It’s Solstice, which means I should have just finished riding from Kirkcaldy to Aberdeen, but a medial collateral ligament injury put paid to that. It’s also Father’s Day and my Dad’s birthday.
Last year was the first of his birthdays he missed, and things were so raw it was a speed bump in an ongoing road of sadness. This year it has been harder. The run up to Father’s Day, with the endless advertising to remind me of what we’ve lost, has been more difficult to handle than I predicted. There are all these things I want to share with him. My first pro sale as a writer. Our new house and my somewhat small dream of being able to host the family for Christmas in a home that we own and is big enough to accommodate them. His excitement and happiness on meeting my niece, his first grandchild.
I’m sad because we were only just starting to make up for all the years I was away and barely had opportunity to speak to him, never mind spend time with him; because I have scant few happy memories of him to treasure after the age of 16; because we had plans to do something about that which will forever remain plans.
I’ve cried a lot, at random, occasionally in awkward places, and hidden it not just out of that deep British reticence when it comes to expressing emotions or seeing them expressed, but because it’s deeply personal and he wouldn’t have wanted me to be sad.
This too shall pass.
A few years back we were riding the Dumb Run and it was his birthday on the Sunday, as it is this year. The route took us past my parents’ house and I made everyone stop so I could post a birthday card through the letterbox. In it was a nonsense poem about sorry to have missed him, but I didn’t want to wake him up because it was 6am and:
…we are just passing through
on a bicycle ride from Dumbarton to St Andrews
Missing you today, Dad. Missing you every day.
As yet, communication is still reliant on either voice contact or a mobile signal that never improves beyond General Packet Radio Service.
Great news! After much patient discussion with the choirs of internet angels, we are to be reconnected to the virtual world on Wednesday the 29th of this month. This is later than we had hoped, but earlier than I have come to expect from previous experience of reinstating such nebulous lines of communication with the outside world. Better yet, the connection will be one of these ultra-modern, exceedingly quick affairs I have previously seen advertised on the moving picture box, but not experienced for myself. A wonderful woman called Christine explained to me that the standard copper cables in this part of the world had proved so inferior to the company quality standard, the company had taken the decision to replace them.
Such is the speed of this new connection, which I understand is made of some type of silk — Christine used the term fibre, and as this is for connecting to the web one is led to infer it must be extruded from the abdomen of some kind of arthropod, perhaps perforce, as one cannot imagine such a thing being domesticated — we are obliged to replace our now antiquated equipment with new equivalents. No more tin can attached to string, although one cannot help but note that string is also a type of fibre.
A conversation with another angel, this one from the choir of appliances, has produced an appointment with an engineer to whom the relevant spare parts for our oven have already been dispatched. In less than a fortnight we should once again have full use of our cookery station, and I greatly look forward to our first fresh loaf of bread in what is now month. A mere two days after that a gentleman from a nearby town is arriving to sweep our chimneys and inspect the wood burner with a view to offering a quote for repair.
With the arrival of a replacement steam generator, and these appointments in place, we can see the end of the initial phase of transition. By the end of this week we hope to have removed all trace of our presence at our previous locale, lest our enemies use it to find us and wreak terrible and unjust revenge for imagined slights.
I have now acquired the relevant maps for the new location, and have undertaken a small amount of exploration. The velocipedes are eager to exercise, disappointed as they are that riding to and from work each day is now an impossibility. There may be a compromise involving utilising the railway service for part of the trip, but that experiment is for a later date.
My mother has been to visit, presenting us with a magnificent birdbath. She knows how important it is to us that we rapidly form excellent relationships with the local wildlife, our first line of defence. Already the resident blackbird, a fine fellow called Edgar, has shown his appreciation for this wonderful and thoughtful gift.
I think we could be very happy here.
Day 5 of no internet and but intermittent mobile signal.
Spiders, woodlice and centipedes have accompanied us on the move and already find new homes in the crevices and corners. Thus far no mice or rats. We have reason to believe the semi-feudal rodent society in our previous abode had reached the terminal stage of decadence. Chocolate and sunflower seeds turned gateway substances to pharmacy grade drugs, which proved, ultimately, to be too much for their tiny, furry bodies. All that remains is a stained skirting board and faint regret about man’s inevitable and inseparable influence on nature.
Our bodies are broken and weary from physical labour. Every strange noise sounds as if an alarm call of something wrong we did not notice when viewing the property. I would be unsurprised to find a crackling tape of a hitherto unknown language concealed beneath a floorboard, and can only trust I would have the sense not to play more than enough to recognise the hazard.
There is evidence the previous occupants hid their penchant for animals and cigarettes under a layer of hastily applied paint. We find feathers and fur in unusual places, wiring duct-taped as if bound for kidnapping, strange marks on and gaps in the skirting.
The stove, too — a great iron beast that has been dirtied and cracked, its interior parts disintegrated from application of heat more intense than it was intended to endure. One wonders what was burnt in there that required so intense a flame. The imagination sets forth down many twisted paths and recoils, peering out from behind parted fingers in ghoulish fascination.
The dishwashing appliance — Oh triumph of modern engineering! — is usable after focused cleaning. The laundry device is functional, but the rubber seal is encrusted with the dehydrated fossil of some black ichor I have thus far been unable to remove. One can only hope it is not the oocyst colony of some terrible, carnivorous slime mould. I almost wept in discovering the steam generator I acquired for such eventualities was defective.
