Monthly Archives: May 2020

Dream amplifiers

Slightly tortuous week as the university tries to plan an autumn trimester of virtual teaching … so lots of reading and writing of multicoloured spreadsheets. I am not very good at it!

Henceforth when I say ‘Today’ I really mean a week ago. I started this post a week ago, or was it two. Really, I am not sure. I have been pretty busy (see above and below). The lockdown has smudged time don’t you think? There are no significant markers like there used to be. No going to Tesco for cheap petrol, no treats like visiting a garden centre café and having to have the banana cake cos they have run out of all the edible cakes. So treat the word ‘today’ like Captain Kirk might treat the word when passing through a worm hole – as a meaningless indicator of some time other than now.

Today we received a food parcel from the government despite me filling in a form saying no thanks. Makes the whole situation feel much more drastic and you feel much needier when you get free potatoes and bread without asking for it. I expected a turnip, some powdered egg and some lard but no – there was a tin of meatballs, some rice pudding and mushy peas along with quite a collection of boring stuff. The accompanying letter tells Nonna and I to stay at home till the end of June, which other than forcing us to cancel the skiing holiday we were planning, fits in nicely with our plans.

(Update – we ate the meatballs. They were disgusting even when mixed with the jar of free pasta sauce that came out like fluorescent ketchup! The tinned peas were not mushy but they were also very fluorescent green and minty and big. Actually very Yum. However Maria and I have to agree, and this is a secret, that the sliced bread was delicious. After years of outstandingly delicious homemade bread it’s great to have bread that tastes like the old British Rail sandwich bread (texture like damp rubber roofing tiles) and fits in your toaster effortlessly where it steams rather than toasts. The other bread in the box was Italian long life and weirdly dry, like the slimming bread of the 1960’s. (Update to the update – we got another food box today – (update to the update to the update – yesterday) I tried to give it back to the driver but he said it could all end up being thrown away. It’s more or less the same stuff plus the biggest onion ever. Now we have enough tins of rice pudding to run a 1950’s hospital canteen or the House of Lords Nanny’s nursery tea shop. I have filled the no thank you form in again. Stay tuned for box number three apparently it takes weeks to filter through the system).

In my last post I planned to talk through some of my thoughts on making and completing projects in lockdown. It was preoccupying me then and even more so now. So this time I had better get it off my chest before I am driven bonkers with the intense pressure I feel to make art or prepare for making art before this lockdown ends (I know it’s pretentious and selfish but it’s true). It competes with an equal and opposite pressure to abandon doing art and instead do something kind and useful and social. This pointless anxiety has been significantly inflated in lock down. While I should be enjoying the freedom to play and explore and make my soul available to the sustaining natural planetary forces of sun and fresh air I am actually beset by a drive to sit on my arse, stare at a screen and complete something so stupid that at best will satisfy only me and at worst won’t even do that. I admit that all my life has seen a pattern of  similar struggles. Some would last a matter of hours before being abandoned  because I couldn’t do whatever it was (probably because I was too lazy or stupid), many would last months, and a few would last years. I remember building a sit-in aeroplane out of a ladder. It was nothing just bits of scrap wood and old blankets, but inside I would peruse the Observers Book of Aircraft (recently recovered the self same copy from EBay) looking for additional design features that could be added with the judicious use of some hose pipe and an abandoned electrical socket. No exaggeration that project lasted months and in my head it flew. A vintage car project ‘the Silver Streak’, actually the bottom of an old pram, lasted a year. I painted out every spot of rust with silver paint, more than once, so it must have been a year or more. I never even got it to steer. If you didn’t want to go straight you were stuffed. Still, in my head I completed the Monte-Carlo rally in that vehicle, it probably flew as well. The feature all these projects share is that they end up going nowhere. I use them as dream amplifiers they translate my simple need to do something amazing into something superficially tangible but that eventually amounts to absolutely zilch. My aeroplane went back to being a ladder and the Silver Streak went back to the jumble sale it came from, supplemented with lots of silver paint spots. I write this because today (last week) was a milestone day in the evolution of phonebox art. I completed the technical stuff pretty much to my satisfaction. (Update 18:48 today Saturday, I haven’t). This milestone emerged from an embarrassing two days spent trying to solve a logic problem not dissimilar to those I would not have been able to solve had I ever sat the 11plus. It really wasn’t that difficult but I just couldn’t do it. My brain was like the lard I had hoped to find in the food parcel, thick and brick like. In the end I had to embarrass myself by posting the problem on a nerd site where it was gleefully solved and I was presented with a downloadable working example in less than an hour. I really resent not being good at something that I really like doing. Anyway along with this milestone moment came another epiphany when I realised that in all probability no one will ever go in the phone box other than me and a reluctant Maria. With its mouthpiece frosted in secondhand spit it and the handset greased  with the grime of dog walkers paws, chocolate crusted kids and the god knows what of bored teenagers (yes they do nip in from time to time) it might as well be proclaiming “beware the plague is in here.” It is now a symbol of the dereliction brought about by the virus and represents five years of my creative life wasted when I could have been sculpting my Dave to rival Michelangelo’s  ‘David.’

