I was not only speaking at the evening (on the Science of Santa (see point 2 for a few of the fascinating facts)), not only was i organising the impromptu speaking session in the second half (on the theme of that Festive Favourite - The Sound Of Music (shown in the UK every alternate Christmas and Easter since 300BC) - but I was playing my saxophone not to a room of people who knew me and would forgive the odd terminal mistake (IE where i killed a note entirely), but to a room of total strangers.

So break came and due to the immense heat in the room my saxophone reed was completely dry and needed some effort to warm up before it would even make a sound.  Finally I launched into Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and immediately went wrong.  Starting again I just about made it through with only a tiny error and received some polite applause from two of the guests.  Deciding not to risk life and limb any further than necessary I switched books and tried Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow - for which the timing of some of the notes can best be described as "imaginitive", but I think I got away with.

Deciding to quit whilst I was behind I packed up my saxophone and returned to my seat with no further recognition of my efforts - other than a brief conversation with another newcomer who, as it turns out, is currently learning the soprano sax. 

Still - any performance that you can walk away from with all limbs still intact is generally considered a success.  Only my parents to go now...

1) My favourite Christmas film - Die Hard (it's set at a Christmas party people!!)
2) Fascinating Facts about Santa:
Santa has approximately 378 million children (approx 3.5 per household) to visit - dependent on naughty/nice quotient

If Santa started delivering gifts at 10pm on Tonga and finished at 6am in the Samoa Islands he would have 36 hours to complete his journey due to the International Date Line - that's still 822.6 visits per second

Santa could potentially use Ion Shielding, as per Star Trek, to prevent his Reindeer from being vaporised by the immense pressure.  Dr Ruth Bamford of the Rutherford Appleton Laborotory in Oxfordshire has been quoted as saying:
“We now have actual measurements that show a ‘hole’ in the solar wind could be created in which a spacecraft could sit, affording some protection from ‘ion storms’, as they would call them on Star Trek.”

Saturday, 17 December 2011

IPAPIASM: With Apologies To Noddy Holder

Sometimes an opportunity is too good to miss, so when I saw that a lot of my fellow bloggers were taking part in something called International Put A Poem In A Shop Month I knew it was something that I had to be a part of, and I knew exactly the right poem.

It's very much in the ethos of the Punk movement to take one of your poems and randomly put it in a shop on display.  To be honest I felt quite criminal doing it, but I thought it would be worth the effort.

I originally wanted to put this on display along with the seasonal CDs, but there were too many shoppers and too many staff pricing things, so it ended up in the Bargain Bin of DVDs next to a widescreen TV and a boxset of the Star Wars series.

For those of you that can't read it the poem is published below. 

Some of the joke of the poem may be lost on the transatlantic audience, unless dodgy seventies rockers are suddenly the in thing in the USA, so just in case I've put the link below to the original. 

One of the better Christmas songs - just a shame that it's played so often...

Santa SLADE The Reindeer
(With Apologies To Noddy Holder)

Are you camping out in Tesco’s every night?
Are you watching all your money wave bye bye?
Are you sick and tired of adverts, telling you to shop?
Are you wondering “will the madness ever stop?”

Was it only just September yesterday?
Will the credit card man take your house away?
Are you sick of Christmas music, is there nothing on TV?
Except The Sound Of Music and Jaws 3

So here it is, bloody Christmas and the shopping’s never done
Wishing it was over, but it’s only just beg-u-un

So here it is, bloody Christmas, guess you’ve heard this one before
Lost sight of Jesus, what the hell is it all fo-o-or?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Little Bit Funny?

A man gets on board a bus carrying a cello.  One of the passengers shouts, 'Hey mate, bet you wish you'd learned the piccolo instead!"

As in life and in music, and despite what people tell you, size really does matter. 

There are, in the pantheon of musical instruments, those instruments that are considered "cool" (the drums, the electric guitar), "uncool" (the bass, the xylophone and the triangle)

There are also instruments that, when placed in the wrong hands, can only be considered to be the weapons of Satan - for instance if I am ever swept to power then one of my first rules will be the banning of Recorders and Violins to the under-6 age group (one of my favourite moments of all time was when a local news reporter cut back to the studio from a school recorder band with the comment, "Hmmm, sounds like my pet cat singing".  He later had to apologize, but I'm still laughing over 15 years later)

And then there are the sadly maligned.  The instruments that have never, in their entire lives, done so much of an iota's worth of harm to their fellow man.  Never have their squeaks caused winces amongst the collected parents of Class 2B, never have they been used by the local Scout Group to blow your ear drums into the next street - and yet they find themselves the instrument (groan) of mirth.

Like the aforementioned cello player on the bus - or the harpist (how the hell do you transfer one of those from place to place?  I'll tell you how: with great bloody difficulty - I've seen it done.   Those women may look thin and angelic, but I'd fancy their chances in the boxing ring with those sorts of muscles)

And then there's the Ukelele - the shrunken Hawaiian guitar.  Best known in the UK thanks to wartime movie star George Formby (although technically what Formby played was a Banjolele, but that's another story)



For some reason it has aquired an air of comedy.  Why is this?  Is it a size issue?  Well, the piccolo is very small and not generally considered laughable (other than in reference to as a preference to carrying a cello on the bus)

Is it as a legacy from George himself, known for his innuendo-filled lyrics and cheeky character?  It's hard to imagine now that a gawky lad from Lancashire whose catchphrase was "He he, it turned out nice again" could have single-handedly swayed the course of the Second World War (sorry USA, you guys helped a bit it's true - but it was George that did it.  Just watch the films if you don't believe me (see end explanation))

Is it the sound?  Well actually, it makes quite a nice sound - assuming you can get your suddenly huge fingers squeezed into the tiny frets.

Maybe that's what it is then - it's the fact that the Uke is played by people who are disproportionately large in representation to the tininess of the instrument?

Well, whatever the reason, I recently found myself in a local musical instrument shop and, being of an inquisitive nature, I succumbed to temptation and bought myself a little Uke.  Aside from the small (pun not intended) problem of squeezing my fingers into place I have to say that it's making some nice noises and as I already play the guitar it was relatively easy to start pushing out some simple tunes fairly quickly.

Well, what else can I say?  He he - it turned out nice again!


George Formby Films:
A general plot of a George Formby, and indeed Norman Wisdom film was that George, or Norman, would end up somewhere dressed in army uniform (despite being a civilian - something that would actually have got them shot) and would, through a series of humerous vignettes, end up behind enemy lines, sing a few happy songs and change the course of the war

This is an over exaggeration of his film plots, but not by much.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

NaNoWriMo - What I Learned This Time

It's very hard to explain to someone who is not a writer why on earth you would want to put yourself through something like NaNoWriMo.

For those of you that don't already know NaNoWriMo is NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth, a yearly event that challenges writers around the globe to sign up from the 1st to the 30th November to write a minimum of 50,000 words (1,666.6r, or 3-4 A4 pages per day) during that time.  The novel doesn't have to be Shakespeare when finished, nor does it have to be finished during that time.  The only rules are that you can't start writing the novel until the 1st November (although you are allowed to do planning if you so wish) and you have to write 50,000 words and submit your word count by the end of November.

I first took part in this two years ago, during November 2009.  At the time I had just finished a project that had taken 4-5 years to finish and was still stuck in endless re-writes for another two (one of which is still stuck in endless re-writes after 8 years).  I was becoming very frustrated with the whole process of writing: I was struggling a lot to get the story out partially because I was more than aware that there would be no one who was particularly interested in reading it when finished.

