Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Whitstable (again)

Today I found myself sitting at my computer in the light of lovely noon sunshine, having been awake for all of about 10 minutes. I decided that I should do something with myself today, something that would actually take advantage of the pretty weather and the lovely part of the world I'll soon be taken away from. So I grabbed Matt and Tom and we shambled off to whitstable.

I would have brought my camera and taken many photos but I figured that Tom would, and that the photos he took would be way better than anything I could ever take - I mean seriously, he can make me look halfway attractive, the boy's got a gift - but unfortunately his camera battery died halfway there and so there are no photos of our journey. Believe me though, it was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, beautifully warm and the air was full of strange and wonderful butterflies. As I write I'm generally feeling very well disposed towards everyone and everything as a result of the day's loveliness - although I'll concede that this is probably partly due to the alcohol I consumed at woody's after the walk back and partly due to the fact that I'm listening to Bela Fleck and revelling, just for a moment, in the idea that I might be able to play as well as Vic Wooten one day.

But anyway, I'm really not sure where I'm going with this - ah yes, I went to whitstable today, dozed on the beach listened to the sound of the waves scrunching up the gravel beach -- later Me, Matt and Tom adjourned to Woody's to drink cheap booze and to discuss how parkwood was cooler back when me and my friends lived there.

Although I'm sure everyone thinks that, even the boring buggers who live there now.

heh, I'm knackered and sleepy.


The Fretless

I’ve gone ahead and finished the modifications to my fretless bass, and I have to say that, with the exception of a few minor cosmetic blemishes on the fretboard and a burn on the back of my finger which will probably leave quite a sizable scar, it has been a complete success. Here are the remaining stages of the process.

I last wrote when I had just finished shielding the cavities of the body with aluminium foil. I hadn’t got round to wiring the different sections to ground yet and I’ll admit that I had doubts as to whether or not the foil would be sufficient to shield the cavities from the sheer amount of electrical noise that my room seems to funnel into my instruments.

I managed to eventually find a shop in Canterbury that sold sandpaper (you just have to keep walking down Wincheap high street until you are practically in Ashford – it’s on the left and looks like a proper old fashioned hardware store) and finished sanding the finish off the body of the bass, leaving it a nice matt black rather than a cheap looking shiny thing.

The next day I got some wire and stripped all the shielding off it, cut it to the right length, and ran it through the wiring channels to the pickup cavities. I made sure that I had enough to stretch this wire along the length of the bottom of each cavity, maximising the chances of it making a decent connection to the entirety of the shielding foil around the pickups, and taped it down with electrical tape (I tried soldering it to the foil in one or two places but as far as I can tell it isn’t possible to make a secure connection to foil with solder, so I made doubly sure with tape – it appears to have worked.)

After this I turned my soldering iron to the other electronics, I ‘m not going to go into a huge amount of detail on the methodology of this part, but I feel I should point out that this – the double volume pot I was using – is very, very small. Like tinysmall. I started to wire up all the pots etc. with as much of the connecting and grounding wires as I could without actually putting them inside the control cavity, and once I’d done that I started to wire up the pickups and grounding wires to the pots and jack. After I’d loosely bolted in the volume and tone pots the hot output wire connecting the volume pot with the tone pot broke – evidently I made a slip when cutting off the shielding that didn’t show itself until I tried to bend it into the cavity. This meant that I had to unsolder and remove the aforementioned incredibly small and intricate double volume pot from the cavity and start that whole process again. I was, however, determined to be professional and so after merely uttering a simple ‘oh bollocks’ I gritted my teeth and set about that task.

I’m guessing that my concentration was impaired by my frustration because when doing a particularly intricate bit of desoldering my hand slipped and I burned the back of my middle finger on my right hand so badly that I screamed like a crazy man and spent a good few minutes holding my hand under the cold tap and loudly swearing at the world in general in the most colourful and unpleasant terms I could think of. As I write, about a week after I did it, I’m looking at the icky patch of scorched skin at the bottom of the hole in my finger where the burned and blistered surface has come off – kids, don’t solder angry; always curse the universe fully whenever you encounter a frustrating setback.

One big problem that I’d been putting off for as long as possible was the fact that I don’t really know what the bridge pickup on my fretless is – I bought the bass from a pawn shop in Plymouth in 2006 and my research on the internet have told me that A. the bass was manufactured sometime between 1985 and 1994 (personal speculation based on various insubstantial details causes me to think that it was probably made in the late 1980s) and B. that the bridge pickup - along with the two on/off switches for the two pickups – was added in by someone else at some stage in the bass’s history. Further investigation poking around with it has told me that the pickup is unusual and probably quite expensive – the adjustable polepieces and split coil humbucking design suggesting that it is most likely a DiMarzio ‘Model J’. Being unable to find any wiring diagrams for a DiMarzio pickup of indeterminate age, however, I had to deduce the significance of the four different coloured wires myself. Through devilish cunning I managed to get it down to a 50/50 split - either the white was hot and the black was ground, or it was the inverse. I decided to go with the most logical option – the first – and wired it all up. The work on the neck not yet being finished I was unable to test the wiring properly (by playing the thing) – only to plug it in and poke the pickups with a knife to confirm that they were all connected up and making some sort of sound. As far as I could tell, it worked – which was a bit of a shock.

