International Dawn Chorus Day and Soundcamp

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This weekend is International Dawn Chorus Day. The first Sunday in May has become a good moment to stop and enjoy the increasing cacophony of natural sounds as Spring settles in.

Depending on your feelings, this can be little more than a half-noticed thing on a warm night with the window left open. Or it can be something worth waking up early for – to seek out some nearby woodland or farmland and really get amongst it.

If you want to go another step further, you could even listen to Soundcamp’s live audio show, a 24-hour broadcast called Reveil aiming to capture the chorus as it rolls across the face of the globe. There are also various Soundcamps taking place: literally campsites for like minded folks to turn up and listen in to the dawn chorus as it unfolds.

You can even take part in the audio feed by streaming your local environment  via microphone and internet connection, and allowing the main feed’s curators to bring in your sounds. There’s a lot more information on how to do that, and the project in general, here.

The great thing is that this won’t sound the same everywhere – for some it’ll be a familiar twittering, but elsewhere it might be captured by hydrophones bobbing in the ocean waves.

Starting on the morning of Saturday 5 May just before daybreak in Rotherhithe near the Greenwich Meridian, the Reveil broadcast will pick up these feeds one by one, tracking the sunrise west from microphone to microphone, following the wave of intensified sound that loops the earth every 24 hours at first light.

In 2018 Reveil features new streams from the UNESCO Monarch butterfly Biosphere Reserve at Cerro Pelón, State of México, the Noosa Biosphere Reserve in Queensland, Australia, a gull colony on South Walney Island, Cumbria, UK

The broadcast will run from 5am on Saturday morning until 6am on Sunday morning.

Whatever the source of the audio, you’ll be able to tune in online here, or in London via Resonance FM, who will play snippets including 5am-6am and 10.30pm-12am on Saturday, and Resonance Extra, which will be playing the whole thing live. Resonance Extra was recently added to the DAB Trial London multiplex.

 

On this day: Diary entries and transference

I’ve been thinking lately about certain kinds of diaries – both the paper kind, and their digital descendants*. More specifically, it’s the kind that enables, allows, or encourages reflection on previous entries.

* This is a reference to King’s College, London’s Centre For Life Writing Research, and their programme of research into diaries, another workshop of which is happening this Friday, and I’m looking forward to attending.

31Ez8kBVKvLOn the paper front, we have the five year diary. I’m not sure who first came up with the format, but it’s usually small, and each page has five blocks left blank for a new entry on each.

The idea is that you write your daily entry on each fresh page. A year later, you’re back on the same page, and you enter the corresponding day’s entry in the box below.

And so on.

You end up with a diary that holds five years of (quite brief) diary entries. More than any other diary format, you end up almost unable to ignore the musings of one or more years previously on the same day.

(These diaries are sometimes alternatively branded as ‘One Line a Day’ or, ‘A Thought a Day’.)

It’s a neat idea, and one I’ve often thought I’d like to try, not just for the novel format, but also for the enforced restriction on each entry’s length.

IMG_0329The feature of revealing previous entries one year on is also prevalent in the digital descendants of diaries that many people now use. These include Facebook’s ‘On This Day feature’, and the app Timehop, whose raison d’être is to show you stuff you posted online a year ago (and two, and three, and so on).

The feature is also present in the cross-platform diary app Journey, which can optionally present you with a random post from your archive from that day in the past.

Even more than the five year diary, these digital tools can utterly bombard you with such content. The paper-based five year diary (or the ‘line’, or ‘thought’ a day, remember), inherently limits the entry’s length. So one might end up with quite ‘light’ entries. They could also be very blunt – but they’d be brief, at least.

On the other hand, I know I personally stopped using both Facebook and Timehop’s ‘on this day’ features due to the sheer cognitive overload of what it dredges up.

This is, of course, my own fault.

If I posted thirty or so updates on a given day (and, maybe, possibly, have done so for ten years or more…), then to be confronted with 250+ individual posts every morning is simply too much to take in. Too much to even scroll through, let alone digest.