Anyone creative who is part of a loving but not especially creative family and circle of friends will appreciate the frustration of working for months on months on something only to pass it to a beloved person and for them to either a) not understand it or b) be unable to extend their comments beyond minor punctuation issues.

So when I heard about NatNo - I think via Blogland - I decided that it might be just the thing I needed.

It has, after all, been said by more than one writer that the one thing that a writer is unlikely to do when left alone is to do any writing.

And a funny thing happened: by sitting there every day, often with no idea what I was going to write that day, I found the ideas coming a lot easier, I found myself thinking in ways that I might not usually have done and, most importantly, I found myself freed of the endless issues that had dogged my stories - if you get stuck in a plot or character problem and you are up against a deadline to reach a certain amount of words then you have no time for going back and starting again, or for getting bogged down: you keep writing through it.  This was a great catharsis and allowed me to re-discover a love of writing that had got lost somewhere along the way.

What resulted was a fast paced, rather violent Sci-Fi romp, but it also freed me up to go back to one of the longer projects with new energy and finally finish it (this became my longest and best work to date)

Of course all of this was two years ago when I was going through a period where I had a lot of free time on my hand.  This year when I came to do it again I found that the main times I had free for writing were weekends and two evenings per week. That meant a lot of sitting in front of the computer for long periods, just plugging away.  At times I will admit that this became something of a chore, but it is a worthwhile exercise - inspiration cannot always be relied on, but exercising those brain muscles increases the chances that it will arrive sooner than later.

It also helped to know that my friend Argent was also doing the challenge - we constantly exchanged word counts and comments about problems we were facing: the fact that I knew someone out there who was rapidly catching up with my word count kept me going through some of the more difficult stages.

If I'm brutally honest about the work I did this year I would have to admit that there is a lot of running-about in search of a plot - but what did I learn this time?

Plot - when I went into NatNo last time I hadn't done any preparation, but I had a very clear idea of what my story was and what it was trying to achieve right from the start - I think that was missing this time.  I had a great start: but I hadn't completely worked out where that start led to.

NatNo forced me to keep going and be quite inventive - split the story into two parts for a while, think about the way I used language: could I expand my language?  My writing style tends to be quite focused on getting the story told and I sometimes forget to describe where we are or talk about other stuff like emotional reactions, character development etc - so although I think that was missing from this I am more aware of it now

Characters - I had a lot of what can only be "cardboard cut-out" people in my story - characters that I didn't know the first thing about and were only there to add to the body count.  Only two of the main characters, maybe as many as three or four, actually had a personality after that - so my advice to myself for next time is that your main characters in a story should always go on a personal journey and change during the story and that you should decide one or two things about your secondary characters that roughly define how they will act

Empty space - pretty much each day I was thinking "how am i going to expand this load of nonsense to be 50,000 words" - and yet I made the target with two days to spare.  I think one of the things that has often held me back as a writer is that concern that I won't be able to write something that is long enough to be called a novel, so I think that this has reminded me not to be afraid of that space on the screen that is sitting empty and flashing at you.

Finally I am glad that I did it because now I finally feel able to go back one final time to my 8-year old project.  Writing in such a focused manner for a month has left me with a few thoughts around the characters in that and their reactions that I'm hoping will be enough for me to get it back on track.

It will take me longer than a month to do this - the last long project I wrote (after my previous NatNo) took twelve months to finish the first draft, but only 3-4 for the second - and I know that if I hadn't done the project two years ago then I would never have been able to finish it.

So what next?  Well, I'm thinking NatSoWriMo, or NatAlWriMo - these are my own invention - to write as many SOngs, or an ALbum in a month

Who knows what might come out of that?

BTW - final word count: 50,108

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Lovecats

Friday night and we're sat in front of the TV.  From my vantage point at the end of the sofa I can see Giles in the hallway, sitting in one of his familiar places: just by the door.

Currently he has a number of favourite places, not least of which is on a mat by the radiator: but he keeps returning to the door.

Just to see what will happen I call him and he comes, stretching slowly and padding towards me with a tiny miow.  I pick him up, marvelling again at how heavy he is.  I put him on my lap.  Today he is in a relaxed mood and seems happy to take the attention, beginning to purr as I stroke him.  Herself gets a piece of the action too as he briefly takes a stroll over to her side of the sofa and puts his face into hers. 

Then he returns and flops down into my arms, lying on his back with big catty eyes staring adoringly into my face.  It is possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Myself and Herself have The Conversation again, the one that always begins "remember when..."

And we do - we remember when he first invited himself into the house just over 12 months ago and would scarper if you came within a few feet of him.  We remember how sad and bedraggled he looked, we remeber that neither of us had ever heard him purr at that point.

We remember how he spent the first few weeks just hiding under the sofa, only coming out to eat, the first time we caught him sitting on the bed and the moment when he finally started to decide we were ok.

Niether of us can quite believe that a little bit of patience and kindness have changed the cat that once sank his claws deep into Herself's arm and tried to scramble out of a high window to escape us into creature before us.  OK so yes, he still tries to pounce on our toes sometimes, but now its just in play and although he will always be an outdoors cat he always comes when you call him.

Maybe one day we will get over the change, maybe we will be able to look at him without that constant surprise and endless "do you remember when..." conversation, but I hope that day doesn't come too soon.

Giles, meanwhile, tired of all this soppiness, rolls over and jumps off, proceeds to the kitchen where he demolishes the contents of his bowl and then demolishes the litter tray.

Somethings never change

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Only Way Is Ethics

Sometimes it's the little things that stay with you as much as the big. 

Like a few years ago there was a small news item on our local news: it couldn't have been more than five minutes long, and yet I can't quite shake it from my memory.

The story was about a six year old boy who'd been banned from his local school because of his constant disruptive behavior.  The act that had finally got him barred was when he had lashed out at and hit a teacher.

And so the news cameras had gone around to the parent's house to interview the parents.  There was no sign of a father figure and the mother was sitting in the front of the shot, smoking and clearly wanting to get back to whichever soap opera she had been watching.  The six year old kid was sat in the background laughing and playing on his playstation: clearly as happy as Larry that he no longer had to go to school.

The journalist asked the mother, "Why do you think he behaves this way?"

She shrugged, 'It's not my fault if he's evil, is it?'

So there it is: a single, highly depressing moment of Television reminding us that a hell of a lot of parents out there just don't seem to be aware of the impact of their actions on their kids.

It was a comment by Michael of Always Going, Going, Going On Beyond that reminded me again of this news item.  He was talking about his own fears that the school his child was going to were not necessarily evaluating his children's progress sufficiently to help them prepare for the world outside and, in a response to a comment, he said "we need a new subject: morals and ethics. They could talk about all the religions and have debates about tricky decisions (e.g., should the government support smoking -- by allowing it to be sold -- while at the same time encouraging us to avoid it). It's clear the many parents are not offering this knowledge to their children."


Children are not born into this world with an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong.  They are empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge and experience and it is no single factor that defines this, but a series of experiences.  Although parents cannot be the sole source of information for a child they can at least be the steady thermometer against which they measure the temperature of how to act.  A parent who is unable to distinguish right from wrong is unlikely to teach their child the same.

