Tuesday, 31 March 2009

"...not 'obsessed' with potatoes"

According to Blight-of-my-life, I overstated her interest in potatoes in my previous posting.

"When you read up on a subject, it's 'research in depth', she said, "but when I do it, I'm 'obsessed'."

I decided to concede that I may have been a bit unreasonable, but maintained that in the finest traditions of journalism I shouldn't let the facts spoil the story. 
I think I got away with it.

So now look what's happened.

I rest my case.

Monday, 30 March 2009

"I married a Colorado Beetle" shock!

What is so fascinating about potatoes?

Suddenly, the house is filled with strange, perforated bags of wizened looking brown things. Blight-of-my-life appears to have become obsessed with growing potatoes. There's even a tray of the things perched on the bedroom window-sill, where I am reliably informed that they are "chitting".

Chitting? I'm not even sure that this is a real word, but apparently it's what you need to do to help your seed potatoes get ready for being planted, so they produce a good crop of brand new potatoes.

How this is supposed to work I have no idea, but at present they're all just sitting there, with little, stumpy, sprouty bits poking out, looking like the world's least attractive flower arrangement.

I'm sure that the end result will be delicious and well worth waiting for, but I have to confess that I find it slightly unsettling sleeping in the same room as the little beggars.

I can't think why.


Sunday, 22 March 2009

"Let's do the show right here..."

Shopping is so often a disappointing and glum experience. That dreary plod round your favourite supermarket (this must be an oxymoron) to replenish the fridge, or the desperate search for sensible clothes at reasonable prices that don't make you feel like the sort of person you're afraid you're becoming. 

Yes, shopping is mostly a 'bad thing'.

...and yet, every so often there's a tiny glimmer of sanity.

I finally cracked a couple of days ago, and went to buy that mixing desk I mentioned on the previous posting. Having done all the research, I went along to the Stockport branch of Dawsons, to see what sort of deal I could get.

There's usually music playing in the shop; even if there isn't a customer torturing an innocent guitar, there is often a live concert DVD or album playing, to demonstrate bits of PA kit. This time, as I walked in, I could hear some bloke singing "Come together", from "Abbey Road".
I assumed it was a prospective purchaser trying out a microphone. Then I realised that he was one of the salesmen, and that the music that I had assumed was a karaoke backing track, was being provided by the rest of the shop staff, playing instruments from the displays.

There was one bloke pounding away on a Yamaha electronic drum kit, another squeezing out some lovely sounds from a Fender Telecaster and a guy playing a Fender Precision bass through a rather nice 100watt Ampeg Combo. It was a great demonstration of how real instruments, played by real people can sound.
You can find reasonable pub-rock bands on any Saturday evening in any town, but this was entirely unexpected. It also felt oddly subversive. When the shop door 'pinged', and another customer came in, I found myself thinking guiltily, "Oops, if that's the Area Manager, we're all going to get into trouble."

Their version Electric Six's "Gay Bar", was pretty convincing too, with bags of attitude and tongue buried firmly in cheek.
(Err... I'm not sure that the previous sentence reads terribly well. Oh well, the double entendre wardens can do their worst.)

So, a resoundingly successful afternoon shopping. I got the mixer I wanted at a very reasonable price and was treated to a blast of live music as a bonus.

Dawsons of Stockport, I salute you.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Knob-tastic !

I've been trying not buy a mixer for quite a while. It's been one of those things that I know is not really vital, and yet could be very useful.

Ah... wait a minute.... I realize there may be some confusion here. There are quite a few different sorts of mixer; food mixer, concrete mixer, drinks mixer, very sociable person etc.
The sort of thing that I'm referring to is a mixing desk for music. This is the thing that you see at rock concerts, often somewhere near the back of the hall, with some ruffian wearing last year's tour T-shirt, hunched over it, intently tweaking the sound balance of the various instruments and mics.

The sort of gigs that my band, 'Nightflight', plays wouldn't normally require a mixing desk in the "auditorium". We tend to play pubs and small functions where space is often limited to the point where it's difficult enough to get the musicians set up comfortably, without trying to fit in another table-full of stuff plus the multicore cable that you need to link it all together. We run a small PA mixer, with built-in power amplifiers, "on-stage", which we can adjust to get the sound balanced. It's less than ideal, but is pretty effective and comparatively pain-free.
The excuse for getting the new bit of equipment, is the forth-coming "Significant Birthday Party" for Blight-of-my-life.

As part of the festivities, we've been lucky enough to get local blues band, 'Amandla', to play. They're good mates of ours, and have been around for years; if you think that "The Blues" is just a twelve-bar, with some miserable sod moaning about how he "woke up this mornin' ", you need to see this band.
I had thought, that as 'Amandla' were playing, I would be able to have the evening off.
This, of course, was incorrect. Blight' wants my band to play as well.
This is actually quite a nice thing to do, although technically it is potentially fraught with difficulty. We obviously won't be able to get all the gear for both bands into the available space, but fortunately the guys from 'Amandla' are happy to let use use some of their stuff, so we can reduce our gear to a minimum.
You may ask, "So if you're going to need less stuff to play, why are you buying a mixer?"