Further, what does all this mean? What meaning am I to read into this stuff, simply because it happened a year hence? Years are very arbitrary, of course. But there are bound to be some similarities: comments on seasonal weather conditions; the marking of annual festivals and anniversaries. Possibly, even, similar moods affected by those same seasons and festivals. But beyond that it is, essentially, random what will be shown.

The obvious point I’ve avoided so far is the possibility that one will be presented with an unpleasant memory. A hard break-up. A terrible episode in one’s life. The death of a loved one. Losing a job.

Of course, all these things may have their place in a person’s diary/life routine. They may be used to reflect and build upon. But it’s not for nothing that Facebook, for example, gives some fairly blunt tools to remove On This Day posts that involve a named person – an ex-partner, perhaps.

Equally, being confronted with relentlessly positive, cheery entries from years in the past may compound one’s feeling of their golden years slipping away, and add to a feeling of enveloping gloom.

Facebook and Timehop are bound to colour a reader’s thoughts with so much stuff being thrown back at them in one go. And so it follows that if, when you go to your diary app, or your five year journal, and you’re confronted with an old entry, surely your new entry will be influenced by that. Possibly that’s even the whole point of using such a tool, as a means of reflection and growth.

Whatever the cause or reason for embracing such a tool, I’ve been trying to come up with a name for the phenomenon by which one’s new or current diary entry is directly impacted by the content of a previous one. I alighted on the term ‘transference’, simply because it popped up in a recent random Reddit post about whether psychologists, in turn, need psychologists to deal with all the stuff they hear. Looking up what transference means, I’m not sure it’s quite the right phrase. But it’s close.

Shortwave DX log for evening of Thursday 15 March 2018

Logged via Tecsun PL-380 in NW London (currently GMT so UTC+0) via long wire antenna.

I’m still getting to grips with SINPO ratings and this Android app for logging; until now I’ve used a notebook and pen and rather fuzzier ratings like ‘fair but some interference’. But the app provides a decent, fast, offline schedule lookup, and the built-in logging function does 90% of what I would want it to.