So perhaps it is time that we involve parents more in the process of their child's education.  Perhaps we should teach morals and ethics, not only in school but in classes involving the parents?  We as adults are no more born knowing how to be a good parent than we are born knowing how to be a good person.  Any person can, providing they can find a willing sexual partner, go out and have kids and raise them pretty much any way they want to.  Would interfering with this to enable parents to teach their kids right from wrong lead to complaints of a "nanny state", or is this something that we all need to learn?

For my own part I was recently asked "If you were able to perform a single act and have no consequences: what would you do?"

After some thought I replied that there are always consequences: the main one being that you, as a person, still have to be able to live with your actions, to be able to look yourself in the mirror.  I quoted Shakespeare, "to thine own self be true" and thought about the words of Ghandi when he said "Be the change you want to see in the world"

I wonder what the mother of that kid would have said?

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Defining Moment

I don't think I've ever had that defining moment - the moment where, all of a sudden, everything just clicks and you go "ah..."

I've always kinda fallen into things whilst stumbling about through life, wondering what it was all about and where it was all going.  If one were to look at the chain of events that led me to meet Herself, for instance, there would be very little logical path to follow: no single choice, but a series of small steps (ones which it is worth mentioning i am very greatful i took).

I certainly never had such a moment when it comes to work anyway.  If I were to nip back in time and tell my 10 year old self that I was not going to become a bus driver (bus driver's get lots of tea breaks) but would end up working in some hard-to-explain IT Support role he would probably blink at me before going back to playing on his latest video game.

When I left school I wanted to be a photographer: pretty much because it was the only thing that I had, at that point, shown much aptitude for - but it soon became clear that actually there was no career to be had in this and so I learned how to type and us a computer pretty much on the grounds that most jobs were seeming to need computer skills.  From there I pretty much have gone where the wind would take me, taking extra experience and responsibilities as and when they were offered with no particular end game in mind.

Even now I flit from interest to interest, like a moth drawn towards a light bulb, trying to experience it all and never settling on a single one.  I'm not sure that I could if I wanted to: creativity is a funny thing and it can bounce off in all sorts of wonderful directions, but sometimes I do wish that I could concentrate on something long enough to get good at it.

So I couldn't help but wonder the last time I went to the Dentist about those paths and the choices we all make and the little steps that define who we are.

And I couldn't help but ask - what was it?  What was that defining moment?  At what point in their lives did that person stop in the middle of the street with a little lightbulb over their head and think, "I know what I want to do every day for the rest of my life!  Look at other people's teeth!"

Oh to have such clarity.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The First Time I Had The Blues

I guess you could say that we grew up in something of a musical vaccuum.

Don't get me wrong: my parents aren't the puritanical rock-n-roll is evil types...they just weren't into music that much.

We had one of those old wooden boxes with a heavy lid that could play 33 1/3"rds or 45" inch vinyl.  It was supposed to be able to hold two or three records and let one drop down after another, but the truth was that most times it would let them all drop, or the sound would just come out warped after the second or third long player had fallen.

My parents had a small collection of vinyl, of which I remember:
1x Elvis Presley Twenty Golden Greats (side two scratched)
1x Cliff Richard 40 Golden Greats (not sure if it was the Elvis or the Cliff that was "Golden Greats" or both)
1x New Seekers compilation (warped)
1x Sound Of Music soundrack
2x albums of Dutch Barrel Organ Music
2x Muppett Show albums (which were mostly for us kids and which i wish we still had if only for Scooter's infamous "Hey Mr Bassman" which may be the funkiest song of all time - see below)

This, along with the bands on Top Of The Pops was my sole introduction to the music world until I became old enough and rich enough to start my own collection.

I guess I started with the music that was popular in the charts or that I took a liking to and then slowly, as I became influenced by new sets of friends I expanded my musical vocabularly

I guess I was already vaguely aware of the Blues but hadn't really been exposed to it until I came to work at a local theatre for nine months.  I was part of the lighting and sound department (LX) and there were often hurried periods of activity spent mostly suspended from extremely high places.

To be honest the run of shows that year wasn't the best and one of the worst of the series was The Asylum, a play about some patients in an asylum threatened with closure set against the backdrop of a pop video being filmed there.  It starred someone who had once been in an episode of Fawlty Towers and a once nearly-famous actress more famous for drinking her own urine than actually being an actress

It was, quite simply, awful.  The only thing that stopped it from being the worst play of the run (the dubious honour of which falls to a touring production of Wuthering Heights in which the actor playing Heathcliff just shouted on the spot for two non-stop hours) was the interval music

For whatever reason the director of the show, who must have realised how appallingly dreadful the thing was, had chosen Robert Cray for the interval music - having made a compilation of his first and second albums and put it onto a big spool that would play as the audience came in, during the break and again as they left.

Every day for a week I heard this amazing voice and superb guitar: I was hooked and for many years I continued to own a copy of that interval music on a cassette (I bet if I looked for it now it would still be somewhere...)

But it was only recently that I thought to check out the internet and see if I could replace my dusty viynl copy of "False Accusations" with a clean and immaculate CD

In the intervening years I've always tried to challenge myself about my pre-conceptions of music: don't like synth-pop eh?  well what about this group?  Don't like hip-hop?  Well have you tried so-and-so?  Don't like Jazz eh... well...I'm still not sold on that one, but you never know.

But in the end it's always the Blues that I come back to: for whatever reason it's that soulful guitar, the haunting voices and the tales of misguided love that bring me back time and again.  Since then I've discovered the wonders of BB King, recently found Muddy Waters and decided that Eric Clapton's From The Cradle album may be the finest album in my blues catalogue

But a special place should always be reserved for Robert Cray: for introducing me to the blues.

For as the wise man once said: there ain't no other colours without the blues 


Monday, 31 October 2011

A Bit Of A Bill Oddie

I never thought I'd say it but it seems that me and Bill Oddie have something in common.

Now I realise that for much of my intercontinental audience the name of Mr Oddie may be a new one so I guess that first, before I start, it's about time for some history.

Back in the 1970s there was a TV comedy show.  It was much in the same vein as Monty Python - quite anarchic with ideas that were often off the wall: the main difference being that there were only three stars of the show and that each episode told a single story: such stories encompassing such things as London being attacked by a giant cat.

Our hero's of each story were The Goodies (also the title of the show), as portrayed by Graeme Garden, Tim Brook-Taylor and the short beardy one Bill Oddie.

The programme is generally fondly remembered but seldom repeated.  Garden, a qualified Doctor is still very much a writer and performer on panel shows, Brook-Taylor still turns up from time to time and Oddie...well...

Bill got into birdwatching and then that got him into regular work on Springwatch (live nature watch during the spring), Autumnwatch (similar during the autumn) and a variety of other shows.

But the reason that I mention that he and I have something in common is for a show a couple of years ago where various celebrities learned to play an instrument in a short period of time.

Child star and TV presenter Aled Jones learned the drums, comedian Frank Skinner learned the banjo and Bill....

Well Bill had always wanted to be a musician - and had spurred his fellow Goodies onto several chart toppers - but right from the start his teacher on the programme encountered problems, because our Bill wasn't prepared to put the work in to get his chords sounding how they should sound.

Not because he was lazy or couldn't be bothered, but because he felt that he had reached a level where he could achieve the sound that was sufficient for what he wanted to do.  Yes the chords were a bit muddy, no he was not suddenly Dave Gilmore - not even Dave's long lost milk float driving brother Roger - but it was enough for him to get a tune out and for the average listener not to know the difference.

