2020 weeknote 7 – Hastings, a new camera lens, and The Lighthouse

Recent radio and podcast listening: Radio 3’s Saturday Breakfast and Unclassified with Elizabeth Alker; Giles Coren and Esther Walker’s podcast Giles Coren Has No Idea; Late Junction.

I think I’ve set myself an accidentally high bar when it comes to Weeknotes as I seem to be writing a thousand words or more and sometimes there just ain’t enough notes for the week. This week is one of them.

Trying to summarise office-based workmadness is getting beyond me, but I’ve noticed it’s taking up more and more of my mental energy which is in some ways good and in more ways quite bad. I keep having (or needing) little things that provide context and help me to separate work life from life life.

I went to see The Lighthouse this week and it was batshit crazy, and very enjoyable. It’s always so fun to watch a film that seems to have such a good grasp on what it’s trying to achieve, and it feels like it was all hands on deck. There’s a lot of questionable nonsense in there too, but not everything has to make sense. I really enjoyed it.

I seem to have made it this far knowing little to nothing about the director or producers/studio – possibly because some of their other output has been (afaik) horror, which I don’t tend to go for. But I find that I like media that sets itself restrictions and works within them (or, I suppose, watching old stuff that had what we now know of as restrictions but which were, at the time, simply the norm). So I may check out some more in this vein.

On the subject of films, I use Letterboxd to log the films I watch. Do you?


I picked up a new camera lens on a recent visit to St Albans – an old SLR 35mm f2.8 thingy from the 70s or 80s I think. I already had an adapter for putting M42 lenses onto my Canon dSLR, and I am happy to report that I’ve been enjoying using this new one.

It is extremely manual, and obviously focus is an issue as, with a modern dSLR, there isn’t a frosted glass focus aid or similar, so you’re just doing it by eye through the viewfinder. Or you can use zone focusing, which I don’t think I really understood before, but which I do now (to a degree), and it has helped me achieve some nice results.

On top of this it’s just a nice object – all-metal, solid construction, etc. It’s nice to have in my collection of lenses.


At the weekend M and I popped down to Hastings – oddly enough a repeat of a trip five years earlier, and somewhere we’ve felt drawn towards on a couple of other occasions since. We had a nice (if rainy and stormy) couple of days down there and I’m intending to write separately about our weekend.

I took my new lens and took some pictures with it.

One draw was the Hastings Parkrun course which is a fast, flat, out-and-back along the sea front. I’ve run that course twice before, so this time went for a third. Being on the front and out-and-back (and in the beginnings of storm Dennis) meant for a particularly fast out and a running-face-first-into-the-wind back. Fortunately what this meant overall was that I broke my PB for a standalone 5k*, which was unexpected and very nice.

* Strava tells me I’ve run a faster 5k before, but in the middle of a 10k run, which figures as that would make it a 5k with a rolling start and finish which you’d expect to be faster.

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Anyway, being at the coast is nice and being at the coast in a winter storm is also quite nice (with the usual caveats). We ate good food and as much as we got soaked and windswept, we also found lovely cosy little places to warm up and dry out.

There we are, you see? I only wrote 700 words this week. Let’s see what next week inspires.

2020 weeknote 3 – radio, field recording, and running

I feel like if I try and write these things quickly I might – just might – end up at weeknotes zero (as in, up to date, not going back in time). So, here she is: week three of 2020.


I noticed recently that my listening habits have tipped the balance from being mainly podcasts and some radio to mainly radio and some podcasts. This happens from time to time. I go through phases where I care more about what middle-class white guys have to say about the world of consumer technology, to caring more about music, current affairs and experimental radio and sound art. Thus, lately my ears have been mostly full of the latter.

An average day might look like this (thank me later, RAJAR):

Centreforce is not my usual cup of tea in terms of music. BUT it has the energy and pep of a breakfast show that I can’t help but enjoy at that time of the morning. But what really seals the deal for me are the shout outs. The radio nerd in me wants to call them QSL reports as listeners-in from Kent and Luton and Kilburn and south London chime in, with the deejay reading out the reports a few at a time every few minutes.

