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Dark therapy

Or, going to a gig for the first time in a long time

There’s nothing quite like going to see a gig, is there? I haven’t been to see a gig in years—let’s not even count them—but there’s still nothing quite like the thrill of going into the dark venue space and seeing the empty stage all set up and ready.

There’s nothing quite like going to see a gig in a little local venue, is there? I mean, the sort of venue that is a properly local space for new talent to practice and learn their stagecraft, the sort of venue where there isn’t a backstage, the bands have to squeeze through the audience to get on and off, and the stage is really just a raised area at one end of the room.

There’s nothing quite like going to see a band that you’ve loved for years, either, is there? The sort of band that you loved in your teens and you still love their new material now, because they’ve grown and developed as you’ve grown and developed.

So when I heard that Echobelly were playing Le Pub in Casnewydd/Newport, obviously, I had to get a ticket. I’ve been listening to Echobelly ever since their early single “I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me,” which I bought in cassingle format in its first week of release.* For my first gig in many years to be one of my favourite bands, at a tiny little venue, it seemed as if all the stars were in alignment.

The support were a local band called Murder Club, an excellent four-piece group who call themselves “the quiet grrrls of riot grrrl” and who might well end up being the next big thing on the South Wales music scene, even though it’s a crowded place. Their drummer was also doing duty checking tickets on the door, and their keyboardist said: “Thank you for coming to our gig!” to me as I went in. It was just a shame their set wasn’t a bit longer, because their songs were great.

Murder Club

After Murder Club had left the stage, the room started to fill up** as Echobelly started to put their equipment together. Until, finally, all went quiet, and the band squeezed their way through the audience and into position. And then, it was time.

Glenn and Sonya of Echobelly

Given what I said at the start, you can hardly expect this to be an impartial critical review.*** As soon as Sonya Madan sang the opening line of the first song—I think it was “Gravity Pulls”—I was bowled away. To hear songs I’ve heard the recorded versions of time after time after time, sung live, with the band only a couple of feet away from me, was almost overwhelming. I must have been grinning like a loon throughout.

“I can’t bounce about on stage like I normally would,” Sonya apologised. She’d fallen off the stage at their previous gig, apparently, and one foot was still recovering. Still, she managed to move about and take full control of the stage, even if she couldn’t really be seen from the back of the room. The whole band clearly loved being there to perform, and Sonya encouraged everyone to join in with a couple of the more anthemic songs, such as “Great Things” and “King Of The Kerb”. “We love to hear you sing along,” she said.

A couple of photographers were slipping in and out of the crowd, recording as much as they could. I did pull my phone out of my pocket every so often and try to take a quick snap or two, but as I was concentrating on listening to the music, the results are almost all terrible.

Sonya Aurora Madan

Bassist James of Echobelly

I wasn’t there to take photos, though, I was there to gather memories.

Sonya Aurora Madan

Sonya admitted they couldn’t be bothered—given the state of her foot—to pretend they hadn’t planned to do an encore. They played the “final song”, took their applause, then after some slightly comic and sarcastic chants of “More!” from the audience, went into the encore. The main set ended with “Scream”, the encore with “Dark Therapy”. Both are among my favourite songs of theirs, and I couldn’t have chosen better ones to end on. For my first gig in many years, it was a perfect night.

* It wasn’t the first Echobelly release, but it was the second single from their first album. They’d released an EP and another single before that.

** As an aside here, I’m always a little bit disappointed when people get tickets for a gig and only bother to see the headline act. So many people do it, and it’s such a shame, because it’s really important to support bands when they’re on the way up as well as when they’re at the top. Mind you, maybe I’m biased, because at the very first gig I ever saw, the support act was an unknown (to me at least) local band who went on to become major international stars.

*** You might also have noticed I didn’t give you any clue at all what Murder Club actually sounded like, which would make it a pretty rubbish review really.

Sailing away

A visit to an iconic place

A trip away last weekend, to what is arguably one of the most iconic sites in British, or at least Anglo-Saxon, archaeology. It’s been famous since the 1930s, there have been TV series made about it, and it has shaped the way we see Anglo-Saxon Britain ever since. The site I’m talking about is: Sutton Hoo.

Sutton Hoo

Given that Sutton Hoo is only a few miles outside Ipswich, I met up with regular correspondant Sarah from Ipswich and her husband and dog. Sarah is almost as fascinated by archaeology as I am, which is probably a good thing because at first sight there isn’t much to see at Sutton Hoo itself. The “royal burial ground”, the field where all the famous archaeology was found, is a particularly lumpy and humpy fallow field, covered in long grass with a scattering of gorse and broom bushes, and with a stark, narrow viewing tower watching over it. The famous ship burial, Mound 1, is marked by steel rods where the prow and stern of the ship originally were.

Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo

If you’re interested in history, there’s always an awful lot to be gained from visiting a site in person, not just reading about it. Archaeological literature, particularly the older sort, tends to focus very much on the confines of sites themselves without considering their wider perspective in the landscape. I hadn’t realised, for example, just how high up the burial site is above the river. When you think of a ship burial, you tend to assume it would be close to a riverbank. Sutton Hoo does overlook a river, but it’s quite a long way from it: about half a mile away and, more importantly, about a hundred feet up. In modern times a wood has grown up, but when it was built the burial mounds would have been a commanding sight from a ship on the river. One of the mounds has been reconstructed to roughly its original height, to give visitors some idea of how it might have looked within a decade or two of construction.

View of Woodbridge and the River Deben from Sutton Hoo

Mound 2 sits in the long grass

In the nearby National Trust museum, they are unequivocal that the king buried in the ship burial was Raedwald of East Anglia. This is something we will never know for certain, whatever techniques of analysis we manage to develop in the future. The chances are it was likely Raedwald, or his son Eorpwald, or with an outside chance his other son Sigebehrt. We’ll never really know, but we do know that, whoever it was, he was left-handed.

Watching from the viewing tower

The new viewing tower, built from galvanised steel, gives an excellent bird’s eye view of the site. I couldn’t resist spending a few minutes taking photos of the scene so I could stitch it together into a panorama-collage, to give you some idea of what the whole place looks like. The view a seagull would have got, maybe, the day that Raedwald-or-whoever was interred in his warship under a great mound of bare earth.

The cemetery

No person would have seen it that way at the time, of course; very few until this year, in fact. And now we can.

Do we get a better idea of Sutton Hoo by visiting these mounds, instead of going to London and seeing the artefacts in the British Museum? I think we do. This was an important place, one which has to some degree survived when many other similar important places have been lost to us forever. It might have changed significantly in the last 1,500 years, but nevertheless, you can’t understand the site, you can’t feel its relationship with the sea, with the river, with the surrounding landscape, unless you have actually been there and seen it. It might be a field of grassy lumps, but it is definitely worth the trip.

The exercise book

Or, a meander

My exercise routine, minimal as it is, has changed a few times this year.

At the start of the year, living in Bristol, I didn’t do much exercise at all in the week. At the weekend I would go out and do things such as investigating local cemeteries, some of which ended up as posts on here. In the week, though: well, I’d got bored of walking around all the nearby streets, over twelve months of ongoing international pandemic, and had given up on leaving the house during the week at all.

Moving to Wales, I started out going for walks on my lunch break, as in my old job I could get away with having a longish lunch whenever I wanted. When I changed jobs, though, the working day became a bit shorter, so those walks moved to the morning instead. From half past six, I would go for a ramble around the neighbourhood, through the gloom of the early-morning woods or along the riverbank.

Now, things have changed again. In the morning I drive down to the coast, and go for a ramble along the shoreline. It’s certainly enjoyable, but it’s not really strenuous. So, in the evening, I’ve been going for a second walk, around the village. At the moment, the equinox a couple of weeks behind us but the clocks still on summer time, this happens at dusk. When I leave the house the sky is starting to darken; when I am halfway along my route it is properly dark.

Tonight, it was a clear sky when I set out, with the sun just falling below the western horizon and Jupiter just visible in the south. As I walked the sky grew darker, into a deeper blue, and more things started to become visible. Saturn, just to the west of Jupiter. Cassiopeia and Pegasus in the western sky. When I was almost home, I realised it was fully dark, with Vega up near the zenith and Arcturus over in the west. There was a fainter star just east and below Jupiter, which I think must have been δ Capricorni, or Deneb Algedi, magnitude 2.85. Fairly good seeing then, even with the streetlights on. I didn’t feel in a stargazing mood, but I felt peaceful, watching the transition from the day and watching the stars come out.

Look to the skies

But, specifically, at the moon

An upcoming astronomy event: in a couple of weeks time, on October 16th, it’s International Observe The Moon Night. The idea being, everyone gets together around the world and, well, looks at the moon.

You might expect an event like this to happen on the full moon. It’s not, however: the moon will be waxing gibbous, a couple of days after passing First Quarter. In many ways this makes it a more interesting sight, as there will be a day/night terminator visible. That is: the line between the bright sunlit part and the dark night-time part. If you get a telescope or binoculars and look at the terminator, you can see the low-angled sunlight picking up ridges and hills, and casting deep shadows into the craters. Because the moon has essentially no atmosphere, the picture you see will be wonderfully crisp and sharp, the ridge of every crater picked out perfectly.