After I’d finished the neck refinishing, which took two days because it kept raining and forcing me inside, I reassembled my bass and set it up. Once the strings were on and the bass plugged in I discovered that the pickups were wired out of phase – I wasn’t even remotely surprised, there was a 50/50 chance of this happening and it would be difficult to remedy if it was wrong, therefore, according to Murphy’s law there was only one way things were ever going to go down, I knew this when wiring it up, but I also knew that if I changed my mind and rewired it before I could test it then that would turn out to be the wrong way.

Rewiring the pickup turned out to not be as traumatising a process as I had envisaged and the whole thing was up and running within about 10 minutes of the problem being discovered. When plugged in and with the amp turned up the shielding is so good that I actually have to press the bass's front against the side of my poweramp before the thing makes any noise at all.

I now have a very tasty fretless to match my very tasty fretted, the pickups have a growly bite to them that I've never heard on a passive instrument that cost less than £400 and the newly finished neck is beautifully silkysmooth. On top of that it looks badass with its new matt finish, I tihnk you'll agree. Huzzah.

Now I just have to learn to play it properly.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fretless Neck Refinishing

I play the electric bass, I'm not really a proper musician – I can’t read music, I never had a lesson in anything and I could write the sum total of my musical theory knowledge on the back of a matchbox… in lipstick – I am comfortable with this, however, so, unlike many fretless bass players, I feel no need to try and make it sound like an upright bass. I use rotosound roundwound strings and position my right hand near the bridge. The problem with this set up is that it wears grooves in an unfinished rosewood fretboard faster than you can say ‘Jaco Pastorius’ and this was starting to cause me some problems. I found a guide on the internets which suggested varnishing the fretboard with superglue and figured I’d give it a shot because it wouldn’t cost much to try and if it went wrong I could always just sand it off.

I make no claims about this being a particularly good method, like all things I do it's kinda half arsed and involves as little expertise and equipment as you can possibly manage - I figured I'd put it up here though, because I'm sure there are others, like myself, who aren't hugely interested in doing a professional quality job, just one that looks ok and works. It's bare bones stuff, so if I say to do something or not to do something it isn't because I think it sounds like the right thing - it's probably because I've done the opposite at some stage and didn't like the result.

Materials Needed

- 1 Pot of superglue (I found that about 20g was sufficient, although more might be a good idea) I used only the finest Wilkinson’s £1.50 a pot stuff.

- 1 large packet of disposable gloves (you don’t want to become permanently attached to your bass, and will probably need to change gloves often)

- lots of sandpaper, from about 250-300 grit to the stuff that is essentially rough toilet paper

- a washing-up scouring sponge


You’ll need to do this outside. Remove the nut (try very hard not to damage it) they are normally only lightly glued in – if at all – so it shouldn’t be too hard, just ping it off with a screwdriver or something. Mask off the body of the bass (if the neck is still attached to the bass, I just unbolted the neck because I needed to anyway) to prevent scuffing the finish, that is, if you actually care. And mask off the back of the neck – this is more important, the back of the neck is a surface you are constantly touching and sliding your thumb up and down – if it has imperfections they will get annoying fast.

Sand down the fretboard, preferably with some sort of sanding block to keep things level and smooth out imperfections but if you have very flat hands, or just can’t be arsed to find a suitable blocky type thing, then just use your hands. After it is sanded smooth and clear of any serious imperfections, scrub the bejeasus out of it with a wet scouring sponge a couple of times, drying it in between with a cloth – this is to get all the dust off it before you apply the first coat.

Put on the gloves, then get some sandpaper that you’ve already used and splurge a 50p sized blob of superglue onto the back of it. Spread this evenly over the surface of the fretboard, splurging on more if needed. Now leave to dry – you’ll be doing that a lot so I suggest listening to something to keep you entertained, I found that the radio series of the Mighty Boosh and The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy work especially well for this purpose.

When it is dry add another coat, then wait for that coat to dry. If you don’t think that it looks sufficiently well covered then add a third coat, but that one isn’t essential. If no third coat is desired then wait a long time, longer than seems sensible, to make sure that the glue is completely dry (don’t touch it to check, it’ll leave marks) and sand it down with light sandpaper. The reason for the extra long wait is that if you start sanding it down when not all of the glue is completely dry then the white sanding residue will stick to the still wet parts and you will end up with misty looking discoloured sections of finish. After you’ve sanded it fairly smooth get out the sponge and scrub it down before you add another set of coats.

Repeat this process a few more times, enough to give you, say, at least six layers of glue in total. Then lightly sand it smooth with fine sandpaper and polish it with the scrubbing side of the sponge and some cloth.

Reattach the neck to the body of the bass (if you took it off) and begin the process of setting it up. You might need to raise the height of the nut slightly if it was really close to the surface of the fretboard before; I did this by cutting a small piece of cardboard and placing it underneath the nut to raise it slightly. There are some that would argue that this technique would decrease the sustain of the instrument and, if you actually buy into that crap, then feel free to just buy a new nut made of fossilised angel shit or whatever they are saying gives you the best sound at the moment, and cut it to the right height.

