A few people might get offended here. Good, because the British public needs a fecking big ‘wake up’ call as we head towards another Remembrance Day.
The red poppy was once a symbol to remind us of the senseless massacre of millions upon millions of people in muddy fields far away from home. The poppy was supposed to say never again to the horrors of a spat between politicians murdering a generation. In Britain it has been turned into a symbol of militarism It is being used as jingoistic propaganda and is now being hijacked by the right wing and the message is no longer ‘remember the senseless slaughter‘ but ‘support our brave lads‘.
We stopped wearing the red poppy quite a few years ago as we realised what was actually happening. The ‘poppy mafia’ certainly seems to have grown stronger in recent years.
Policing of wearing the poppy has grown absurd: public figures face attacks, all the way up to death threats, for not wearing one. There are fucking poppies all over everything, including buses, police cars and ambulances.
Meanwhile, opinion pieces glorifying the deaths in the First World War seem to be on the rise. Should you raise your head to say ‘actually this all wrong‘ you’ll be berated by the mob (which is I seem to recall what happened to those resisting facism before the Second World War in Germany).
They want us to forget what happened and pretend, as they did a hundred years ago, as though wars are nothing more than a jolly good lark. They brainwash children: not to mourn, but to strive to emulate. They want us to think that having a military (to invade god knows where next) is actually a ‘good thing’ and necessary. It is only necessary for the Military Industrial Complex where it means huge profits for the arms dealers just as it did back in the First World War.
This is what war and ultimately the red poppy is about MONEY. They want a guillable, jingoistic public who will swallow the next war and deaths of young people so that they can still make MONEY.
That is why these children are being indoctrinated (note the ‘Future Soldier’ T Shirts) in the UK and yet in a few years’ time, if they follow the naive dream they are being steered towards, we could be seeing them shipped back in coffins. With a symbol, it is all too easy to simply radicalise children into militarism (sound familiar?).
More about how the poppy has been compromised through its collaboration with some of the world’s most controversial arms dealers, its increasingly militarised presentation of Remembrance, and its commercialised and trivialising corporatisation of the poppy “brand” can be found in an excellent download here
Aortic heart valve replacement and aorta repair on the horizon and I (John) am guessing that open heart surgery is not a bundle of laughs.
It’s a strange thing to realise that things may end sooner than you thought . Thinking about your mortality is of those things you ignore. The days tick by and you just expect they will keep on coming; until the unexpected happens.
Anyone who has read this blog will know that Liz is a retired doctor. Just before she retired, about 8 years ago, we were watching television one evening when she put her head on my chest. ‘I think you’ve got a heart murmur’ she said.
Thus started a chain of events which led to me having a CT scan and echocardiograms every 9 to 12 months to keep an ‘eye on things’. Apparently I have bicuspid aortic valve and an aortic aneurysm.
After 8 years of monitoring things have got to the point that complex open heart surgery is going to be required. I was only told this earlier this week so it’s kind of weird to be faced with the knowledge that you need serious and risky surgery to carry on living.
To be honest I’m not looking forward to this and it’s obviously a tad scary. On the other hand I’m fortunate enough to live in a country where this surgery is routinely carried out about 7,500 times a year and is free within our wonderful National Healt Service that slime ball politicians on the right are trying to dismantle.
I have no choice; but I can write some words about the process that may help someone else in the future. So despite being the world’s worst blogger I will try and keep this updated to the end (not the best choice of words, John).
The next step is being called for another scan and some further tests so that the surgeons have a clear idea of what they are facing.
So as I get called for tests and then surgery I’ll give you a patient’s eye view of things.
Now hopefully, with the skills of those who work in the NHS and the support of Liz, I’ll come through this ok.
It’s a cliche but ‘live every day as if it is your last, for one day it will be’.
We’ve failed lamentably at posting about our travels as most years we take several weeks out to travel. In the winter of 2017 we travelled to Bangladesh.
Flying into Dakha we travelled by ancient paddle steamer, car, plane motorbike and trains to (amongst other places) Barisal, Khulna, the Sunderbans, Sylet, Chittagong, Cox’s Bazaar and St Martin’s Island.
