Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Larger than original

The contrast setting is the greatest tool, it throws the shadows into the forefront, pulls the black into the limelight, squeezes the grey into a great dark void, traps light and sucks the very life from it, sharpens lines and boundaries, redefines edges and lines, cloaks and masks and pulls what was once of no significance onto centre stage, kicking and screaming. There.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Mechanics of the orchestra

Today I spent an enjoyable and stimulating afternoon at Edinburgh's Usher Hall listening to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The hall was packed and the music was superb. Having not been to a classical concert in a while I was fascinated  by the obvious hierarchy that exists in the orchestra, how they share out applause (and there's a lot of it to share), how they respect the authority of the conductor, the lead violin and any guest soloist. It's all very civilised and disciplined and slightly subservient but in a good way. How else could it work? And it is all rather labour intensive, four people in the rhythm section making tiny contributions once in a while, not quite the work rate of a rock drummer, no sweat at all. Black is the dress code with a little added chatter and a lot of tweaking of instruments. There are also a great many musical notes written down on paper that the players can cleverly read and thumb through whilst holding and even playing a musical instrument, all while sitting on uncomfortable chairs, clever stuff. Here's a rundown of the gig.

Edmund Finnis The Air, Turning (c.10’) (BBC Commission)
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 (c.34’)
Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade (c.43’)
Yevgeny Sudbin  replaced by Vadym Kholodenko piano
Ilan Volkov conductor. That's about it.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Couch Surfing

Anything good on the telly tonight?

Last night we watched the final episode of Taboo on proper TV, almost in real time apart from a 14 minute live pause while the tea was brewing or was it that the internet was playing up? Either or neither. It ended in a mess of adult themes, 19th Century explosions and unanswered questions I haven't even asked yet. A second series beckons assuming sales are good internationally. For us that was Saturday night TV (apart from an exception solo couch surf as Hibs and DAFC pelted each other on BBC Alba along with a Muppet inspired commentary in some guttural language).

There was a time when you sat down in front, or slightly to one side if you were an adult and watched TV all evening choosing carefully between the two available channels. The snobbish and imperially posh BBC or the more glitzy but clearly less artistic ITV. ITV was of course peppered with adverts which still were a new and slightly unusual thing, a punctuation mark that allowed kettles to boil, toilet breaks or shifting between couch positions. Crowd gathering TV watching was particularly prevalent on the big weekend nights when any amount of cheeky, chirpy black and white stars would gather in studios or theatres and lay down all their best comic and musical chops along with over enthusiastic and sprightly dancers. Then there might be some big film with Robert Mitchum or Lee Marvin, sparkling and/or turgid situation comedy, grim and muddy sporting events and of course the news and weather.

Oh! how we laughed and clapped our pink palms together as the state and private enterprise fought over the opportunity to entertain us in the beastly masses. The whole thing died with a kind of dwarf star effect at about 2330 when a minister or priest seated in an armchair performed the last rights and declared the day over as if he'd been in our living room supping tea for the entire evening. Then a white dot took his place and a low hum was emitted from the hot and glowing valves in the TV chassis until you stood up, walked over and switched the monster off. Bed time now with only the radio (the Light Programme) to look forward to in the morning, unless you liked watching the test card and horse racing.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


"A small matter of time" or why guitars can be expensive but maybe not too expensive 'cos your precious time is considered cheap or perhaps not even considered at all . 

So in a typical 360 degree turnaround brought about by a fallow inspirational period I've returned to doing a pyrograph version of the famous painted version of the JP Telecaster Dragon. That's all, it'll take me weeks of draughting and fiddling I know, then I'll finish it. Then I'll try to sell it on Etsy but nobody will bite. Then I'll look at it again and change something or re-fiddle or realise I've missed a keen detail or some simple nut/bridge/pickup modification that'll make it so much better once fixed. I'll withdraw it from Etsy and substitute it with another totally different Partscaster that stubbornly won't sell. 

