Archive for September, 2009

Morning chores

September 15, 2009

I awake at 8 a.m. to the beeping sound of the alarm on my digital watch. At first I have some difficulty working out why I set the alarm. As the mists of sleep recede into the distance, I recall that it is rubbish and garden waste recycling day; the bins might be collected within the hour and I need to get them onto the street.

Choosing a shirt is a slow business today but I will refrain from exploring that particular morcel of indecision, since the wardrobe is worthy of a blog  all to itself, at some point in the future. The shirt I choose is the one that  featured in my blog of 9th September (Sleepless in Sunderland). It was the crumpled up garment lying on my piano . Since then, it has been on my body and in the washing machine. It also had a long spell tumbling around the dryer. The dryer has not been working properly but, hopefully, it will be repaired on Thursday by the nice man from Dobsons Domestics. 

I tug my clothes into place and lumber down the stairs, bathroomwards. A basic short-term plan evolves while I pee, and by the time the teeth are cleaned  freedom is no longer a word I would associate with my  life in the upcoming thirty minutes.

I open the front door and step into a somewhat chilly, damp autumnal morning. The lawn, looking neat from its recent mowing, glistens with dew. I saunter into my garage workshop, without being entirely sure why I have done so. This is a danger node in the plan; I could easily get side-tracked here. I pull on a pair of leather gardening gloves. As I grip the handles of my green wheely bin I become a rally driver, powering my beast down a hairpin bend to the recycling pit. I wave to the crowd, holding my trophy as I walk back to pick up the brown bin. This smells of partially decayed grass cuttings and other sundry organic detritus. In my hands it becomes a bi-plane, soaring above the fields; the noisy engine sputters as I bring it down to land beside its rally car twin.

Reluctantly I remove my magic leather gloves, lock up the workshop, and go back into the house, picking up a couple of pints that the milkman has delivered on the way. I walk into the kitchen, wipe the grit off the bottles’ bottoms, and stowe them in the fridge. I turn on the radio. An Afghanistan man is explaining how his brother was killed the other day. Aparently someone fired a rocket into the family bedroom. The survivor was thirty years old and he said that there had always been war and fighting where he grew up, in Kabul. Awful. Then they played an interview that had been previously recorded with the actor, Patrick Swayze, who died last night. He was talking about the difficulty of living with prostate cancer.

John Humphrys who is the excellent the presenter of the BBC Radio 4 news programme, Today, then went on to do several phone interviews in connection with a proposal to give a small proportion of heroin addicts free heroin while they are in treatment.

Death in war, prostate cancer, and heroin addiction: what a cheery start to the day. It certainly placed the tedium of doing the dishes into a wider  context. When I had finished tidying the kitchen, I made myself a cup of tea and came upstairs to my studio where I am presently typing to you. I became so  engrossed that I forgot to drink my tea. I take a sip; it is tepid. The warmth that would have scoded my tongue when freshly poured from the kettle has dissipated. I shall post this and go make myself a cup of coffee. Who knows what will happen in the space of time that it takes to cool: another rocket attack in Afghanistan, another death from prostate cancer, another vein shot up with heroin. But what shall I do? I think I shall play the piano. I’ll speak to you later.

Sunday lunch

September 13, 2009

We were all free, without commitments, and at home today. At last we managed to go out for lunch together. We went to the Rosedene pub and sat at a table just by the stained glass window.


We were able to chillax nicely here. I had a chat with John, the landlord, about music and stuff. Who knows… maybe some possibilities around the corner.


September 13, 2009

It is Sunday morning and I have driven my daughter to work. Back home my stomach suggests that it is time for a simple breakfast: coffee and a fried egg on toast. I assemble the basic ingredients, functioning with the automaticity that comes from an over-practiced skill. When I wrote my book on the psychology of food and eating, I thought about such actions in terms of plans and the structure of behaviour. Now, having studied animation this past year, I can also think of what happens as a series of key frames and I include pics of four of these. To make an animation of my breakfast episode I would need more key frames than I have included here, for purposes of illustration, but I am sure you get the gist. #1 The ingredients #2 The fried egg on the toast #3 The breakfast being eaten #4 All washed up.


At first my plan was to draw these frames in my sketch book. I am really slow when it comes to sketching and by the time I had started on the toaster with the piece of bread sticking out of the opening at the top, my stomach had begun to rebel in earnest. I started to hurry the sketch along. It was fatal. All I produced was a sad-looking, genetically mutated specimen of a toaster. It was at this point that I resorted to my compact digital camera.


Giving up my MA was primarily based upon financial considerations relating to the magnitude of the university fees compared to the funds available from my pension, once ordinary household and living expenses were taken out. So my decision to quit the MA has not impacted on my desire to improve my sketching and painting skills. First thing this morning I did some pen/pencil control exercises, as usual. I then did some basic piano practice, too. I feel there are many similarities between music and visual art basic skills training.