5935Khz RADIO ROMANIA INT. (ROMANIA) in ENGLISH from TIGANESTI. SINPO = 53443. 2098KM from transmitter at Tiganesti.
5955Khz RADIO ROMANIA INT. (ROMANIA) in SERBIAN from SAFTICA. SINPO = 43333. 2170KM from transmitter at Saftica.
5970Khz CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA) in FRENCH from CERRIK. SINPO = 43233. 1938KM from transmitter at Cerrik.
5990Khz RADIO ROMANIA INT. (ROMANIA) in ROMANIAN from GALBENI. SINPO = 44444. 2015KM from transmitter at Galbeni.
6010Khz CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA) in AMOY from URUMQI (XINJIANG, CRI). SINPO = 43323. 6159KM from transmitter at Urumqi (Xinjiang, CRI).
6070Khz CHANNEL 292 (GERMANY) from ROHRBACH. SINPO = 21111. 899KM from transmitter at Rohrbach.
6160Khz CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA) in GERMAN from XIAN-XIANYANG (SHAANXI). SINPO = 33222. 8260KM from transmitter at Xian-Xianyang (Shaanxi).
7245Khz TRANS WORLD RADIO (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) in TIGRE from GRIGORIOPOL. SINPO = 32112. 2177KM from transmitter at Grigoriopol.
7275Khz CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA) in MANDARIN from URUMQI (XINJIANG, CRI). SINPO = 32222. 6159KM from transmitter at Urumqi (Xinjiang, CRI).
7340Khz CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA) in ITALIAN from KASHI (KASHGAR) (XINJIANG). SINPO = 54444. 5807KM from transmitter at Kashi (Kashgar) (Xinjiang).
7360Khz CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA) in FRENCH from CERRIK. SINPO = 53433. 1938KM from transmitter at Cerrik.
7375Khz RADIO ROMANIA INT. (ROMANIA) in ROMANIAN from GALBENI. SINPO = 54444. 2015KM from transmitter at Galbeni.
7395Khz CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA) in GERMAN from KASHI (KASHGAR) (XINJIANG). SINPO = 54333. 5807KM from transmitter at Kashi (Kashgar) (Xinjiang).
7405Khz CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA) in ENGLISH from BEIJING-MATOUCUN (CRI/CNR). SINPO = 42332. 8209KM from transmitter at Beijing-Matoucun (CRI/CNR).
7480Khz RADIO PAYAM E-DOOST (CLA) in PERSIAN from GRIGORIOPOL. SINPO = 44343. 2177KM from transmitter at Grigoriopol.
7495Khz VOA DEEWA RADIO (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) in PASHTO from BIBLIS. SINPO = 43333. 647KM from transmitter at Biblis.
7550Khz ALL INDIA RADIO GOS (INDIA) in ENGLISH from BANGALORE). SINPO = 54444. 8011KM from transmitter at Bangalore).
9400Khz BROTHER STAIR (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) in ENGLISH from SOFIA-KOSTINBROD. SINPO = 44343. 2027KM from transmitter at Sofia-Kostinbrod.
9495Khz VOICE OF TURKEY (TURKEY) in SPANISH from EMIRLER. SINPO = 43233. 2867KM from transmitter at Emirler.
9555Khz BSKSA 1 (SAUDI ARABIA) in ARABIC from RIYADH. SINPO = 31111. 4955KM from transmitter at Riyadh.
9570Khz MWV NEW LIFE STATION (MADAGASCAR) in RUSSIAN. SINPO = 43232. Local time: 1822.
9590Khz BBC (UNITED KINGDOM) in SOMALI from MEYERTON. SINPO = 32112. 9062KM from transmitter at Meyerton.
9615Khz CHINA RADIO INT. (CHINA) in GERMAN from URUMQI (XINJIANG, CRI). SINPO = 32222. 6159KM from transmitter at Urumqi (Xinjiang, CRI).
9660Khz RADIO VATICANA (VATICAN CITY STATE) in PORTUGUESE from SANTA MARIA DI GALERIA. SINPO = 54344. 1415KM from transmitter at Santa Maria di Galeria.
9675Khz BSKSA RIAD (SAUDI ARABIA) in TURKISH from RIYADH. SINPO = 44444. 4955KM from transmitter at Riyadh.
9715Khz BIBLE VOICE (UNITED KINGDOM) from MOOSBRUNN. SINPO = 44333. 1248KM from transmitter at Moosbrunn.
9830Khz DEUTSCHE WELLE (GERMANY) in HAUSSA from PINHEIRA. SINPO = 43433. 5727KM from transmitter at Pinheira.
9870Khz BSKSA 1 (SAUDI ARABIA) in ARABIC from RIYADH. SINPO = 43333. 4955KM from transmitter at Riyadh.
11900Khz VOICE OF AMERICA (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) in AMHARIC from MEYERTON. SINPO = 32121. 9062KM from transmitter at Meyerton.
11975Khz BBC (UNITED KINGDOM) in FRENCH from ASCENSION ISLAND. SINPO = 53332. 6684KM from transmitter at Ascension Island.
12065Khz BBC (UNITED KINGDOM) in TIGRINYA from MEYERTON. SINPO = 21111. 9062KM from transmitter at Meyerton.
13630Khz VOICE OF AMERICA (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) in PORTUGUESE from MOPENG HILL. SINPO = 32221. 8536KM from transmitter at Mopeng Hill.
13845Khz DR.GENE SCOTT (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) in ENGLISH from NASHVILLE, TN (WWCR). SINPO = 22221. 6734KM from transmitter at Nashville, TN (WWCR).
15200Khz DEUTSCHE WELLE (GERMANY) in HAUSSA from MEYERTON. SINPO = 32222. 9062KM from transmitter at Meyerton.
15400Khz BBC (UNITED KINGDOM) in ENGLISH from ASCENSION ISLAND. SINPO = 43433. 6684KM from transmitter at Ascension Island.
15490Khz BBC (UNITED KINGDOM) in FRENCH from ASCENSION ISLAND. SINPO = 44343. 6684KM from transmitter at Ascension Island.
15580Khz VOICE OF AMERICA (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) in ENGLISH from MOPENG HILL. SINPO = 32332. 8536KM from transmitter at Mopeng Hill.

