2018 Weeknote 7

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A slightly different pattern to the week, with Megan off for half term. It meant for slightly longer lie-ins and some spontaneous activities.

The first of which was a trip to the cinema after work on Monday. We went to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri* and we really enjoyed it. Neither of us had expected the level of violence, having only seen quite a glib, chucklesome cut in the trailer.

We enjoyed picking a few holes in the plot and some of the characters afterwards, but overall it was a romping experience with some laugh-out-loud moments, and some hide-your-face-in-your-hands violence, and some right-in-the-feels sentimentality.

Personally, I was on board from the moment I saw the shot which directly lined up the window of the Ebbing Advertising office and the police station across the road.

* I agonised over the capitalisation of ‘outside’ here – the web generally does so, but I distinctly remember that the film’s own title card kept it lower case. The posters generally seem to be all-caps.

Spontaneous trips to the cinema are usually a great idea, particularly when I’ve had a gift card burning a hole in my wallet since last May. That being said, spontaneous trips to Vue on a Monday are an especially good idea, as it’s only £4.99 a ticket rather, than £14.99.

If you ask me, a fiver is too cheap and fifteen quid is too much. Can we strike a deal and call it £7.49 whenever I fancy seeing a film? Joking apart, the other pleasant surprise was the quality of Vue’s premises: clean, modern, comfortable, and terrific audio and visual systems.

Tuesday was World Radio Day, apparently. I don’t much go in for ‘World X Days’ as it is – particularly when, what can I say, every day is World Radio Day for me. That said, this week I finally received the pocket DAB receiver which had been the cause of some angst the previous week due to terrible communications from the seller. So it was nice – and a novelty – to walk to work listening to a mixture of BBC 6 Music, Radio X, Resonance FM  and BBC Radio 4, and with plenty more at my fingertips. Naturally, my smartphone gives me oodles more choice, but there’s just something so beguiling about it all coming over the air.

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The radio – a Majority (what?) Romsey (what?!)* – is a decent little unit, although its design is a bit uninspiring, and it feels very light in the hand. Not the worst criticism for a pocket device, but it’s light and boxy to the point of feeling weirdly hollow. It has a roughly 10-hour internal battery, but the ’emptiness’ of the case means it feels like it could take a much larger capacity one.

* The state of the DAB radio market in the UK today is a weird one. I expect I’ll spend a thousand words elsewhere on the subject, but suffice it to say that some of the market-leading radios besides Roberts and Pure are the VQ Blighty and the various models made by a brand called Majority, including the Romsey, the Petersfield, and the Madingley Hall. Apparently, radios are now named after Tudorbethan semis with the St George flag fluttering in the driveway.

Naming conventions aside, the Romsey has very decent sensitivity, and it has performed well in the short time I’ve been using it. I have noticed that the menu/interface can be a bit buggy. It’s best not to disturb it for the few seconds while it’s locking on to a new station, for instance. I’ll continue to test it out in various scenarios, but I’m content with what I’ve seen (and heard) so far, for the price.

Workwise, I had a few estate inspections to make, and a nice meeting with one of our allotment folks. It also brings to mind that I’m leading a walking tour in the summer on the subject of our open spaces, so I’m starting to think about how to frame that, and where to go.

I took Wednesday off, which broke up the week nicely, and Megan and I went to Oxford for the day. I’d only been once, ten years ago, and I took few pictures, got rather lost, and I was hot and bothered, it being a sunny, busy day.

This time it was grey, damp, and relatively quiet, and we had a good old look around. We followed a decent walking tour which took in some of the central sights. And we had a quick look around the Ashmolean Museum, following their own guide to their top ten exhibits. This worked a treat as we managed to see some great stuff, get a feel for the layout, and now I can’t wait to go back and spend a little more time exploring. I even came away from the gift shop with an apron with a Minoan octopus design on it.

The walking tour was nice and compact, too. We’d been considering a much longer route which got out of the centre a bit more, but this one combined with some stops for cake and beer was the perfect length. We made it up the Carfax Tower for a view of Oxford’s many spires, university buildings and, currently, rainbow flags. And we took in a number of fine doorways, arches, passageways and edifices, many in that gorgeous hue of local stone.

As well as gawping at some of the truly magnificent architecture, we also made it to three pubs and two cafes, which isn’t bad going.