For us, other than the terrible traffic congestion in Dhakha, Bangladesh turned out to be revelation so much so that we immediately returned in February 2018 to visit many places we had missed the first time, particularly in the north west and the Chittagong Hill Tracts (the UK Government advise against travel here).
I really cannot recommend this impoverished country too much as a tourist destination. In the first place hardly anyone goes there so you will only see a handful of tourists. Secondly the people are amazingly friendly and with genuine Muslim hospitality you are received graciously everywhere. If you live in the UK you can also get a 28 day visa on arrival (a letter of invitation helps – but we didn’t have one for our first visit). We stayed, where we could, with local families in villages. It is a photographers dream (and you will find youself the centre of attention everywhere being asked to pose for selfies) with everyone more than happy to be photographed. You can see a few photos on the gallery here
It’s strange how most people would probably give Bangladesh a wide berth, claiming amongst other things it is poor, dirty, dangerous and Muslim. Well to people who think like that your loss is our gain becuse we have spent over 6 or 7 weeks in this vibrant, culturally rich country (their annual outside book fair in February occupies the space of several football fields and lasts for a month). We have travelled on overnight paddle steamers, gone fishing with the otter fisherman, travelled on boats up rivers and through the mangrovees in the Sunderbans, spent days with the bonded labourers in brick kilns, visited the ship breaking yards in Chittagon, ridden motorbikes on the beach, shared village houses with the occupants and had some great food. Everywhere we have been met with huge smiles.
Even the poorest families will offer you tea and find some biscuits for you to eat with true Muslim hospitality; it really makes me mad to see some of the Islamaphobia in the west (particularly the western press). But then most who think that way have never actually met a Muslim family and interacted with them let alone gone to somewhere like Bangladesh (or Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Jordan etc.). Travel is indeed one of the best educations you can have.
Obviously it’s not the easiest of countries to travel in, but a local guide is not expensive and will smooth the path for you (message us if you want some contact details).
We may even return in 2019, although Bangladesh does have elections coming up at the end of 2018 and this may bring about some unrest – so we’ll keep an eye on the situation.
Like a few males of a certain age I like playing music via my hifi system and to keep abreast of things I joined a couple of online forums (fora?). I won’t name them but I’m sure you’ll find them if you search for UK hifi forums. Most of the stuff posted there about valves, vinyl, cables, mains conditioners is complete and utter crap; as Alan Shaw the respected designer of Harbeth loudspeakers frequently points out.
I love this comment from him about speaker cables:
‘We noted recently that the signal from the microphone to the loudspeaker comprises a line. A line of electrons flowing towards the voice coil of the speaker drive units. Because the voice coils are in a magnetic field, and the voice coil is glued to a speaker cone, we can hear a sound.
Before we get too carried away with spending money on the speaker cable that connect the amp to the speakers, and which is sometimes the thickness of a hose pipe, what about the part of the chain that you the consumer can’t play with? The voice coil wire itself.
Did you appreciate that the voice coil wire is not much thicker than a human hair? And if we unwind a voice coil from a RADIAL 5″ or 8″ woofer we can stretch it out a long way …. far longer than the cable typically used to connect your amp to your speakers! So, on the basis of the sound be limited by the weakest link – in this case the thinnest wire – I’m satisfied that QED79 strand (or equivalent) is ‘more than adequate enough to get you going’.
It really is most bizzare and it’s like the world hasn’t changed since the video above. There is almost a universal lack of scientific knowledge and a desire to ‘believe any old crap’. This is perpetuated by an industry selling dreams of perfect and better sound to the delusional. Some audiophiles call themselves ‘subjectivists’ (i.e. if I can hear the improvement it is better) and they generally spend a fortune seeking audio perfection. Of course the only purpose of a hifi industry is relieve consumers of as much cash as possible and if some sort of ‘pseudo babble’ or fancy coloured light on the front of the equipment does that better than cold hard science they don’t really care; they just want your cash.