The Moon might be the nearest heavenly body, most of the time, but there’s still an awful lot we don’t know about it. Moreover, it’s fascinating just to go outside and look at. On International Observe The Moon Night you can go and join an established event, or you can put your hand up to host one yourself. Or, if you don’t like either of those options, just go outside and look at it yourself. It will—clouds permitting—be beautiful.

Self-protection

Or, you could say, self-awakening

It’s fair to say that I don’t always consciousnessly do the right thing in life. I’m getting better at that, and maybe there will be more posts to come on that at a future date, but historically I’ve always been either a wee bit too hesitant, or a wee bit too eager to not resist the wrong thing.

Still, it’s nice to know that this doesn’t always apply to my subconscious brain. Last night I was peacefully sleeping, going through a rather strange and incoherent dream when I suddenly became aware than one of my worst fears was on its way. I suddenly became aware, through a quick flash of an image, that a horde of zombies were on their way and were about to break into my dreamscape.

Zombies are one of my worst fears. Any dream with a substantial amount of them would quickly become a nightmare, and a bad one. My brain, though, knows this. And so at the first flash of them last night, I found myself suddenly hauled out of sleep and checking the time. It was just gone 3am: being awake just gone 3am isn’t ideal, and I knew I might not properly get back to sleep again, but it was better than than the alternative. Better than being stuck inside a nightmare still. I should, I think, be giving my brain a bit of a pat on the back.

Another anniversary

A more recent one this time

A few weeks ago, I noted it was sixteen years since I first started writing this blog. Well, today, it’s a whole year since I relaunched it, as something of a lockdown exercise. It had taken most of my spare time in the summer, to go through all of the old posts, edit them, redesign the sight, and get the whole production pipeline up and running.

Since then there have been a hundred and forty-two posts, including this one; about mountains, beaches, trains, castles, cemeteries, trains, Lego, trains, computing, and trains. Have many people read them? No, probably not. That’s not really the point, though: not whether people read them, but whether I enjoy writing them. I have. So doing it has been worth it.

Despite it being the pandemic years, still, a lot has happened and a lot has changed over the past year. There will, I am sure, be more changes over the next year too. We won’t know, until they happen.

On Cleethorpes Beach (part one)

Or, some walks in the early morning

Since changing jobs, I’ve been going for early morning walks most workdays. For about an hour or so, I’ve been walking up to the woods overlooking the village, or following the riverbank and canalbank, or walking across the fields to the next village and back. It’s a really good way to start the day. When I go to visit The Mother, though: well, there aren’t really any interesting places to walk and back in an hour. There aren’t actually very many public footpaths outside the village itself; there’s no river, and the woods are too far away. I was at a bit of a loss.

“Why don’t you drive down to the beach and go for a walk there?” suggested The Cute Accountant.* It made complete sense. The beach is only 15 minutes drive away from The Mother’s house; I could easily stretch my morning walk to be 90 minutes without really having to rush. So, since starting the new job, when I’ve been at The Mother’s every morning I have gone down to the beach for a walk on the sand.

The beach just after dawn

Cleethorpes Prom is your fairly standard seaside prom: pier, arcades, amusement rides and chip shops. All the signs of seaside civilisation, with the sand raked daily and the high concrete wall of the prom separating town and sea. If you head a couple of miles south, though, down past the leisure centre and the miniature railway to where the holiday parks start, then things feel much more remote. A broad band of salt marsh separates the dry land from the open water, and you can wander along the tideline or through the marshes feeling completely apart from the world, feeling as if it is some ancient unpopulated coastline. Look the other way, though, and behind the freewheeling seabirds, you can see the lighthouse on the far side of the river mouth, and always ship after ship standing at anchor and waiting for their upstream pilot.

Rippled sand

At low tide, there is a vast expanse of rippled sand and mud, cut across by channels and with endless slight variations in height. When I was a kid, the dangers of the beach were always drummed into me heavily. Never go out too far. Never cross one of the channels. You’ll get cut off. The Mother would tell me lurid stories from her days as a 999 operator, of people finding bodies washed up on the shore after going out at low tide and getting confused by fast-descending fog. “The most dangerous beach in the country,” she’d said, which I’m not sure is the truth. Nevertheless, you have to be careful going down to the low tide line, always sure all the water you see is flowing out, not back behind you. If you do go all the way, you find the remains of shipwrecks, the gaunt ribcages of old wooden ships sticking stumpily out of the sand.