Ha nonsense. What an opportunity!

  1. It is the perfect PPE – not exactly portable granted, however it’s built to last
  2. Flinging open its red framed glass doors to a queue of punters, come the eventual arrival of the vaccine, will make a magnificent first night launch metaphor for the ‘restoration of service’
  3. Meanwhile it’s egocentricity is magnified, such that the piece is not only just about me it’s only for me. Perfect.

So now I am experimenting with some ideas to make it yet more exclusive.

First let me set out it’s key features many of which are new to this incarnation of the technology. Brace yourselves. Actually I know none of you will read this but I want it recorded for posterity.

  • It rings or selects from a pre set selection of sounds emanating from behind the box as you approach it. Things like human whistling or wind charms or synthetic ethereal chords
  • It’s interior light illuminates
  • If you dial zero an operator with my computer voice tells you what to do
  • You may dial a series of three digit extensions to hear stories or poems performed by virtual me or recorded me accompanied by sound effects and music
  • These emerge from the handset, from stereo speakers inside the box and from an external speaker depending on how I sequence each story.
  • Whilst on hold music of my choice will play
  • I can introduce recordings of my voice that overlap with the synthetic voice (kinda strange] and if I am in the house I can interact live (scary for the punters and me)
  • All the interaction can be recorded and or video recorded
  • The punters can leave there own stories which then can be accessed on different three digit extensions (this bit is not working too well)

So to give it the ultimate exclusivity i will now allow it to only do all of these things if it recognises me as the approaching customer. I think this is quite easy using radio frequency tags. In other words if I have the right tag in my pocket it bursts into life, it might even be possible to implement face recognition.

I am so excited.

Anyway this has come at a great time because on Monday I go into marking hell so I always find it so much easier if I am at a good point in my more exciting projects. I think I might hit my deadline of October 31st (Halloween) if I can nail the drama side over the summer.

Other things. In my efforts to solve the logic problem I started to scavenge from an earlier telephone project I started 16 years ago. It made me sad to rip apart something that took me months to figure out and weeks to make. It’s an old push button phone that I converted into a musical keyboard. The hard bit namely the electronics was made by an organ company in Bulgaria but I had to figure the really messy wiring loom and all the interconnectivity features. Unbelievably it worked – just about. Broke my heart to kill it and in the end I didn’t need to –  so in homage,  I took a picture of its guts.

i hacked this together – it took ages – it’s dead now

Paul finished his coronavirus  piece.  In the end I contributed nowt but encouragement. I think it has real charm. It’s Arthur on drums. It was live here last Sunday

and is now here – J&R a time to reconnect with your Spanish skills.

Lisa had a truly fabulous review here and another spin on the weyvalley radio – interesting that she can be categorised as Jazz and Folk.

The weekend promises more skipping. I can’t wait. (Update the skip is full and I progressed from skipping to organising what is left behind. I tackled the annex kitchen which had been the depository of a million plastic ice cream tubs –  then the bathroom which was full of old sun cream bottles that smell like old sun bathers – and my piece of resistance, the kitchen which now has space on the worktops ready for the preparation of fine cuisine derived from rice pudding and gargantuan onions.)


Coal dust and masticated paper

3:30 am – in bed – restless – had an ant crawl over me yesterday can’t seem to shake off the anty feeling.

…and still feeling a bit guilty that we are lucky enough to be able to have a nice time while locked down. How can one report positively about something that for so many is a nightmare without sounding like a thoughtless prat. Everyone in our circle seems to have be pretty ok, which is great of course,  but one does feel as though something terribly important is taking place and somehow or other you didn’t get invited or didn’t  notice, didn’t care or didn’t get up in time. Now i have my letter from the Government telling me to STAY AT HOME for 12 weeks – Nonna already has hers, we at least feel licensed to hunker down even though I would imagine our pre existing rural isolation probably reduces the risk of bumping into the virus – hope so anyway.

