Tuesday 31 January 2023

Freefall: saturday nights

A couple of songs from the end of our gig on Saturday night, Wonderwall by Oasis and Dakota by the Stereophonics. Still haven't completely shaken off the bug I caught over Christmas, but my voice doesn't sound as ragged on the video as I remember it feeling on the night.

Or I guess it could just be that it doesn't sound as ragged set against the voices of the lovely crowd singing along with me.

Freefall: PRS SE Paul's Guitar in Faded Blue

I'm not sure how many guitars a man has to buy before he needs to acknowledge he has a problem. Perhaps once he has more guitars than his wife has shoes?

So I was briefly concerned, but then the day after my latest was delivered, the doorbell rang again (an obsolete thing in itself, Jack had already told me somebody was coming up the drive) and the DPD guy handed over another package, this one addressed to my wife. Through the packaging I could distinctly feel the soles of a new pair of boots.

Anyway, I have a new guitar. A PRS SE Paul's Guitar, and she's very, very pretty. An American guitar company, but this one was manufactured under licence for them in Indonesia. Which makes her better travelled than I am, as she was built in South East Asia, then shipped to the States to be put through the company's quality control at their factory on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and then shipped on to the UK to be bought over the Internet from a shop in Guildford by me.

Then we travelled together on down to Bristol for her first gig on Saturday night. It was a great gig, and the guitar sounded gorgeous. To my ears, at least, and nobody else seemed to complain.

a screw loose (Audix OM5 microphone)

A little bit of knowledge is a wonderful thing. 

The pins on my vocal mic have been literally falling out the bottom of the mic for the last few gigs. Closer inspection (having found my reading glasses) suggested a screw that probably held the socket in place had (I assumed) fallen out.

Trying to find anything on the Internet related to this, for instance, what gauge of screw I needed to replace it with, proved tricky.

Then at Saturday's gig, I had a word with a friend of mine that owns (or owned, actually not sure) an events and PA hire company Panik Events. He explained that the screws were universal, not brand specific, so I could harvest one from any XLR cable I had going spare, or I could buy one online to butcher for a few quid. But to remember that they were reverse threaded.

Which the following morning led me to a post on one of the techie sites where some guy was querying the fact that the screw he was told was the correct one wouldn't fit into the hole. To which somebody replied that you had to slide the fitting out, turn the screw all the way in to the socket, slide the fitting back in, and then accessing the screw head via the said hole, unscrew it until it locked the fitting against the microphone casing.

At which point I had something of an epiphany. If the screw head was too big to fit through the hole, then there was no way it could've fallen out, as I'd first assumed. So I grabbed a small, bright torch, found my reading glasses again, and shone the torch into the hole.

And there was the screw head, which had obviously come loose by tightening up until it no longer secured the fitting against the microphone case. So, with my smallest flathead screwdriver and a couple of easy turns later, the problem that had been bugging me for a few weeks was easily fixed.

I admit, this isn't my most exciting post. But it's both an anecdote illustrating how technically illiterate I am when it comes to cables and fixings, a note to my future self as to how to fix it should it happen again, and a small public service to anybody else that might go looking for "loose microphone screw" on the Internet, having found themselves in a similar pickle.

In other news, Lottie and I enjoyed a very lovely sunset yesterday evening when we were out playing in the park behind our house. The evenings are, slowly, drawing out again, and today's forecast hinted we might even (just) reach double digits. Could be that spring it on its way.

Hoping to get a weekend away with Calstar for the second weekend of March. Was half hoping to do so in February, but I'm not sure it'll be domestically expedient. Nikki has the week preceding said weekend in February off work, whereas I do not. I predict that by the weekend she'll be "bored" and me loping off to go sailing rather than doing something with her will be rather frowned upon. It's far too early in the year for me to convince her to come sailing with us.

Boredom. I have to admit, it's a concept I struggle with.

Wednesday 25 January 2023

a day in the life

I don't really know why, but I find myself endlessly fascinated by metrics. This was my Tuesday in lines and numbers. Clever things, these modern watches.

SCSC: frost and still waters

We've been enjoying a bit of a cold snap recently. I woke up Sunday morning to Alexa blithely telling me it was -2°C outside but that we did have clear skies. A bleary glance out the window also told me that there was no wind to speak of. 