Tune up and check the neck for buzzy spots, if you find one then get the light sandpaper and the sanding block and do some more levelling on the fretboard under the affected string. Once it's all playing smoothly get your groove on and play until your fingers hurt.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Cutty Sark

What? Nooo!

well that sucks, apparently only about half the ship was there because it's been dismantled for repairs and it not completely unrepairable but still, it is far from good, the cutty sark is too much of a landmark to lose. I remember going on it with my grandparents when I was a kid, I still remember the figureheads in the hold and the way that the whole place smelled like my great grandfather's sea chest.

And apparently it was started on purpose, which, I'm sad to say, being from that area myself, surprises me about as much as a dog pissing on a tree; but still, it does wear away a little bit more of my frayed respect for humanity as a whole.

Mind you, it's now been featured on the national news, its lack of funding has been showcased to the world media in the context of a 'terrible tragedy' - this could well mean that they get much more money than they had to renovate it before, probably enough to more than offset the damage done by the fire, if they play their cards right.

I hope so anyway. I like the Cutty Sark, and it'd be nice to see it all shiny and new, rather than slowly corroding like it has been for the duration of my living memory.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Guitar Shielding

I wrote this for my own benefit (hence the rather patronising tone - I don't have a very high opinion of my own intelligence) but I figured I may as well put it up on here, seeing as it might be of interest to someone somewhere, if only as corroboration of the effectiveness of this method as written up by others in more detail than me.

Things Needed:

1 Tube of Contact cement

A large pack of disposable gloves (they get sticky and you have to change them periodically)

Shielding Foil or Kitchen foil (the thick stuff for preference)

1 Roll painters tape (masking tape will do)

1 Sharp knife

1 Pointy Biro


If you are shielding pickup cavities which aren’t covered by a pickguard then use the masking tape to cover the surface of the instrument around the edges of the cavities. If you are shielding a control cavity covered by a metal plate on the front of an instrument (like a stingray or a telecaster) then mask the body around the control plate before you take it off. This is important as it prevents you getting glue and foil stuck anywhere visible.

Unscrew and desolder everything (and I mean everything, even the bridge - leave the neck on if you want though, and the strap buttons - they don’t really have anything to do with this) - you’ll need all the cavities clear of wires and objects that will get in the way – if you aren’t replacing the wiring as well then try, as far as is possible, to keep the pots, jack, and capacitors wired together when you take them out of the body (it’ll save time later) only desolder the bridge ground and pickup wires.

Once everything is out of the cavities lightly sand and then clean them as well as you can, try and make the surfaces as smooth and clean as possible.

Cut strips of foil to whatever width seems appropriate for the cavities you are dealing with, make sure that you have a good number of them ready before you start messing around with the glue otherwise you’ll have to cut them whilst all sticky.

You’ll want to do this next part either outside or somewhere fairly well ventilated - it won’t kill you to do it inside, but it will make you feel kinda woozy by the end of the job.

Put on the gloves (you really can’t do this job without them, I tried - it went horribly wrong and the skin on my fingers went all manky) and wrap your glue spreading finger inside something like a plastic bag or some paper and start spreading the glue evenly over the inside of the cavities, try and avoid getting any in screw holes.

Use the same technique to cover one side of a few of the foil strips. Pause for a minute or two to allow the glue to get its sticky on (the longer you wait, the stickier it gets – better for neatly plonking it on, but if you do it earlier you can slide the foil around to get it into the right place) then, without the bits of bag (or old gloves, or paper, or whatever you chose to use) on your fingers, start sticking in the foil, trying to get as little glue on your fingertips as possible. Ignore screw holes, wiring channels, holes for potentiometers etc - you can poke those holes through with a pen or something later on (if you can find them, try and remember roughly where they were - you can feel for them though if you forget).

This part is very boring and time consuming – just get comfy and sit around sticking the strips into the cavities until the whole cavity is covered with as few gaps as you can possibly manage. Change your gloves whenever the gloves become stickier than the surfaces you are trying to stick the foil to. Listen to some music by all means, but don’t watch TV, you need to be looking intently at what you are doing the whole time. You’ll want to take breaks from this every now and then, as your eyes will get tired focusing intently on the work and your brain will get confused by the fumes.

If you are putting foil into a control cavity with a plastic backing plate then try and get the foil to overlap the edges of the cavity into the bevelled (or countersunk, or chamfered, I have no idea what to call it – I’m not a carpenter) part under where the cover would be, complete the shielding of this cavity by covering the inside of the cover plate with foil so that it touches the parts on the bevelled section.

Once you have finished lining the cavities give yourself a manly handshake in appreciation of a job well done and go off for a while to get some fresh air and make the glue induced hallucinations go away. If you have been shielding cavities not covered by a pickguard or by a metal control plate then come back after about half an hour (after the glue has set fairly well) and cut around the inside edge of the masked part with a very sharp knife (very sharp!) and peel off the tape, taking the excess foil (and, as long as you've cut the edges properly, only the excess foil)

Now part one is done - I would write how to do the next part (wiring all the different sections of shielding foil to ground) but I’ve not actually done that bit yet.