We have a routine

During the week Maria and I can be heard simultaneously theatrically ‘projecting’ unnecessarily  into our laptops as though talking loudly and enthusiastically will in some way make up for our disembodiment. There really is no reason to shout when video conferencing – if you are too quiet the other end can turn you up. We still take a walk everyday – blah!  We have revived the tandem but the arse punishment from the ‘sports’ saddles at the end of a mile or two curbs our enthusiasm. Presumably this is exacerbated by the fact that most of the day’s laptop screaming has already inflamed the nether regions.  In the evening we watch telly. Mainly bleak stuff. Apocalyptic quantum visions of a technology tainted world like ‘Devs’ or ‘Black Mirror’ or grissly murderers tracked down by canny lady geordies with common sense and a wry wit like ‘Vera.’   At the weekend our little world is peopled by besandled polite children romping around on bikes while their mums and dads stand in choreographed groups, holding equally polite pups, sharing confinement recipes for yogurt and samphire crisps. 

Its like we are all revelling in a blissful echo of the-famous-five-meets-1940’s-good-housekeeping-magazine- bloomin heck Vera Lynne and that old WW2 Captain are number one in the charts! he may be an excellent walker round the garden but he ain’t no Vera Lynne – have you heard it? Making jam, making face masks, probably making our beds with hospital corners, applauding our heros and tuning into the wireless at tea time to hear how the war is going. That said the only refreshing indicator of underlying anarchy here is a sudden proliferation of people who don’t pick up their pups poos. It has so outraged someone form the council that they have sprayed all the offensive output bright yellow. Kind off rural Banksy treasure hunt. Maybe we should spray the rebellious non-social distancers yellow as well.

Our weekly highlights tend to be whatever it is our children are up to that we can take some credit for (luckily Lisa is on a roll with her album launch and online gigs and a broadcast on Jazz FM!!! – so that gives us something to show off about – which i do as you know) and Waitrose deliveries. Recommendations include: their own brand oven chips, Merlot grape juice and Victoria Sponge. I have rediscovered tinned Semolina and have a single packet of Angel Delight waiting to be unveiled. I still eat like an eight year old but have at least given up the four spoons of sugar in my tea.

Av and G arranged for Nikki (family) to show us how to use an Oximeter (the thing on your finger in hospital) to, as it were, try to predict the onset of serious virus issues. She is a doctor working in London at the sharp end of general practice and A and G and Nikki bought us three vulnerable sets of parents together for an online demo. Really thoughtful of them and very reassuring for us to get some direct advice from a pro who is actually dealing with the symptoms on a daily basis. We are really grateful… and they bought us the gadget. Anyone else in the family who wants to know more I will pass on the details. Its very important stuff for those at increased risk.

Outside of work Maria and I have never been great doers, in the sense of achievements, adventures, contributions to the community, charity, good causes… anything really… but in the last month or so we have set new records for doing nothing of value. We have done lots of things of no value but straightening our lawn borders is probably the most least value. There is a technique using a plank my dad taught me – happy to pass that on along with the oximeter advice to fellow anal gardeners who like to cut their turf to the cm and stay alive.

My dear friend Paul the composer chap has asked me to collaborate on a project based in Mexico but broadcast online. I haven’t the foggiest what he’s up to be frank but that’s how we have always worked together – one of us steers the ship while other swims along behind trying to keep up, occasionally shouting ‘land ahoy’ – then we usually but not always hit the rocks – whatever… his idea is very cool and uses some licks from a percussionist I am somewhat related to.

Later on Saturday.

Just finished a day of physical outdoor work – probably my first since falling off the phone box – that put me off for 4 years.  We ordered a skip for Nonna. (Pause for jokes) Les Dawson Mother-in-law jokes aside, we are clearing her garage of a bounty of stuff bought over from Italy and never used. The in-laws were big on noxious chemicals long since banned in the rest of the EU and the world (DDT comes to mind) and similarly dangerous wine making, tomato pressing and boiling kit that look like the three witches wedding gifts. Actually I have kept most of that because the plan is to move her into the garage now cleared and take over the rest of the house to manufacture class A drugs like in Breaking Bad ( I gather anyway – only made it through one episode – boring!) , no not really, the plan is to move her in there so she doesn’t catch the virus. She will have her electric reclining chair thing and a cat flap. No not really, the plan is to turn it into a music studio so Maria and I can record a Christmas album of seasonal duets. Ahhh who knows what the plan is it’s just fun to chuck stuff away that doesn’t belong to you but is annoying. The skip is now nearly full and I feel the same sense of achievement that I felt after perfecting my ultraprecise grassy borders with a plank. One point of interest is the Maria insisted I preserve the coal dust from a derelict bunker as she plans to make coal cakes from the dust and masticated newspaper – something to look forward to on those wintry Yorkshire nights. Btw you burn them not eat them and this time I really am not joking. You couldn’t make that one up. It’s perfect M.

I have not got round to writing about what I intended so I will save that.