Two shipwrecks

Navigating all the way along the tideline, without heading back to the nearest concrete path, can be tricky. The outflow of one of the local becks cuts across the sand, in a surprisingly deep channel. At low tide it can be crossed with care, if you can find a shallow spot, if you don’t mind getting your feet a little wet and having to jump over the deeper parts. At higher tides, you have no chance, and have to find a way to cut back through the marshes, themselves riddled with deep, steep-sided channels of water with thick mud at the bottom. It’s far too easy to slip over at their edge and end up with a very wet and muddy arse. I hate to think what the marshes are like to navigate at the very highest tides: I suspect I’d have to sit on the thin line of dunes at the seaward edge of the marsh and wait the tide out a few hours. It wouldn’t be much of a hardship.

The beck at low tide

I could keep on here posting photos of the wilder parts of the beach, much as I could sit for hours on the dunes listening to the waves breaking. I’m going to pause this post here, though, before coming back again soon with more pictures and more to say. Think of it as the tide going out and returning again.

Paddleboarders

* For the really long-term readers: it’s career progression.

Taken by the flood

An impressive onrush of current

Last January, I wrote about how I keep track of ideas for topics to write about. I said, when I have an idea, I create a “ticket” a bit like a “bug ticket” in a software development process, to keep track of it. What I didn’t say, though, is something that applies to writing ideas just as much as to bugs: it’s important to be descriptive. Things you think, now, are always going to be seared in your mind, will be over and gone in a few hours. Unfortunately, when I create a “writing ticket”, I will often only write down a few words and rely on my memory to know what the post was actually going to be about. When I come back to it later: baffled.

Take, for example, an idea I also wrote down back in January, a few weeks before writing that post. “Post about the fast-flowing waters of Stockholm.” Post what about them, exactly? I have no idea.

It’s true that the centre of Stockholm does have impressive fast-flowing water, a rushing, churning torrent that pours constantly in two streams, either side of Helgeandsholmen, the island taken up almost entirely by the Swedish parliament building. When I visited Stockholm, I walked through the old town and down to visit the museum of medieval Stockholm which lies underground, beneath the gardens in front of the parliament. When I reached the narrow channel of water separating the parliament building from Stockholm Palace, I was shocked and amazed by the speed and power of the water. It flowed from east to west in a solid, smooth-surfaced grey-green mass, as if it had an enormous weight behind it. It felt dangerous, unstoppable, and irresistable.

I already knew that Stockholm, and the Baltic in general, doesn’t really believe very much in having tides. Stockholm’s harbour is technically seawater, but there are many kilometres of archipelago between the city and the open sea, and to get to open ocean you have to go all the way around past Copenhagen and the tip of Jutland. Because of that, the Baltic isn’t particularly salty and doesn’t have very dramatic tides. This couldn’t, then, be a tidal flow. It took maps to show what it was.

OpenStreetMap map of Stockholm

The above extract from OpenStreetMap is © OpenStreetMap contributors and is licensed as CC BY-SA.

You can see how Stockholm is built around a relatively narrow point in the archipelago. What you can’t really see at this scale, though, is that all the channels of water to the right of the city centre are the main archipelago, leading out to see, but the channels of water to the left of the city centre are all part of Mälaren, a freshwater lake some 120km long and with an area of over a thousand square kilometres. Most significantly, its average altitude is about 70cm above sea level. That slight-sounding difference adds up to roughly 800 billion litres of water above sea level, all trying to flow downhill and restricted to the two channels, Norrström and Stallkanalen, the second narrow, the first wide, around Helgeandsholmen. Norrström, in particular, is a constant rush of choppy white water.

Norrström

Why only those two channels? Although you can’t really see from the map, the other paths of blue that look like channels of open water, around Stadsholmen and Södermalm, were long ago canalised, blocked off with large locks. The two northernmost channels are the only free-flowing ones.

So, you might be wondering, what was the point of this post? Was there going to be some deeper meaning I had uncovered, some great symbolism or relevance to my everyday life? Frankly, it’s entirely possible, but I have no memory at all of what I was thinking when I wrote that note originally.

Right now, it’s tempting to say that sometimes, instead of trying to understand life and everything around you, instead of trying to predict what will happen and what the best course of action to take will be, it’s better just to sit back and ride the rollercoaster, and tht the sight of the massive onrush of water through the centre of Stockholm made me think of just jumping in a small boat and shooting the rapids without worrying about what happens next. Equally, I might have been thinking of how you can find such a powerful force of nature right in the heart of somewhere as civilised as a modern European capital city. For that matter, it could have been a contrast between how placid, still and mirrorlike the waters of Mälaren a few hundred metres away outside Stockholm City Hall are, compared with the loud, rushing, foaming rapids we’re talking about here.