My young friends who have completed their full-time MA will be having an exhibition on the 22nd September. At present, I don’t think I could cope with going. I think it would make me feel too sad. However, I am getting on very well in terms of re-organising my life world. Who knows, maybe I will feel able to go by the time it comes around. I think that perhaps it would be good for me to do that; one has to face up to these things.

Coming back to sketching, I have been reading a book, for the second time this year, about how to approach keeping a drawn journal. I think the time it takes me to sketch is a major barrier to doing this. That and the fact that I feel very self-conscious to draw in public. The crazy thing is that I feel perfectly confident getting up to a microphone and singing in public, solo. If anything, one might think that the singing would be the more difficult thing to do. I have to get on top of this.

Artistic self-confidence seems to go up and down like a yo-yo. Last Friday at my piano lesson I felt that I was playing dreadfully. When I think about how basic my piano skills are and how badly I play sometimes, I wonder how on earth I have the gall to play keyboard across the internet. Yet I do, and mostly I thoroughly enjoy it. I shall soon have completed 350 shows since January 2008.

Now that I have a bit more time, I might go back and try to improve some of my guitar arpeggios. I do use the major scale shapes a lot in my internet performance, and I also use major and dominant 7th arpeggios. However, I think it might be time to extend that a little.

While I am reviewing my artistic progress, part of me hankers after my fictional hero, Harold Hake. I enjoyed writing my e-novel about Harold. Of course, I never seem to do anything much with any of this. Hmmm…. This is obviously a time for taking stock of things. I’ll get this up on the blog before I have to drive out to the supermarket. Talk to you later.


September 12, 2009

I went north of the Tyne last night to see my friends Tony and Costello. We went to a lovely little Italian restaurant on the fish quay at North Shields (see pic).

Fish quay at North Shields

Fish quay at North Shields

Lots of red wine was drunk by all. Tony and I played a little music at the end of the evening but unfortunately I had left my piano sheets at home. I slept overnight at their place because I was way over the limit for driving my car. I set off back home early this morning and drove through some beautiful sunshine. Getting into and out of the Tyne tunnel is a bit messy at present; they are building a second tunnel next to the existing one, to cope with the heavy traffic demands. Yesterday’s blue feeling is dissipating nicely, thanks to the visit with my friends. I shall put this short blog up, then make myself a cup of coffee. I have to get ready to play a gig at Foxy Hollow in Second Life in about an hour’s time.

Before I go, I will just show you a pic of me posing in front of my Master Whip van.

Master Whip poses in front of his van

Master Whip poses in front of his van











What do they get up to in North Shields!

Goodbyes at the Design Studio

September 11, 2009

I had to complete a formal withdrawal form in connection with my MA and I went down to the university this morning to get that over and done with. I walked into the building and all my fellow students from last year were waiting together in the entrance hall. Today their work was being examined, I think. And I had to tell them that I was not going on to complete the final year as a part-time student. I didn’t feel that I could give them a good reason as to why I wasn’t going ahead, although I do have a good reason. My young friend Shu said “So you are giving up?” I thought for a moment and then said “Yes.” No point in beating around the bush; in theory I could probably have found a way to continue, even though it would have not been very sensible for me to do so. I spoke to my tutors, too. It was an emotional ten minutes or so. I felt as though I needed to gulp down some air as I left the building.

I am sitting in my little studio at home, drinking from the coffee mug I used to have on my desk at the university studio. That mug previously sat on my desk in the various offices at the university when I worked there as a lecturer. I don’t think it spanned all three decades of my teaching service but I think it was with me for most of that time. I enjoyed moderate success as a teacher and researcher, and it is a novel experience to brush up against failure once again. My mood, by way of association, throws me back to the 1960s and my misguided attempts to train first as a chemical engineer and then as a cost accountant. I was a young man then and there was always a tomorrow. Things feel different now.

I have plenty of things to do. I shall have to enlist the help of my good friend Will Power to get me into some of them this afternoon. It might take a day or two before I regain my equilibrium. I can hear my daughter’s radio alarm playing. She needs to get up to go to work. At least I don’t have to do that.

Music as a way of being

September 11, 2009

I was reading a book by Danny Gregory on keeping an illustrated journal (which has something in common with keeping a blog, I feel) and I came across a quote from Frederick Franck (no bibliographic details were provided):

Art is neither a profession nor a hobby. Art is a way of being.

Given that Franck was a painter and sculptor, he was probably talking about visual art. I think the sentiment applies equally to music, too. According to Wikipedia, Franck was a dental surgeon by trade, so I can see why he should feel the necessity to make such a statement. I like it a lot.

Current debates in Second Life Music Community Forum seem to focus on music as neither profession nor hobby, but as business. I remember the way a lot of folks at the university where I taught stopped thinking about teaching as education and started to talk about it as a business. It was awful. I do hope the entrepreneurs in Second Life will not put the kiss of death upon the Franckian notion of music as a way of being.