 

2018 Weeknote 10

I’ve done ten of these now, so I guess it’s A Thing? Admittedly I’ll need to do another 42 to make it official, and that seems like a bewildering number, but it feels like A Thing, so long may that continue.

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After the previous week’s snow, it was back to business as usual at work, for the most part. There’s a lot of seasonal admin going on at the moment – some big mailouts. My office has a very cyclical nature to it, which I enjoy, as you can usually tell what’s happening, or predict busy periods and lulls, and organise your work accordingly. It also provides semi-artificial deadline, and lord knows I need a good deadline. Amongst very estate-y tasks was spray-painting potholes on one of our private roads, which was rather satisfying.

I also made some more progress on the two websites I’m working on in my own time. They’re close to being ready now, which I’m pleased about. Both clients are very helpful in their feedback and vision for how they want things to look and feel. It’s been a very positive experience so far.


I can’t resist a good thinkpiece about daily routines or media consumption, so it’s no surprise that that NY Times one about news consumption and that Atlantic one about retweets caught my eye.

After the NY Times piece I found myself nodding along with most of it, and was pleased to find that Phil Gyford‘s ace Guardian Daily is still working well. It strips out the content of each day’s paper into just clean text and some images, and makes the whole thing swipeable in a browser. Crucially it allows the reader to focus only on the story (not easy on the full Guardian website), and it provides the sense of a finite, finishable object that the likes of Craig Mod and others so often hail. It also had me reaching for stockists of the Guardian’s excellent Weekly edition, but I can’t seem to find any; it only seems to be available by post in the UK. I might try a trial. It made more sense when keeping up with news while in, say, New Zealand. But actually the weekly round-up nature of it – the slow news aspect – seems more appealing than ever in this current age of breaking news.

And the Atlantic piece about retweets made some sense. I quite like some retweets. They’re a nice way to diversify your feed (only a little, mind you – the echo chamber is a persistent issue), and they often bring items of interest. But they also provide items of little interest – and worse, they often come without comment. My friend retweeted this thing, but what do they feel about it? It’s not as simple as just assuming they agree 100%. It might be promotion of a serious issue, or just a quick meme that made them chuckle. Context is important.

As the piece mentions, there’s no easy way to turn off retweets globally, although my third party app of choice Flamingo has such a feature. And even better, it allows quoted tweets to show – and these are the ones I want to see. They provide the all-important context.

My plan is to go retweet-free for the rest of the week, and then turn them back on globally, turning RTs off on a per-account basis until I reach a happy medium.


M and I watched series one of Spaced this weekend, and it’s the kind of show I can virtually quote word-for-word. It’s been some years since we both watched it, and although elements still cut deep as they’re so well written or edited, other stick out like a bizarre anachronism: ringing someone’s landline from a payphone in the pub? Smoking in a nightclub?! But it’s reassuring how much of this 1999 TV series remains hilarious and ‘cutting edge’, nearly twenty years on. Series two next.

I made more progress in Banished, you’ll be pleased to hear. I’ve got my community up to 150 or so adults, with plenty more children and students on their way. The game still occasionally feels like a grind, but the realism of the mechanics of the town’s expansion – oh no, the cemetery is full, I’d better build a new one – are engaging. I’m concerned that the game is a bit too open-ended. There’s no narrative or end-game (that I know of). So at some stage I will just have a steadily increasing town. There’s also no development of eras like some games have – where you’ll transition through styles of architecture or technology, say. Still, I’m still some hours away from the first perceived achievement level of 300 citizens, although I did get some cute awards for having a very happy town, and a very healthy town.