Monday, May 14, 2007

More Lists

In my last post I talked about lists and how they generally reflect a mixture of what people like and what they want people to think they like, this post is more along similar lines. Whilst thinking about the way that people look to someone's favourite things as an indication of what sort of a person they are it occurred to me that if I quickly wrote down the first five things that came into my head in various categories I'd probably end up with an interesting insight into what sort of a person I am. I only managed to write to before I started thinking ahead of myself and trying to chose ones that made me look all sexy and intelligent, but these two lists are both as unaffected as I can manage.

I think it'd probably be reading too much into it to say that they are in order of preference, but it might be the case, I'm not sure.

Favourite Poems

1. The Young Housewife - William Carlos Williams
2. The Snow Man - Wallace Stevens
3. Under Milk Wood - Dylan Thomas (I'm not sure if this really counts as a poem)
4. The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock - T S Eliot
5. Ode to a Nightingale - John Keats

Favourite Short Stories

1. Babylon Revisited - F Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Disc - Jorge Luis Borges
3. Sonny's Blues - James Baldwin
4. The Dead - James Joyce
5. The Other - Jorge Luis Borges

The reason for the slightly unorthodox categories is probably something to do with the fact that I've been reading huge amounts of modernist poetry and short stories this term.

With the poetry it's all pretty strange stuff, number 5 is the meditations of a man contemplating and coming to terms with the inevitability of his imminent death, number 4 is a man contemplating the seeming inevitability of his decline into mediocrity, number 2 is a weird metaphyiscal pondering which I probably only like that much because I'm impressed that I can understand it, and 1 and 3 are wonderfully tactile poems that I love for no reason I can articulate very well. As to what they say about me, well, they tell you that I don't like old poems, Keats' being the only one not written in the 20th Century, I'm sure that signifies something about me, although I have no idea what.

With the short stories it's a bit different; I read a lot of short stories, much more than I read poetry - I read short stories of my own volition all the time. Most of these stories are examples, fairly arbitrarily chosen, of the work of my favourite writers. I wouldn't say that I'm a huge fan of F Scott Fitzgerald's stuff on the whole, but that story is so incredibly well observed and composed that it deserves that spot. The two Borges stories are probably, combined, about 5 pages long and are little gems of mini narrative. 'Sonny's Blues' - along with 'Previous Condition' and 'This morning, this evening, so soon' - is probably my favourite story discovered over the course of my studies this year. And 'The Dead', well, it's Joyce before he dissapeared up his own arse, and few can beat that. The fact that I put two Borges stories on there probably means that I'm anxious to show that I do read texts that aren't required reading for one of my courses.

On the whole I think it makes me look kinda pretentious, which is hardly surprising, because I am, especially when it comes to books.



We for some reason live in a society bounded and defined by lists and tables, sets of statistics which show the prevalence of, or popularity of, this, that, or the other. It's always interesting, I find, to see the results of large scale polls of people's opinions on the value of works of art, people or things - because whilst one person generally will not give a true ranking of their favourite things*, if you take an average opinion of a large group of people you generally end up with a result which is either an accurate repesentation of people's opinions or a fascinating hint as to the shared aspirations and affectations of the polled group.

The thing that started me on this train of thought was some of the new features on facebook - specifically the group statistics. These are a selection of top ten lists based on the books, bands, films, TV Shows and interests which appear most frequently in people's favourite things lists and they are quite interesting to read. I'll reproduce the lists for the university of Kent group here:

Top Music

1. Muse
2. The Killers
3. Snow Patrol
4. Oasis
5. Razorlight
6. The Kooks
7. Coldplay
8. Foo Fighters
9. Radiohead
10. U2

People are generally rather more confident about what they like and dislike when it comes to music than they are with other things - This list doesn't really tell you anything other than show you dazzlingly broad spectrum of student musical tastes, covering the full range of middle class white folk music, from 'hipper than thou' to 'super-ultra-bland'.

Top Movies

1. Pulp Fiction
2. Fight Club
3. Gladiator
4. Shawshank Redemption
5. Snatch
6. Goodfellas
7. Anchorman
8. Dirty Dancing
9. Lord Of The Rings
10. Donnie Darko

does anyone understand donnie darko, really? And why are university students so obsessed with very violent films like 1,2,3,5, and 6? is it because they don't often hurt people in real life so they like to do it vicariously whilst pretending to be a gangster?

Top TV

1. Scrubs
2. Family Guy
3. Friends
4. Lost
5. Desperate Housewives
6. Simpsons
7. Prison Break
8. Hollyoaks
9. Futurama
10. 24

It's kinda depressing that all but one of the shows on here is a high budget american studio effort, and the one english production is a godawful soap opera.

Top Interests

1. Music
2. Reading
3. Travelling
4. Football
5. Drinking
6. Shopping
7. Dancing
8. Art
9. Sleeping
10. Films

I'm pretty sure that no. 7 means 'getting twatted at the venue and twitching about the dancefloor until I'm carried home' and no. 3 means 'I went on a gap year... did I mention that I went on a gap year? I went on a gap year you know.'

Top Books

1. 1984
2. Harry Potter
3. Lord Of The Rings
4. The Da Vinci Code
5. To Kill A Mockingbird*
6. Birdsong*
7. Pride And Prejudice
8. Memoirs Of A Geisha
9. Catcher In The Rye*
10. Lord Of The Flies*

I've only read seven of these, no.s 4, 7 and 8 being the exceptions (and I've never finished 3 - it's too boring.) I think 1984 is probably top because it's well known and shows that you think about like, political things, and stuff. The starred ones are common set texts at either A level or GCSE.