Of the latter, the Vaults & Garden Cafe in Radcliffe Square was a lovely place to stop for tea and scones, and the Nosebag on St Michael’s Street was a wonderfully homely source of many different cakes. Both also do a certain amount of savoury dishes too, if you need a quick lunch.

Pub-wise, I had been told, emphatically, by no less than three friends all at once, to visit the Turf Tavern, and I’m glad we did. Its layout has an olde-worlde feel and reminds me a little of Ye Olde Mitre in Hatton Garden. It also does decent student-pub style grub, and we stopped for burgers.

Before that, we’d popped into the Eagle and Child on St Giles’ street for a quick pint and a recce, admiring some of the literary adornments scattered about the place. Its associations with the Inklings writers’ group are worn proudly on its sleeve.

And in between our long wander and the train home, we spent a pleasant hour or so at the Bear Inn, on Alfred Street. This traditional pub would be lovely enough even without its own quirks plastered all over the walls: framed off-cuts of ties, each given to the landlord in exchange for half a pint. They each have a small tag identifying the previous owner and the ties allegiance, and it makes for a fascinating display which seems to cover almost every wall and ceiling. The tradition has apparently stopped, but the dates of the many thousands of ties on show seem to cover a period around the 1960s and 1970s.

I finished Robin Sloan’s Sourdough on the way to Oxford. It was a breezy read, never taking itself too seriously, but taking what could have been quite a pedestrian plot and turning it quite unexpectedly. I enjoy Sloan’s love of secret societies, and gently skewering Silicon Valley culture.

And reader, speaking of culture, I’m not ashamed to admit that over the course of me reading Sourdough, I attempted for the first time to make not just one but two starters. Neither succeeded. Unbowed, I will continue the experiments. (Probably without the music of the Mazg, but golly this article on the book’s ‘soundtrack’ is a fun read.)

This weekend I did some cooking and some baking (including a loaf, some sushi, and another attempt at a double down burger, sorrynotsorry). I also played about six hours of Banished, which is very much in my wheelhouse and I’m itching to continue to learn its complexities, and I watched the 1989 film The Wizard.

Probably the least strange thing about this film is the presence of a sassy 13-year-old Jenny Lewis. Elsewhere, we have a surprisingly solid cast, an escapist fantasy child-led road trip across the US, weirdly accurate references and product placements for 1980s videogames icons, and it all culminates in a videogame competition which also purports to be the unveiling of Super Mario Bros. 3 in the west. If that wasn’t enough movie for your money, the film’s ultimate conclusion – handled with a surprising level of sensitivity – also sews up a subplot concerning a dead sibling.

Also in videogames, M and I continue to make good progress in Portal 2, which remains some of the most fun I’ve had with the medium. The puzzles are relatively simple, but the level of style with which they’re packaged makes it a thoroughly enjoyable experience. And there are so many levels included in what could so easily have been a throwaway local multiplayer afterthought. We’re about two-thirds of the way through and I’m damned if I know what we’re going to play together once we finish this.

We capped the week off with a Sunday night jog round the neighbourhood. We saw an urban fox, some pretty houses, and the distant BAFTA searchlights tracing the clouds high above our heads.

Here are a few snaps from Oxford:

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2018 Weeknote 6

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A quieter week than of late, but not without its highlights.

I spent some of this week reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan, and making bread and soup (not unrelated); also spent some time looking at a big rocket that put a car into orbit; and some more time daydreaming about radio. I managed to run home from work once, and I also tried my hand at pixel art with a nifty Android app.

I also spent rather too much time this week angry at an online retailer who responded bafflingly to a delivery mess-up. It makes me quite upset now to think how much mental energy I was forced to waste on that little episode, but it’s just the way my brain works.

Imbolc / Candlemas

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At some point in the week, thanks to my Pebble watch, I realised that the sun would rise before 0730 and set after 5pm – both rather neat milestones. For a brief, coffee-fuelled minute I dreamt of a quarter days type of system which showed the days on which sunrise and sunset times crossed a certain threshold from one mid-season milestone to the next.

Sometimes it’s nice to extrapolate these seemingly abstract patterns, like a moon phase chart which inevitably ends up having a lovely natural rhythm to it ala the Fibonacci sequence.

Suffice it to say that once the coffee high had passed, I did not, in fact, plot a new solar calendar with my new quarter days marked.