And the reason I feel that I am akin to Mr Oddie is related to my saxophone. OK - I know that my high notes still need a lot of work and I'm prepared to do that - also my fingerwork could do with some excercise - but the thing that I'm struggling to give a jot about is playing a piece of music exactly how it is written.

For a start written music only tells me so much - I don't understand it sufficiently to know instinctively when there is an accent or a short or long note and if I play against the pre-recorded saxophone line its immediately obvious that my notes are too long, short, soon, late - whatever. 

But half the time I feel - so what?

I can still keep to time with the beat without being precisely to what is written and have no real intention of playing with an orchestra where it would be important to play exactly what is written - i'd rather take the piece of music and be able to a) play the music in a way that is pleasing to me and b) just good enough to fool the average listener.

If, in the privacy of my own spare bedroom, my notes are not precicely how they are written then does it matter?  Is it more important to put a bit of feeling and personalisation into a piece than to be a mindless automaton just doing what is put in front of me?

True - given 8 hours free time a day to practice I could probably get notes exactly how they are supposed to be played, but no amount of practice is going to make me Courtney Pine (1)

If I ever were to play my saxophone to a live audience then it would, most likely, be part of a blues band and I'm guessing, that much like the guitar solo, I would probably be able to get away with a few overly short, long or non-specifically played notes without too much maiming of the ears. 

Still - I guess that whether I want to be the next Courtney Pine, John Coltraine, Charlie Parker or, as the case may be, not - I do need to go through the pain of playing it how it's written if I want to be good enough to be happy when playing a piece.

In the end I guess it's the same as txt spk - yes it's ok to break the rules, but I think it's important that you should understand what they are first before you do so.



(1) I'm not a great lover of jazz music so shall have to interject a reference that applies more to my kind of music.  100s of guitarists practice for 8 hours a day and, no doubt, 100s of them are very, very good - but only one in a million can be Eric Clapton levels of good no matter how much you practice.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Is The &*^% Working Now? (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps)

 So a few weeks ago my good friend Argent was kind enough to let me have the use of one of her old computers for recording purposes.  This was excellent timing as I had recently got rid of all my old machines to make space for said activity, only to find out that my only remaining computer was not powerful enough to do the job.

But of course nothing ever runs smoothly, particularly where computers are involved.  Yes they may be the future of mankind, but if that is so then the future of mankind is going to be mostly spent with us talking to one another whilst lit by an unhealthy glow whether it be from a mobile phone, pad or pc and swearing profusely at the surely deliberately awkward way of getting the damn things to do anything that you couldn't do in half the time if only you had been taught stuff like adding up and spelling at school rather than just being told to ask the sodding computer in the first place.

OK, OK, breathe slowly...

So - the first problem was finding the software for the plug in that would allow me to connect to the internet.  This was not where it should have been - ie with all the other software.  Most of my stuff is currently in boxes whilst it takes a slow but steady trip to charity shops.  This is the same battle that we all face with entropy on an ongoing basis - no matter how much junk we clear away we still find our houses and lives full of yet more stuff.

After two days of trawling through boxes I eventually remembered that I had put all my old mobile phones into a box ready to be destroyed or re-sold and looked in there on the off chance - lo and behold...

So - the second problem was anti-virus.  I spent a good half an hour talking on the internet to some chap in India explaining that yes, I was aware that my copy of the anti-virus was already on two machines but that I felt strongly that this fact was negated by the equally persuasive fact that both machines were now in bits at the local tip.  Finally he agreed to give me a 30 day trial period of grace that would take me up to when the AV was due to be renewed anyway.

Next issue - no sound.  Easily solved this one, and an excuse to pop around to Argent's and have a practice whilst the drivers loaded.

And then there was the issue of the package itself - now for those that don't know there are now a myriad of ways to record oneself at home if one so wishes.  No longer do you have to sit with two seperate tape players playing back your first recording loudly whilst singing along to the next (as my father was wont to do when I was a kid - to the point where there would be a whole choir of fathers claiming tunefully that Lloyd George knew their father)

Nor does one need to invest hundreds of pounds in microphones and big spooling tape machines, or decks of recording paraphernalia (although clearly when I win the lottery...)

Packages like Q-Base (a professional standard PC based recorder) can be bought in truncated form for £50, the i-pad comes with a small version of Garage Band on it (which has been famously used by several musicians of late for entire albums) - and, for those of us on a budget - there is Audacity.

Audacity isn't really designed for music recording - it's more aimed at people making jingles, or radio shows, so it lacks some of the mixing finesse of the other packages, but it does have one major advantage - it's totally free, and quite frankly its facilities are more than sufficient for the likes of me.

The first problem I encountered was that there was a significant delay between playing the sound and hearing the sound on Audacity.  Also some sounds seemed to be slowing down as I went - which meant that when it came to adding tracks and then additional tracks it was almost impossible.  After yet more trawling around the internet and a brief trip to Unhelpful Music (Unhelpful Music are our only local music shop - unless you are a guitarist and have a guitar related question they are less use than a chocolate Tea-pot on the grounds that at least you can still eat some of the melted chocolate afterwards) I established that what I needed was a low latency sound card (whatever one of those may be)

As the price of this was more than the current value of the computer I decided that a viable alternative was just to switch off the "playback as you record" option, provided i could find a way to hear the sound through the PC as i went. 

This immediately solved one problem and caused another - i could hear myself perfectly when i plugged in the microphone, but not when i plugged the guitar into exactly the same slot.  I went to the shop and bought a new adapter - no difference.  Eventually, and quite by accident, i discovered that plugging the instrument half-way into the slot solved the problem, indicating the slot itself might be faulty (why it works perfectly well with the microphone but nothing else remains a mystery)

Having solved this I then ran into one final problem - converting the Audacity file into MP3 format.  No matter how many times I downloaded the converter from the directed link it refused to work.  i uninstalled the converter, uninstalled Audacity and went back to a previous version - no effect.  Eventually, and after yet more trawling of FAQs I found someone who had downloaded exactly the same decoder, only via a different link and then moved the files to a different folder

And lo and behold, we have music...

Only things left to do now are to try re-installing the more up to date version of Audacity and see if it will run with my working coder and secondly, and more importantly, find a way of recording my saxophone so that it doesn't sound like a constipated Gnat. 

  Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps by Don't Feed The Pixies

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Get This Party Started (Willow Manor Ball)

 So it seems that over at Willow Manor they’re having something of an Ocktoberfest and are inviting everyone who wants to participate to throw their own individual party, all on Wednesday 12th October, or thereabouts.

And despite the fact that you will always recognize me at parties by the fact that I’m the one sitting in a corner constantly checking their watch, I’ve decided to present an invite and some ideas of what will be happening at MY idea of a party (with tongue ever so slightly in cheek) – along with a pome I’ve previously published on this blog.

DRESS CODE
Casual - None of this Smart-Casual nonsense: no one really knows what that means anyway. Jeans, trainers, t-shirt – or whatever you feel comfortable in. Prize for best costume will be that you will be locked in one of the cells until you are prepared to dress normally.