People claim that they can hear all sorts of improvements by changing this or that. This is of couse just expectational bias. Hardly anyone carries out listening trials in a scientific way. It’s a fact that if you take any well designed, competent solid state amplifiers and adjust for the difference in sound levels they output – people cannot distinguish between them. That’s why I use a good old Quad solid state amplifier rather than the latest ‘in fashion bling’. Valves by the way just add distortion (which may be nice when creating a sound in the first place) and can, some claim, be pleasing. However, as they move the sound away from what the artist or engineer intended they are ultimately not improving the sound but diminishing it.
This lecture shows how difficult it is test things scientifically.
Vinyl is bollox, there i’ve said it. It really is, no if’s and buts. The dynamic range of even a CD is 100dB or more compared to around 50/60dB of an LP; that is it is 100-1000 better than analogue working at it’s very best. Distortions of 10-30% are quite normal for vinyl replay of loud sounds. That amount of distortion may actually be masked by music, or may add a certain character not readily attributable to “distortion” by the casual listener. Some listeners may even like the distortion, as they consider a particular ‘sound’ to be normal to their ears.
The cutting engineers developed numerous craft skills for working around the technical reality of discs. They became masters of taking the recording and manipulating it so that it would, literally, ‘fit’ onto a gramophone record.
He/she squashes the dynamic range so that the grooves never accelerate the average stylus too fast, he raises the loudness of the quieter elements of the music so that they are both audible above the inevitable hiss, crackles and plops, he reduces the stereo width generally since that minimises stylus movement, he probably monos the bass below about 100Hz (reduces groove width, necessary for 20 mins/side), he sets the peak loudness to minimise distortion on the average pickup and so on.
He uses every trick he knows to compensate for the limits of the medium even though it is significantly different from that recorded by the microphone. And I haven’t even started on hiss, crakle and pops or discussing a medium that degrades over time and with playing.
Vinyl might be a satisfying theatrical performance but is never capabale of reproducing the original performance; full stop. The cartridge is dumb it cannot separate the wanted motion (the music) from the random motion (the noise).
The development of the CD red book standard by Sony/Phillips was an astonishing piece of work for the time and was the greatest leap forward in hifi reproduction ever. The standard still can reproduce everything that anyone over 18 (Some youngsters MAY technically have hearing that extends beyond the upper frequency range) can hear.
By far the biggest factors in hifi reproduction are how the material was recorded in the first place, how it was mastered (some people defending vinyl will quote the mastering loudness wars at this stage) and the acoustics of the room you are listening in.
As for those who claim that some vinyl has a better dynamic range than the CD according to the Dynamic Range Database; well you had better take a look at this.
Basically vinyl is taking the piss. Marketers are selling a theatrical performance (look at the artwork, feel how tactile it is) and a retro nostalgia to get people to part with cash (probably for the second time) for an inferior product.
Oh yea, you also have to turn it over halfway through.
It’s been sometime since we wrote a blog here. But I doubt that there are too many regular readers! We’ve been keeping ourselves busy in the meantime. Not least helping a young traditional fiddler from Scotland; Ryan Young.
We came across Ryan playing on BBC Alba on the TV and where so impressed that we got in touch with him with a view to seeing if we could help him at all. Ryan is quite simply, in our opinion, the most promising young traditional fiddle player in the UK. His interpretations of traditional Scottish tunes are quite stuning.
Our friendship with Ryan has ultimately led to him recording his first album with a triple Grammy award winning producer – Jesse Lewis.We still can’t quite get our heads around the fact that Jesse agreed to fly to Scotland to do this project; here are some of his albums he was involved in recently.
The album has been recorded in high resolution audio at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and we had a lot of fun helping pull all this together. You can find out more about this here. The album should be available around the first quarter of 2017.
If you are at all interested in traditional music; particularly the fiddle playing of Martin Hayes, Alasdair Fraser and Liz Caroll can I suggest that you check out Ryan’s playing. He really is in the same league as they are. He is, in my opinion, the best young traditional fiddler of his generation.