I'd be curious to see what the results are for other groups, other demographics etc, to see how different segments of life, even different universities differ. And what they say about the group in question in relation to other groups.

I was also going to mention the lists I quickly wrote down when I was supposed to be revising, but that seems like too much of a tangent now. I'll write about that at some other point.


* Yes, the footnotes are back - this one was too big to leave in the body text and I couldn't be bothered to rearrange the sentence structure to incorporate it properly, because I'm lazy like that, anyway, the footnote - They will, to some degree, give a selection of their favourite things, but it is one tailored to impress or create an impression on the person they are being asked by - it may not be a conscious thing, but people do it nonetheless. Now that you've read this you'll probably completely lose track of the meaning of the sentence you were reading. sorry.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Richard Littlejohn

Americans will not know who this guy is but suffice to say that he is essentially a british equivalent of Rush limbaugh - a reactionary bigoted wazzock who is for some reason given a column in a national newspaper. Anyway, I'm not going to bother ranting about him here, I just thought I'd link this page

These reviews are, it has to be stated - entirely ironic and made me laugh until I nearly peed. I especially like this one:

"Some have labelled Littlejohn a crass, reactionary, vicious-minded little bigot. In this, his magnum opus, he takes these feeble accusations by the throat and shakes them around like a yorkshire terrier with a small dog toy. Probably a dog toy in the shape of a golliwog.

In his quest to uproot the insidious weed of political correctness, he strides across the rhetorical spectrum from delicately constructed hysterical ranting, all the way through to elegant and waspish carping on and on about nothing of any significance. He leaps with the ease of a ballerina from one lazy disingenuity to another, flouncing his little tutu with the carefree flirtation of a batty boy in a badly broken metaphor.

If Kylie Minogue's perfect posterior could be rendered in prose, then this book would be that prose. Only when she turned around, she'd probably have a penis like that girl in The Crying Game. You know? Ewwww. Eh?"


I'm drunk. heh. I've also finished my exams. that's probably more worthy of mention - I'll write about it tomorrow.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Insert Key

I was browsing my normal morning's crop of blogs and webcomics today, and came across a link to this -

How to Disable the Insert Key in Word

It's always encouraging to find that other people have the same problems and annoyances as yourself, and I must admit that this solution, whilst more complicated than the one I came up with, certainly has slightly more elegance.

Here's my alternative method for disabling the insert keys, it involves prying out the offending keys with a flathead screwdriver:

Like I said, not very elegant. Mind you, seeing as nothing about my life is elegant I think my method suits me just fine. As you see I also removed the # key because I kept hitting it when I meant to press shift (the first modification I made), the left windows key and the right click key are gone because if you hit them by accident when running a full screen application it pulls you out into the desktop, and I not only removed but subsequently destroyed the caps-lock because THERE@S NOTHING WORSE THAN ACCIDENTALLY WRITING A SENTENCE IN FULL CAPS.


...and if you are wondering how I managed to do the # symbol without actually having the key anymore - I just poke the switch inside with a screwdriver (it's the first time I've had any reason to ever press that key on purpose)

... and yes, this would all be uneccessary if I had A: the ability to touch type properly and B: smaller, less sausage-like fingers

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Well I've finished my first exam, I think it went reasonably well, although I'm not certain of that. Some of the questions were hilariously pretentious but I managed to find and answer the neccessary two - ones that I rejected included these Gems:

"Instead of 'Imagism', would it make sense to speak of 'imagisms'?"

and the marvelous

"How Can the notions of 'difference' and 'deferral' bound up in the derridean Differance help us to grasp modernist modes of textuality?"

Which is a good example of why I don't want to carry on with my studies beyond BA level - I don't have a fucking clue what that means, not the foggiest notion, and I'm not an underachiever or a slacker, despite whatever impression I give on here.

I managed to write more than I usually write in exams, still less than most, but more than my normal; the downside of this being that, having just written about 10 pages of closely spaced handwritten text in three hours, my right hand is really hurting. I have a pulled muscle in my thumb (I didn't even know you could injure that muscle), a bruised thumbnail and a blister on my index finger. ouch, I think I'm probably going to be playing with a pick for a few days.

Unsurprisingly, the exam paper was just as badly put together as the rest of the course and about 90% of the people I spoke to afterwards replied that they had done the exact same pair of questions as me, as they were the only two that corresponded to the stated aims and objectives of the course as taught be the seminar leaders, rather than the chapters of the pretentious wazzock of a module convenor's book.


Monday, May 07, 2007


Myspace, whilst it has a stupid name and carries connotations of scary emo horrors, is a good way of finding good (and frequently very bad) music. Stuff I've been poking around with recently be these

Lucy Kitt
-I've seen her live a few times and she is very good, or perhaps it's just that she plays in the original material vacuum that is canterbury. Listening to this stuff it would appear to be the former.

Charles Stuart
-Discovered whilst on a 'listen to other people's music' bender a week or two ago. Strange sort of Lo-fi soul electronica, good though.

