Thursday, April 27, 2006

Some time for summer?

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A sunny Thursday

A grandparent once more; Finlay was born on Monday morning at 3.00am. I left work early in the afternoon and headed up to Banff to visit the new arrival along with my daughter Erin. He did not disappoint (as if he could) and is a fine looking wee chap with a full crop of dark hair. We scoffed a bottle of whisky wetting his head well into the night and returned back here Tuesday. I was a little jaded for the next few hours after the journey and fast food diet but it was worth it.

Busy week of building various garden construction type items, one after another, BBQ, trampoline, swinging seat and then picnic table (yet to be delivered). The West Lothian sun has shone on us from time to time also and has been appreciated. Fruit trees and flowering cherry trees are budding as we race towards May and that strangest of annual phenomenon, the Scottish summer. Optimistically we plan and build in preparation for summer days we hope will dawn in pastel shades of bright and positive whispy light and waft us gently back to some forgotten time where life was more straightforward, things were affordable and we were in control; generally this is set sometime in the seventies if you’re my age. You never know, like a Lottery win, when a decent summer will come along, 2006 perhaps?

The cat stayed out all night to explore the still woods and dark pools of hedges and vegetation that surround the house. His adventures go undocumented and unknown to us and are because of that slightly intriguing. I just hope he didn’t have a go at the staggering (literally) rabbit population that hobble around the garden. There was I’m glad to say no outside evidence of death, destruction or any other animal mayhem that I could find. When Ali let him back in at about six this morning he immediately fell asleep and appeared to remain so all day. Cats seem to have life sussed and it’s certainly not fair to describe them as “furry snakes with legs”, they are something altogether more special.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Hey Mr Trampoline Man

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Building a better trampoline.

It’s not every Saturday that you have to stay in and wait for the delivery of a trampoline, in fact it has never happened to me before until today. We got the usual phone call from the delivery driver asking for directions, this has become a regular and expected occurrence and they are generally in a housing estate in South Queensferry when they call and are disappointed to find that we are at least five miles away and completely in the sticks. So much for sat nav and postcode navigation (our post code covers about twenty square miles).

Ali had ordered the trampoline on line a few weeks ago and not being a trampoline expert was surprised at the relative weight and size of the boxes we now had, they were big and heavy. After cutting the banding around the boxes I picked out the instructions. These mainly consisted of warnings about using trampolines when taking drugs, being pregnant or drunk and using it near fences or swimming pools. There also was advice on jumps and posture and also how not to break your neck (or any innocent bystander’s neck). The Simpson’s trampoline episode was at this point flashing back vividly to me. I finally got to the assembly instructions and picked out the key phrase “Easy assembly by two adults in one hour, wear gloves to avoid hand injury”. I knew then I was in for a fun afternoon. Ali was grinning broadly obviously happy to see that the “small” trampoline had turned out to be something that would have been at home in the ring of Billy Smart’s Circus.

I addition a large safety net had arrived, this was in a box bigger than the trampoline, clearly more ex-circus equipment now destined for the garden. Next step was to lay a number of pieces of scaffolding on the grass and then piece them together, this I did with surprising ease and soon had the whole frame structure built. At this point my oldest son Jonny arrived with his wee lad Elijah, a fine opportunity for them to witness the old man struggling with yet another self assembly project, however on this occasion there was to be no ritual humiliation for me. Ali and I were in good form and soon had the base and jump mat and springs all ready to go, and it worked. We all bounced around for a while and then retired for a late lunch which had a very high cheese content. We have fridge full of leftover cheese(s) as a result of a party last week, so every meal now has a yellow / orange tinge to it, whatever it is, (Cheese curry anyone?).