A few weeks pass. I'm looking at it and I notice another mistake, I'll fix that something that was misaligned, the one I didn't pick up on the first pass. Then I'll try to sell it on Etsy again but nobody will bite but there will be a few likes. By then I'll get to like playing it a bit more and will decide that no, I'm not going to sell this one, it's a keeper. Then I'll decide to sell it on eBay just to see whatever level of interest there is, aka Market Testing. That'll take weeks and remain unresolved, a few watchers, some chancers hoping to get the guitar and resell the parts, some insulting offers but no proper takers. I'll try that old stalwart Gumtree next, nope, just a snotty inquiry from a fellow in Stirling and a torrent of abuse from a kind chap in Lochgelly. Time-wasters of course, Dr Who has not yet defeated them. Perhaps I'll explore other vendor sites or commercial directions, ho hum.

So I'll kind of forget it for a while, procrastinate and get on with my life, might take a holiday or two. Then after a few years have passed (other guitars will be sold in the mean time because I remain a committed optimist) I'll die some kind of mysterious but predictable death and the Dragon will be passed on to someone in my family who will decide that though they like it there are other guitars in the collection and perhaps it would be better just to put it on eBay and ...

In other related news this half naked bad boy will be up for sale soon.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Old School

So another short brief period of reflection and introspection is over thanks to an unplanned drive by the green fields of my old primary school. Park Road School Rosyth no less. I attended this cheerless place from around 1960 until 1966. It was all Beatles versus Stones arguments and Dunfermline Athletic playing to win in their heyday. I wish I'd known about the Yardbirds and John Mayall just to up the ante a bit. But my school memories have worn pretty thin to be honest and apart from a few dramatic moments (being hit in the face by a football, various corporal punishment incidents, visits from the frightening Codona kids and somebody falling through the ice) it's all faded into some dim, monochrome version of the past I can hardly recognize or recall. There are faces and names but the edges now blur way too much. 

Walking past the building and the altered and no doubt safer surrounding area I struggled to find a bearing or a truly happy memory. It was just some once visited place, cold as the freezing milk crates and heartless as the rule of the grim and very proper teachers. No class reunions, no school photographs, no awards or trophies won; just a study in mediocrity, a breeding ground for apprentices and labourers for the nearby Naval Base as we were sorted out for life and cut in two by the "Qualie". That was the 11 Plus, the life changing Presbyterian style exam that set you on the road to either academic success or more likely academic oblivion ending of course as manpower fodder for the local Naval Base/Dockyard, when we had a credible navy. Like some form of ethnic cleansing it removed swathes of childhood commonality and friendships, it created division and complications and no adult ever really explained what was going on. We just sucked it up, compliant and bewildered without a word of protest and got the bus to the new High School.

I came out of as a strange hybrid, passing the Qualie and then after a number of years in my self imposed wilderness ending up in the Dockyard meeting up again with a few of my old classmates. Most wondered why I was back, where had it all gone wrong, why wasn't I a doctor, a minister or a double glazing salesman in a Cortina? I still don't know, I learned to read, write and count there but little else, nobody taught vision, ambition or self belief. Now it's still churning out the workforce, young mums and junkies of the future, all sports clothes, bad hair and ruby nail polish. I just hope they can find something in their short, sunny spell of Scottish education that will capture their enthusiasm and fire up their ambitions enough to make this world and their's a bit better.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Seven new planets

But there are only six in this graphic along with a sun. Well the planets aren't new, just new to us, pretty much like most things in the universe. We've been looking upwards and outwards for a while but are only scratching the surface. I like the artist's impressions or CGI models they show, they all look warm and welcoming, like you could just land on one and find a green, watery, undisturbed Eden with new and strange life forms that we could meet and one day EXPLOIT! Thats the problem, if any kind of industrial space programme ever got underway we know what the motivation and outcome would be, colonisation, asset stripping and takeover.  It's not likely that a bunch of folk song singing hippies will be first there spreading peace and love and growing corn and hemp. That 40 light year journey and the technology to achieve it will need a hefty pay back. Aliens beware, seven new planets but no new ideas.

No sooner had I written this when I read: 

Trappist-1 immigration website crashes due to heavy demand

Find out the real truth about these universal and earth shattering events here...

Or there's ...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Nothing beats the clean, fresh taste and non-headache inducing effect of a decaffeinated beverage. Hot, cold or indifferent, decaf is the new caf. Now I'm regularly sleeping for hours, dreaming in a non-threatening way and the emails from my Fitbit are all very positive and motivating. There never has been a better time to remain alive and coasting along habitually consuming stuff.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dan Armstrong turns...