Out to Danny! Out to easy Dee, how are you fella? Out to Sam. Out to the 198.* Out to Bob the chippy – large cod and chips for me please mate – ah just kidding, not that kind of chippy are ya?! Out to Razzer. Biggin’ up Sara in Dagenham. Outs to the Cheshunt crew – oi, bring us a bacon butty yeah?

And so on. With deft use of the faders between each announcement for a brief burst of music.

* I believe this is a reference to the last digits of a phone number when used to identify an otherwise unnamed correspondent, rather than, say, Centreforce masquerading as a numbers station.

And it’s brilliant. It makes you feel like you’re on this big map of London and the home counties, where Centreforce, which started life as a pirate station, now broadcasts legitimately on DAB in glorious* 32kbps DAB+.

* listenable, but entirely not glorious. The state of Britain’s approach to DAB broadcasts is a bit of a shitshow, with the majority of stations still being in old-school DAB, and those that are in DAB+ having to squeeze as much juice as possible out of the fact that the more efficient codec allows for lower bitrates. As an example, Belgium broadcasts all its stations via DAB+ almost entirely at 96kbps, whereas most experimental British DAB+ streams seem to top out at 64kbps. ANYWAY.

Sure, the shout outs might be inflated or manipulated somehow but…. I bet they’re not. It just gives a lovely warm interactive edge to listening in, particularly on a breakfast show, as we are all variously on our way to work, on our way home, getting the kids off to school, or rejoicing in the sweet kiss of a day off.

The ‘OS’ show on BBC World Service is a funny one. It’s broadcast live from the middle of the newsroom at Broadcasting House, and sounds like it too. It’s one of the least good-sounding radio shows I listen to at the moment as there is a lot of background noise, and frequent delays when patching in correspondents from around the globe.

But, as with all good radio, this doesn’t get in the way of the content itself being great. It’s a refreshing take on the day’s news – and as with most BBC World Service shows versus BBC Radio 4, it knows it has a global audience, so you get the impression you’re hearing the news that actually matters on a global level rather than a bias towards events nearer to home.

Whilst I’m on the subject of radio, I saw this great visualisation of American FM stations from Erin Davis (via Robin Sloan) recently, which I loved:

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Source: https://erdavis.com/2020/01/04/visualizing-the-geography-of-fm-radio/

Unnnf. Love it. Click through for how/why, and some other visualisations of similar data.


We also went to see Rose Matafeo performing her Horndog show at the Ambassadors Theatre which was great. She’s so funny and full of energy. I hadn’t actually seen her do full stand-up before, but she is great on Taskmaster and other things we’ve seen her in. Her show was great. The one we went to was a sort of technical rehearsal for a filming the next day, so it’ll be available somehow, soon.

It also meant that through a stroke of extreme luck, I managed to book seats dead centre of the middle of a row in stalls, right behind a space where some seats had been removed to place a camera for the filming the next day.

If only all London theatres had this kind of legroom.


On Saturday I went to a Field Recording workshop in Bethnal Green which was run by the label nonclassical and hosted by sound artist Kate Carr, whose Field Recording Show has recently just finished a run on Resonance FM and which I absolutely loved.

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It was a really great session – inclusive, interesting and a great opportunity to understand different takes on the same medium, and to try out new techniques and equipment in an encouraging and helpful environment.

For me, it was cool to try out a pick-up coil mic to record electronic noises which are not normally audible, and it was great to be encouraged to explore the immediate vicinity – a busy high street and a London park – looking for interesting sounds to do… something…with. (More on that in another post to follow.)

It was also an opportunity for me to chat with other like-minded people and find out about their motivations and projects. I struggled a bit with that aspect, but only through my own anxieties and weirdnesses. It was, as I say, a really inclusive, lovely crowd.

They’re running more workshops and I’d highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in field recording, regardless of background or prior knowledge.


And on Sunday we started the day off seeing Princess Mononoke at the Kiln – which was more batshit than I’d remembered, but no less beautiful.