We sat around the table discussing “Lost”, architecture, doctor’s salaries and football while the toddler explored the kitchen opening every drawer and inspecting the contents carefully. Then it was back to building the safety net. This vast structure stands about ten feet tall and surrounds the trampoline, effectively preventing you from falling from a great height as you bounce. This stage of assembly was much more muddled than the previous one as the wind had picked up, the net part was blowing all over the place and I had mistakenly started fixing it at the wrong place. Finally we got it right and bounced some more in this much safer, netted and almost tented environment. I realised that on my highest bounce I could see right over the gamekeeper’s house, out towards the river and Fife. I may not need to chop down any of the bushes and trees that obscure our summer view now; all I need to do is bounce. It was about then the rain began and I returned to the kitchen to check the football results and try to concoct something original but with a high cheese content for tea.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Lucky Cats

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Another Tuesday

Comes around. Party leftovers form the basis of tea for Ali and I, the kids enjoy (and they do!) my usual pasta concoction, they also eat all the strawberries. The party leftovers leave me feeling a little queasy but I ignore the warning signs. I also eat a little too much Easter egg. The postman brings a cd with ten new mastered tracks of ours from Martin in Germany. A kind of sweaty and uncertain anticipation has arisen in me before its arrival and more so now it is hear. Will it sound like it sounds inside my head, will it be ok, and can I actually be objective enough? A scramble to convert the MP3s and Wavs to something listenable on our stereo. This is not helped by the late hour, episodes 7 –15 of “Lost series 2” arriving on DVD and various domestic issues bumping into one another. The songs however are all there:

I miss that boy – this is good and as I remember it.
Rainbow – good with a nice injected synthesised flute part.
Not pretty – had to listen a few times but I’m getting there.
Old enough – needs more guitar parts and I need some ideas.
Whispers – Jury out.
Tragedy queen – more MOR than I really expected but Siggi’s keyboard foundation is a welcome bonus.
White and red – see “old enough”.
Nobody Jones – probably just right.
Hunter – again quite different from what I thought we were playing but I think it will grow on me.
God bless the witch – needs some work but has a lot going for it.

The tracks all sound very bright and loud, something I didn’t quite expect. Now I need to develop and work on a few little fillers just to bridge some of these tracks and we need to cement set the whole thing into some kind of decent landscape. Looking at a 37 minute cd at the moment. Thank you Martin for another fine piece of work and a pretty quick turnaround.

Prepared and despatched two demo cds for the good people running the Knockengorroch Festival to consider, dates are in September and there are spaces in the programme somewhere. At the moment we are planning to bring along Mobil (Martin’s band from Germany), possibly sharing a stage and generally set to have a good time. One demo is a 3 track Mobil blues type taster; the other is impossible songs and features two of the above list and an older song. Just trying to mix old, new and song styles so we get a fair hearing, we are hoping for the best.

The to-do list in my head is not getting any shorter, it is not getting edited or refined and a log jam of things, ideas and general pulp is building up in there. I think I need to go outside for a while and water the plants.
A new arrival in the garden. “Woody” a brilliant looking woodpecker. Ali sent me an excited text about this itinerant wood butcher on Saturday when I was up in Macduff; I’ve now seen him (or her) three times, always acting unlike a woodpecker by dangling on the feeding “fatballs” pecking for all he’s worth. On a sad note I also saw a blind rabbit staggering around, not a good sign for the general health of the local rabbits who we still like and would encourage even if they eat our fresh new plants.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Thursday as usual