But I was interested to read, in my trusty bedside companion Almanac, of the festival of Imbolc (see also Candlemas) that falls on the 1st or 2nd of February and marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It appears like a marker pointing uphill towards the re-emergence of spring and life and light and, honestly, hope.

For too long this winter I have languished under a slightly-too-heavy fug of darkness and… not quite negativity, but a habit of using the shorter days and darker evenings as a scapegoat for inaction or procrastination. This is nothing new, of course. I’ve read several articles this Winter, as I often do, about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and of the natural reaction to this uncanny lack of daylight.

But for all its negative connotations, it is a perfectly natural occurrence, and a very cyclical, predictable one. So perhaps wallowing in it slightly is the correct response. We react to long, warm evenings by spending time outdoors enjoying nature; so it is that we should react to cold, dark nights by bundling up indoors getting our hygge on.

Reading about Imbolc/Candlemas, and noting the passing of a threshold of day length, I felt renewed energy and optimism and will attempt, now, to stride forward towards spring.

Certainly, it helps when the winter weather is crisp, and bright, and fresh, as it has been many times this week. There are even signs of spring emerging from the cold earth: bulbs are sprouting, and crocuses are making an appearance. We – and they – will continue to be caught out by harsh snap frosts and sudden hail showers, but we’re all remembering how to push up out of the murk and the mire, and to salute the sun once more.


The London LOOP

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Last Sunday, Megan and I started on the London LOOP*, a 150-mile path forming a ring around London.

* The ‘L’ in LOOP, of course, stands for London, making this not just a clunky name but also an example of RAS syndrome

This is not our first circular walk, nor even our first circular walk around London, as we completed the Capital Ring last February. That 78-mile walk took us exactly two years, done in fifteen sessions whenever we fancied it.

Now a year has passed since we completed it, and we have lately felt bereft. The London LOOP is, therefore, the only sensible sequel. We had looked at doing the Thames Path, but logistics mean such one-way walks are trickier to tackle in chunks. We will shortly be doing the South Downs Way in one go. But the London LOOP has come into our lives when we needed it most, and it is a long-term goal.

If 78 miles in fifteen sections took us two years, who can say how long 150 miles in 24 sections will take us. That is not the point. These walks give us the permanent Plan B, the perpetual answer to the question, “What shall we do this weekend?”

The first section

And so last Sunday we did the first section, and yesterday the second. The first was necessarily quite industrial, with tidal defences, refuse tips, and the rather barren sections of marshland where nothing much happens beyond the presence of some ponies and a few thousand seagulls. The Dartford crossing loomed in the distance for much of the day.

It wasn’t really until the end of the first section, at Bexley Old Town, that we were amongst scenery I found attractive. Before then it had all had quite a stark quality to it. Fortunately, we found a warm welcome inside a Greek taverna at Bexley where we filled up on some great food.

Pictures are on Flickr (which is still A Thing):

London LOOP Section 1 - 4 February 2018

The second section

The second section, tackled yesterday, was altogether different from the first.

Here we had miles of a rural-feeling riverside walk as the Cray burbled past. We saw elegant stone bridges, pretty parish churches, and our path took us through lovely patches of woodland.

An unexpected presence – compared to the omnipresent green parakeets – was a large number of pieces of natural woodland infrastructure. Infrastructure is probably too ‘hard’ a word for it, but we saw erosion protection in the shallow bed of the Cray river formed from flexible wood, and when we had left the Cray behind we saw delightful examples of recent live hedgerow fencing.

We, of course, passed noisy roads and a miniature spaghetti junction where we crossed the Sidcup bypass. But the natural bits felt deliberately, obstinately more natural and authentic in protest.

Once we’d arrived at the end of the second section, we realised that earlier ambitions to push on to the third were not worth pursuing. That cursed winter day length was not on our side, and the sudden, unexpected hail showers that greeted us on our arrival at Petts Wood also put an end to the day’s walking.

One further unexpected highlight of this section was literally uncovered in the grassy parkland of Sidcup Place.

Looking down at some tree roots that needed extra care while traversing, I noticed the face of a bottle mostly buried in the mud. Realising it was also embossed, I considered it worth a second or two to establish whether it was of further interest.

When I spotted the words ‘mineral water’, I committed and spent a few minutes clawing at the cold earth to retrieve what turned out to be a perfect specimen which I was able to carry home and clean up.