I then decided to go for a longish run. Longish actually turned into 22km or so, which was perhaps a bit overlong given my lack of preparation. But the weather was lovely, I had good snacks and music (Gerling’s In the City came on at a really well-timed moment), and I met some fun animals.

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Screenplays, and plays on screen

Over the weekend, I enjoyed two quite different things which had more in common than I first noticed. I mean, saying that, they were both fictional things being performed by actors, and they were both loosely based on actual events. Murders, even.


The first was The Christchurch Murder, an Allegra-produced Radio 4 drama which tells the story of the notorious Parker/Hulme murder in 1954 in New Zealand. The murder of a mother by her daughter and a friend, both in their teens, also formed the plot of Peter Jackson’s 1994 weird and hypnotic Heavenly Creatures.

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Heavenly Creatures, 1994 (dir. Peter Jackson)

This version, though, was written back in 1988 by Angela Carter, and apparently inspired some of Jackson’s own adaptation. Carter died in 1992 aged 51. Until this past Saturday, the Carter screenplay had never been produced. And so it was fascinating to hear it played out on Radio 4 twenty years after it was written.

But what was almost as fascinating as the story itself was that this was a screenplay on the radio. I’ve listened to a fair amount of drama on Radio 4 but this is the first time I can recall listening to a screenplay, complete with directions. It was a bit like watching a film with audio description on.

It made for a very multi-layered experience: we had the directions (such as “She enters the room, noticing all the pictures on the mantelpiece. There is no picture of the wedding.”), then Carter’s narration, and then well-acted dialogue and Foley effects playing out alongside. The murderous teenagers are played terrifically by Dolores Carbonari and Erin Wallace in a giggly, chilling fashion.

It was interesting to hear the subtle differences between Carter’s and Jackson’s adaptations. And the less subtle: name changes, and a complete lack of the fantasy elements that make Jackson’s film so unusual.


The second was Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope, which I had seen before many years ago, but had all-but forgotten. It was a gripping watch. The dialogue is rich and fast and funny and unsettling. In fact, the whole film is very unsettling, and it has that great vibe of just waiting for someone to get caught out.

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The set of Rope, 1948 (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

But, inevitably – because my brain cannot sit still for five minutes – what really fascinates me is the production. Those long, unbroken takes. The wide, linear set. The view out of the vast window – as artificial as it seems, but as carefully as it is made to show the passing of time. The way how, on the one hand, we are shown a whole scene as if it were a play, and on the other the camera trundles along behind two characters having a private conversation which we are privy to.

It’s all very clever, and it makes for a gripping narrative.

The film also looks pretty glorious, in a sort of muted, early-colour-film way. I believe it was Hitchcock’s first colour film, and the idea of him using such a film to experiment with long, uncut takes – including one over ten minutes, which I believe was about the limit of the film reel at the time – all brings to mind Christopher Nolan chucking gigantic IMAX cameras into scenes that were otherwise deemed impossible, and getting stunning results.

It’s always interesting to see a play that’s been turned into a film but, in the case of Rope, it seems like Hitchcock actually went to more effort to keep it feeling like a stage play than he would have if he’d filmed it as a more ‘traditional’ film with A/B shots (or do I mean reverse angles?) and so on.


Rope is currently showing on Mubi, a fantastic movie streaming service which values quality over quantity.

Every day they add a film of note and keep it online for a month. This means you always have thirty films to choose from, and they’re generally really great. There’s a scattering of films you know and love, a few you know you need to see but haven’t yet, and a decent amount that you’d probably never come across any other way. Pro-tip: the app works really nicely on the Amazon Fire stick, but it’s available on loads of platforms.

Mubi is a subscription service but you can grab a free month with my Mubi referral code:

https://mubi.com/t/web/global/fpiivi3

A week away

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Last week, M and I spent a week in Hampshire, camping near the New Forest.