It mystifies me that the typical layman's weather forecast summary doesn't tell you what the wind is doing unless it's expected to be extreme. My particular interest aside, the wind makes such a difference to how the weather actually feels.

Having already scraped the ice off my car in the early hours before driving home after Saturday night's gig, I happily didn't have to do it again before heading off to the lake in the morning. It was my turn manning the safety boat this week, so no sailing for me.

On getting to the club, I was vaguely surprised to find that the lake hadn't actually frozen over. A bit of ice at the margins, but that was otherwise it. Elsewhere, neighbouring clubs with shallower water than our gravel pit had to cancel their sailing because of the ice.

It wasn't a big turnout on the start line, just the hardcode few. With such a small number of boats and such light air, there wasn't much to do for the safety boat except keep a watchful eye on things. But it did leave the chance to take a few photos. Winter skies, frost and still waters make for such pretty pictures, I think. 

With my turn on the safety boat done for now, next Sunday Amanda and I are back to racing the Albacore. Forecast suggests it might have warmed up a few degrees by then, and whilst there's no wind Saturday or Sunday morning, it's supposed to have picked up nicely by lunchtime. Of course, this far out the forecast only ever paints a picture in the broadest of strokes.

Wednesday 18 January 2023

Hi Ren

This is a song by a guy called Ren.

My brother shared it with me yesterday evening. I've not come across this artist before, and have to admit, he totally floored me. I'm a sucker for naked vocals and guitar, and especially love the sound of nylon strings on a "classical" guitar, particularly when not played in a classical style. I'm not generally a fan of rap. That's actually quite an understatement; whilst I can sometimes appreciate the artistry in in, it leaves me cold, I don't actually like it at all. But in this case, I make an exception.

I think the story he weaves is beautiful compelling. And whilst I know he's talking about battles with his own subconscious, which is not something that connects with me as I'm pretty much at peace with mine, ironically, he could, in many ways, also be talking about my relationship with my brother. 

I was only very recently thinking I'd gotten a bit stale with the music I've been listening to. Happily, I think I've found a new rabbit hole to crawl down.

Monday 9 January 2023

Laser: winter sailing

One of the things I like about the weather forecast site WindGuru is that it keeps a record of what the weather actually did. So when I get home from the lake and think to myself "What just hit me?" it's easy to go check.

Fourteen boats crossed the start line for the first race at South Cerney on Sunday at 1100. The Laser and I hit 12.1 knots on one of the reaches, and frequently topped 10 knots. In a little 13' dinghy with a freeboard of, I guess, around 6" that's quite entertaining. Especially when you can see the leeward mark coming up at you fast (and the shore not so far beyond it) and know you're going to have to gybe.

Only seven boats finished. The safety boat was kept very busy.

Setting the boat up with the (reduced) radial rig was definitely the right idea. I'd brought both sails to the lake with me, as below 20 knots I really need the standard rig to keep the boat competitive, but the forecast had mentioned the possibility of 30 knot gusts, and once we're into the mid 20's my racing effectively stops and I'm just clinging on.

So it was just a question of how frequent we were expecting those 30 knot gusts to be. 

Only five boats stayed out for the second race. The conditions were still very blustery, but I only managed a top speed 10.8 knots out of the Laser. Which is still quite good fun. We also had our first capsize of the year when, a little under half way through the race, I messed up a gybe. I recovered quickly, more luck than judgement, and managed to stay out of the water by rolling straight over the side of the boat and onto the dagger-board.

Staying out of the water also meant I recovered quickly enough to catch back up by the end of the reach that followed. However, as we rounded the next mark and hardened up onto the beat, the cleat on my outhaul failed. Nothing serious, just the Laser punishing me for leaving her neglected under her covers since the late summer. But not being able to flatten the sail when you're beating through gusts that are pushing into the high twenties makes life a little uncomfortable.

I briefly entertained retiring; a "dry capsize" regardless, I was by then soaked through by rain and spray, so cold I couldn't feel my fingers or toes and was shivering uncontrollably. And, more to the point, the two boats I'd been trying to beat were now almost a whole leg away from me upwind.