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I was bored on a train platform this week, so I was tuning round on my handheld DAB radio and stumbled on Forces Radio BFBS at a time when they were playing classic rock and indie. It provided a nice distraction, and I was a little stunned to see that the DAB+ station was streaming at a paltry 24kbps! I’ve seen other stations just scraping by on 32kbps, and they tend to be predominantly spoken word. But here was a music show sounding pretty decent on very little bandwidth.

In fact, the only audio glitch I could discern was the intro of the Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go which has some stereo separation which wasn’t being properly played out.

A brief scan of Wohnort tells me that this is the lowest bitrate of any DAB station, certainly nationally (apart from data services), and it’s very promising to hear such efficient compression sounding so reasonable.


On Thursday I went back to Oxford for the second time in recent weeks. This time I had tickets to see the wonderful Youthmovies play their first gig in eight years, and I was thrilled to see the Audiograft festival was taking place while I would be visiting, so I made some plans to enjoy some of the installations and performances from the audio/noise festival.

Now that I know the layout of Oxford a bit better, and I’ve scoped out a few good pubs and eateries, it’s a nice little city to wander round.

I made sure to visit the Natural History and Pitt Rivers museum(s?) this time, and loved them both. The former is well-lit under a glass roof, and has a classical, elegant display of animal skeletons inside a gorgeous neo-Gothic building. And the latter is a vast collection of antique display cases of various items from around the world. It’s a darker space, and has the air of rooting around a closed museum or even a particularly well-stocked attic space.

Unlike other museums with similar ethnographic collections, the Pitt Rivers lumps items of a kind together in one area. So here you’ll have writing instruments, or there you’ll find timepieces. Or, more specifically, you might find Treatment of Dead Enemies, or Charms and Amulets. It makes for a fascinating selection, particularly seeing such contrasting objects cheek by jowl across cultures.

After the museums and a much-needed pint – outside in the Spring sunshine! – I headed to OVADA, an exhibition space in an old industrial building. Inside I found installations of sound experiments, including vinyl records playing a Morse code version of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale which was then received by a device that attempted to decode and display the words. It did this through a thin veil of recordings of birdsong and other ‘interruptions’, causing small glitches in the text. I was pleased to find that the artist Kathy Hinde was around to explain a little more about her installation Twittering Machines.

Elsewhere I also found Sally Ann MacIntyre’s Study for a Data Deficient Species (Grey Ghost Transmission). It was a necessarily small (portable!) installation, with an enchanting recording I had also encountered via the recent Radiophrenia broadcasts. I’ve followed Sally Ann’s blog radio cegeste for a number of years, so it was nice to come into contact with her work at OVADA thanks to Audiograft.

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The space at OVADA affords a number of opportunities for installations like this one, but also some compromises. On the one hand it is a large space and allows for a number of installations to co-exist without feeling too crammed in. On the other hand, as some of these works are by their very nature audible, they compete for attention as they reverberate around. This worked quite nicely for the most part: hearing birdsong interrupted by music, impersonated birdsong, and the staccato human-spoken binary of Simon Blackmore’s How We Communicate made for quite a mixture of sounds and audio textures quite in line with the other textures on show, whether part of an installation or the fabric of the building itself.

An example of the aural environment on my visit to OVADA can be heard below:

Later, I made my way to the beautiful Holywell Music Room where I was pleased to catch three of the evening’s four pieces.

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It’s a gorgeous space, I’m sure, for any type of music and performance. But the three pieces I caught were all experimental in their own different ways. First was a wordless exploration of human vocal sounds in response to external stimuli – thought not strictly to my taste, I enjoyed the fact that such a performance found a home in such a space; they suited each other in their own unusual ways.

Next was an interesting cross section of nerdy audio experimentation and sheer noise. A series of four cymbals was placed upon individual speakers, through which sound was passed, causing the cymbals to reverberate. This was then, I believe, fed back into the speakers. It was essentially twenty minutes of feedback, but finely tuned, and the aural equivalent of seeing coloured dye dropped into clear water and watching as it swirled slowly, forming organic or pseudo-random patterns.

The last piece I caught was, I think, an interpretation of a simple narrative of house and the stories it held, told through spoken word, projected video, and overhead transparencies.