Future of the Left

-Welsh supergroup made from some very good bands, they are shouty, loud and generally rock. Even more so live.


-Mandatory plug for my friends' band, I've not seen them live in a shamefully long time. getting better with each song I hear. Jangly indie pop goodness.

I'm not sure why I'm posting these links here, it's not like my endorsement is going to give them any new fans, but meh, I'm bored and if I stop writing this then I've got to get back to work.



Sunday, May 06, 2007

Fragments 3

This one is really really old, and appears to be pretty much complete, but again, I think I never posted it up because I intended to make it into some sort of deep and profound work of art rather than the emotional scribblings of someone who had only had about an hours sleep.

Title: Nice Meeting You

"The other night I was sitting in a sofa filled, windowless room in a hostel somewhere near London Bridge, with Kristen asleep on my lap listening to the conversations of those around me in a drowsy sort of daze. I was struck by a phrase, heard many times before, that had an interesting resonance with me and my current circumstances. A group of backpackers who, presumably, had met earlier that day and were going their separate ways in the morning were making their goodbyes and getting ready for bed. One of the men turned to another, with whom he had been arguing over who George Bush was more like; Hitler or Satan (pretty routine European youth hostel chatter), and shook his hand saying, "it was nice meeting you"

It took me a little by surprise to hear these words in that situation. They seemed so formal, like something that a parent says to a daughter's boyfriend that they disapprove of. Not something said between a pair of global travellers at 4am in some foreign city. I started, in my fatigued state, to think about why they used that phrase; concentrating on it with a ferocity only found in me at times when I'm both bored and trying very hard not to think about something else - a state that allows me to do things like examine, in worrying detail, the state statutes of South Carolina as regards semi-automatic weapons control (resolving a pointless and long running argument) the day before an important exam.

It was the use of the past tense that interested me. 'It was' acknowledgement that the brief encounter had already ended, that the experience has passed with a certain finality. It was what? 'it was nice,' ‘nice’ - quite possibly the most bland adjective in the English language, meaning good but with no colouration or emphasis, just a positive, stating that the experience was not unpleasant. Finally ‘Meeting’ – a word which conjures up connotations of the beginning of something, not an actual relationship but the possible start of one, an acknowledgement of the ephemeral nature of this meeting – a momentary snapshot of the consciousness of another, never to be seen again.

Hearing people use this phrase so casually, to be completely calm about never seeing someone again, made me realise how badly equipped I am for the life I’m now living. I’ve lived in one fairly small part of south east London for my entire life, I move between groups of friends but I’m still living only about 30mins walk from friends I’ve not spoken to in decades. In the last year, however, I’ve made a lot of friends who are from other continents, people that I’ve not just met but formed a connection with, and now, with the end of the year, I have to get my head around the idea that I’m not going to see them again. It’s not just that I’d stop talking to them, but that there is no other means of knowing about them. If, for example, I stopped talking to one of my friends from London I’d still hear about them, I’ll still have the possibility of reconciliation, but with my friends made in the last year if I lose contact with them personally I lose them completely and totally. It’d be like they never were."

-17th June 2005


Fragments 2

One that I think I had aspirations of making into something much longer and more elaborate, entitled Martial Arts Movies:

"I was watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon today; a film I saw at the cinema when it came out, loved it, then promptly forgot it. It's a subtitled film, which isn't something I usually have any problem with, but in the case of this film reading the subtitles gets annoying because the film is so damn pretty. The fact that the subtitles make a substantial amount of this amazing spectacle only half seen means that when there is no dialogue you jump at the chance to just sit and watch the pretty pictures.

In the case of Crouching Tiger this meant that I was paying a good deal of attention to the fight scenes, which, on the whole, didn't contain any dialogue worth subtitling (breathless grunts being much the same in every langauge). The thing I noticed is something that is most pronounced in films like this one but is true of most, if not all, films of the fighty variety ever since Bruce Lee first started doing his own enormously popular brand of homicidal gurning. I was watching the fight scenes and thinking about how far distanced from any kind of real fighting, it's all flowing movements and graceful poise, like erm, like... dance.

Obviously it can't be expected to look like a real fight, they are ugly: people grab clothes, swing clumsily at each other and most of the time it's all for show anyway, nobody actually gets that badly hurt beyond a few bruises and a bit of blood. Screen martial arts has, however, gone from merely very pretty fighting to a kind of abstract representation of violence, a kind of dance that men can watch comfortably because it maintains a veneer of machismo through its association with fighting."

-14th April 2006

And a little one that demonstrates what happens when I get really bored, titled Oscilloscopes are Puurty:

"I'm sitting around listening to music and staring at the oscilloscope built into windows media player, if I was stoned I could lose whole days to this thing. As I'm only on mild painkillers at the moment, however, I am able to pull myself away from it for a moment. Oooh, it dances to the music, jigglejiggle. I've found myself listening to music I've not listened to in ages purely because it looks good, Rage Against the Machine especially - a band that I've not really been much into since my first teenage forays into music and politics - looks damn fine through the oscilloscope and I've also remembered that they are really quite good in a shouty, led zepplin-plagiarising sort of way."