Chapter closes prematurely

September 10, 2009

It has been a warm sunny day here in England. I went to Hexham this morning to meet my friend Patrick for a coffee, sandwich and a chinwag. We go to the Arts Centre cafe not far from the old abbey. We meet there about once a month and chat all morning. It is all very relaxing. My friend Costello told me a good word for it the other day: chillax (made from chill out and relax).

I have been thinking about the MA in Animation and Design that I have been working on this past year. I have one more academic year to go. However, with some regret, I have come to the conclusion that I can’t really afford the university tuition fees and also the demands of the course are a little more than I can handle just now. So, on the drive back from Hexham through the beautiful countryside of Northumberland, I made my decision; I have written to my tutors, telling them that I shall be withdrawing. Although I know that I have made the right decision for my current personal circumstances, I do feel sad tonight. My animation tutor, Mel, wrote me such a lovely message in reply and I do feel I made some good friends while I was studying this past year. She said she hoped that one day I might still make my independent animation film, and I would like to do that when I feel the time is right. I want to keep up drawing, sketching and painting. I’m not sure whether I shall illustrate my blog here. But I do like the idea of perhaps keeping an informal journal which includes some drawing.

Be that as it may, I think I shall allow myself to be sad for a day or two.

Soon be 09.09 09.09.09

September 9, 2009

I am sitting here waiting a tad nervously for all the nines. In about 30 minutes in England it will be 9 minutes past 9 on the 9th of September, 2009. So there is an 09.09 09.09.09 situation approaching. I have decided to make myself a cup of coffee and drink it staring into the middle distance.

Sleepless in Sunderland

September 9, 2009

It is 01 a.m. in the morning and I have recently been awoken by somebody in my family who shall remain nameless. Whispering in the bedroom can be as potent as the deadliest alarm clock or the slamming of a car door on the street outside. To say that I can normally fall to sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow might be hyperbole but it is not far from the truth. However, once woken I find it incredibly difficult to drift back to sleep again. The only thing to do is to get up for a while and, its seems, blog. When I have finished writing this, I shall go to the kitchen and have a piece of toast or something like that, then go back to bed. Maybe, just maybe I shall be lucky and fall first time. But if I don’t, I shall get up yet again and do something else.

I have found that playing scales on my digital piano will sometimes do the trick (I can listen with mp3 earphones so the sound doesn’t wake up other people). If I was reading a novel, I would read a few chapters of that. However, I seem to have gone off reading at present. Drawing or sketching is another possibility but there is nothing that particularly inspires me at present in my studio room. Having said that, I can see a crumpled shirt and a pair of socks lying on my piano. That might be a challenge. They are rather a long way away. I would like to be sitting in my armchair to do the drawing but I think it should be a close up. At present they occupy only a small area of my visual field. I shall explain to you how much.

If I hold my arm out with my thumb pointing vertically as if I was doing that measuring trick that artists supposedly do, then the crumpled shirt is about two thumbnails high and one whole thumb length across, horizontally. I wonder if binoculars would work. Oh, I wish I had not had that idea. Once a notion like that steals its way into the mind, it can nag away interminably. I can’t remember where they are. So if I am to kill the binoculars thought, I shall have to first launch the FIND-THE-BLOODY-THINGS-FIRST plan. I have to admit that I had not bargained for a binocular hunt when I got out of bed. I had thought a paragraph on the blog would do the trick and then back. And now I am thinking that maybe I should take a photo to put up in the blog here so you get a better idea. This whole project is getting out of hand. It is 01.20 a.m. already!

OK. Here is my progress. I found my binoculars in the third draw down my bureau. I’m not sure why I bought them. My eyesight is not good; I have been wearing spectacles since I was about 2.5 years old. Looking through binoculars, with or without spectacles, has always been deeply problematic. The light in my room is not very bright and I guess binoculars are made with a more distant optimal focal length in mind. I’ll take a look now.

They brought the shirt closer but my subective experience was that of a blue fuzzy shape. I have to say that the magnification was strong, though. To give you some idea: if you imagine a telescope circle as what you see, then the diameter could take in no more than half of the length of my AKG stage microphone.  So, in a nutshell, the binocular experiment did not succeed.

Crumpled shirt on piano

Crumpled shirt on piano








I have moved on from the binoculars failure and have now taken a digital pic which you can see, above. The shirt is light blue and the darker material is an old pair of boxer shorts. The socks are barely visible but are a dark grey in colour. The red book that you see on the music stand of the piano is in fact the book of scales, broken chords and arpeggios that I sometimes use to combat insomnia.

It is now close to 02 a.m. and time for a piece of toast. Wish me luck. If this doesn’t work, I could be back blogging within the hour after a bit of scales practice on the piano. Talk to you later.

September 8, 2009

Fyrm Fouroux ~ internet musician

Here is my Second Life avatar. I have played just under 350 one hour shows inworld since January 2008. Nowadays I play guitar and sing for the first 30 minutes and then play my digital piano (or sometimes a Roland synthesizer) for the second 30 minutes. It has been an extremely interesting way to develop my music performance.