It caused me a little amusement that all three pieces suffered from the “It’s not finished!…. It’s finished!” issue as parodied in Spaced. But I was so glad to have caught such a diverse set of performances. And all as a ‘pay what you decide’ format, with anonymous donations upon leaving.

I would’ve been more sad to miss the last act, were I not headed to the Bullingdon for the Youthmovies show.

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It’s hard to summarise the show, really, as the band take up so much emotional space in my head, having soundtracked significant episodes in my life, some wonderful and some less so. But seeing a band play for the first time in eight years – in honour of a departed friend of theirs – was as emotional and uncanny and yet familiar as I had hoped. Fittingly, it wasn’t a perfect performance. They played songs they hadn’t played together in years, and most of them feature quite unusual time signatures. But it felt like a 100% positive and uplifting experience for all present.

As expected, I had forgotten over the years some of the magic of their live performance that made them such a favourite in the first place. Their recorded output will remain a bewilderingly impressive and imaginative selection of tracks. But it’s their immense joy at playing these special songs, and the modesty and passion they display when onstage that makes them a truly special band. It was an honour to have the opportunity to step back into those shoes for one night.


And then this weekend, with nothing much planned, M and I went for a nice walk along the canal on Saturday afternoon. And on Sunday I felt the urge to go for a little run, and ended up covering 22km.

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I had intended to head as far as I could towards the Thames, and to turn back for home whenever I felt like I was flagging. But as Foo Fighters’ My Hero hit its climactic chorus on Whitehall, and Strava announced that I’d hit the 10km mark, I knew I had to continue.

I treat these kind of cross-city runs as something of a sightseeing exercise – people-watching in motion, with some London landmarks thrown in for free.

I’m suffering some aches and pains a day later, but it’s reassuring to know I can still pull that out of the bag every now and then. As Spring comes, I intend to get a little bit of consistency into my running and walking.

2018 Weeknote 9

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Well, then. The snow came! And although it’s sometimes boring to talk about the weather, it’s hard to avoid the fact that this week’s snow changed things up a little bit. It meant a change in footwear, a change in walking style, and just a change in psychology for a lot of people. It’s funny how snow does that.

 

Workwise, it meant that a bunch of jobs went out of the window as I scrambled to ensure our contractors could grit the relevant bits of land we’re responsible for. And to make things slightly easier for them, I took it upon myself to do the land around the office and the two flats we own. There’s nothing like the ‘blank slate’ of a snowed-in driveway to get me out there sweeping, shovelling and salting until it’s clear. Or clear enough, at least. But still, progress with cyclical maintenance rumbles on, and as usual I realise all too late just how much work is involved in this job or that.

It was nice pottering about in the snow. For one thing, the acoustics are wonderful, as the bed of snow absorbs everything and turns everywhere into a sort of anechoic chamber. For another, I suddenly realised I could do some animal tracking on some of the less trafficked areas nearby. I was able to identify the tracks of a cat, a dog, a fox and – maybe? – a muntjac deer. No badgers, sadly.

 

Meanwhile, something I loved reading this week was Andy Kelly’s travelogue-esque thing about the inhabitants of a town in the Witcher 3. It really caught my imagination, not least because I often have this kind of reaction to games, where I wish I could ‘report’ on the goings-on therein in a series of diaries or similar. I even had a go at doing that with a version of Harvest Moon once, but it turned out to be a terrible idea. But the way he brings the place and the people to life is subtly very clever, and it was just a very enjoyable read. Naturally some credit must go to the game’s developers for creating a world so rich and alive that it bears this kind of reportage!

It also reminded me that I’ve not yet spent enough time with Skyrim yet to decide how I really feel about it. I had visions of being able to do something similar to the above article by mincing around the game, looking around the various settlements and treating it like a little holiday. I also had in mind the concept of the newest Assassin’s Creed game that has a tourist mode – it’s set in ancient Egypt, and although it initially has the usual cutthroat assassiny goodness, it now has this update that allows the player to simply go about the world observing the ways of its people and not having to do any of the fighting or level grinding the main game requires.