-13th May 2006



I was procrastinating today and I found a load of bits of unfinished blog entries that I'd saved as drafts on here and then promptly forgotten about. I figured I'd put them up here as some of them are quite interesting, well, perhaps not. Either way, here they are - i'm not bothering to put them up in any sort of order.

Discarded Fragment of CV - removed because it read like it was directed at someone in particular, an angry reply to something someone had said to me, which it wasn't. I was just thinking out loud.

"To the people reading this who know me, and are wondering how much of the me they know is real and how much is a character, I can't tell you. To be honest I don't know myself, I think I've absorbed too many old stories and affectations to be able to say that there is a 'real' me, other from the one I present to my friends and family. People like to psychoanalyse those around them to some extent, "what does he really think though?", looking for some kind of deeper meaning in a person, like looking for a meaning in a poem; a reason to like or dislike or love or whatever you feel like doing. I'm not going to say that I always say exactly what I think and represent myself as I am in my head, but some of what you see in me is a product of who you are. I'm not the same person to everyone, and that difference is probably as much how others see me as how I present myself.

Beyond a few fictonal or missapropriated experiences, the odd unpleasant shame glossed over, this is the only me there is; looking for any other one will just be a reflection of what you think I should be and probably examining why you'd like me to be like that would be a more constructive way of spending your time."

-27th June 2005


Saturday, May 05, 2007

1980 - 1990

I’m not very good at understanding or articulating my reservations and dislikes about something or someone - generally my negative opinions are only ever spurred into words by hearing them put into words by someone else; a circumstance which consequentially makes me wonder whether or not I actually have any negative opinions of my own at all. This makes me generally a pretty rubbish scholar of English literature and is the main reason why I don’t see myself bothering to take my studies past BA level – it’s hard to do literary criticism when you have trouble saying anything more coherent that ‘I don’t like it’. I do, however, dislike things, I dislike lots of things, and people, lots of people – I’m just really not very good at putting my misgivings into words even inside my own head.

I mention this because I’m about to try and explain the reasons for one of my biggest dislikes, even though I’m not even entirely sure if I have any. Bear with me, this might take a while…

I believe that the Eighties - I mean the decade from January 1st 1980 to December 31st 1989 - was a fundamentally bad idea. It was a decade of bad politics, bad art, bad music and just generally crappy aesthetics. It’s not the first of the bad eras of history, not by a long shot – I don’t think many would mourn the loss of the dark ages, nor would anyone with any taste be particularly bothered by the removal of much of the 18th century – but it is the one I am most familiar with. I am aware that as someone born smack bang in the middle of the decade this seems like a strange belief to have, I consider my origins in the 1980s in much the same way that catholics think of man's inherent sin - it's something that I must work to overcome through good deeds and a life of good music and good design.

I first tried to write this blog entry a few months ago when I found myself sitting around at home instead of going to see a film called Mirrormask with some of my flatmates, which for all I know might be a very good film. The reason I decided not to go up to the campus cinema was because one of my flatmates tried to describe it to me as ‘fantasy, like labyrinth or the neverending story’ which are probably two of my least favourite films of all time ever. There is something about 80’s fantasy films that makes me feel physically sick. I think it’s partly their terrible special effects, corny scripts and icky monsters but mostly it’s because they, in their seemingly unending stories and freakish detachment from reality, remind me really strongly of the kind of horrible, inescapable nightmares I have when I’ve got a fever of 101 and am in the process of throwing up everything I’ve ever eaten in my life. As I’ve got older I’ve found that my distaste for 80’s films isn’t just restricted to that particular genre – I have a special hate reserved for that type of action movie that got really big in the 80’s which took an almost sociopathic delight in presenting gratuitous, remorseless violence – films like the ‘death wish’ movies, Robocop, Rambo that have a level of violence unseen in popular culture since the revenge tragedy went out of fashion.

It’s not necessarily the excessive cruelty and violence that particularly bothers me – many years of films and computer games has dulled the shock value of even the quite graphic pretend violence – it’s the way in which the violence often comes from characters whose actions the audience is supposed to support. The prevailing cultural attitude in the eighties seemed to disdain human compassion and empathy as weakness - the idea of society was seen as stinky liberalism and the action movie stars didn’t have mercy and were lauded for it. This culture bred off itself, creating the impression of a world in which human life was no longer particularly valued then using this lack of basic humanity as evidence that merciless force was the only way to combat the perceived decay of society that these attitudes had formed. It all reminds me of the writings of fascists like Ezra Pound in the wake of the First World War – in a civilisation destroyed by violence they looked to a ideology which promised them only violence as their hope of release from a ‘botched civilisation’.

The subject of fascism brings me neatly into my next big area of dislike – 1980s music. In the late seventies the punk movement started to associate itself with Nazi iconography; swastikas, iron crosses, leather, etc, this wasn't done to show identification with fascism, but because in British society there are few things more shocking and socially unacceptable than a swastika. Some time around the turn of the decade, however, the original intention was forgotten, bands like the charmingly named Joy Division (named for the groups of Jewish women in concentration camps who were used for the sexual pleasure of Nazi soldiers) donned slicked down hair and leather and the desire to shock was replaced with a sort of perverse admiration.