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Woke up groggy with a few mild cold symptoms. They did however move on remarkably quickly though current levels of vim & vigour not running high. Work was nothing special, left the office at 0930 in a rainstorm in order to pick up the children. Next some Easter egg dropping and some supermarket shopping with the addition of my older daughter. Apples, strawberries, cooked ham, flowers and Easter bits and pieces, she bought a shed load more. All the shopping was done remarkably quickly but I feel I don’t really ever pay attention to detail, there is so much stuff that I just don’t like or have no interest in. Traffic queues are mad on the way home but thankfully all going in the other direction – high winds on the bridge. Arrived home to find that the house painter has managed to lock us out by using some other lock on our back door, one I never use, the cat joins us in the car as we await rescue. The estate office bale us out, the painter returns, paints a little and I make lunch. Ali texts me showing some concern about the foot (feet) picture on yesterday’s blog, I explain and wonder what she has been thinking, then I think I am thinking what she has been thinking, then I forget all about it. After lunch I dig a hole and plant a large shrub that Ali bought on Sunday. It has been blowing over in it’s pot everyday and was beginning to look distressed; now it is rooted in. For most of the afternoon we watch pop videos and I read the List. Red Mustang is nice, good to have. The Nintendo is taking a hammering on Tony Hawks; this is possibly due to the previous three days of snowboarding that the kids have enjoyed. Burgers for tea and rather fine oven chips and two glasses of red wine. The cat meanders in and out enjoying the open house. Have a few daydreams about going to France or running some kind of vague business that does nothing much, isn’t to taxing but still makes money. TV moments: Chilli Peppers new video is fun. Various cartoons, one with a really funny cat in it. The Simpson’s, lots of nice little adult gags in tonight’s episode. My name is Earl. Leonardo Da Vinci. The Last Supper: The Apostle John is not John, that is definitely a woman, what is everybody thinking? I light a log fire, first time, these logs are ok, superior to the previous batch, thank you nearby farm shop. Why on earth should there be a difference? I remember that this morning I was supposed to give Ali a PA lead from the gig case for tonight’s OOTB last ever Waverley night which will have just started, oops. Gave in and ate a Twix. Put a new set of strings on my resonator guitar, usual teething and tuning problems follow, funny how they are never right (new strings that is) on the day you put them on. Back to thinking about different song mixes, I really need to get down to some work on this, I also need to pick out a couple of tracks for demos one we get some of our newer material back from Martin. AC/DC, Iggy Pop, Run DMC and Will Smith. Pick two little black bugs from the cat's ear as he lounges around on the couch, he promptly gets up and goes back outside, no doubt to collect a few more, such is the cycle or circle of life. Easter egg pyramid, broken headphones on the MP3 player, kids voice activated money safes are opening easily these days, not much money in them. Tomorrow’s breakfast.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Wednesday as usual


In no particular order. The day when the painter didn’t come, for the third time. I dug a hole one-foot square in the garden for the birthday present apple tree (Granny Smiths or Cox?). A familiar Simpsons episode was aired. The queues on the Forth Road Bridge were long in both directions but I sneaked up on the last ramp, stayed on the outside lane and sailed into the Tesco car park. I ate four small chicken drumsticks at lunchtime. I brought together some strands of our BCP and mean to do more work on it next week. I wrote a long report about something and realised that I tend to defend people’s actions even if I dislike them myself. I find it too easy to see the others’ point of view. I skimmed two newspapers. My mother told me that Marks and Spencers were in deep trouble and then I showed her that in fact they’d had their best year in the last three. I felt guilty but right to do it. I let the cat out. I drank two glasses of red wine. I browsed on some employment agency websites in an absentminded kind of way. I tried to figure out a dumb song arrangement for next weeks OOTB (say hello). I heard an old Monkees track on the radio. I bought six white tulips. When driving into work I picked the fastest toll line but switched over from a Spencer Davies track to the news on Radio Scotland. I thought about going out at lunchtime but didn’t bother. I looked back into an old 2002 diary to check some dates and felt odd doing it. If honey is an analgesic how come bees don’t act stoned all the time, or do they. Are bees the hippies of the insect world? I hurried putting the shopping away as it’s something I don’t like doing. Two suits of mine need to go to the cleaners soon. I did the Keith Football Club predictor by email as usual, the jackpot is up, if I win it I’m sharing it with my son. I saw a baby rabbit by the fence and the old tenant of this house in her Citroen 2CV. Tomorrow I have to go into work for 45 minutes. Easter egg selections are dull. I wrote down the email address of the fete de la musique event in June. I ate heated up shrimp stir fry for tea. The sun shone for what some would describe as sunny periods. Usual dial up problems, missing broadband but not Wanadoo.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sponge Cars

Ali in a non-sponge Chevrolet Whale c/w friendly Trio.