It turned out to be a clear glass bottle, something like 250ml in capacity, from Chislehurst Mineral Water Works (not so far away), with a crest marked HL after Harry Line, the founder. Dating it won’t be easy, but a quick Google tells me that the factory opened in the 1880s, was bought out by Whitbread in the 1950s, and closed in the 1980s.

I’m not sure if the Whitbread buy-out would put an end to the local branding, but whether the bottle is 20 years old or 120 years old, it was a nice find and a great souvenir from a very enjoyable walk.

Photographs from the second section are also on Flickr (click through for the full set):

London LOOP Section 2 - 11 February 2018

A day trip to Cheltenham

So Cheltenham, then. A day at the races – almost.

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A couple of years ago I visited Gloucester to research a book I was writing. Almost exactly two years on, I visited neighbouring Cheltenham last weekend, but for different reasons.

As I mentioned in my last post, my good buddy John Tucker was attending his first comic convention – True Believers – and I just had to be involved somehow. Purely selfish reasons, naturally, although I knew the look on his face would be worth it, and it turned out to tickle his wife pink in the process, too.

I have fond memories of living with John (no, I do!), and integral to that was the frequent sight of stacks of paper, pens everywhere, and then every now and again a published zine or mini-comic that he’d hand-folded and stapled himself. I think I might have even traipsed around Manchester watering holes dropping off copies with him on at least one occasion.

Several years on, he’s now got several properly printed publications ready, a nice website, and the stones to take a stall at a comic con to get his name out there. Not only that, but he came up with a fantastic novelty gimmick for the day where he’d sell a portrait done while-u-wait, involving a roulette wheel which would dictate the method of death he would incorporate into the picture.

This instantly took me back to the long evenings he’d spend hunched over his laptop and tablet on Chatroulette drawing doodles for strangers. John tells the story better in his excellent round-up of his day, but it was extremely cool to see this natural progression at his first con.

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All I can really add to the story is that it was an absolute hoot to show up at the day, to contemplate John and his craft among the bigger picture of something like a comic festival, and just to catch up with him and Lauren.

The comic festival was a little of what I expected, and also a little more than what I’d expected. Mostly it was just a really cool, inclusive, friendly place where people could sell their craft, dress up like their heroes, hang out with like-minded folk, and feel a part of something.  I will say I hadn’t anticipated the level of cosplay – both in terms of quality and numbers of participants.

As I later explained to John, I won’t be following him around the country going to every single one of his public appearances like a mouth-breathing groupie, but the hands of fate had massaged my neck muscles lovingly the morning I decided to look into the trip, and I discovered that Great Western Railway were offering ridiculously cheap fares.

I couldn’t not go.

Anyway, beyond the comic con itself, I quite enjoy the odd day trip to a random town, and I knew Cheltenham had a few things to see that were up my street. Plus it would be interesting to me to compare Gloucester and Cheltenham, albeit while remembering that to visit both towns anew in February should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

No-one looks good in grey.

Still, bundled up against the cold, I did enjoy my wander around. There are some very pretty streets, some lovely examples of Cotswold-stone architecture, a few nice churches, and a really fantastic museum. There’s also a great variety of eateries and drinkeries.

As can be seen above, the colour palette was restricted to sandstone-yellow and winter-grey, but still rather appealing.

Wikipedia has curiously little to say about Cheltenham’s medieval history – there appears to be one remaining building from the era, and then the history books skip five hundred years until someone decided it would be a good idea to set it up as a spa town.

The town centre itself was about as you’d expect from any town centre on a rainy Saturday morning, but I will say Cheltenham has a thoroughly decent selection of shops.

Fortunately, it also has a well-thought-out selection of public gardens, from those near the centre, to Pittville Park a little further out.

Back in the town centre, I needed some indoor amusement. The Wilson, the name given to Cheltenham’s municipal museum (and visitor centre and gallery and so on), is a gem.

I’m so glad I took the time to have a look around as, not only did I find much to entertain and inspire me, but it was also an almost derelict sanctuary on such a rainy Saturday afternoon as this one. I pretty much had the place to myself, for better or worse.

Within minutes I was entranced by a mid-19th-century Dutch painting of a dockside by Cornelis Springer. The kinds of paintings that grab me are the hyper-real, the almost photographic document of a place or a person.

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This painting was of such exquisite detail that I spent several minutes scanning its surface for clues and characters and stories. There were numerous examples of all of these.

But the overall thing that got me with this one was the fine detail of the brush strokes.