We weren’t familiar with the area, so it was a great opportunity to explore, unfurl the OS map, and do a tour or two. We were blessed with mostly excellent weather which meant for spending hours outdoors, cooking and winding down, and doing some fun outdoor things like learning to paddle board and exploring castles. Maybe I’ll write more about some specific activities soon, but for now I felt like scribbling a brief write-up.

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The weather wasn’t totally perfect – one night we were woken by what sounded like a heavy shower, but fortunately our tent held up pretty well. The worst weather episode was saved up for the morning of our packing up, because of course.

In fact, the severity of the wind and rain was such that our tent – and others around us – actually buckled a little. Pegs which had been driven into the hard, drought-addled land suddenly worked loose in the deluge. And then the wind lashed the weakened structures and it all felt a little bit apocalyptic for a few moments.

Thankfully the storm blew over within an hour or so, and the wind lingered after the rain had ended so that our tent was very much blown dry before we needed to pack it away.

It struck me at the time that it would be a great opportunity for a tent manufacturer to see exactly how different kinds of tents and gazebos react to such weather. I would guess that they conduct tests in wind tunnels or similar, but to actually see the failure points – particularly on tents erected by actual campers, literally in-the-field – would surely be very helpful.

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Mostly what was nice about the week was just being outside for so much of every day. It tunes your senses to the natural world in a way that’s harder to do as you go about your day-to-day life in the city. I remember noticing the wind had changed one morning; lo and behold, it heralded a change in the weather.

I also have fond memories of the swifts darting about the site in the evenings – some whirling around in the trees, and others running low-flying raids mere centimetres above the grass for tens of metres at a time.


Our relatively remote location down near the south coast was also great for a bit of playing with radios.

In London I put up with the inevitable fog of radio interference that comes with densely packed residential areas. I’m lucky to be able to pick up a decent amount of shortwave stations there, but when visiting as rural as location as we were down near Milford-on-Sea, it still blows me away to hear the difference in the number and clarity of signals I can receive.

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A radio nerd, radio nerding

I spent a few evenings DXing on shortwave, seeing what I could find. Mostly the usual, but what was most enjoyable was just how clear so many stations were. The bigger stations boomed in with a strength and clarity approaching that of a nearby FM station. Meanwhile, other weaker stations – including the Dutch pirates – came in with enjoyable levels of signal. At home I can sometimes pick them up amongst the murk and the mire of interference. But it was nice to be able to actually listen to these stations for a short while.

The biggest ‘problem’ I was blessed with was the sheer number of stations I could pick up – automatic band scans regularly logged more than a hundred signals, and it was a constant compromise between checking out one station before wanting to carry on to the next.

I also had a few scans on FM – not an awful lot to be found where we were a mile or two inland, but down on the coast I was overrun by clear, loud French stations, which is a neat novelty. I was picking up more French stations than English – probably 30 or so foreign broadcasts creeping across the Channel versus the 15 or so local and national ones I had expected.

And, as I find myself doing more and more, I tried some DAB DXing on a small portable receiver, with mixed results. I didn’t log any foreign multiplexes, which was a little surprising given the number of strong French FM signals, but I did get a good range of British ones coming from all along the south coast, including the quite experimental selection on the Portsmouth trial operated by Solent Wireless. However, quite often I would find that although the multiplex was logged, actually tuning to a station would fail, so the signal must have been pretty weak.


I’m still working through the photos I took on my ‘proper’ camera, so I’ll be adding some to Flickr over the coming weeks.

Flickr’s a funny old place. Literally old, in web-years. And I go through phases of thinking it’s irrelevant in today’s web, to spending whole hours looking at photographs taken by others, and finding myself enthralled, enrapt, and inspired to take more and better photographs of my own.

It’s also recently been bought ‘back’ from Yahoo! by SmugMug, which either sounds like it’s a step in the right direction for a new future, or further scratches the nostalgic itch that Flickr belongs to ‘the old web’ and its attendant community.

But then I realise that, like a lot of these things, it’s just whatever you want to make of it, and if I want Flickr to be useful to me – and at the same time that makes me want to be a better photographer? – then so be it.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulcapewell

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.