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Sponge cars

Why don’t they make cars out of sponge rubber? Why not keep all the interior, engine and chassis bits but coat the exterior in thick sponge? What an idea. Crashes could be fun – of a kind; pedestrians would be relatively safe, small animals too and parking lot bumps and scrapes would hardly matter and it would wash itself (?). Who has ever been killed by a sponge travelling at 70 miles per hour? Perhaps I am missing some vital thing here in terms of the laws of physics and mechanics (I have some qualifications) but it would hardly be a backward step. The foam could still be sculpted to produce all the pleasing lines and features that the pubic think they want (the car companies decide these things anyway – not us) and let’s face it anything would be better than some of the dumb SUV and saloon designs that litter and pollute the driveways and streets of the nation.

DIY Dentistry

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Do it yourself dentistry.

Over the past few days I’ve struggled with a stubborn crown that has refused, despite all sorts of persuasion to remain in its rightful place, namely in my mouth (upper level). Monday was the last straw as it worked itself loose and fully clear of its gummy metal root while I was enjoying the sinful pleasure of a simple Scottish meat pie. Since we returned from Germany last week (where the hard but tasty bread rolls inflicted untold damage) I have been valiantly sticking the errant crown back in place using the traditional method of super glue and cotton buds. This makeshift and quite pleasing solution does at times result in having a cotton bud stuck to your teeth but still works, for a while. I’d already lost it to a cheese and salami roll that Ali had made on Sunday and also to a vigorous tooth brushing session (which I thought it would appreciate). Anyway I gave up yesterday, went commando and so spent most of my time not smiling, not talking and not showing any significant sign of facial expression. The strain began to tell and I eventually cracked and reached for the phone and called a proper dentist. Today a ten-minute visit to the same dentist solved the problem, for the time being anyway. I have a feeling that, after six years or so my body is rejecting the crown and in a few months time its fate will be sealed and it will be replaced by a bright, shining handsome new bridge, once I can get the funds together.

Crazy Golf

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Crazy Golf

I’m not a big golf fan but I was glad to hear that the British Army have built a crazy golf course in Iraq. What an idea! Peace and diplomacy achieved through the use of the common language and bond of playing crazy golf together. The oh so playable magic or astro turf, tunnels, slopes, twists and stupid themes coupled with a small white ball. If only Columbus or Cortez or William Wallace had possessed the foresight to bring the gift of crazy golf to the countries they sought to conquer or defend. No cheap beads and trinkets for the indigenous people, no insulting or harmful religions, no foreign germs and diseases, no political heavy-handedness, no exploitation or capitalistic greed. Just the honest putt and poke of a simple game of crazy golf. If we are to learn anything...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Check me out!


I have a space outside

That I can be in

Eat chocolate, drink wine, smoke cigars,

Write down my ideas,

A bamboo courtyard half a world away.

Trees in the mist stand silent across the fields

Trees in the mist.

Rhubarb is growing

Painted by words

As I feel more than ever intoxicated by the night.

I have returned to change myself

Apply this moisturiser to my aging skin

And feel no guilt

You made it so when you can back into my life.

Father figure

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You are looking for a father figure
Maybe he could help you figure it out
You’ve been looking to forgive him
For as long as you’ve sat under this cloud

Still a little girl
Still a little boy
Still a little too difficult
To pull yourself through the night

All by yourself

Summer of 70

What exactly was Jon Anderson on when he wrote those lyrics?
Brown ale and acid?
Bubblegum and new religion?
Birds fly by, sheep stand and visions of chaos pass by
Explained in a primary school pen ride.
I once tried hard to understand
To make some sense of it all,
Summer of 70,
This fantastic trip, ritually and regularly mocked
And derided for the more sophisticated wordplay
he just couldn't manage..
Now in the days of the Artic Monkeys, Coldplay and KT.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Music for scarecrows

"impossible songs" busy in a Swiss field.

