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Look, Audio (Er, What)

October 12th, 2014 · Blog

Today is Sunday, which means very little to me except that there is no post and no web comics. I have hennaed my hair; made and then un-made and re-made a necklace because I used too short a bit of string the first time but didn’t find this out until I reached nearly the end; collected one fallen apple and a slightly pathetic last-attempt-of-the-year pile of rhubarb from the garden and stewed them; and speculated upon whether it’s always the same two people who have loud arguments in our street, or several different pairs.

Last time I didn’t catch much of it except the repeated phrases “I don’t need to lie” and “When I was in jail…”. Today I was inside the house so all consonants were lost but I’m reasonably sure it was an Argument, not Banter.

I’m afraid to look at the people having the arguments and work out whether they are the same or different, though, because they might notice and brand me a Curtain Twitcher, but maybe this is silly given that they’re the ones, you know, having an argument in the street. Last week some people brought an argument to the bus stop in front of my garden while I was planting out some thyme (very quietly, hoping they wouldn’t notice I was behind my garden fence and think I was eavesdropping or anything). I assumed the bus stop location was incidental, just another bit of street to argue in like all the rest of it. Then the bus arrived and I heard them get on it, together, mid-argument. Presumably they continued while in transit. It was fortunate for anyone else who was on the bus that it was very near the end of the line, I suppose.

Yesterday I worked almost all day on music, which might have actually resulted in some Things (or drafts of things, at any rate). They are big complicated arrangements based on two of the tunes from my tunebook and they are made of violas, violins, recorders, synthesisers, samples and bits of singing/humming.

They took a long time to make. About four years, actually, because I was always trying to move house or make a living or some other stupid overheads instead of doing this. (And I still don’t regard them as “finished”, exactly, but maybe this is a part of the problem.)


Mainly About Toads

September 12th, 2014 · Uncategorized

This week we have mostly learned more about how everything that anyone has ever done to our house as a “repair” in the past was inherently and fundamentally wrong. Hooray. It’s to do with incompatible types of mortar, the First World War killing off most of the people who knew anything about how it was really supposed to work, those who were left alive but clueless hazarding some guesses, and subsequent events within a culture of it’s-always-done-that-way incompetence. But let’s not go into that here, because depending on your personal outlook it is likely to be either horrifying or tedious, or a mixture.

In much, much better news, I found a toad in the garden the other day. I have been hoping for a toad for some time, although I hadn’t expected one due to the garden being a small oasis of growth immediately surrounded by mostly tarmac. And I haven’t made any particular efforts to encourage toads other than looking up “how to get a toad” on the internet. (This search yielded results containing several along the lines of a Yahoo Answers thread entitled “is it true that you can get high if you lick a frog?”, but that wasn’t quite what I intended.) I haven’t dug a pond, and I hadn’t built a toad-house (upturned flower pot with tiny doorway cut in it) but I did have a patch of weeds and detritus in a damp corner. A very small toad was hiding under some detritus which I was clearing up, which I’m sure ruined its day. I’ve now made it a toad-house as a replacement for its destroyed detritus-hut, so I hope it comes back. It proves the garden-can-have-toad principle, anyhow.

The main reason I want toads to convene near me is not, disappointingly, so that I can lick them and get high. It is so they will eat the slugs, and then perhaps the garden will be able to produce a higher ratio of human-food to bee-food/slug-food than it has this year. There are loads of bees, because I planted bee-attracting flowers, and they did very well. So well that it’s hard to do any weeding without getting bees all in my face, but BEES. BEES ARE NECESSARY. I also planted (as it turns out) slug-attracting vegetables. But they were supposed to be for me.

Admittedly the toad I saw was actually a bit smaller than most of the slugs I’ve seen recently (dayglo-orange-footed behemoths, ugh) but it’s a start.