But it felt too much like giving up. So I sheeted the sail in, hiked out hard and tried not to look at how baggy the main was with the outhaul completely off as I pushed on up the beat after the other two.

And although I couldn't have known it right then, the worst of the weather had just blown through. The gusts faded across the rest of the race, the rain stopped, and a very faint, watery sun almost managed to break through the cloud cover.

Back on shore I tried to derig my boat before retreating to get changed, but unable to feel my fingers, couldn't disassemble the rig. So I put the mast down to keep the sail safe, and retreated to the changing rooms. By that point I was shivering so uncontrollably that it took an embarrassing amount of time just to unlace my boots so that I could put my wetsuit off and get in the shower to warm up.

Winter sailing is fun.

Wednesday 4 January 2023

twelve pictures

All months are equal, but some months are more equal than others. Not really sure how many photos I took (or collected) across 2022, but thought I'd shuffle through them and pick out one for each month. It was surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) harder to do so than I thought.

January was a month of gigs and guitars and boats. Then, so were they all, more or less. Dad and I tried, and failed to relaunch Calstar. I had more success with Amanda and racing the Albacore, and went sailing on the estuary again with some old friends out of Lydney.

The photo I picked though was of Nikki, at the end of lunch at our favourite restaurant in Gloucester. The date was January 6th, our wedding anniversary. I'd forgotten we'd gone there for our anniversary last year. I was planning to do so again this year. Clearly, I am a creature of habit.

February was a breezy month. We finally got Calstar back on the water and the water stayed out the outside where it was supposed to, but didn't get the chance to take her anywhere. I had some fun racing with the Laser in the South Cerney Frostbite, the gusts on one particular Sunday hitting more than 40 knots. The roof of my house lost a few tiles to the weather. I paid a very nimble man to climb up there and put them back. Would've loved to have take the opportunity to have climbed up on my roof myself, but clearly middle age has installed in me at least a modicum of good sense.

Some races were cancelled towards the end of the month because of the wild weather. A neighbouring boat broke her tethers and was flipped onto our Albacore, thankfully doing no damage. I took Jack down to the Club to check, but the winds were too strong for me to even safely open the gate. We retreated, and stopped off on the way home for a walk up Robinswood Hill instead. 

We didn't reach the top. These days Jack is an elderly gentleman, and was more than content to settle for the view half way up.

March was mostly about gigs, seemingly end to end. Every weekend, and during Cheltenham Race Week, a run of four nights at the Whittle Taps. After two years of restrictions, the mood was bullish and the band's diary full. In total, and not counting the open mic nights, I had 47 gigs across the year. Of those, 4 were solo shows, 28 were pub gigs, 5 were functions of various kinds, 6 were weddings (one of which was my daughter's) and 1 was on a boat.

The loss of two venues also saw 6 cancellations. Which in any normal year would feel dire, but compared to the cancellations of the previous two years, felt hardly worthy of remark, only deep sympathy for the two venues concerned. 

The photo is of my brother, taken on stage at the Taps during Race Week. I don't pretend to understand horse racing, I'd even go so far as to feel a little bit of antipathy towards the idea, but I do enjoy the party Cheltenham throws to celebrate the Gold Cup.

The weather was kinder for April, and we actually managed to get Calstar our from her dock for a couple of trips. The first was a brief shake-down, an out and return up under the bridges with a friend along for company. For the second, we turned poor Calstar into a canal boat, joining in with some friends from Portishead Cruising Club to take her up the estuary, onto the Sharpness Canal and up to Gloucester.

It involves scant little sailing and far too much use of the engine for my taste, but I think it's one of Dad's favourite trips. We'll probably do it again this year. The photo was taken as we were passing under the Old Severn Bridge on the way up to Sharpness.

April was also marked by the Albacore's mast step failing, putting her out of action for a few months. On the bright side, Nikki, after much painful searching, finally found herself a dress for our daughter's wedding. I almost picked that photo for the month, but the photo of Dad also included Calstar and the Severn Bridge, so it pipped her to the post for April.

Nik never reads anything I write here anyway, so I reckon I'll get away with it.