...slowly in his grave perhaps, my attempt at see-through guitar making isn't quite as stylish as his plexiglass models from the seventies but it's kind of original in look if not execution. Shabby-chic meets drastic plastic sort off. There's still a bit of work to do, I'm content at the moment to move slowly like some snail with a clockwork motor requiring a wind up. Yesterday's medical appointment was useful and progressive, I just need to retrain parts of me to behave as nature intended so I'm practicing grimacing, time keeping and being as active as a fellow can be by hanging pictures, washing cars and knocking out the occasional guitar or fiddling with the many experiments and stragglers sitting on or close to the for sale rack. The road to Wellville beckons.

Monday, February 20, 2017


I know it's already evening and I've already travelled through most of today and used that part up, however another side of me is just waking up, peacefully as it happens.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tiptoe through the snowdrops

Not everything is about doom, gloom, constant criticism and the death of civilisation, even for us. Sometimes you can exceed your Fitbit's expectations and score well, take a puppy for a long walk, see snowdrops, check out the countryside. Take some time and switch off, slowly stir fry the bowl of life, relax, withdraw, stop and stare and savour the cheesecake.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Smarter travel

The long and winding road to Aberdeen is made a bit easier when you don't have to drive it. It's even easier when it only costs you 50p in a big, comfy bus. That's part of the privileged world of the over 60 folks, those dull grey, shuffling, cheery but disgusted UKIP and Tory voters who get lots of free shit and medicine thanks to the SNP or whatever colour of talking heads runs the Scottish thingy.  Anyway as I'm part of that unfair little pensioner's world now I take my chances like the rest and hoover it up. I can stand in a line, I can flash my bus pass and I can travel for buttons. 

To be honest I don't really get it, there must be more worthwhile things that need the funding or maybe it could be balanced out across a wider range of old farts services by a series of small targeted charges. Subsidised cocaine, chocolate and coffee shops, discounted firewood and stocking up libraries, army surplus stores and community vegetable gardens. But why be nice anyway to fickle voters who might turn on you at any moment? People are not reliable. Then again you could just humanely cull all the borderline oldies like me at some convenient trigger point by taking their drugs away and replacing them with... that moment may not be so far in the future.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Almost everything that's wrong...

...with fancy food in a single picture. This is rhubarb and custard, plain fare if ever there was such a thing. No doubt it tastes nice but it's so pretentious, so sparse, overpriced and so cold looking that it almost makes me angry. The only plus points here are that at least it's been served up on a reasonably ordinary, functional kind of dish and that as a composition it kind of works...but it's ultimate fate is to be eaten by somebody who is hopefully, actually hungry. As a kind of low brow but praiseworthy alternative here's what you get when you order that Scottish classic scrambled egg on toast in a reputable Dundee greasy spoon cafe.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

With us always

Walking around in a cemetery, reading the information on the grave stones. Dates and lists, Bible verses and little rhymes, occupations listed with family details, wise words, wish words and heartfelt tributes. I pause at each marker, each slab of granite or white stone cross. Moss and weather, stains from birds and sunlight masking once clear detail and slowly crumbling away the carved inscriptions, the angels, the open books, the skulls, the wreaths and the scroll work. Some of them were great, some maybe even good, most just ordinary people with their lives now summed up with a few chisel marks and pots where flowers should be placed. Some were too poor for any memorial other than a grassy bank, a space under a tree, an unmarked resting place. And I look at the names, I read the names, carefully I speak them out loud. Nobody has said that name out loud and into the living air, maybe not for a hundred years or more, maybe never properly, certainly never with my voice, up until now. The living, they are (we are) all here for a while. The dead are with us always. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Zen and the art of motorcycle photography

Making no progress in the cosmos: Another post in another series, set in another universe that only ever makes a limited amount of sense to anyone. It's all about adventures and design and the art of taking good photographs of motorcycle engines when in a clean and sentient state. Then you turn therm into prospective album covers using the first font you come across that looks better than Arial but isn't. You can also do this with trees but then it kind of looks like it should read "making our way through the woods" etc. ...