FOOD
Cheese, Sausage, Pineapple – served on cocktail sticks (has to be done)
Crudite – no idea what one is or how you cook it, but it looks impressive on a menu (joke – I was once attacked by a particularly large Crudite)
Quiche (see brackets for Cheese on stick)
Sausage Rolls (slightly singed)
Lobster Thermidore in a mornet sauce
Spam, Spam, Spam, Baked Beans and Spam

Buffet menu from favourite Indian Restaurant (yum, yum, yum and indeed yum)

Served 80% vegetarian to placate the Celery Crunchers and ensure that the Meat eaters don’t eat all the meat plus all the veggie food

MUSIC

IN THE BLUE ROOM

BB King and his all star band Ft Eric Clapton, Roy Orbison, Bruce Springsteen
Elvis Presley will attend later, time permitting
Batman and Robin will be dancing the Batusi

Maybe they’ll let me join in with the band – I’d settle for rhythm guitar, maybe a solo somewhere – or to join in on saxophone

IN THE DISCO ROOM
NO Dexy’s Midnight Runners, no ABBA, no Grease megamix and DEFINITELY no Macarena

Persons found sitting in a line on the dance floor and pretending to row to “oops, upside your head” will be forcibly ejected

IN THE MAIN LOBBY
Entertainment from Mr Saxman, my music teacher.  Quite frankly I’d be quite happy spending the evening listening to him play – damn, but he’s good.

TIME
From 8:30pm until 11:30pm – bearing in mind it’s a school night.

Or maybe I’d just go to whichever party these guys wrote that song about… (scroll down past the video for the poem)



Get This Party Started

At the end of the world disco party
The crowd splits to two different rooms
The believers in one quietly praying
Whilst Satan keeps all the best tunes

With the Judgement day finally over
They wait for the main star to appear
From the back of his private stretch limo
And finally make his plan clear

The lights dim, the music starts playing
The smoke machine belches a haze
And in white suit and medallion God enters
Still moving in mysterious ways

- we couldn't finish a post about parties without mentioning possibly the second worst song of all time.  Worst being "Stop The Cavalry" by the same artist - 

Monday, 10 October 2011

Coffee Culture

Let’s face it: if you ever actually met any of the characters from Friends you’d probably hate their guts.

Only in Sit-Com land can you meet characters who are so totally self-obsessed, contribute less to society and whose problems are so insignificant that they can be solved in half an hour.

Just take a look at them: Rachel - A Prom Queen who adapted to life without Daddy’s credit card by getting a high flying job in fashion (with no qualifications, training or experience mind you), Monica – a cleanliness obsessed chef in a fancy restaurant where a starter costs a weeks wages, Phoebe – an occasional masseuse and not-so-great musician, Joey – a permanently out of work actor, Ross – a not-so-popular with his students lecturer and Chandler – a whatever the hell it is that Chandler does.

And to be fair a) I have probably watched every episode of Friends at least twice and would have to admit under torture to quite liking it and b) the problem is generic across the whole of the genre and not purely limited to Friends: even the greats like Fawlty Towers rely on a set of characters that would, in reality, soon be consigned to some form of institution for the socially inept.

However the reason I picked Friends for special attention was because of what they represented. Perhaps more than any other sit-com of the last few years the cast of Friends are reflective of our obsession with social climbing.

This is one of the reasons that places like Starbuck’s, Costa and the like are so successful. Let’s face it: before the coffee house came along we were all happy to go to our local Greasy Spoon CafĂ© and pay 40 pence or so for a cup of tea with bits of limescale floating in the top (for added flavour you understand) and half the contents served in the saucer.

Then the big coffee houses came along and realised that what they were selling was not actually coffee, but aspirations: and that with the right setting they could easily charge three pounds for a cup of hot coffee flavoured milk.

People wanted to go somewhere where they could talk quietly to their friends and not be drowned out by music, or to read the newspaper before going to work – they wanted the big apartments, no real problems and easy lifestyle of the people they saw on TV – people like they saw in Sitcoms and on dramas.

Which is why, in turn, the cast of Friends – bent on selling us this ideal for life – spent so much time hogging the sofa at Central Perk. We aspired to be there in their easy lives, never seeming to actually have to go to work, never having any real problems – able to suddenly drop everything and go to the Bahamas

The trend for this new way of living has become so successful that I can immediately think of 6 Starbuck’s and 4-5 Costas all based within a 10 mile radius. Even that old bastion of social gathering, the Public House, has had to resort to trying to sell coffee (albeit on beer soaked tables) to get us back.

Why do I spend so much of my life regretting that I am unable to live this life? Well, actually I don’t really – but I am certainly aware that such a lifestyle exists, just outside of my financial range. Let’s face it, and as Douglas Adams once said, many of this planet’s problems are caused by the movement of small pieces of paper (or, increasingly, plastic cards). Wouldn’t it be better to forget these aspirations and be happy with our lot? Is such a thing even possible today?  We as a society have somehow bought into the idea that this way of life is somehow our right and allowed ourselves to become miserable and disgruntled due to our lack of ability to claim it.

Still, I can’t help that feel that even with all of this the coffee shops are missing out on a trick: one that Friends showed us on almost a weekly basis.

Just once, when I walk into a coffee shop I would like to see a corner cleared of tables and a little stage erected. On that stage I would like to see someone sitting with an acoustic guitar, singing gentle songs.

If one of them is “Smelly Cat” that would definitely be a bonus

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Cheese Rap

I tried to write a rap - and since I am in no way shape or form built to perform Rap (I'm not so much Street as Cul-de-sac) I tried to think of a subject as un-Gangsta as I could...

(NB if you're a Beastie Boys fan try shouting the last word of each line for added effect)

I was sitting on my own, flicking on the TV
But something from the fridge kept a callin me
Da Red Leicester block just kept calling me back
If i couldn't get my cheese i'd have to turn to crack

So I tried to lay it down for fermented milk
Maybe just Gruyere, or something of that ilk
Full flavor in da house, for that i still yearn
maybe with a rind or fresh from the churn

Gimme cheese, give me what i need, white lightning, cheese gimme cheese, gimme what i need
Gimme cheese, give me what i need, white lightning, cheese gimme cheese, gimme what i need


Still i tried to turn away, but it was way too near
All that tempting Danish Blue and fragrant Paneer
Leerdamer is my weakness and the Edam's makes me whinny
But nothing can replace the Dorset Blue Vinney

Yes there is no place right now that i would rather be
than sat here with a drink and a slice of Brie
Yes a lack of calcium can leave me way too pale
If i cant get my cranberries stuffed into Wensleydale


So listen to tha' rhymes that'll leave you illin
Till i get my slice of cheese there will be no chillin'
You can get it from the dairy at the corner shop
So come and join along with some Hereford Hop
Hop, h-h-h-op, Hereford Hop
Hop, h-h-h-op, Hereford Hop

Friday, 23 September 2011

If I Had To Be Trapped In A Lift With Any Of Them, I'd Pick James May

The woman sitting opposite me in the pub rolls her eyes at the news and groans, 'I might have known you'd pick him' she says, 'he's soooooooo boring'

The fact that this conversation is now coming up to two years old should tell you something about the capacity my brain has to niggle over things long since said, particularly things that irk me or that I wish I could have said more eloquently.

But let us go back slightly and explain for the benefit of those reading this who may be wondering whether the Hungry Pixie hasn't finally lost what few marbles he had.