May always feels like such a month full of promise. My photos are full of dinghies racing on the lake, birds in the back garden, gigs and open mic nights. An old friend got married and asked us to play at her wedding. News came that another friend of ours who lives in Weston had had a litter of puppies. Suddenly my social media feeds were full of images of all these little bundles of fluff and chaos.

I held out for a few weeks, but eventually succumbed to the inevitable and the decision was made. Nikki claims it was me that made it, but I can't help but feel that I was somehow manipulated. Nonetheless, I'm happy to own it. The weeks that followed would be spent arguing over puppy names and hoping that the one I'd set my heart on in the photos would be ours. Late to the party, we were low down on the waiting list so would be amongst the last to get to choose.

The photo was taken early in the month, coming back to Portishead after a weekend away in Cardiff with Dad and Calstar. We had some good sailing in May.

At the beginning of June, chaos descended upon our home in the form of a fluffy black and tan bundle of attention-seeking mayhem. The little girl with the orange collar, that we'd picked out of the photos as being our first choice, was overlooked by all the other families ahead of us on the list, and Lottie came home to us.

Not everybody was pleased. Boo and Jack are both ten this year, and whilst the new puppy brought a fresh least of life and energy to Jack (the two have become inseparable) Boo gamely suffered her for the first day, and was then rather put out once he realised she was here to stay.

So the photo is one of the very few we have of them together. Perhaps one day we'll fix the divide, but not, I suspect, until she calms down quite a bit more than she has over the last few months. In the meantime, there's plenty of space here for them to co-exist without having to cross paths too often.

The band had more weddings across June, along with plenty of other work, and I had a couple of solo gigs myself, which were fun. I was invited back to my old sailing club at Frampton-on-Severn to crew of a friend in his Enterprise a couple of times, which was a real treat. And I went for a 16km walk with another old friend along Offa's Dyke. Something I think I should do more of.

At the beginning of July, along with a couple of friends, I took my first karate grading in about six years and passed, gaining my 2nd dan in Wado Ryu. It means very little to anybody but me, but I was, quietly, very pleased. It's just another milestone on a journey I started back in my very late teens, but a milestone nonetheless. And whilst, to coin a well used cliché, I fully subscribe to the idea that life is about the journey, not the destination, it's nice to see the occasional little indication of progress.

Lottie became the terror of puppy training class. The gigs kept rolling in, the Albacore was returned to the Club repaired but remained unlaunched and untested as various distractions competed to keep my path from crossing with Amanda's on the lakeside. The weather was glorious however, and plenty of hours were spent racing the Laser around the cans.

At the end of  the month, my daughter got married. My wife looked gorgeous in her dress. So, needless to say, did my daughter.

In August Dad, Nikki and I got on a plane and went to meet our friend Mark and the yacht "Amore" in Croatia. It was Nikki's first trip overseas since we'd met; after our first date, which, funny enough, was a coach trip to France, all our family holidays over the years have been here in the UK. 

Croatia is lovely. Aside from growing up in the Middle East, I've spent a little bit of time away from Nikki in France, Denmark, Montenegro and Greece, and Croatia is, without any hesitation, my favourite out of all of them.

Everything was clean and well looked after, the people were, seemingly without exception, friendly and pleased to see you, and everyone spoke exceptionally good English. The latter is, I suspect, a terribly "English" way to judge a nation's people, but in comparison to France, Montenegro and Greece, it simply removed a barrier and made you feel immediately welcome.

Which is not to say any of the other countries I've mentioned are not exceptionally welcoming (Greece, in particular, stands out in this regard) but Croatia was very special.

One day I shall learn a second language. I can count to ten, say hello, good-bye and thank-you in a respectable number of them, but otherwise being only able to speak English has always felt like a dereliction on my part, especially given the many opportunities I've had over the years.

Amanda and I finally managed to relaunch the Albacore in September. With the nights slowly drawing in, the Wednesday evening racing at South Cerney came to an end. I won the Laser series, and took 3rd place with the Laser in the overall Hotdogs series, which I was really pleased with, especially as I beat Burt into 4th. Who was, to be fair, in the latter weeks of the series, distracted by his impending marriage or I suspect he'd have had me easily by the end as he's really a much better racer than me. But a win is a win is a win.