"Errr... 'cos it's got lots of knobs, and I've always wanted one."

But if Blight-of-my-life asks you, tell her it's to make it easier to get the sound balanced for the bands at her party.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Laurel MacDonald defeats iTunes

I was having a cup of tea at Mr S's house a few days ago, and he asked me if I'd ever heard anything by Laurel MacDonald.

It wasn't a name that rang any bells for me, so I said, "No, what sort of stuff does she do?"
"It's a bit difficult to describe... Hang on a minute, have a listen."
After a small battle with his unexpectedly anarchic filing system, he located the CD he was looking for, and flipped it into the player.

The first track was... intriguing.

"Take it and give it a proper listen" he said. So I did

Well, the album is called "Chroma", and what a treat it is. It is hard to describe though. It has already defeated the 'Genre' classification regime of the Gracenote database and according to iTunes, it is "Unclassifiable".

Laurel MacDonald is Toronto-based and has been favourably compared with such artists as Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson and I would add Enya to these. Compositions on the album are inspired and built on traditional Anglo lyrics ("A Wing and a Prayer"), the Egyptian scale ("Agnus Dei"), Scottish-Gaelic heritage ("Oran Na H-Eala") and more besides. If this sounds a bit arty-farty, don't be put off. It's a hell of a lot more accessible than this might lead you to expect.

Whatever it is, it sounds fabulous, and I'm almost embarrassed to have allowed myself to miss this album for the ten years that it's been available.
Strongly recommended.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Taking it to the streets

I am indebted to Heather Lyon, for drawing my attention to a feature of Google Maps that I hadn't come across before, on her Blog 'Puicini'

The very idea of being able to 'virtually' walk along a street is simply wonderful. As yet, we have no coverage in the UK, but there are a few places in mainland Europe and most of the USA that have street level images.

If you follow this link, it should take you to sunny Australia, where you can get a glimpse of one of The Lovell Telescope's close relatives.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

"... is the wrong answer." (again)

As an employee of Manchester University and occasional pub-quizzer, I had been following the fortunes of our team on "University Challenge" with some interest. Their progress through the various qualifiers, quarter finals and semi finals had been pretty remorseless, but having seen a similarly convincing performance from Corpus Christi College Oxford, I was not entirely confident that they would pull off a win in the Grand Final.

It was beginning to look as if the only way to guarantee a victory for Manchester, was to 'nobble' Gail Trimble, the Corpus Christi captain. Throughout the series, her breadth of knowledge and speed of recall had been exceptional, provoking press interest and some rather unattractive sniping across the media; some pundits seemed to have got their knives out simply because Ms Trimble had the gall to be a well educated young woman who wasn't afraid to show it. Her refusal to be dull-witted, shrill and objectionable clearly upset these people.

I missed the final and, even more annoyingly, heard the result before I'd had a chance to catch it on iPlayer. Manchester University had been beaten 275 to 190.
In the fashion of any fan, of any losing team anywhere, I muttered, "We was robbed."
It was some small consolation.

...and then it turned out that we really had been robbed.

One of the Corpus Christi team, Sam Kay, had not been eligible to take part; he had already left the University, and was working for accountancy firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers when the final was recorded. 

Oh dear.

The BBC snatched back the trophy, and have now declared Manchester as the winners by default. Not a terribly satisfactory end to what had been an excellent competition.

Ironically, on many of the programs, quizmaster Jeremy Paxman has launched the opening round with something like, 
"Right. You should all know the rules by now, so we'll get on with it. Fingers on the buzzers, here's your first starter for ten..."

It seems that you were wrong, Jeremy.

Monday, 2 March 2009

"The sun has got his hat on..."

This lovely looking thing is a Campbell Stokes pattern sunshine recorder. It focusses the light (and heat) of the sun through the spherical glass lens, onto a special strip of card. The card is scorched but does not burst into flames, leaving a burnt track that records the duration and intensity of the sunshine.

One of my tasks during a Day Shift, is to collect meteorology data, and changing the sun chart is part of this routine.

I was particularly pleased today, because it was the first Equinoctial Card of the year. There are three different types of card; one for winter when the sun is low in the sky, one for summer when it is at it's highest and an equinoctial card for spring and autumn.

The arrival of the spring, equinoctial card signals the part of the year when the length of days increases at the fastest rate. This always makes me feel good, because it means that soon it'll be summer, and that even Night Shifts will have quite a bit of daylight.
I mentioned this to my Guv'nor today, and he said, "Most people get that feeling when they see the daffodils coming out."

Anyone would think that there's something strange about the sight of scorched cardboard raising ones spirit