The painting, above, is probably 150cm x 100cm, and yet when stood almost nose-to-canvas I could make out not just the fine rope hung from a pulley on a warehouse building, but the rope’s shadow, barely a hair’s width – a tiny stroke. Elsewhere were the outlines of individual bricks, or a man’s pipe. You can expect this level of detail on a canvas 4-5 times larger, but on this scale the detail is almost microscopic. It was wonderful.

As I learned, the Wilson also holds an important and vast collection of Arts and Crafts artefacts, and I was so pleased to find a current exhibition of the stuff. My day job is in the conservation of an Arts and Crafts-inspired suburb, and so I find this stuff very interesting and inspiring.

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I saw lots that inspired me, mostly the use of marquetry in wooden furniture, and adding splendid detail to everyday objects like door handles and tables, some really fine stuff by CR Ashbee, and the likes of that shown above which tried to encapsulate the whole ethos. (I didn’t take many photographs of the objects themselves as it was hard to reproduce the fine detail.)

The 1920 inscription above, by Joseph Cribb, screamed to me passages from Parker and Unwin’s The Art of Building a Home, along with other ideals stemming from the Arts and Crafts movement.

I also lingered a little too long by the above radio, probably a metre tall, dreaming of having it sat in the corner of a beautiful room, and imagining the warm tones it must emit.

I had a fantastic time in Cheltenham. I came away with a few new obsessions, and things and people to look up. The trip there and back was a breeze – also meant I could play some PSP and 2DS, even – and catching up with John without his prior knowledge was priceless.

2018 Weeknote 5

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Image from A London Year

What a busy week it’s been. Truly sticking it to January, I was. I think after too long these short days and dark evenings get to you and you just start to do things almost to spite it. I even managed two runs home.

Now February is here, perhaps there’s been a surge of energy, willing Spring to come along sooner. It’s also been nice to start a new month as it means turning the page in this lovely little book, which talks all about weather, the night sky, food, plants and folklore.

Workwise, I’ve had my head buried in the General Data Protection Regulation trying to work out how much of it applies to us. A lot, it turns out. There’s a bit of work to do, but it’s all fairly systematic and understandable and I don’t mind tackling it. It makes me think about things on a different level, too, with implications beyond just policy. It actually makes one consider people and other processes, too. I suppose it appeals to the side of me that quite likes rules and systems and processes.

To that end, a colleague and I attended a seminar on the subject in London which was helpful and got our minds going in terms of how it applies to us. It was also just really nice to be ‘forced’ into Central London on a weekday evening. The trip was bookended by witnessing an unusual chinook flight overhead and a post-wine meander across London Bridge looking either side and remembering that London is indeed okay.

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A few of my usual estate inspections this week, too. A utility company needed to dig a hole in one of our roads, so I’ve been keeping an eye on that. And about the most estate-management-thing that I did all week: clawing at fistfuls of damp earth, trying to locate an allotment water meter before realising it was actually located under a neat cover just nearby.

Mid-week we had supermegadeathmoon which did indeed stop me and my colleagues in our tracks: on our way to the pub, we stopped several times to take pictures on camera with lenses and sensors far to small to even replicate the unusualness of it all. It’s humbling but apt to realise how this very subtle difference in ‘size’ of a celestial object can have such an impact on our feeble monkey brains.

We celebrated the moon’s engorgement with the traditional scotch egg, cheese, platter of meats and red wine.

In radio this week, I learned about a self-described ‘pop-up’ DAB radio station which plays out repetitive sounds including tumble dryers etc to soothe babies to sleep. It reminded me of the Birdsong DAB station and got me looking into how such a station can exist.

I was recently made aware of the ‘trial’ London DAB multiplex as I’d been trying to see if I could get Resonance FM at home (I can – just barely), and of course, there are a number of other mini multiplex trials (also known as minimuxes) around the UK. A lot of them are trialling quite innovative systems, from using the newer DAB+ codecs (better efficiency and sound quality) to pioneering new ideas of what a radio station can be.

It also led to me learning about Upload Radio, where Joe Bloggs can record an hour of radio, upload it to a server to be moderated, and pay £20 to have it played out on a local DAB station. It’s an idea so ‘obvious’ but so great that I’m just thrilled to know it exists. Ditto the programmatic local weather services that just suck in Met Office data and use pre-recorded snippets to play it out. This is all done via cloud servers and is about as stripped-back a radio service as I can imagine.