Dad and I got away over to Cardiff again with Calstar. Both Calstar and my Laser have been sadly neglected since then.

I'm less concerned about the Laser, I bought her with the intention of mainly leaving her under her cover anyway whilst I sailed other boats. But we need to do better with Calstar this year. We didn't get out with her nearly enough in 2022.

In part because I spent so much of my time sailing abroad.

Towards the end of the month, I travelled out to Montenegro to meet up again with Mark and Amore, to help sail her back to her winter berth in Greece. Nik and Dad stayed behind this time; our intention was to bypass Albania altogether in a single passage down the coast, and neither fancied joining us for that.

It was the best bit though. The passage was a long reach with around 20 knots of good, steady breeze on our shoulder. Blue seas and blue skies gave way to a night sail beneath a pristine heaven garlanded with the Milky Way, festooned with a spray of bright, glittering stars and bookended at dusk and dawn with the company of dolphins. 

October is a month full of birthdays. My two sons', my brother's and my late mum's. We took Lottie to the beach for the first time. During my couple of weeks away in Montenegro and Greece, she seemed to take the chance to spring up from a puppy to a proper lanky teenager, with both her ears finally standing up at full mast pretty much on the day of my return.

My friend Burt got married, and we played for his wedding. At the end of the month, Nikki claimed payback for all my time spent away sailing in exotic climes, and we had a long weekend away with a couple of friends in a caravan on a Butlins holiday camp in Minehead. The things I do for love.

The photo was a rare moment when Nik and I had all the kids together with us in once place, out for supper in Bristol to celebrate Ben and Sam's birthdays.

November was all about the band. There was the usual run of gigs, including another wedding and a fireworks party for November 5th. But we'd finally agreed to play New Year's Eve again at the end of the year. We usually skip it as our drummer goes away with his family for the holidays and, obviously, finding a sub for a date like that is a bit tricky.

But when Sam, the landlord of the Railway Tavern, had (again) asked us if we'd think about it, Jamie piped up and said "What about Danny?" So I made the call and Danny said yes.

As I think I've mentioned, Dan was a very early band member, our second ever drummer back in the mid-90's, and a long, long-standing friend. The catch was that he hadn't picked up a stick or hit a drumskin in over three years. So by November, when he'd again expressed his concerns that he'd been having trouble grappling with a few songs in the set I'd given him, Jamie found a rehearsal studio we could hire in town, and we settled down to practicing regularly every week with him.

The band hasn't had a regular rehearsal in absolute years. Each of us has full time jobs and full time families, and with so many gigs it's been something of an unnecessary inconvenience for a long time.

I found I really enjoyed myself. Getting together without fail one evening every week in a nice studio to practice towards an agreed objective was actually great fun, and kind of why we'd started the band in the first place, all those many, many years ago. Because, funny enough, we do actually enjoy playing together.

New Years Eve is done now, and needless to say, Danny excelled himself. I've got this week off (the band, not the day job) for my voice to recover, but we've actually gone and booked the studio again for another rehearsal next Monday.

So Dan and Jay get to be the November photo.

I got a haircut in December. Actually, it was the end of November, but I'm using a bit of poetic licence to move it into the following month for the sake of balance as I've written enough about the previous. It was noteworthy because it's the first time I've been to a barbers in about fifteen years. I have a genuine dread, almost a phobia, of walking in and a guy with a pair of scissors asking "What would you like?"

Well, a hair-cut, obviously. 

Which is pretty much what I said the last time, all those years ago. I so completely failed to express my wishes that the guy resorted to working through a line up of his other customers, "How about like that? No? What about like his? No? Okay, what about this gentleman?" at which point, on seeing my face, said gentlemen incredulously asked "Why? What's wrong with my hair?"

It was positively mortifying.

So I've relied upon Nik to cut my hair for years. But having been together now for close on thirty of them (note to self: anniversary Friday, must work out exactly how close before then!) I think the point where she really gives a damn about my appearance enough to want to do anything about it has long passed. 

I tried cutting my own hair once, thinking how hard could it be? Yeah. That didn't end well. 