O Unholey Roof

August 21st, 2014 · Blog

There is now no longer a hole in the roof. Achieving this involved taking a decision to ignore the weather forecast, having waited through an allegedly “wet” day (during which it didn’t rain at all) for the promised “dry” day which suddenly turned into a promise of a “wet” day with a few hours’ notice. So we used the “wet” day anyway. It only actually rained heavily into the hole twice, during which time I did fascinating logistical things with buckets and tarpaulins in the loft. Eventually all the slates were back on again in a non-broken arrangement. Some of them are held on with a thing called a tingle. That is an actual word for a piece of metal that holds a slate on, even though it sounds more like a roofing fairy is summoned to hold in the last few with some kind of fizzing spell or something.

Talking of the weather, I have been noticing for quite a while now that if you read any article in the “UK News” section of the Guardian and then look at the “most viewed” box in the bottom right after the article, one same article has been at position no. 2 for many, many months. Its title is “Britain Braces for Stormy Weather” and it is from October 2013. Either this is a bug in their stats, or people really have been clicking on in it droves every day since last October, panicking because it is about storms and is apparently trending and thus must be relevant – and keeping it perpetually in the “most viewed” box. I am going to keep checking to see how long it stays there. I wonder if they have noticed? Maybe it will keep it up for a whole year and we can have a birthday for it.


The Roof Again

August 14th, 2014 · Blog

Because I am basically Fashion Incarnate, I spent a good portion of yesterday wearing a sun hat, ear defenders and an overall, cutting up roofing slates using a brick and a plastering trowel. (This is apparently a perfectly correct way to cut up slates, which surprised me.) There is currently a hole in the roof, and a tarpaulin was installed over it at 10.30pm last night, which involved some complicated tying things with bits of wire inside the loft and dropping coils of rope off the side of the roof and tying them to the fence. It wasn’t actually that dramatic, but it was quite interesting, rope-wise.

The Met Office knows it is going to rain during the next, I dunno, 48 hours? It keeps changing its prediction of exactly when, which isn’t helping us decide when to take the tarp off and finish making there not be a hole.


I Will Be Brief

August 8th, 2014 · Blog

I have two things to say.

One is: we are setting up prog-rock influenced ceilidh band, we need a drummer and a bassist and it will sound something like this:

More info is here. Please tell all your potentially interested drummer and bassist friends, if they are nice ones.

The other thing is that we have to fix more of the roof, now. This time in a slightly more controlled way, i.e. there are no actual torrents coming into the house, and it is not the Winter Solstice (a.k.a. Everyone’s Favourite Time of Year to Re-Roof a Garage Mostly in the Dark).


Also, Music

July 7th, 2014 · Blog

So, um, okay. I wrote all the posts previous to this point but after 2011 in a non-online kind of a way because I was in a do-I-or-don’t-I-want-to-write-a-blog fluctuation. For a year. I won’t bore you with the details here*, but the fact that I wrote them probably indicates that I kind of do, or something. We will see.

So ANYWAY, as you may read in the posts below this one, the past year has apparently been mostly spent stopping water coming in through the roof, and learning how to talk to the neighbours. But occasionally I have also done other things. Some of them have even involved doing music. An approximate overview:

1. Starfoil and Tamarysk are two function bands for playing music at people’s events. The first is a sci-fi/woodland themed retro 70s style prog duo, which is aimed at the woodland-nerd-wedding market. (That exists. It does.) The second one does Lovely Music for people who want a pretty folky-type noise to happen, with piano and viola and electric mandolin. We don’t actually have a piano player yet (well, we do, but it’s me, and I’m the violist) but we’ll sort that out later.

2. Making downloadable sheet music – mostly for the Tamarysk material, which is a mixture of the tunes in my tunebook arranged with piano parts and extra harmonies, and traditional tunes with viola-friendly harmony parts. I also made violin and cello versions of my tunebook, which are available as physical books or downloads.

3. Making demo recordings of the tunes in the tunebook to help people learn them / choose which one to do next / decide to actually buy it at all.

4. Recording some new songs I wrote in the last, er, two years. They’re still new because the last two years were spent trying to move to Berlin, and then actually moving to County Durham (don’t ask…), and, um, fixing the roof and stuff, which amounted to not doing very much recording for a while. Anyway, one or two of them are at the nearly-finished stage. NEARLY.

In non-music news, my new hobby is self-portraits with brassicas.