Back in the 1980s, and even as recently as the 1990's Britain had a motor industry.  In fact there was even a time when we were the leaders of the world when it came to car production.  Back in those halycon days there was a BBC programme by the name of Top Gear.

This programme should not be confused with any current programme of the same name - because they bear about as much relationship towards one another as...well...two entirely disparate things.  The Top Gear of the 80's/90's was a serious motoring programme that actually served as a guide to buying a good car.

Then the British motor trade collapsed, or rather self-imploded spectacularly in the style of an ego-centric Rock star: forever demanding more of a cut of the profits, refusing to record a new single or to tour and finally overdosing in a hotel room after being found in bed with a young pretender.

And as such Top Gear had to change.  In came a new presenting team and a new feel.  Out went fact and in came crazy challenges, controversy and humour.

Three presenters were chosen.  Former journalist and opiniated oaf Jeremy Clarkson, former DJ and all round short angry person Richard Hammond...and finally, the classically educated Degree in music holding James May.

Don't get me wrong - I actually quite enjoy the new-look Top Gear.  It's knockabout humour and endless daft antics of the presenters make for good entertainment, however for various reasons I am unable to watch either of the other two for any length of time when they present programmes alone.  Clarkson takes a certain amount of pride in his boorish and occasionally rude behaviour, Hammond is just a bit too aware of his looks and thus comes over as slightly false.

But what irks me most about the programme, and thus is the reason for me picking May as the one I would chose to be trapped in a lift with: is the way that the programme, and lots of others on TV nowadays, seems to wear its ignorance on its sleeve as something to be proud of.

Whenever May, nicknamed Captain Slow due to his rather cautious and careful driving style, starts spouting facts the camera inevitably pans away and a comment is made about how dull it all is.  When faced with a glorious view of some ancient edifice the crew of the show are only ever able to comment on how fast their cars can go and can find nothing to say of the history or current state of the place they are in.

Exactly when, I would like to know, did it become embarrasing and boring to know things and to be interested in learning new things?  Why are we so keen to encourage ignorance over advancement?  Why are we so afraid that if we show anything on TV that requires the use of our brains - people will immediately switch off.

This is, of course, no new phenomena - since the dawn of time anyone with half a brain has been ridiculed in entertainment.  Science students are shown as being "dorks" hiding behind their glasses, incapable of social intteraction - whilst the dumb quarterback unable to construct a coherent sentence gets all the girls.

It seems then that we, as a society, are forever cautious of people who take the time to learn and be interested in things and would rather ridicule those that have aquired knowledge than take the time and effort to acquire knowledge ourselves.

And meanwhile our TVs and our instant-fame cultures seems to promote that its ok to be an idiot - talent shows like The X Factor tell us every week that you can be a neanderthal throwback with all the intelligence of a can of peas and it doesn't matter - because being famous for being thick and useless is just as good as being famous for achieving something.

Surely it is time to re-evaluate this?  Personally I have a great many friends who have interests in all sorts of things and can quote chapter and verse on aircraft engines, IT protocols - hell even Toastmaster rules and regulations.

I may not always understand their knowledge or passion for their subject - but I hope that I will, at least, always be able to appreciate their drive to advance - to take the time and effort to learn something new...and that maybe, and by association, I may be able to learn something new too.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Music To Paint By

And here we go again with one of my never-popular List-o-fives.

This is one that I was thinking about when doing my most recent painting.  Yet again I had promised myself that this time I would definately do the painting in oils, and then did it in acrylics - mainly because the joy of acrylics is that you don't have to wait two weeks for everything to dry, or else end up with a muddy mess.

As such my impatience won again and acrylics were the weapon of choice.  Don't get me wrong - acrylics produce a nice effect, but I do think that there is a certain something about the texture and look of oil paints that has never been matched by any other medium (not even Mystic Meg)

But a major factor in painting is chosing the right music as a backdrop to help you achieve the right mood: ie slightly unaware of the passing of time around you.  Sometimes this can be dependent on what you are trying to achieve - for instance if you are painting a storm scene it might not be a good idea to listen to Barry Manilow and equally if you are painting a nice summers day then Megadeath may be a no-no.  Recently I did a painting of Jimi Hendrix, for which I mostly listened to the man himself for inspiration - but this is not always a good idea - so here is my list of any-occasion music to paint by in receding order of preference.

#1: The Blues
You can never really go wrong listening to the blues - it's the music that I always come back to and can always be relied on.  Recently I had a whole spate of listening to blues whilst painting and can thoroughly recommend:
BB King - my compilation of BB is never far away
Muddy Waters - recently discovered MW and not entirely sure how I survived this far in life without knowing about him
Eric Clapton - his "recorded as live" "From The Cradle" cd is a masterpiece
Robert Cray - i need more RC in my collection

#2: Swing
Big band - it never quite goes away, does it?  Sunday mornings, listening to Sinatra...well, ok so he was a less than perfect individual, but if you stopped listening to every singer who had a few personality issues....well, you'd have no one left, would you?

#3: World music
This tends to mean "anything sung in a different language".  For a while back in the 80s and 90s it looked like WM was going to be the next big thing, but it has remained something of a sideline.  However, that is not to say that it is not enjoyable - you can hear sounds and invention that you just don't hear in the pop charts and the world of Simon Cowell and his ilk.  Some top listens:
Ladysmith Black Mambazo - who first came to fame through their involvement in Paul Simon's classic "Graceland" album
Staff Benda Bilili - congolese street musicians
Youssou N''Dour
And, oddly, Bollywood soundtracks - my "Best of Bollywood" often gets an airing when I'm painting.  There's just something about Bhangra...

And of course, the Wedding Present's infamous Ukranian Folk Songs album - which only I seem to realise is a work of genius.

#4: Easy Listening
Some years ago when our local newspaper wrote a review of Phil Collins calling his music "easy listening" he wrote an angry letter back about all the hard work and effort that went into creating songs that people enjoyed.  Personally I don't see the problem with being referred to as easy listening or middle of the road - you have to have a middle so you can know where the edges are, and besides - as a listener i don't want my ears to be phonically challenged all the time.  I want something i can sing along to.  So Phil, I'm sorry if you're reading this and object to being referred to as Easy Listening - but your CD and many others of its ilk are favourites when i want some background music that will softly draw me in.

#5: Hip Hop
OK -so this one is a bit of an outsider, and I really have to be in the mood - and even so we're talking Old Skool bands like De La Soul and Beastie Boys, not this modern RnB rubbish, or Gangsta Bling.  I think it works for the same reason as Bhangra - that quite stylised beat and tempo - but its not a regular choice

And of course, a few that really don't work - particularly:

#6: Iron Maiden
I recently tried listening to Meat Loaf whilst painting and it really didn't work - it was far too distracting.  I can't imagine Van Gough trying to paint his sunflowers whilst enjoying "Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter" - although quite possibly he would at least have been able to hear it - even with just the one ear.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Pixie's Special Theory Of Relativity

And let's get started immediately by saying that when I use the word "Relativity" I'm not talking about family members.

Oh no: this is my very special thesis on the development and actuation of Time Travel, as developed at great length and hardship during a five minute fresh-air break from the office yesterday.

Time Travel has long been the dream of scientists the world over who will, no doubt even now, be rubbing their heads and wondering how a simple chap like me can have cracked it.  Well: the answer is simple - boredom.

Einstein famously theorized that E=MC2, which, at an extremely basic level, means that the faster you travel the more energy you need to sustain the speed and that as you approach the speed of light it becomes possible to move in time.