Alas, as I Googled ‘Skyrim combat free’, I realised that such a function was not present here. The nearest I found was this chucklesome column in which the player tried to do just that, only they still had to use spells to at least enable them to outrun danger if not remove combat entirely.

Still, I spent some time in Skyrim this week and, although I felt a familiar reluctance wash over me as the loading screens spoke of dragons and spells and orcs, I have to admit I love the world design. Solitude looks stunning – from the architecture of individual buildings, to how it is all laid out in a very organic way. It’s a very believable settlement, and the scale is overwhelming in the number of buildings one can enter.

There are a good number of other characters milling about – guards with snarky one-liners just biding their time in the cold night air, traders plying their wares, and drunkards loitering outside taverns telling tall stories of past adventures.

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The lighting complements it all beautifully, whether in daylight or at night when the stars come out, a vast moon looms overhead, and occasionally a spellbinding aurora fades into view. As you’ll note from the slight pixellation above, I was dying for the Xbox 360 to have a screenshot function, but alas it doesn’t. Maybe that’s for the best; I’d spend far too long taking snaps as I went about the place. (I started to do this in GTA:V, but the process for uploading them was ever-so-slightly clunky, so I soon stopped bothering.)

I set myself the task of doing a task or two in Skyrim, to spend half an hour or so in the world, playing the actual game. And I did okay, although it just feels like there’s too much. Too much to learn, too much to know, too much to remember. And although I’m sure I could ignore certain things, it feels like I have a fundamental understanding of how the game plays.

For one thing, I kept accidentally unlocking/starting quests. I get that this is an open-ended game without a linear progression. But it gets a bit confusing not knowing which path I should be on. It’s fairly clear that ‘frightened woman’ and ‘drunkard outside tavern’ are side quests that are just there to fill your time, but I was stuck not knowing whether to storm a bandit-filled fortress or to go and retrieve an unknown object from an unknown place.

And then I fell foul of the world itself: it’s bloody gigantic, and the fact that it’s so organic and well designed means it’s actually quite easy to get lost.

Many of these problems are my own fault. I want to ‘get into’ the game. I want to play it. I want to progress. But I also realise that wayfinding and exploring and making personal decisions about which quest to follow are the game. Right? Just don’t get me started on having to learn spells or keep up to date with my inventory and so on.

This throwaway line in a Nintendo Switch round-up resonated with me, particularly as I had similar issues with Fallout: New Vegas:

That moment when playing Skyrim, scaling a mountain and seeing all that heady scale unfurl before you on a handheld. Followed by the moment, shortly afterwards, when you realise you don’t really like Bethesda games all that much and you just spunked away £49.99 to play a game you didn’t particularly enjoy five years ago.

Anyway. I’ll give it another whirl when I’ve got an hour spare.

Another game I decided to try out for the first time this week was Chrono Trigger (don’t worry – not the mobile or new PC version). But my current summary can be whittled down to “I just basically don’t like RPGs, no matter how beautiful they look.”

This weekend was nice and wholesome. Some cooking and baking, which included assembly of some smørrebrød on Saturday morning, and trying, and failing, trying again, failing again, and then finally succeeding in making some cinnamon rolls.

We haven’t baked much in this flat. Megan has loads of great equipment and is by all accounts a pretty decent baker. But it’s rare that we get the rolling pin out and do what I would describe as ‘proper’ baking. But this weekend on a flip through a Nigella recipe book, we alighted on her Norwegian cinnamon rolls. We were aware that it was quite a longwinded recipe (‘proper’ baking, remember), but also that we had a Saturday afternoon spare to roll up our sleeves and dig out the Kenwood.

Anyway, somewhere between that casual flip through a recipe book, and us stuffing our faces in front of a film on Saturday night, something truly uncanny happened. I’ll save the 900-page epic for another day, but the short version is this: digital scales can be off. I don’t just mean not correctly calibrated. I mean not calibrated properly from being powered on. How likely this is, I do not know. I only know it took us two lots of dough to realise something was amiss.