Well its been a quiet few weeks for us old codgers. However, for the next 3 weekends we have 3 gigs lined up. The first was a trek up to Tywyn to see Rachel Sermanni in concert (last night) then next weekend we’re off to see Nick Cave play in Koko, London as John managed to get tickets for the special gig he is doing there as part of his film 20,000 Days on Earth. Then the weekend after it’s back to Tywyn to see Robyn Hitchcock who I blogged about earlier in the year when he played at the Laugharne Weekend. Crickey, at our age, we should be sat on the sofa watching the TV with a mug of cocoa not hurtling round the UK to listen to quirky folk play music in quirky places.
So speaking of quirky we headed off to The Magic Lantern yesterday afternoon in the van. Liz spent many weekends as a child in and around Tywyn so it was a trip back down memory lane to go back there. We ambled across country, in the annoying way old folk do (if you’re stuck behind in a car whilst John scans the countryside for photographs) and stopped off in rainy Aberdyfi for a cup of tea and fish and chips before trundling into Tywyn an hour or so before the gig. The Magic Lantern is a delightfully converted old Assembly Rooms/Cinema that has real character and rather fine acoustics.
I get quite a buzz out of hearing new people for the first time and I’m not too sure how I first strayed across Rachel. ‘That sounds good’ I thought not realising that she was only a tad over 20 years old. Our paths nearly crossed in Clonakilty in the south west of Ireland when she was playing in De Baras pub but we were already going to another gig at Baltimore Fiddle Fair. So, as she lives in Scotland and not that much music gets to the far west of Wales, it wasn’t until last night we got to see her.
What a delight it turned out to be. The venue was perfect, the audience, although not large were attentive, and Rachel was delightful with the bubbly enthusiasm of one so young. Do not be deceived – her songs, voice and delivery are mature. Each song is is sung with a delivery that emphasises its meaning, a little stop or a little smile can mean a lot in these songs. Because she is so unique it’s quite hard to categorise her music; I’ve heard things like ‘folk noir balladeer’ banded about but that doesn’t really do her justice. Rachel is Rachel and I very much doubt she is ever going to be neatly slotted into any pigeon hole.
Songs that stood out for me were ‘Ever Since the Chocolate’, ‘Song to a Fox’, the Robbie Burns song ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ (which I hated when I heard Eddie Reader do it) and the delicious ‘Eggshells’ which was an encore sung without the microphone.
A really good gig and it just proves that if you keep your ears open there is great stuff out there. Not wishing to turn this into a rant (us old folks are pretty good at that Rachel – and I’ve done it previously here anyway) I just wish a few more people would turn off their ‘mind numbing’ televisions, that are spewing out plastic pap in the spaces between the commercials, and get along to gigs like this.
After such a good evening what else could we do but park the van down by the estuary and fall asleep to the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. It beats a mug of cocoa and the goggle box any night.
Forty years ago today one of the greatest rock albums of all time was released. It was the difficult second album for a 23 year old Bruce Springsteen who went on to become a household name.
People seem to love him or hate him. The greatest rock artist of all time or a boring formulaic oldie? This post isn’t about that debate.
How did this young man, who had not exactly been a success at school, manage to conceive, write and put together this masterpiece? Although he probably answered this question himself later in life – “For me, I was somebody who was a smart young guy who didn’t do very well in school. The basic system of education, I didn’t fit in; my intelligence was elsewhere.”
It’s a massive cinematographic style album of the characters and places of where he grew up; stories from the board walk and the beach. Springsteen is observing life from the street corner, rather than driving down the highway.
For me Bruce has never surpassed this album and whilst this was an early (and some argue weaker) incarnation of the E Street Band I love the production and feel of the recording. The music has vast open spaces and room to breath whilst at the same time you can almost feel the heat of a Jersey night. I much prefer the production to the later ‘wall of sound’ production.
As Bruce grew older he seemed to restrict himself into tighter and tighter song structures, that were much more formulaic (albeit a formula that most would be more than happy with). I guess we shouldn’t be angry that he never wrote down this way again, we should just be grateful that, at one time, he did.
So if you detest the thought of listening to Springsteen give this a listen and marvel at the creativity of a 23 year old; you may be pleasantly surprised and if you’re one of the ‘converted’ (like me) have another listen to probably the most underrated album of all time. The last three tracks, especially ‘Incident on 57th Street’ and ‘New York City Serenade’ are some of the best tracks ever written in the ‘rock’ genre (although it defies categorisation); lyrical and vivid story telling at its best. Probably my ‘Desert Island Disc’ if I had to just choose one.