What I’ve realised is that there is a lot of innovation occurring in the ten trial DAB multiplexes as much in terms of the business models as the actual output. Some are simply enabling a re-broadcast of community/local stations, but others are taking a look at the rather expensive, commercial side of getting on DAB and tearing apart the rulebook and I love it.

Later on this week I was thrilled to see an Ofcom licence awarded to Skylark, a Dartmoor-based setup which aims to broadcast field and folk recordings locally. I believe this is actually via FM, proving that innovation is taking place all over the place on radio.

I can’t resist the local angle on the radio – that a station can exist in a particular time or place. Of course, it’s fabulous that via the web one can just tune into any station and get a local flavour. But knowing the constraints of local broadcasting makes it all the more fascinating to actually be in the reception zone for a unique broadcast. I’m pleased to see Skylark, much like Sleepyhead did, has gathered a fair amount of press interest.

I assume I’ll be able to listen to Skylark on the web – but how much cooler to be within the FM broadcast area.

Finally in radio for this week, I happened to catch James and Nicky from the Manics on 6Music on Friday, sitting in for Iggy Pop. They played some fantastic music and it made me realise how rarely I listen to music radio these days. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a lovely reminder all the same of what’s out there.

Two things I enjoyed reading this week: Paul Stamatiou’s novella-length write-up of building a PC geared towards Lightroom, and I started Robin Sloan’s Sourdough, which I’ve enjoyed the first few chapters of. It feels familiar, somehow, having read Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, although for whatever reason I never finished that one.

This continues to amuse me whenever we happen to catch it on TV:

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After finishing Super Mario Land 2 last week, I made a start on the sequel, the first Wario game proper. I’ve only played a short while and it’s kind of got a different feel to it. Different flow. But it’s still great to play a game like this for the first time.

We also played more Trials Fusion (Megan is getting great at this and it’s fun to watch – Trials causes such twitchy fingers as you watch someone else attempt something that you’re SURE you could do – but then you try and fail just the same).

The big success this week has been trying out Portal 2‘s two-player co-op mode, which is surprisingly well-written and full-featured. It works really well as a two-player puzzler. Words can’t describe the joy I felt upon initiating my first infinite loop – truly one of my favourite moments in videogaming.

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This, followed by the use of the ‘see-saw’ bouncing platform also brought back fond memories of Circus Atari which, along with the use of those weird analogue ‘paddle’ controllers, was a very early taster of physics in videogames.

I also played a bit of Wipeout Pure on PSP this weekend, which I forgot made me very competitive. I like a bit of Mario Kart, but Wipeout‘s pulsing dance music soundtrack and insane high speeds (and high FPS) are pretty addictive.

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Why did I have time to play PSP this weekend? Well, I was on the train for a quite bit of it…

Y’see, my buddy John Tucker mentioned a few months ago that he was to attend his first ever comic festival (as an artist or an attendee), and I just had to get involved. But secretly.

For, you see, getting the upper hand on John isn’t easy.

So this weekend involved me hopping on a train to Cheltenham and going to said comic festival solely to show up at John’s stall and see his curmudgeonly face turn, however briefly, to one of genuine shock and surprise. It was very much worth it.

20180203_130028More on Cheltenham, and Sunday’s walk, to come…

2018 Weeknote 4

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Another week of various estate inspections, though fortunately nothing too dire – no more trees down. The Suburb didn’t escape the windy weather entirely though – I saw signs of damage to buildings, including St Jude’s, unfortunately.

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Lots of winter gardening going on – turning over of soil and tidying up here and there. And we’re almost ready to instruct our contractors to do the annual tree work on the estate. It’s one of the biggest jobs of the year, but we’ve got it down to a pretty fine art so far (I say that; it’s all down to my colleagues having done a grand job of it in years past).

I had a couple of evening meetings this week, which is unusual for me, but they do happen. Both estate management related, and both needing my input. It’s good to do these meetings now and again as the people who attend are good at asking questions about the things we do which we might not have considered. And it’s just nice to be able to do a periodic round-up of achievements and good news stories too.

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Earlier in the week, I met up with Jonty for a pint and a ramble about all sorts of things – initially radio-related but increasingly varied as our interests wove their way through one another. I came away pleased to have found a kindred spirit with so many shared obsessions, and the conversation left me scribbling away in my notebook for days afterwards. Some new projects, perhaps?