Reader, putting something with a known weight on a digital scale and it reading out the incorrect weight is an absolutely headfuck. I weighed about five more things. I started to try and work out how long it had been giving the wrong weights. How many other recipes it had subtly ruined. How I had been deceived for so long. I wondered if I could trust the glowing LED clock on the oven underneath.

It was all very unsettling.

But the good news is that we persevered, and we made some of the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever eaten.

 

Ironic, then, that the movie we scoffed them to was one of sheer human endurance in the face of a seemingly impossible task. Yes, we watched The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young. And what a story it tells. As a documentary, it works pretty well given the tricky filming conditions. It’s supported by a strong cast of oddballs, visionaries, competitors and other misfits.

Without giving too much away – just find it and watch it, it’s a hoot – it tells the story of a unique sporting event (and in particular the 2012 event) in which forty entrants compete to complete five loops of a forest/mountain/wilderness course something like 20 miles in length. It involves navigating, climbing, descending, running, hiking, traversing a storm drain under a prison (I shit you not), and just enduring all this, up to five times in a row, over the course of sixty hours with as much sleep and recovery as your previous attempt allows before you must set out again. The event draws competitors from around the world, who all go through a bizarre application process before assembling and waiting for the unspecified start signal to strike.

It’s a great film. Gripping. And you watch through your fingers wondering, ridiculously, how much of it you could comfortably tackle.

This was the second of two films we watched this weekend, after Wild. Megan had recently read the memoir the film is based on, but I came to the film cold, and I loved it. It tells the story very capably of what it’s like to go on a long, solitary walk, and the mindset of the walker embarking upon it, and the vast amounts of baggage – both literal and figurative – that she took along the way.

I am quite fascinated by films like Wild that try to tell a true story, and that have been produced by, or with the cooperation of, the people involved. I’m thinking of films such as Almost Famous or Apollo 13 – from both ends of the spectrum of ‘personal’ versus ‘global’ story. It can just make for a much more interesting story-behind-the-story, especially if paired with a good documentary or director’s commentary.

On Sunday, not that Wild or The Barkley Marathons had inspired us at all, we set out on the London LOOP again. This time we tackled two sections in one day. It was a fairly tall order, but we’re planning on walking the South Downs Way in a couple of month’s time, so it seemed like a good opportunity to stretch the legs and get an 18-mile day in and see where any problems may lie. It also helped that the snow was quickly disappearing and the air felt positively mild after a week of sub-zero temperatures and a sharp windchill.

 

Section three of the LOOP goes from Petts Wood to Hayes, and section four continues on to Croydon. Two very enjoyable sections, with the latter consisting of a surprising amount of woodland and rural settings.

I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in saying that when I think of Croydon I don’t think of ‘farmland’, ‘golf courses’ and ‘pockets of ancient woodland’. Sorry Croydon. That’s all changed now. Well, almost. Your weird Emerald City skyline still looms in the distance and – yay, trams! But – boo, no service!

The panoramic views back to London including Wembley stadium, the Shard, and transmitter towers was also pretty ace even on a grey day.

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In general, something I found endlessly surprising about the Capital Ring, and that I continue to love about the London LOOP, is how you can emerge through a thick hedgerow, having stomped through miles of mud until you find yourself at a TfL bus stop and good transport links back to the centre of town.

Fortunately this was true for the end of section four – well, a kilometre or so short of the end, at least. Unfortunately even though the days continue to get longer, we were caught out by the quickly darkening skies and we had to cut our walk short. We had to choose between a busy, unlit road followed by fields, or to double back along a known, sheltered bridleway to the nearest buses – a pretty easy decision in the end. A smattering of photographs from the two sections is below. One of the last sights of interest before the daylight completely faded was the distinctive movement and white tail of a deer in Selsdon Wood.

But what a day. Long, varied, surprising, satisfying – and very encouraging, as it reminded us both that with even better prep and much longer days, we will be able to tackle 20+ mile days on the South Downs Way without too much trouble.