As a few people know we’re kind of particular to traditional Irish music and the music of East Clare is high on our list. Most years we can be found heading for Feakle Festival (John helps out with their website) and it was a particular disappointment that we missed it this year due to the death of a close friend.
However, the neighbouring village of Tulla also has a smaller festival at the beginning of September and so we loaded up the campervan and headed of to East Clare for the weekend. Now Tulla can seem a bit of a quiet place (even the residents might agree) – by day it is an ordinary working town that probably doesn’t feature too highly on the tourist radar. It’s even known as ‘the Windswept Hill’. But for those in the know (together with neighbouring Feakle) it is a rich vein of traditional music that produces some of the finest pearls (that could be a tautology or some other linguistic faux pas – but I hope that you get the gist).
The music from this region is some of the best on the planet and I’ve seen some of the all time ‘greats’ playing in the pubs here; Liz Carroll, Arty McGlynn, Joe Burke, Seamus Tansey, Matt Molloy, Eileen O’Brien, John Carty, Mary Bergin, Darren Breslin – the list is endless. Mind you Tulla and Feakle have their own list of greats including the mighty Tulla Ceilidh Band and Martin Hayes.
We got to Tulla on the Friday to find the whole place buzzing with excitement as Clare were in the all Ireland Hurling final on Sunday (Probably the equivalent of the F.A. Cup final in the UK).
The Festival proceedings were due to ‘kick off’ around 8.00 p.m. on Friday night with a parade through the town. By 8.15 not much was happening (to the consternation of a couple who had found their way here from Quebec – and I had to explain that Irish time can have a slightly different meaning to elsewhere) but by about 20 minutes past the hour the Chapel Gate Wrenboys, All Ireland Wrenboy Champions, came strolling through town; looking remarkably like extras in Midsomer Murders. They then put on a lively, fun and (sometimes) bawdy show in the Courthouse; great fun.
From their we trotted across the road to Minogue’s bar to catch up with a few friends, have a few pints and listen to the session going on. There is clearly some strange ‘time vortex’ in Irish pubs; before you know it – it is 2.30 or 3 in the morning.
Saturday evening brought the main event; the Concert in the Court House hosted by Mary MacNamara, a fine concertina player who does much to teach the youngsters in the area. What a great concert it turned out to be with fine playing from the start when it was opened up by some of those youngsters including 12 year old Lilly O’Connor.
The concert continued with a line up that just kept up a cracking standard all evening including, Johnny Og Connolly, Harry Bradley, Oisin MacDiarmada, Caitlin Nic Gabhann, Zoe Conway and the Full Set band. Brilliant stuff and a reminder that there is astonishing music out there.
Once again it was back of to the pub afterwards where Andrew MacNamara, Eileen O’Brien, Mark Donnellan and Michael Landers playing a great session. ‘Playing’ is not quite the word for Andrew (whose playing can be best described as ‘fiery’) was trading unusual phrasing with Mark and the battle went on into the early hours with Eileen smiling to herself every time these two issued another challenge to each other. Mighty music; you’d have to have been mad to miss it. Another late night/early morning in a pub (Tulla has this effect)!
Sunday was the day of the ‘All Ireland’ final and Tulla seemed deserted. Some more sessions were happening at lunch time but most minds were focussed on the big game starting at 3.30 pm.
Clare had not won the All Ireland Final since 1997. And there was much excitement as Clare led for most of the match, to lose the lead in added time and then equalise 30 seconds after the ‘end’ of added time. So it all has to be done once more in a few weeks time! Not sure I could stand that much excitement again.
Sunday evening was rounded off nicely by a CD launch from Edel Fox (concertina) and Neill Byrne (fiddle) who played a great set to finish the festival off. Time for another pint before heading for the Ferry and home. What a weekend that was.
