2021 week eleven

A more upbeat week than the last. Where in that week I was beset by a mental fug that I found hard to shift, this week I was running on the positive vibes from good weekend chats and a determinedly more positive mental attitude towards work. It helped a lot.

What has also helped my mood this week is setting up an old Android phone as a wildlife camera pointed at the bird feeder frequented by our local robin. It’s fun taking proper photos of the robin, but it’s been especially gratifying being able to see motion-detected candid snapshots of the robin without disturbing him* while he eats.

* I say him both unknowingly (apparently it is nigh-on impossible to sex a robin**) as well as knowingly (as I am pretty sure there are babies nearby being tended to by mother while father brings in food

** stop sniggering at the back

It’s satisfying enough being able to use an old Android phone for this new purpose – it’s the Moto G4 that I have already previously used as a handlebar-mounted bike GPS – but the quality of some of the shots I can get is really amazing. The sharpness reveals some amazing details in the feathers, and in one shot I’m pretty sure I can see a bug he’s caught – nice to know he’s getting live food as well as the ‘buggy nibbles’ I put out for him.

Even cheap Android handsets, several years old at this stage, can have half-decent cameras – in good light – and can be surprisingly good at close-up details.

Other mood-improvers this week involved a couple of old favourites: food and music. I can recommend this garlic and mushroom pasta, as well as this zaatar cheese toastie (loosely inspired by Elliott‘s quiet coffee (b)log).

I need to remember that music really helps my mood in so many different ways – from just listening to something which is very much in the background to take the edge off an abyss-like silence, right the way up to obsessing the shit out of every second of an album I’ve just discovered for the first time.

This week’s biggest musical discovery was… Talk Talk. I woke with a crunchy 80s industrial beat in my head, and I tried later to narrow down what it was from. No lyrics were flowing, but the beat was so distinctive and I knew it was a big enough hit that it’s the sort of thing I’d occasionally hear on the radio still. A session skipping through Depeche Mode’s greatest hits came up blank, and in desperation at one point I ‘sang’ the beat into Google in hopes it would guess it. It did not.

My next line of investigation was the Ministry of Sound Electronic 80s compilation which I dip into now and then. I skipped through the songs I am less familiar with, and before too long I found the source of my earworm: Talk Talk’s Life’s What You Make It. Thank goodness. And what a tune. To reward perseverance, and to pay my respects to Talk Talk, I stuck on a greatest hits compilation of theirs – I’m familiar with two or three of their biggest singles, but I wanted to see if anything else hit me like LWYMI does.

And boy was I glad I did.

The last two tracks of the compilation came from an album called Spirit of Eden and, unlike the punchy synth pop of the earlier singles, these were elongated, slow meditations which sucked me right in. And that’s how I discovered Talk Talk’s final two albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, both examples of a band at the top of their game, given oodles of cash and trust from their label, tucking themselves away for a year making thousands of hours of recordings and then splicing together something remarkable. They then stepped back from touring (citing the not unreasonable suggestion that it would be impossible to ‘re-perform’ the songs from the album live), then one member left, and then they broke up shortly afterwards – it all sounds a bit like the 80s version of the Beatles, to be honest.

Anyway, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock have been on high repeat in my headphones this week and I am so grateful for their exquisite combinations of pristine production and thoughtfully placed silences. There is so much space in those recordings.

I also listened to the Nine Inch Nails soundtrack to Quake for the first time. I’d never listened before – I think I’d sort of dismissed it, thinking it would be compressed game audio and not much fun to listen to, but of course it was one of those games with the sound effects etc compressed, but the music itself was pure CD audio streamed off the disc. So it sounded a lot better than I’d expected, and was a delightful mix of heavily distorted guitars, foreshadowing of the kind of electronic noise Trent would continue to make, and of course 1990s gloomy shooter ambience.

I never really played Quake back in the day – I was a Doom and Duke Nukem 3D guy. I still remember a friend describing Quake to me back when it was a ‘new Doom’ type of game – presumably in mid to late 1996 – and I remember mishearing them and thinking, repeatedly, they were calling it ‘Quaint’, which to this day makes me smile as a weird name for a videogame. Anyway, this all makes me think I’d like to play Quake some time soon. So maybe I will.

To tie this Talk Talk / Nine Inch Nails chat together, one song from the Talk Talk comp called Give It Up was also really great, and I quickly wondered whether NIN might have covered it – alas it doesn’t look like it, but I’d love to hear their take on it. The chorus has a very Trent Reznor vibe imho.

The weekend was very sport-filled – Italian one-day bike races on Saturday and Sunday, three rugby matches on Saturday – that Wales match was just astonishing – and then (thank goodness) some periods of me actually getting off my arse to do some activities of my own.

On Sunday, somewhat inspired by Shawn Granton and his recent twenty-miler to Powell Butte, I managed to head out for a twenty…kilometre ride…! But a very enjoyable one all the same. I went for a longish run on Saturday, and although my hips were a bit tired, I knew I had the legs for a lazy Sunday pootle around town, so that’s what I managed.

I stumbled on St George’s Gardens, a peaceful park which used to be a church burial yard – it is quite park-like now, but still has headstones and other memorial monuments dotted around. I sat for a pleasant spell with a bottle of ‘table beer’, some salted peanuts, and listened to robins singing as bees hummed around the new blossom. It was a very pleasant moment.

It actually reminded me of sitting in a park in Germany two years ago this month, having picked up an interesting beer and just enjoying the comings and goings around me. Clearly March is the (first) month for sitting outside with a beer – until it gets a bit chilly and you have to get a wriggle on.

Also filled in the Census on Sunday. No drama there, but every little box I was able to tick or fill in without too much deliberation or ambiguity just illustrated to me that it’s not quite so simple for a lot of other people, and that’s always worth being reminded of.

Have a good week, you.