Tuesday 30 November 2021

summer done

Somehow, it's the end of November. My daughter's birthday tomorrow and then Christmas soon after. The year has flown. As have the months; I'm conscious I've not posted anything here since the Holms Race in September. Such lapses aren't unheard of, but they are unusual.

I've been scrolling through my photos on Google. I'm well, my family is well. Well, aside from a streaming cold that I'm pretty sure I caught from my daughter last week. But that will pass, and mainlining lateral flow tests seems to confirm it's nothing more serious.

On which note, I'm booked in for a booster in a couple of weeks. And a flu jab. I think I've had more needles stuck in me this year than the whole twenty years previous put together. But I guess I'm far from alone in that.

As I, in common with most of the nation, have spent the last half of the summer trying to believe everything is back to normal, there have been lots of gigs. I went away with Nikki and some friends for a weekend back in late September to, of all places, a Butlins holiday camp down in Minehead. My personal idea of purgatory, but the Saturday night's line up of entertainment included a set by Toyah Wilcox

Back in my early teens I was utterly in love with Toyah. It turns out I still am. 

Predictably, after spending a long weekend in a crowded holiday camp, mingling unavoidably with the masses, I came home with a stinker of a cold. Again, lots of successive lateral flow tests reassured me it was nothing more serious than that. But whilst I was fine for the gig that followed the next Friday, by Saturday my voice was completely shot. 

As in utterly. Nothing coming out but a monosyllabic croak. And a gig at one of our most popular local venues, The Pilot, on the Saturday night.

I've never been in that situation before. I've played through colds and sore throats and all manner of lurgies, and always been able to find something. But this time there was nothing there. Perhaps we're just immunologically out of practice because of our relatively germ-free isolation for most of the last 18 months, or perhaps it was just a particularly vicious bug amplified by the damp air of an outdoor gig the night before.

I even briefly thought of cancelling, but I couldn't bring myself to do it and put Rika, the landlady of the Pilot, in that situation. So we turned up, and limped through the first set relying massively on (it has to be noted, some very sympathetic and enthusiastic) audience participation; I croaked the words and they pretty much sang the tunes for me. Oddly enough, it worked.

Then a friend of Dad's, a young lady called Jen, volunteered to step up for a couple of songs. Dad knew her through a choir he used to sing in before the pandemic, she used to sing in a band herself, many years ago. She basically looked up the lyrics on her iPhone and then took her best guess at the tune of each song; we play covers, so obviously most if not all of our set is pretty well known.

She did such a good job of the last couple of tunes of the first set that the band spent their break huddled with her, pouring over the setlist of the second set and picking songs she was at least vaguely familiar with, and she took care of that as well. And to be fair, she did a fantastic job. If positions had been switched, I'm not sure I could have done it myself, so ad hoc and off the cuff, and in front of such a large, albeit exceptionally friendly, crowd.

And I felt totally replaced and utterly miserable. Turns out I'm quite the Prima Dona on the quiet.

photo: tony bundy

That was September. We've had nine gigs since, my voice obviously recovered and I've been just fine. And I remain extremely grateful to Jen for stepping in as she did, despite the battering to my pride and sense of self-worth. I've fully recovered.

Though in the grip of my second cold of the season, I did skip an open mic night I'd been planning to go to last Friday so that I could preserve my voice for the Saturday night gig with the band.

Which was a good one. I bought a new (to me, at least) guitar back at the beginning of 2020, a 1990 Japanese Fender Telecaster. A lovely thing to play, I'd originally bought it just to record with, but quickly pivoted on that idea and bought an amp as well with the intention of maybe gigging with it for a few songs.

Then lockdown happened and nobody was gigging.

When we were finally let back out again and business returned to usual, things felt very raw and out of practice. Loath to risk fiddling with too many variables at once and making life more complicated than it needed to be, I stuck to my usual Martin acoustic until things settled back down again.

So last Saturday, feeling a little apprehensive, I took the electric and my new amp to the venue, set them up under the ambivalent scrutiny of our bass player (who also doubles as both the band's de-facto sound engineer, my brother, and my harshest, most unsparing critic, second only to my wife) and opened the first set with an electric guitar.

And absolutely loved it. I picked the Martin up for a couple of numbers, but then put her back on her stand and went back to the Tele. I should've done this years ago. Electric guitars, and amps, and all the effects and electronics that go hand in hand with them have always terrified me. So much potential noise; the precision, knowledge and attention to detail required to keep it all under control has never been my strong point, and the scope for things to go so wrong is, frankly, a little intimidating.

But, a bit like bashing out the rough edges of a new song to see if it works, the only way to get over all that, I reckon, is with the help, support and pressure of an audience. And, as I think the Pilot gig showed, they'll forgive you anything if they see you're putting your heart into it.