Welcome the last and final part about how I built a 12m x 5m barn for storing logs and implements on our small holding. It could also be used for sheep housing in winter. The project became more of a timber framed building than a pole barn; but you could easily adapt it and just put telegraph pole uprights straight into the ground (or concrete them in) if the land was suitable. The previous parts are here. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
I must reiterate my disclaimer; I am not a structural engineer or a builder so the whole project is more ‘belt and braces’ than calculations and you should not rely on my design or construction for your own building!
After finishing the frame in Part 4 I then spread some of the shale around that we had dug up when building the house extension to provide a firm floor. I would have liked concrete but it was just too expensive for this project.
The next thing I did was build a single brick pier around the base of each column. This is to ensure that the columns cannot move laterally in any direction even if hit with a tractor and to provide a support to keep the bottom rail for the cladding off the ground. It also means that I can pour preservative or perhaps waste oil down between the brick and the wood every year or two to stop the base rotting! The columns are also on a piece of damp proof membrane for this reason as well. The photo below shows this.
Horizontal rails were fixed across between the columns and the vertical boarding nailed to these with approximately 20mm air gaps. The photo below shows the cross rails and the boarding nailed on the back. All the timber was supplied treated so no need for any preservative other than on the cut ends and joints.
All that was left to do was cut all the side boards to the correct height and fix them before fixing the end cover strip which is fixed over (and through the roofing sheets) and covers the top of the side timbers to give a nice clean finish.
We’ve always been keen that it would be hidden in the landscape as much as possible so deliberately set in the lowest spot and formed a soil bank in front of it. This will be planted to screen it from view..
So there you have it our barn that we built entirely ourselves. Some people have asked about costings and this is of course a lot more than if we had used telegraph poles and second hand roofing sheets. But I estimate.
Clearing the site/digging footings £100
Timber Frame £700
Roofing Sheets £700
Timer Boarding and support rails £500
Nails/Screws/Sand/Cement etc £150
That’s it; I may put some light field gates on the openings to keep the sheep out (or in if I put them inside) and I may build a sheep handling area next to it.
The detention, this week, of David Miranda at Heathrow airport under the Terrorism Act should send a shiver through every right thinking citizen of the UK. It probably won’t because most people are too busy trying to keep their jobs and keep their heads above water than to worry about remote legislation that they don’t think will ever affect them.
However, it is clear to me that this legislation is being routinely misused by the authorities. How do I know? Because I was on the receiving end a couple of years ago. Here is what I wrote to my MP at the time; it seems pretty prophetic in view of this weeks events.
More recently (September 2010) I travelled to Cork via Swansea Ferry terminal. As I queued, in my vehicle, to get on the ferry I was stopped by port security under the provisions of The Ship and Port Facility (Security) Regulations 2004 and was asked by the member of staff where I was going. Resisting the impulse to laugh out loud (as the Irish Ferry was moored 500 metres away and there was no where else to go) I asked him was he sure he had the power to ask me that question and under what legislation was he asking it. He clearly did not have a clue as to what powers he might have. At that stage he detained me before fetching a Police Officer who questioned me under the Terrorism Act before letting me proceed.
On my return I had subsequent correspondence (with a very reluctant Ian Meredith Port Facilities & Security Manager, ABP South Wales Ports) with AB Ports Swansea. At first he claimed that the above legislation gave powers to question travellers about their journey, when pressed he had to admit that he had no such powers. But he has stated in writing that he cannot guarantee that it will not happen again. As I understand it the Security staff at the port are actually private contractors. So in this instance a private citizen going about their legal business is detained by a private contractor who has no power to do so, asked a ludicrous question about their private travel arrangements and then after being detained is questioned by a Police officer under the terrorism legislation. The irony is exquisite in that the law abiding citizen is questioned because of the failure of security staff to work within the law as it exists. It is astonishing that such intrusive questions are being asked by private contractors.
I hope that it is as apparent to you, as it is to me that we are ‘sleepwalking’ into a Police State. As a citizen of a free democratic society I should be able to go about my life without the state asking (and possibly) recording details of where I am going to and from. I accept that there are circumstances where further enquiries are necessary and in this case questions should only be asked where they are necessary and proportionate.