We already have proof that things can move at different times - if you take two atomic clocks and set them to the exact same time and then fly one around the world in a plane you get two results.  Firstly the clock in the plane gets a nice trip, a sub-standard meal and the inflight movie of its choice and secondly, and more importantly, when you compare the clocks at the other end the clock that was flying will be a few miliseconds ahead of the one that was stationary.

Stephen Hawking, and other notable brains, have postulated that if one were to open a black hole and step through it you wouldn't find a rather poor 1970s Disney movie, but that potentially we could use a hole at the other end to move in time

One other popular theory remains that the reason we don't have people popping back for a quick weekend in the drought of 1977 is a) frankly June 1977 was rubbish aside from the Queen's Jubilee and the Sex Pistols and b) time travel only becomes possible from the point at which it is invented.

So as I have now invented time travel yesterday I can travel forward in time from any point after 4pm yesterday and indeed back to that time, but not to a time before.

So - how, I hear you ask, is all of this achieved?  Well - it's simple.

Remember the last time you were really bored?  How did you feel as you stared at the clock on the wall, just waiting for the day to be over?  Did you feel that time was dragging?

And what about the last time you had some really fun friends around for a laugh and a sing-song?  Did the evening fly by?

This is because the passage of time depends heavily on our reaction to and perception of it.

So - theoretically if you could get two people into the same room: one of whom was bored to within an inch of bashing their brains out on the wall and one who was having the time of their lives and then infinitesimally tweak their individual perceptions of the passing of time then they would begin to pull in opposite directions of time.  So - if you offered the bored person a can of paint to watch dry he would slip further in time behind the person with a nice book to read and start to travel into the past - whereas if you were to offer the happy person a box of chocolates their new inspired state of deliriousness would react against the negativity of the bored person and send them shooting off into the future.

Clearly there is still some work to be done on testing this theory and there would be serious side-effects of sending someone seriously depressed into the past: for a start they wouldn't enjoy it once they got there.

Answers or comments on the above at the usual place :)

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

What's So Funny?

My family don't have a family motto.  No emblem of two crossed Pixies on a hill for our family crest.

If, however, I were to instigate one it would definately be "Never Volunteer For Anything"

Sound advice for a happy life I think you will all agree: for as we know - once you have volunteered to do something once it suddenly becomes expected every time.

For those of you wondering where all of the above is going, and for those long term readers of the Pixie Pages you may care to refer back to a post in January 2010 which involved myself and Argent unexpectedly finding ourselves heavily involved in Pantomime despite veherement attempts to avoid parading on stage in funny costumes. 

Let's face it - actors are a funny bunch - chosing to dress in costumes and pretend to be someone else for a living suggests a certain attitude to the world outside that surely cannot be 100% healthy.  However, our main involvement with said event was to write and perform some humerous songs - which we did with a due degree of amusement and fun.

However, the problem with this is that now, all of a sudden - if there is any kind of special occasion thoughts turn unexpectedly towards myself and Argent with a "Hey - you guys write amusing songs, don't you?"

Don't get me wrong - aside from the vague fear of becoming percieved as a one-trick pony I quite enjoy writing funny songs, and any kind of musical interaction with my long-term friend and co-conspiritor Argent is always worthy of a Sunday afternoon or two - but writing an amusing song is not as easy as you might think - so here, for those of you thinking of writing and performing in public, are a few tips.

#1: It's not sufficient just to nick someone else's tune
If you are intending to do a humerous re-write of a popular tune it's no good just stealing the chords and hoping that people will get the joke.  Ideally you need to pick a song that has similar sentiments to what you are trying to say.  Additionally if you can use parts of the lyrics or scansion to help the audience realise that you are doing a skit song people will realise what is going on.  As with my posts "The Long And Boring Song" and "Chartered Accountant" - both use elements or ideas from the original - meaning that you get the payoff of the audience already on your side.

#2: It has to be funny
This is much harder than it sounds.  The jokes shouldn't be too clever or obscure, just a quick silly line to make people smile - if you can squeeze something in about the person or thing being celebrated then all the better.  Anyone can write new lyrics to a few chords - you could pretty much put this paragraph to any popular song if you tried hard enough, but that wouldn't make it funny or clever.

#3: You have to practice
Contrary to popular belief two people can't just turn up together with guitars and play expecting it to sound any good.  Programmes like Fame and now Glee have led entire generations to believe that you can just all stand up enmasse and harmonize - not true.  Even starting and stopping at the same time requires practice, let alone complex things like singing the right lyrics, harmonizing, changing to the right chord etc. 

#4: Know your audience
There's no point stealing some obscure Leonard Cohen B-side if you're playing to an audience of twelve year olds - the song has to be popular enough that most of the people in the room will get the joke

#5: Be extremely musically talented
Of course the real experts can go much further than all of the above. Proper musicians, like comedian and presenter Neil Innes can, if given a brand of music that is sufficiently well known, parody on a much wider scale - taking general themes from a band rather than individual songs and still producing something funny and recognisable and yet also unique

Friday, 9 September 2011

Pictures Of Matchstick Men


About four o'clock in the afternoon I look up from my computer to the same view that's faced me all day.  Just your standard office: arranged in rows of desks facing back to back, low partitions between each just begging to have Table Tennis played between them.  The same Call Centre employee that has been sitting in front of me all day looks up and realises that yes, yet again, I am staring vacantly in his direction without realising what I'm doing...

What am I doing?

My body feels tense from sitting in one position, my eyes have been aching for some time and there's the slight sense of nausia that can arise from too much time infront of the computer.  Nowadays I almost feel like I should carry around a small glow light that can reflect on my face so that my friends can recognise me sans computer screen.

I decide that I've had enough and, even though its not break time, I step out of the building and into the world beyond the high metal fence.  Out here are the broken echoes of the old factories, their machinery still singing their stacatto songs amongst the broken bricks.

As a kid we used to come up here for the works Christmas party - over a thousand kids crammed into a room with a cinema set up - food, drinks and presents all on the company.  Hard to imagine any corporation today doing that.

I can feel the heavy weight of my mobile phone in my pocket  From this tiny screen I can go anywhere in the world: text or email anyone.  Hard to believe that when I started my last job mobile phones were only for execs.  How many of us can now imagine a world without them?

I take one last look at the world around me, taking in the smell of petrol from the main road, listening to the sound of the traffic.

I ask myself: why do we spend so much of our lives shutting ourselves off from all of this...


Sunday, 4 September 2011

15 Top Names For A Drag Queen

This post started life after we found a documentary on the telly, and led to an amusing few days of discussion. Some require more thought than others...

#1  Ophelia Buttocks
#2  Helen Highwater
#3 Quanita Stannd
#4 Candie Barr (actually did exist)
#5 Tiffany Boxx
#6 Rita Way
#7 Amanda Ryder
#8 Brittney Ferry
#9 Sheila Biteya
#10 Chastity Locke
#11 Tanya Bottoms
#12 Helen Back
#13 Vanity Case
#14 Ophelia Smalls
#15 Yolanda Matitz


Any further suggestions welcome as ever :)

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Re-write, anybody?

I hate writing second drafts.

No doubt there are people out there who can look at a piece they have written and with no more than a flick of a computer key delete, add or amend their near perfect prose.  These people are, no doubt, called Professional Writers.