...switching from colour to black and white, making a mess in the cosmos.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Honda v Norton

OK, so it's a motorcycle engine beauty contest with only two contenders. Which one wins? The Honda, sorry Norton.

Monday, February 13, 2017

On Golden Pond

I spent a cold, blustery afternoon watch the fishing activities out on the old piers of Limekilns. The wind was of the typical Scottish winter type that takes the face and ears off you. The fish, considering the conditions decided that it was best to remain in their own relatively safe environment and refused to play with us. I fully understand their position and can't blame them. It was all some kind of seasonal fun though, men and boys very much pitted against the elements. The elements won but we had the better roast dinner afterwards.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The cold, hard world of stats

Numbers add up, some add down (that's subtraction), some get you no traction. Lack of numbers may well force you into taking action. They are compelling, mechanised squiggles. Measures of things that may not merit measuring. Whatever the thinking, someone is out there watching, clicking and twitching in the black darkness of the unknown, but your self generated patterns give away your position.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Biology at an ordinary standard

When I saw this the other day it reminded me of my awful, doomed attempt to achieve an O Grade in Biology back in 1971, and I laughed. Four years of not bothering to pay any attention suddenly came home to roost and to my surprise I realized that were people in my class who could actually give bones and flesh and bloody organs proper technical names when not cutting up frogs. I presume these people went on to become doctors, captains of industry or senior economists in the European Parliament. I humbly but spectacularly failed and not a word was ever spoken by way of correction or retribution. This was a time in Scottish education where, if you were rubbish you were either ignored or belted. Luckily I was ignored on this occasion and so allowed myself the slow and excruciating pleasure of slipping into academic obscurity for about fifteen years or so. I wasn't so much thick as ill informed, I had failed to grasp what education was about and where it might lead. Having caught up a little via college, movies and pub quizzes I presume it's all for the best but I'm still not sure about that either.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Small print

The small print on this guitar bridge says it's Fender, even before it gets cleaned up and set back into a solid body. There's no way of knowing if it's Mexican, Chinese or Korean. I suspect it's not American as I know the guitar that it was sprung from but with globalisation and volatile markets you can never tell. Someday soon it'll sit at the heart of the oddly named (and probably odd looking) Bayou Ghost, a badly titled and lettered piece of road-worn mystery, mistakes and a small amount of money. That golden triangle of MMM returns once again to haunt and to entertain. Please form an orderly queue and check out my Etsy shop. Bayou Ghost has yet to make an appearance there however, the paint's still wet.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The power of soup

An unfortunate behavioural trend currently taking place here and there; thinking and reading less ultimately leading to doing stupid things.

Also required are great, steaming pots of home made soup, created with traditional and seasonal vegetables, nothing from south of North Berwick or north of South Shields or west of East Anglia. That's the earthy and potent stuff to provide peace of mind and backbone for the back and sustenance for the soul. Let's make Britain's unseemly bits great at cooking and eating soup again, never mind all the other stuff. Then, once we've done that, we can go our own separate and tragically conflicted ways.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Early sky, no visible owls

First two pics; skies from round about here, mostly over my head or over my shoulder, interesting streaks. Meanwhile, staring right back down some seasonally adjusted snowdrops sneak through the cold earth and shake there heads at what's around. Mostly no snow, just plain dirt.

Last night, somewhere out in the woods an owl called out "too-wit too-woo-woooo!" twice, as if participating in some children's story book. Not sure I've ever heard that before other than in a Disney film or some piece of fantasy but it does happen it seems. Perhaps it's some kind of omen or an indicator of some great natural disaster about to take place, or it's just owls having a wee chat together.