*I can do that here, though, if you want.


27th June 2014

June 27th, 2014 · Blog

I just went out to put some fresh homebrew-dregs into one of the slug traps in the vegetable patch (insert joke about demographic here) and found a slug in it and the slug was on its way out. Out of the trap, not out of this plane of existence. This could mean one of two things:

1. The previous lot of home brew dregs had gone off and the slug was leaving having tasted a bit and being unimpressed; or:
2. The slug had drunk its fill of the beer, but knew how much it could handle, and was going home before it had too much, in order to have a cup of tea and get a bit of knitting done before bed.

I hope it isn’t 2. because that would mean I am unwittingly breeding an army of responsible super-slugs who Know When to Stop. They would be invincible. They’d probably yarn-bomb the lettuces.


20th June 2014

June 20th, 2014 · Blog

I’ve figured it out. What you do when neighbours come up and talk to you in the street is be really, really earnest and talk to them in great detail about whatever it was they started the conversation about, yet without sharing any real personal information. Within about four minutes, they will end the conversation and continue along their previous trajectory.

I had a good conversation with Spaniel-Blackberries Man when I was weeding my hedge last week. By “weeding” I mean “digging out really, really massive dandelions”. Fortunately there were quite big gaps between the dandelions but it still took two and a half hours to do it all. Spaniel-Blackberries Man was passing with his spaniel, and he said, “What you should do to keep the weeds down is plant potatoes in between your plants.” I said, “Really?” and he said “Yes. Because when you put a potato in, it spreads out and grows more potatoes and they get in the way of the weeds and they can’t grow. And also, then you’ll have potatoes.”
“I might try that. I’ve got a sack of them and they’ve all sprouted,” I said, quite truthfully. I think at this point he may have thought I was engaging in Banter. I was not; but he repeated his hypothesis so I knew that he was not engaging in Banter either and this was Real Advice, and this time he added that I should do it next year, not this year as it was too late to put potatoes in now. So I said, “But… won’t people think it’s a bit weird that I’ve got potatoes in my hedge?”
“We’re all weird up here, pet,” he said delightedly. “Anyway, they’ll be jealous. Because you’ll have potatoes and they won’t. See you later, pet.”

I also had quite a detailed conversation with a passing woman about what plants were in the hedge, which started with her saying “Is that a rosebush?” and me saying, “Er… I think that one’s a cotoneaster” and her saying, “Actually I don’t know what any plants are other than daffodils and tulips” and then there was a general discussion about how there are an awful lot of types of plant in the world and surely nobody can know what they all are at any one time, and how gardening is time-consuming. (She can’t be bothered with it at all, apparently.)

I read in ‘Watching the English’ by Kate Fox that in this country people who are neighbours will rarely have a conversation lasting more than four minutes. I’ve also recently been reading about how to talk to extraverts, in an attempt to become more understanding and less bewildered by certain types of them. (I do not have a problem talking to all extraverts – some are among my favourite people to talk to In The Known World – but some completely baffle/terrify/irk me.)

With the combination of my newfound talking-to-unpredictable-talky-people knowledge and the very precise social-science-based evidence that if it went wrong it would be over very soon (4 mins), something reckless in my subconscious apparently decided it was safe to try earnest, detailed conversational engagement with strangers. I’m not entirely convinced that this will always work with all the neighbours in all conversations ever, but it was a good start.


7th June 2014

June 7th, 2014 · Blog

Someone should make an alarm clock that sounds like a blackbird’s alarm call. There are two outside my window right now going bananas because a striped cat is wandering about near their nest, and they are waking me up quite effectively. I wish the cat would go away so I can go back to sleep. It is sitting there staring at a shouting blackbird (presumably this is exactly what they want, given that they have drawn it away from the nest). It has emitted a single miaow.

We built a tiny lean-to shed to keep gardening tools in a few months ago, and within two weeks there was a blackbirds’ nest in the top corner of it. I have now had to move the tools out of the tool shed again, because every time I went to collect or return the spade, a blackbird flew out in my face, swearing at me. I tried to convince them that I was all “I don’t want to hurt you, I just happen to be keeping my stuff in your house, sorry for the inconvenience” by leaving ripped up bread crusts outside after every spade/disturbance incident, but they didn’t buy it so in the end I gave up and put the spade somewhere else.