Fortunately for having a head bursting with ideas, I was able to take Thursday off. Unfortunately, I gave myself a little too much to do, and set myself up for the inevitable disappointment of missing a bunch of goals.

But I did get to muck around with some radio stuff – I satisfied myself that my RTL-SDR dongle is, in fact, working… But just not particularly well. I think my main problem is the antenna. So that’s another avenue to investigate. At the moment I’m favouring the ‘build one yourself with two pizza trays and some soldering’ over ‘buy one’ – but we’ll see.

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I also had a bash at filing some disparate audio recordings which were scattered over various hard drives. I found a handful that have some merit – they’re either clear enough, or they’re of an interesting thing – and I’ll try and do something with them.

Others were… a little disappointing. I was pleased to find a MiniDisc entitled ‘New Zealand Journal’, and knew it was an audio diary recorded on an early 2002 trip. I didn’t know much more about it, but was pleased to see the disc contained 41 minutes of audio. I left it digitising in Audacity, and was eager to hear it once it had finished.

To my surprise, there is about six minutes of me talking – I’m pleased to have that, at least – followed by about 30 minutes of various clips of what I think is NZ TV. I *think* what was going through my mind at the time was that it would be nice to have some snippets of NZ TV/radio to listen back on one day. But, a bit like looking back at holiday snaps to find ten photographs of the same tree, it’s actually sometimes better to have recordings of oneself rather than just the fluff around. Well, I suppose a mixture of both, if I’m honest.

Still, like I say, it was a slight disappointment. The holy grail (and I should know better than to set myself up for abject anticlimaxes) will be digitising the contents of a handful of microcassettes made on a Dictaphone when I was in year 7. The bulk of it is me dicking around while on a school trip to France, aged 11. I can’t wait to sample the delights contained on those.

Meanwhile, I spent some of this week playing Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, which is an all-time favourite of mine.

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It’s pretty easy, and the art and music is a delight. I was actually quite surprised how quickly I played through it, although I made good use of save states, which I wouldn’t have been able to the first time around. Still, it was nice to start and finish a game, and especially one so familiar.

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I plan to work my way through the roughly linear range of Mario games going forward, including the Wario games. Super Mario Bros. 3 is next. This one is much less familiar.

Saturday I messed listened to some radio, including logging some London pirate stations. As always, I found a cross-section. One station which I’ve grown rather fond of was playing a great mix on Saturday evening which included videogame samples. Another was, out of their peak hours, just playing a great playlist which I kept Shazam-ing (for want of a better verb) and adding to a Spotify playlist.

One station made me rather cross, however, as not only did they steal the hourly news of another commercial station, but they played out repetitive adverts for a herbal cancer remedy, gleefully listing the various other ailments it’s also good for. The thing that really got me though is that the station’s mission statement is all about the good it’s doing for the community. It’s basically operating as a community station, just without the license. So that wound me up.

I cook during the week, but usually from a limited list of staples that I am now confident with. The weekend is the time for me to grab a new recipe, usually from Good Food, but increasingly from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, it seems. This weekend was the former, and I chucked harissa paste all over some sea bass and some potatoes and made a killer Mediterranean salad.

I also made a start on the Buster Keaton Blu-ray set I got for Christmas. It’s a collection of his early short films, starting with the Fatty Arbuckle collaborations. I get a unique joy from watching well-restored hundred-year-old films. Partly it’s the way you can see the seams between theatre and film as it makes the transition from one to the other. And partly it’s the crisp, clear footage of real-world scenes, or at least mock-ups of them.

The other achievement of the weekend was getting the current website project to an almost-finished standard. It even has a shiny new URL (which is quite a pleasant outcome at the request of the client). I hope we’ll get the final tweaks sorted shortly and then it’ll be ready to go.

Sunday I went to see my mum, who seems well and happy. It was nice to visit Amersham briefly, to see what’s changed and what’s still the same. The old Iceland building (which was also the site of a cinema way back when) has gone, leaving a vast hole in the streetscape.

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I picked up some beers from a new(ish) place that does microbrewery beer on tap, as well as food, which I’d like to go back to another time. It was also heartening to see my childhood pet shop which sadly closed last year has (re?) opened as a pet shop once more.

And the longstanding independent mobile phone shop next to it (where I bought a Siemens S8 many, many years ago) is now… a vape shop.

Because of course it is.