Switzerland: Ali and I are travelling in our normal web booked, cheap flight hire car style up from Geneva on the warmest March day I've experienced in a long time. Our car is a large black Chevrolet whale, the result of a free upgrade thanks to an Alamo booking mix up. After a few minutes lost in Geneva and a close call with a local taxi we locate the required motorway and set out in a north easterly direction. This is fun already. The countryside is green and pretty, the snowy Alps to the south and lots of artistic and provocative graffiti and solar panels by the edge of the road. Even on a Sunday the roads around here are congested and by the time we eventually get to Zurich it is getting dark and we are getting tired. The radio on the car won’t work either; this is due to a missing code that despite searching in every one of the whale’s nooks and crannies cannot be found, we can entertain ourselves however. From Zurich it’s a muddle of roads to the town of Constance and the ferry, from where the next stage of the journey begins. We get there about eight, cross the border and mount the on ramp as the whale lumbers into the (very) empty car ferry deck. We are moving before we realise, quietly carried across the water in the still of the night and the warm darkness, the lights of Germany, Austria and Switzerland shining out across the lake – another pretty picture and well worth the fare of eleven Euros.

Germany: Forty five minutes later we are at home with our friends Martin and Heike sitting at their dining room table, drinking beer and eating cheese, wurst, mustard and salami and laughing about my interpretation of distances on maps. Travelling is great but finally getting there is much better. The next day the rain begins, as does the recording process. The basement of Martin and Heike’s large house contains a recording studio and a collection of band equipment and musical instruments, mainly bass guitars. Recording for us means laying down basic tracks of guitar and vocals, adding a drum pattern and then redoing each track until the original reference points are no longer required. Then the secondary vocal, guitar, synth, bass and keyboard tracks are added into the mix. Ali and Martin make extensive use of a flip chart throughout the week, I avoid all contact with it trusting in their notes, effects numbers, timings and numerous comments on each track. Ali photographs the chart on a regular basis “just in case” (?). Songs are also deconstructed, lyrics rethought, breaks revisited and ideas reborn at the same time. A fair amount of food and alcohol helps the time go by all too quickly but after a review of the day’s progress we sleep soundly while the rain batters the window. Each working day lasts about fourteen hours and by the end of the week we think we have ten songs ready for remix, and the final addition of some worked out drum formats. Siggy Richter has already added three keyboard parts by late Wednesday night and we hope that “Foxy”, another member of Martin’s band “Mobil”, will add some kind of harmonica track to our song “rainbow” on Friday night, but we will be gone by then.

Switzerland: Thursday morning we load the whale (4 bags, sweets, beer and 1 guitar) and start the journey to Interlaken, the rain restarts at the same time. As a diversion on the way we take photographs of borders and Ali devises an interesting time-lapse technique for photography when inside road tunnels. We encounter many tunnels (some as long as 5k on the way). The photographs are random and quite spectacular mixes of lights, running colours and the blurs of speeding traffic entering and leaving tunnel mouths. What can we do with them? The journey through the Alps takes place in a mixture of driving rain, bright sun and snow. We break for coffee in a high Alpine pass and looking out of the window, through the trees see a train pass the café, travelling up a slope into the snowy wastes at an angle of about 55 degrees. This is not something you’d see in the UK.

At about three thirty and still in pouring rain we arrive at Interlaken. We find the hotel easily but spend about half an hour trying to locate a parking space. Eventually I give up and park right outside the door in a space that says “Hotel Bus”. Wandering aimlessly around the town in the rainy-grey afternoon we buy more chocolate and marvel at the numerous mountain and skiing excursions on offer, the “top of Europe” looks fantastic but we have no time to explore. In the evening we both enjoy a celebratory “recording over” meal in a local restaurant, five courses of real Swiss food with wine and beer. I’m happy.

Next morning’s breakfast is a fine blend of European and (because of the numerous Japanese guests in the hotel) Eastern cuisine. The usual fruits, rolls and cold meats are there but so is Mizu soup, rice and multi coloured eggs. Ali braves the soup while I stay true to tradition with coffee, eggs and bacon. The journey back to Geneva for the afternoon flight to Edinburgh is sunny, pleasant and uneventful and we catch a few more tunnels on camera as we speed along. We spend a few Swiss Francs in the airport mall and then retire to a cramped departure lounge for a half hour wait. Already I’m thinking about catching up with the family news, the new Harry Potter DVD, tomorrow’s breakfast and visiting the pig and baby highland cow at our local farm shop when we restock on firewood. Then Monday will come as it always does.