The likes of us mere mortals, aka me, need a bit more notice.  We can't just sit there with a pen and calmly cross through and add willy nilly.  Oh no, that would be far too easy.

For whatever reason my brain needs time to warm up, to get into the story so to speak.  This inevitably means printing out my first draft and starting from scratch, typing up what is showing on the paper until such time as Mr Brain kicks in and starts telling me what needs expanding or re-wording.

I think this may be linked to my approach to writing.  One of the things you constantly hear from writers and writer groups is that it's all about using the strongest word at the appropriate time.  Weak words must be illiminated at all costs as this shows weak writing.

And to be fair, to an extent i agree - using the right word or an interesting phrase can raise writing above the crowd and make it come alive, but it can also scream to the reader "look at me, i'm being clever at you"

For me personally writing is more about the rhythmn and flow.  Really good writing should be like a background piece of set - you know it is there, it helps to set the scene and makes you feel that the place you are at is real - but if its a really good set then you probably shouldn't notice it in the first place because it's done its job of getting you there.

And in order to achieve that flow - well, you can't just jump in can you?  You have to be there, in the scenery and feeling what the characters are saying to you.

I guess life is the same in many ways: you don't have much right to comment until you've been there yourself I guess...

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Please Raise Your Hands For The Templeton Three



They travelled from state to state, John, Maggie and little Emily, singing gospel songs. Sometimes it was hard on John being the only man, but as he was like to say, “Someone gotta look after my sisters”

Years later the three of them would gather and sing for pleasure, laughing about the good old days


Friday, 12 August 2011

Halfway Up The Stairs

If there is one sure fire way to upset an English person it is to sit in their seat.

Anyone who has ever been on a course, to a place of work or to a regular pub in the UK will know that there are certain seats and centres of location that are out of bounds. This is why the trend of hot desking at work doesn’t fit well with us – we like to know where we are going, who we are going to be sitting with and, most importantly, how we fit into the wider group. There are some people in the work place who after forty years of the same view have been known to break down into tears at the relocation of little more than a few inches.

If you want to annoy someone in the UK there is no better way to do it than to enrol on an evening course, wait for 3 to 5 weeks and then suddenly sit somewhere else. Frankly – if you come out alive you’ll have done well.

In fact one night a few months ago, in a fit of wild abandonment, Herself and I decided to swap sides of the bed to see what happened. It lasted all of five minutes – and confused the cats no end.

I was thinking about this today at work when a phone failure led to me sitting at a different hot desk to the one I have grown accustomed to. As I sat there: nervously watching my back and feeling twitchy because of the move of twelve whole feet down the same corridor, I found myself asking what my choice of seating says about my personality.

Given the choice of location at any meeting, club or social occasion most people, including myself, will try not to sit at the front. Often fisticuffs will break out in the jostle of bodies to remain central. No one likes to be exposed, or so it seems, unless they are Ultra Confident and absolutely love being the centre of attention (or else has a role at the meeting that means they have no choice but to be at the front) – Most dictators probably started going wrong in life by continually insisting on sitting at the front where people could adore them

My personal preference is somewhere towards the back and in the middle. Not right at the back, you understand, but sufficiently central that when John Smith arrives half way through the meeting I won’t have to grudgingly stand up and let him through.

I’d say that this probably says something about my desire to hide myself away and possibly hints at a lack of confidence. The same has been said of all my extroverted sides – my guitar, sax, paintings…are all something to hide behind.

So maybe I should make myself sit at the front for a change, put myself out there for all to see and find out how it feels? Life sometimes forces us into those situations: where we have to stand up for the things we believe in, or have to stand up for the way our job should be run. We don’t always like doing it: but sometimes…

But I think, on the whole, I like it where I am.

In the middle

Hiding away

Laughing uproariously at the absurdities of those on the front line

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Say It Loud

You know I dont even care

It's a cheesy video, there's that bit at the end with the choir, it's camper than Butlins, Pontins and Maplins put together - but if you don't get a tingle down your spine listening to Paul Carrack on this song - there's something deeply wrong with you.  But seriously guys, can't you just here the echo of Phil Collins shouting "why didn't you write this one for Genesis?"!

Say it loud...



Every generation, blames the one before
And all of their frustrations, come beating on your door
I know that I'm a prisoner. To all my father held so dear
I know that I'm a hostage to all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

No crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thoughts
Stilted conversations, I'm afraid that's all we've got
You say you just don't see it, he says its perfect sense
You just can't get agreement, in this present tense
We all talk a different language, talking in defence

Say it loud (say it loud)
Say it clear (oh say it clear)
You can listen as well as you hear (as well as you hear)
It?s too late (its too late)
When we die (ooh when we die)
To admit we don?t see eye to eye (we don?t see eye to eye)

So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
And it's the bitterness that lasts
So don't yield to the fortunes
Sometimes see is fate
It may have a new perspective on a different date
And if you don't give up and don't give in you may just be ok

I wasn't there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn't get to tell him all the things I had to say
I think I caught his spirit later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo in my baby's newborn tears
I just, wish I could have told him in the living years

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Le Romantique?

allo, bonjour moi pettit poit, eye em, ow you say, goiiing tu seduce your parderner...

The french exchange student didn't actually say any of the above as he arrived at Toastmasters last night, especially not the bit about small peas, but there was something about his casual manliness that, had I been in any way unsure of my relationship with Herself, might have left me feeling slightly anxious.

There was a certain set to that partly shaven face, rugged good looks and toussled hair, a smooth confidence in that lilting French accent that I knew would turn the knees of many a British woman to jelly.  Indeed, as the night progressed it was clear that Jaques (not his actual name) was indeed raising the blood pressure of many of the female attendees - and maybe a few of the men as well.  Even the inscrutable Herself did admit that the rakish accent stirred some deep feeling.

Which made me wonder what it is about certain accents and countries that makes people appear sexually attractive?  French, Spanish, Italians and even Greeks have reputations as great lovers, but Germans with their clipped tones, and us Brits, do not.

And what of Americans?  Are they sexy, with their confidence?  Do their accents lead the men and the women of the world to collapse into a quivering wreck, or do they leave us running for the shower?

Other interesting accents include the Australian accent, where every sentence seems to end on an up note, as if asking a question - so a simple "I fancy a cup of tea" is transformed into "I fancy a cup of teA?"

Sadly the most unsexy accents I could think of were all British:

1) The Lahndahn (London) accent - or Britticus Cockney-Bowbellius - the cor blimey guvnors, as infamously portrayed by that most rare of species: the lesser spotted DickvanDykeius (co-species Marycus Poppinsus)

2) The Am-yam Buuuurmingum accent - or Midlandium Flatticus-prononcicus, so called because of the habit, in some areas of Birmingham, by starting a sentance "Am-yam ooolroit?" (are you alright)

3) The Liviirpewl aCCent - the McCartneyus Beatalicus - to be fair Paul McCartney et al had the flatter Liverpool accent and not the one that sounds permanently vexed and on the point of aperplexy

Our accent where I live is no better either - its very flat and we tend to drop "t"'s  -so the word "City" transforms into "ci-iy".  Hard to imagine Casanova doing that, now isn't it?

NB: apologies for the Latin.  Scholars of the language should probably note that merely adding "us" onto the end of an existing word does not actually transform it in any shape of form

Any examples of accents, sexy or otherwise, muchly appreciated