A few hundred metres away all is peaceful

To be honest, I really don’t know. I know which of those thoughts seems most apt right now, but it might not even have occurred to me in January. At least, now I’ve written this, I can close that ticket happy in the knowledge that something fitting, in one sense, has been written under that heading. Now I’ve done that, I can flow onwards to the sea.

An unexpected visitor

Of the feline variety

We had an unexpected visitor in late July. One morning, as I was heading out for my morning 6am walk, I noticed one of the neighbourhood cats lurking outside the house, asking for scratches and strokes. When I came back an hour or so later, it was in the back garden instead. I opened the back door, and it followed me inside. It prowled the kitchen, miaowing boldly, before deciding to lie down as Guardian Of The Recycling.

Random Cat

It came back again the following morning, and the morning after, and started to explore more of the house. Initially it refused to go upstairs, and if anyone went upstairs would sit at the bottom waiting for them to return; but after a week or two it was happy to roam the whole house and particularly liked lurking among the clutter in the office.

Random Cat

The Plain People Of The Internet: So is this one of those situations? The whole “this is your cat now” situation?

I doubt it is, somehow. It’s clearly a healthy, happy cat that has a home nearby. It doesn’t need food from us, and I haven’t given it any. Moreover, as one of the other regular correspondents has pointed out to me: if Random Cat is a much-loved household pet, tempting it away to another home is not exactly a very neighbourly thing to do, however friendly it seems to be and however much it stands by the kitchen cupboards miaowing at me.

Why has Random Cat been visiting, anyway? I realised its visits started in late July, at the same time as the school summer holidays. Maybe one local family’s routine changes so much in the school holidays that Random Cat can’t cope with not getting its breakfast early, and decided to scout around the rest of the neighbourhood instead. Possibly, then, now we’re into September and the schools are going back, its visits will start to dry up again.

Random Cat

Ever since moving house, we have said: we really should think about getting in touch with the local cat shelters and finding one to actually live here. That, in all likelihood, will stop it visiting, although it’s not guaranteed. My garden is already disputed territory between Random Cat and another neighbourhood cat, an all-black one which likes to sit on the roof of a nearby shed. They have face-offs balancing on top of our garden fence. A third cat thrown into the mix might not even change very much.

If we do get a cat to live here, no doubt this blog—and certainly the rest of my social media—will become rather heavily cat-centric, at least initially. For now, though, occasional Random Cat will have to do.

Little and often

Or, how often should a blog update, and does it really matter?

It’s almost the end of August, already.

If you ever scan your eyes down the list of links to the various archive pages on this blog—somewhere over on the right on desktop, right down the bottom on mobile, at least with the current design—you’ll see there were only five posts published here this month. Over the last three months in fact, there has been a bit of a drop-off in posting, compared to the other months since the blog was relaunched.

There are reasons for that, which I’m not going to go into here but which mostly involve having other outlets for my writing. Some of it might be published one day, and some won’t be, but that isn’t really the point of this post. The thing I wanted to talk about today is: does it really matter?

This initially popped into my mind at work a few months back, when I was preparing to interview a potential job candidate. Naturally beforehand I did all the usual background research on the candidate in question, looking at what social media profiles they had listed on their CV, hunting down some of the ones they hadn’t listed, and reading all the other links they’d put on their CV. The person in question included a link to a blog. When I followed it up, I found I really enjoyed the articles I found there (all of them tech-related in some way), but there were only a handful. This candidate had started a blog up in lockdown, had updated it a couple of times, and then nothing more. It was still sitting there on their CV, even thought it seemed to be getting a little bit cobwebby.

But does that matter? Well, frankly, it shouldn’t. If you’re interviewing a candidate for a job, you’re interviewing them, not their sticking power at a spare-time project. This blog, on the other hand, is never getting near anyone who might want to employ me, so it doesn’t matter at all if I go a little quiet for a few months, a few years, or even forever. It’s sad, a little, to see someone has started a project only to see it sputter out barely before it has started, but I should try to avoid letting it colour my opinion of them, particularly my opinion of them in a different context.

This site has been a little quiet, but it’s not as if I ever posted in any way consistently to begin with. It comes and goes according to my whims and inspiration, and whether or not I remember to write my ideas down. As I write it largely (but not entirely) for my own amusement, it shouldn’t really matter too much. I do gather information on how many people read this stuff, but I rarely actually look at that information. If I write anything for you specifically to read, I’ll tell you, but otherwise these words are just being thrown out into the electronic void. Some day, there might be an echo back, but I don’t really expect one.