The other day I actually went inside from the garden because I could see a blackbird hanging out on the neighbours’ roof looking a bit edgy with a worm dangling from its beak, wanting to deliver it to the chicks but not wanting to pass Big Scary Me. So basically my life is being dominated by blackbirds at the moment.

A few weeks ago I had an interaction with a Village Child which was non-horrific. We were, erm, getting a large old table saw out of the boot of a car and into the front door. I was wearing pyjamas. A small boy with a bike was pushing said bike up the hill on the pavement, and saw the obstacle that all this had created in his path.

He said “erk”. I said, “It’s all right, we won’t be long,” and then we carried the table saw into the house while he waited politely for about 15 seconds and then he continued up the hill.

I don’t know whether the reason for this incident passing without difficulty was 1. because it’s harder to intimidate people who have a table saw with a big round toothy blade with them, or 2. because I was possibly over-reacting about previous child-encounters, and the small children round here are okay really, or 3. that this was just a particularly sensible one.

But I think they have finally realised we are not jockeys. The jockeys, I now suspect, may have been regarded as a local sideshow for children to interact with cheekily, possibly with the inclusion of banter.

There are two pinkly-attired small blonde girls who I still avoid, though, because despite their supposedly innocent appearances they do things like roaring. Which is all well and good for counteracting stereotypes (although maybe Not Actually Wearing Pink would be more successful there. Actually it’s rather tricky; should they be trying to combat the “Girls Wear Pink” stereotype by not wearing pink, or the meta-stereotype of pink-clad girls being demure?), but I’d just rather they did it somewhere else.


Some Wall Painting Conversations

October 10th, 2013 · Blog

This morning we painted the bottom half of the front wall of the house, because it was a mess where there was a new, smaller window and unpainted render, and the last five paint jobs on the rest of it are cracking and probably letting water in. There was a surprising amount of pedestrian traffic passing, and of course in order to not seem hostile because it’s a village, everyone who passes has to say something. I am consistently taken aback by everything that anyone says, and do not know how to reply.

A sample:

“Better you than me. And it’s cold. The paint’ll be thick.”
Response: I think I did smiling and made amused noises.

“Lovely day for it!”
Response: “Mmm!” – with great enthusiasm

“You shouldn’t be on your knees, he should be doing that, should be the other way round,” said a 70-odd-year-old man (I think the one with the spaniel and blackberries) when I was painting the bottom of the wall and Tom was up a ladder doing the top. I said, “But I’d have to go up the ladder, then,” because I couldn’t think of anything else. He replied, “I’ve got a whip you can borrow,” which I had to ask him to repeat because I didn’t think he had really said that. He said it a second time so I did faux-scandalised laughing, which I presume was the correct thing to do (?). “Don’t do too much work, or you’ll start to like it, ” he concluded, and went down the road with another 70-odd-year-old man and their dogs.

Am I getting the hang of this? I need to know, because the front garden plans have altered dramatically. I have moved all the plants out of the front garden again, because it was too difficult to control the dandelions and they were taking over. Also, one Saturday morning I found some vomit in it. It is next to the bus stop, so I suppose bus stop + Friday night means this isn’t surprising. Anyway, it added up to ordering a new hedge, which isn’t here yet because it’s coming as bare root plants which won’t be ready until November. There are forty of them, and they will be blackthorn, yew, box and cotoneaster. I expect people will say things when I plant these. It’ll be all right if they say, “Why are you having two fences and a hedge as well?” which I know the answer to (there is a weird byelaw, and someone threw up on it a few weeks ago). It’s the statements I don’t know how to respond to. It always feels like simply acknowledging them and smiling is insufficient, but what else can I actually say? How do people get into “banter”? Do they say something sort of rude back? It’s like the awkward gym-conversations all over again, but now with 70-year-old men offering me whips, instead of groups of women asking me why I don’t have any children and whether I think the room smells of garlic. So actually, this is better, now I think about it.