Of course, now I've fallen in love with my Telecaster, I'm sat here idly thinking that wouldn't a Gibson Les Paul or a PRS make a nice addition to my collection? I confess I'm going purely on aesthetics. The merits of single coil over humbucker, independent coil splits, and aluminium Nashville Tune-O-Matic bridges are still something of a black art and a foreign language to me. I think the trick is to just plug the guitar in and play.

Of course, this all then raises the question of how many guitars is too many guitars. Which came up in my household about a month back when I went to the shop in town to buy some strings for the weekend's gigs and came home with a lovely Salvador Cortez nylon strung Spanish electro acoustic guitar. Martin at Gloucester Soundhouse clearly knows exactly how to snare me with these things; encourage me me to pick one up, then leave me in a quiet corner of his shop just to play.

In fairness, I had planned to justify the Cortez by working her into a couple of songs in the set, and did take her along to the gig in Thornbury a couple of weeks ago. But I think after last Saturday the Telecaster has shouldered her back out.

As to how many guitars is too many guitars? My wife and I will just need to continue to beg to differ.

It hasn't all been guitars and gigging since September. There has been some sailing. It feels like not enough of any of it though. There just doesn't seem to be enough time. I suspect I'm expecting too much.

I'd hoped to get a lot more sailing in with Calstar after bringing her back to Portishead. We have been out a few times. A neap tide day sail up under the bridges, then a somewhat longer spring tide day trip down to Sand Point and back. That was especially good fun, and our mate Mark (of the British Moths, Albacores and the trip out to Greece last year) joined us for that one, so the company was good to boot.

And Dad and I did get away for a weekend trip over to Cardiff in October. Nikki was supposed to join us for a long weekend, but she came down with a bug the week before, so being the diligent and attentive husband that I am, I cut the planned three day trip down to two, left her at home, peace fully asleep on the Saturday morning to sail to Cardiff, and caught the tide before dawn early the following day to get home in time for Sunday lunch.

The highlight of the Cardiff trip was probably the outward leg, when I finally managed to rig and hoist the cruising chute I picked up on eBay a couple of years ago. I told Nikki all about it over lunch when I got home on the Sunday.

I have a very patient, understanding wife. I think I might have mentioned this before?

Three trips out over a couple of months with Calstar feels like less than we'd been hoping for. Although Dad regularly drops down there without me now, just to potter. The biggest problem, of course, has been too many gigs. Which is a nice problem to have. And now the summer has gone, we need to find some time to have her pulled out to clean off her bottom and renew the anodes. And the bushes on her transom hung rudder have worn through, so also need to be replaced, which promises to be a beast of a job as the huge barn door of a rudder will obviously have to come off.

The electrics in her mast have also failed; I think the bulb has gone in the steaming light, and the LED tricolour and anchor light unit at the mast head has failed completely. It's inconvenient; it's easy enough to jury rig a temporary steaming light, which is what we did for our pre-dawn departure when returning from Cardiff. And for a couple of the legs coming back from Plymouth, for that matter. But whilst the deck level navigation lights are LED, so battery usage isn't a concern, the mast head tricolour also lit up the wind indicator which made sailing in the dark an awful lot easier, as it's the only wind instrument on our boat.

The trouble is, we haven't been able to find an electrician around here able or willing to sort the problem for us, and Dad won't entertain the idea of letting me shimmy up the mast, even suitably harnessed, to change the bulb on the steaming light half way up. It's kind of ironic, because running wild as a kid I used to climb trees (and cliffs and buildings and anything else that offered itself, and then jump out of them and abseil back down) an awful lot taller than Calstar's mast, and he didn't seem to mind back then.

Perspectives change, and thinking about it, a lot of the time I was doing the climbing, jumping and abseiling in my youth, I was away out of sight at boarding school, so maybe it wasn't so much that he didn't mind, but just that I didn't ask?

Of course, when not away with Dad and Calstar, or away with Nikki (aside from the afore mentioned Butlins weekend, we also snuck away for a weekend together in Ilfracombe at the end of October) business as usual continues on the lake at South Cerney Sailing Club.

I did a little instructing again towards the end of the summer, mostly (with one exception) on a Saturday so it didn't interfere with the racing, and I've been racing the Albacore with Amanda when we've both been available on a Saturday morning, or racing the Laser alone when not.

Such as last Sunday. Had a message from Amanda first thing in the morning to say she wouldn't be able to make it because of a migraine but, and exceptionally considerate of her, given the state she must've been in, she caught me in time so that I could grab the sail and foil bag for the Laser instead.

On the back end of Storm such and such (they have names these days, but I don't care to note them) that blew through on Saturday, there was snow on the high ground as I drove to the Club, and I had to break the ice off the boat cover and massage the mainsheet and control lines back to life before I could rig.

But it was worth it. Two races, and with a pure accident of the perfect amount of wind for me and a sympathetic course, I won both.

So summer is over. And whilst I will miss it I'm kind of fond of winter anyway. The sailing is so often great, and the gigs are kind of cosy. Not a big fan of the cold, but can work around that.

I'm just kind of hoping that, in the developing circumstances, we manage to carry on.