When talking about the music of any decade I find that talking about the stuff that was really popular isn’t the best way to gauge the general quality of the time – we don’t judge the 70s on the Bay City Rollers, nor do we judge the 60s on Cliff Richard – and so similarly I won’t judge the 80s on the dross that topped the charts most of the time. The 80s seemed to be the decade when every single genre of music drifted helplessly into self parody – I mean just look at the most popular ‘alternative’ band of the time – Metallica – who seem to be a band who took ‘This is Spinal Tap’ as a creative springboard and then went downhill from there.

I think my opinion of the eighties began with my disgust as a child (with a liking of cars, planes, mud, shiny things etc) with the design of 1980’s cars. The style of the time was for hard angles and straight lines; decades of aerodynamic research and beautiful designs were washed away in a horrible wave of cars that seemed to take the flat-pack wardrobe as their main source of inspiration, it’s like a rule was introduced that rulers had to be used all the time when designing cars, that someone hid the machines for bending metal. My sneaking suspicion that the 80’s was a decade where taste was not allowed has been confirmed, and then some, in recent years by my discovery of the horrific aberrations that constituted electric guitar design back then, seriously, I challenge you to take one look at a Fender HM ‘Strat’ and not weep with horror.

I understand that the strict chronological definition of ‘the eighties’ as an era doesn’t necessarily correspond exactly with the inception or lifespan of the things that I’m associating with it: I know people were making cars that looked like wardrobes in the late seventies, they were writing songs with godawful drum machines and nasty synths in the seventies, that people still wore stupid clothes and big hair well into the early nineties but the fact is that the eighties was when these things became iconic cultural touchstones. To any one still in any doubt, I close by stating that the eighties was the decade when a car like a Delorean DMC-12 could be considered desirable by people who weren’t blind and that music like the Pet shop boys could be popular.

I’ll probably revise this when I think of more coherent arguments.


Thursday, May 03, 2007


The side of ireland that they don't like to put in the tourist adverts.

Irish girl forced to carry anencephalic baby to term

I'm not going to bother writing anything more. I've got work to do, and I'm sure that analysis of this can be put better by others.


Cargo Cultism

This is just a short little post, partly because I really should be doing some worthwhile work but mostly because I can't be bothered to think through a more elaborate treatment of this idea right now.

I was aimlessly wandering the internet the other day when I was supposed to be working and I came across this beastie

This is a fender Rory Gallagher Tribute model. Now anyone who has read this blog before or got me drunk will know that I don't like pre-distressed guitars, clothes, people, etc - But this one is special - I refer you to the manufacturer's writeup:

"The Rory Gallagher Tribute Stratocaster guitar is an exact replica of that revered instrument, right down to the extremely worn 3-Color Sunburst alder body, maple neck and rosewood fingerboard. We’ve even included five Sperzel tuners and one Gotoh tuner, and we’ve replaced the 12th-fret dot marker with white plastic instead of the original clay. It also features three custom-wound ’60s single-coil pickups, aged chrome hardware, 21 jumbo frets and a bone nut. Our homage to a true and truly missed master."

This level of imitation is frankly bizarre, I couldn't get my head around it at all until I remembered something I'd read a few years ago about odd pseudo religions in the south pacific called cargo cults. These were collections of rituals and practices designed to imitate the trappings of western culture without any knowledge of the reasoning or purpose behind it. People would build airfields, with crude imitation control towers and radio equiment carved from wood, in the hope of summoning aeroplanes with their precious cargo. I see the same thing in this guitar, it's like a bunch of people completely ignorant of music heard this amazing musician once and are labouring under the impression that by accurately (if superficially) recreating the objects associated with him and his music they will somehow be able to reproduce it.

It's at times like this that I wish I could figure out a way of writing down an exasperated sigh.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hungover Musings

I am rather hungover, which, considering the fact that it's about half past four in the afternoon, gives you an idea of just how crappy I felt earlier. Last night I went out to have a quiet drink with my flatmate and listen to a friend play, met a couple of people at the pub and 'quiet drink' rapidly turned into a serious bender. It was fun, one of those nights out driven by some strange sort of momentum which makes perfect sense at the time but looks very different by the light of day.

Right now though, sitting here feeling dizzy and nauseous, wondering if I'm going to be sick again, I'm squarely in the 'alcohol is wrong' camp. I feel ashamed of myself, not because of some shocking indiscretion - I was reasonably coherent last night - but because I'm too old for this, or at least I feel that way. I ended up spending last night getting wasted with a couple of people whose names I can't even remember today, going on an monster debauch just because it seemed like a good idea at the time, because jeebus knows I’ve got little to celebrate right now. I’ve got my finals in a week, two exams, two days apart, and then I’m finished with university; I’ll make the transition from student to unemployed young man with a degree in English literature and not much else. I’m nearly a member of the workforce and I go out on benders like some first year film student. Oy…

I’m now sitting here trying to decide whether I should post this up or not - it doesn’t exactly show me in the most positive light, it makes me look like a drunk, a morose and self pitying drunk with no direction or discretion. But, considering the fact that I’ve managed to offend and upset the only person who has the patience to read this thing, it probably makes little difference if I post it up or not. Man, I really shouldn’t write stuff when I’m probably still considerably over the drink-drive limit, but I’ve written this now so I may as well post it up. I can always obliterate all evidence of this blog’s existence when I start looking for work…