Monday, February 06, 2017


Random gunge picked up on the interweb: Haven't actually seen it in use yet and maybe never will but I do like this circular keyboard used by a Lady GaGa band member at the Superbowl. Turns out it's called Piano Arc, read more here or even here and of course it 's been around for a while but never quite crept onto my radar. I wonder what Keith Emerson, Jon Lord or the (still alive and kicking) Rick Wakeman might have made of this.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Where the magic happens

I've spent a couple of days fault finding and eventually completely rebuilding this Strat set up. Some hair may have been pulled out in the process. Finally it's working, no hissing or cracking and now sounding good installed into it's host guitar body. I've also added a treble bleed resistor on the volume pot which, unless I'm mistaken makes a bit of a difference, even somehow managing to add (and subtract) elements to the five way selector switch. I'm going with it all anyway, the lofty peak of soldering and fiddling endurance has been reached. Understanding is for the wise and not for the likes of me.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Almost based on actual facts

I can understand why some people might like being in hospital. Despite the negative Daily Mail/BBC type of hype and propaganda banded around about the NHS I find the staff and the service (?) good, that is once you get yourself in there. (Reminder, this is Scotland not everywhere and I've little actual experience of hospital managers). 

Lonely people must like the element of fussing (it actually happens, staff care), human attention, dialogue, gallows humour and camaraderie between patients and staff. I'm just out again, free and antibiotic'd up after a brief encounter with badly behaved bodily fluids. I walked out feeling listened to, respected and a bit better but still on a journey.

This was my final view, an empty bed, ready for the next lost, troubled and worried injured soul to find comfort in and use as a base for endless mobile phone texting and games playing. That's what everybody does, sitting on beds wearing muppet pyjamas, supping juice and waiting on the green coated experts deciding on their fate and then changing their minds. Outside the sun beams down on endless car parks and guerrilla smokers as we, safe and warm behind the glass reflect on what we have - temporarily. Free and functioning at the point of need, mostly, but an easy target for greedy bastards and contract lawyers to tear apart and transform (fucking Tories love that word) into some unfair and unworkable model of profit and inefficiency. 

Once in a while Britain does do some good things, things that don't deserve to be mocked, slagged off or sold to the most soulless bidder from the Middle East or god knows where. The NHS is the shining example, the last one, a cracking and bullied reminder of what those cloth capped heroes and corseted heroines fought for when socialism, welfare and emancipation actually meant something. 

I'm not quite well yet but I'm better, if I had to pay for my treatment so far the garage would be empty and my dreams set down a few notches, but then in 45 years of working I've probably paid my share for a few hospital beds and I know, and we should all realise and ponder; this is where we all end up come the day.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Celtic Conventions

(Warning: Awkward and predictable generalisations ahead) In my usual burst of late winter curiosity I sat down to watch some of Celtic Connections via the iPlayer. I'm trying hard to improve my taste and understanding and to gain greater appreciation for that broad church of Celtic sounds that are bundled together there. Of course the musicians are impressive albeit most guitars are assigned the role of silent strumming whilst the fiddles and squeeze boxes create a crashing wall of sound. Yes they can all play and they all dress and behave like reasonable people, it's very civilised for all of it's rough heritage. Rock music in reverse I suppose and goodish things will always find some natural order and an audience. 

The problem is that after a while what I call the "Donald" effect takes place where after a bit I hear Gaelic lyrics and melodies distorted into lines such as "Donald drove the Moomins out", I can't really explain it and I can't unhear it once it begins. Maybe it's the old White Heather club influence when every other song was some kind of Jacobite lament to various kings and moody, feeble chancers somewhere across the water. Very romantic and plaintive but ultimately depressing, designed to keep you in your place, longing for some conveniently distorted past life. It's nothing to do with made up Scandinavian woodland knitted sock creatures either. It makes no sense. I blame Andy Stewart and the Dixie Ingram dancers and TV that was made up of 425 lines of shades of grey, and of course my parents (these good folks below are neither parents or relatives).

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Headstock Shot

Trust me it looks better in real life. Something about the camera never telling lies (unless the light is bad or the photographer is worse). A design mix of pyrography, ink and acrylic paints finished with a clear varnish. So I had a few fun filled days putting this guitar together, they are stubborn things sometimes and generally it's the antique wiring and lining up parts that cause problems. Never the craftsman.

This isn't before and after, it's two separate projects, the Blackie finally coming together and another body getting a mixture of roasted, sanded and filled. Still a long way to go with this plywood marvel already dubbed as "Ghost Guitar". I hope it can survive.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Before the age of digits

The Dirty Dozen.
The Great Escape.
I love these old movie posters, hand done and generally a lot more exciting and dramatic than the film turned out to be, apart from these two anyway. Read and see more here, the artist is Frank McCarthy.