So I picked a quiet Wednesday, walked into the barber shop next door to where my wife works and asked for a hair cut. She knows the guys in there, and apparently has been telling them for years that she'll send me in.

Like most things of such a nature, once faced down, my fears were proven totally unfounded. I spent a very pleasant forty-five minutes or so sat in a chair talking to a young man called Perry as he snipped and cut and generally tried to make me look presentable despite the questionable material he'd been given to start with, and listened patiently as I nattered on about sailing. 

Because that's what you generally get if you say to me "So, what do you do then?"

I shall definitely go back. But I think I'll pick another day when it's quiet.

So December's photo should probably be one of Perry, but I didn't take it as, generally speaking, I think taking photos of strangers and posting them on the Internet is a bit of an intrusion. I did take some photos of my haircut in the mirror (later on, once I got home, not whilst I was still sat in the chair!) but nobody really wants to see that.

Instead, Miss December is, of course, Lottie. It snowed, and she loved it. And, unlike the haircut, which as mentioned was actually a (very late) November haircut for December, Lottie's picture in the snow was genuinely taken in the actual final month of the year.


My heart rate statistics from last Saturday's gig. Admittedly, it was a bit longer than usual, as we played a third set after the hour struck midnight. And I was struggling with a virus, so the whole thing might have felt like harder work than it should've been.

There are duller ways (and probably healthier!) to work off a few of those Christmas calories, however.

Tuesday 3 January 2023


Just a picture of the hill out the back of my house. And Lottie. The two go together well, I think.

Monday 2 January 2023

peace and love

It's been a good break. Went out to the pub with Nikki and a couple of her friends on Christmas Eve and drank rather too much, as did the others. Nikki must've done, because she actually danced with me. I'm not normally allowed to dance if she's in the same county. Family over for Christmas Day, Nikki accidentally cremated the carrots in the oven but dinner was otherwise sublime.

Raced the Albacore with Amanda on Boxing Day. A ninety minute pursuit against about a dozen other boats, the sky was blue, the wind unusually steady, and we took 2nd place. Great sailing and great company. That evening we went over to Nik's mum and dad's for supper and caught up with my brother-in-law Jim and his lovely family.

The rest of the week saw me feeling somewhat sorry for myself; I'm pretty certain I caught whatever bug struck me down off of Jim, but it might be that I'm being a little unfair. He's a vicar and I play in a band, so we both get around a fair bit at this time of year. In any case, the bug left me with a nasty, dry cough and stripped away my voice for most of the week that followed.

Which was awkward and a little stressful, as we had a gig at one of my favourite Bristol pubs on New Years Eve. We were joined by an old friend, Danny, on drums. Dan's actually one of our ex-band members; he was with us for about five, joining us when our original drummer left, I'm guessing in about 93 or 94. He'd actually quit playing after his last band folded about three years ago, but we persuaded him to fetch his drum-kit back out of his attic, dust it off and tune it up for this one. We even got together with him for a practice or three in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The venue had sold out quite early on at 150 tickets; the landlord Sam said he'd never had it so easy shifting them in the four years he'd been running the pub, which I thought was kind. We were playing to a home crowd, I don't think there was a face amongst them that I didn't recognise from a previous gig. The band were great, Danny in particular was awesome, but with my hoarse throat and horribly scratchy voice, it was far from my most polished performance. But the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd carried us. There are times when it's really driven home to me how lucky I am to be able to do this.

The following morning, which would've been yesterday, I felt ropy as hell. My voice was totally shot, barely able to croak more than a whisper, and the cough, which had been all but gone, has returned and become horribly sore and persistent. But it's all good. It's a bright new year, I don't have another gig now for two weeks so plenty of time to recover, and racing at the Club starts again with the Chilli Dogs series this coming Sunday.

So I knocked back a couple of paracetamol and another shot of Benylin and climbed the hill out the back of our house with Lottie. It was her first time to the top, and the first time I've been up there in a long while. The view is always worth it though, even if you have to make your way back down sliding in the mud through rain, sleet and hail as it turned out we had to yesterday. 

I don't make New Year Resolutions, but I am resolved to climb that hill with Lottie more often this year.

Happy New Year everybody, peace and love to us all.