The oven is worse news. Although there is power, the switch on this futuristic, overly complicated machine does not function. I lack sufficient learning to tackle the repair myself. It may require a specialist engineer, an expense for which we had not planned.
More later. I have distracted myself for long enough from the trial of unpacking.
bench fat /bɛn(t)ʃ fat/
Unwanted weight gained by an athlete when taking a break from training as a result of injury or illness. Caused by the failure of permanom to go away and bacon to cease existing just because training has been suspended. Not to be confused with normal, healthy weight gain that occurs when an endurance athlete stops training so goddamned much she barely has time to brush her hair in the morning. Neither should it be used pejoratively. This term is reserved for athletes to vent about the frustrations caused by being unable to participate in one’s sport.
witching hour /ˈwɪtʃɪŋ ˌaʊə(r)/
22:00 hours (10pm) local time. All bicycle repairs should be completed by this time. Any repair or fettling taking place later than this has a substantially increased risk of going terribly, horribly, dreadfully wrong. Replacing bar tape will result in severed brake cables, spoke tensioning will result in pringled wheels, etc. The only exceptions are emergency repairs carried out while on a ride that is not due to finish until later than this time.
#1 in a new series of random definitions.
permanom /’pɜr mə nɒm/
A hunger that exists perpetually, without significant change, no matter how much food is eaten. Generally assumed to arise from significant daily calorie expenditure. Can continue for a significant period after daily exercise has stopped (c.f. ‘bench fat’). Makes all foodstuffs more appetising, especially bacon.
My Dad. Scientist, engineer, aquanaut, racing driver, yachtsman, adventurer, philanthropist. Ambitious, driven, restless, passionate, romantic, generous.
I mean ‘hero’ in the sense of Odysseus battling gods and monsters across the sea in his quest to return to Penelope and Telemachus. When I was young, he was this amazing figure who was as handy in a laboratory as he was under the bonnet of a car, and as useful under the sea as he was helming a boat over it. He encouraged me to participate in things most girls were too busy swooning over boy bands or collecting Cindy accessories to consider — I dived, sailed, snorkelled, beachbombed on uninhabited islands. I learned to track, to fish, to build fires.
He taught me to be independent: to have faith in my ability to learn new skills and look after myself. To be sensible and pragmatic in unfamiliar and scary situations. To think critically and not panic when things don’t go to plan. I wasn’t pressed into pretty pink dresses or told I was going to be a princess; my parents gave me wetsuits, snorkelling gear, ski lessons, a sailing dinghy. He gave me the support and encouragement I needed to step outside my comfort zones and rely on my own strength to get me through. It is possibly the most valuable lesson a father can give his daughter: to stand up for herself and know she can be strong and has the intelligence to work out solutions to her problems herself.
He raised and cultivated a family of do-ers, but do-ers who were also thinkers. My brother and I had an amazing childhood, and my Mum has never been the kind to sit in a kitchen discussing cakes and knitting while the men smoke cigars and talk about cars. Like all true heroes, he expected those who stood and worked with him to be loyal, courageous, practical and clever, and helped them achieve it.
Above all else, beneath all else, running through all else like butter gluing pastry layers in a mille feuille, I’ve always wanted to make my family proud, and never to disappoint them. This has been the compass in my cockpit, helping me navigate life. I have looked up to my Dad with the kind of hero worship young girls reserve for celebrities and women leave behind as they age.
Despite of, or perhaps because of, his foibles, imperfections and frailties, I never left it behind.
I owe him more than I can possibly recount, and he will always set the standard to which I hold myself.
My Dad died in a motor-racing accident at the Jim Clark Revival at Hockenheim, on 11th April, and while the phrase “he died doing what he loved” is of little comfort to those who have to carry on without him, in this case it is very true.
I am extraordinarily grateful to the people from the motor-racing community, both British and international, who came forward to support my Mum and my brother during that difficult time. A more generous, kind, thoughtful bunch of people I’m not sure you could meet. Their help and contributions, big and small, made a very difficult time that little bit less so. The friends and family who have given us their support and a steady shoulder are hugely appreciated by all of us.
I’m also grateful to all those who came to the funeral. It made me incredibly proud of my Dad, to see so many come to pay their respects. My thanks to those who gave so generously in support of the RNLI in his memory — it meant a lot.
I’ve written several poems in my efforts to navigate this experience, but none of them does justice to the man, nor is a tenth as good as the piece my Mum wrote. The following poem was left in the book of condolences. It’s by Adam Lindsay Gordon and expresses something I will set next to my compass in memory of my hero.
Though the pitcher that goes to the sparkling rill
Too oft gets broken at last,
There are scores of others its place to fill
When its earth to the earth is cast;
Keep that pitcher at home, let it never roam,
But lie like a useless clod,
Yet sooner or later the hour will come
When its chips are thrown to the sod.
Is it wise, then, say, in the waning day,
When the vessel is crack’d and old,
To cherish the battered potter’s clay,
As though it were virgin gold?
Take care of yourself, dull, boorish elf,
Though prudent and safe you seem,
Your pitcher will break on the musty shelf,
And mine by the dazzling stream.
Dr Al Fleming
21 June 1944 – 11 April 2014
(Photograph courtesy of John Allan, used with permission.)
I’ve been a long-term paying subscriber to Last.fm. Paying, mind. I include a link to my profile in any list of social media addresses. If you look down and to the right, you’ll find a widget showing what I have most recently listened to, a service provided by a Last.fm app.
Music is important to me for my writing. As a neuro-atypical synaesthete, for whom background noise can occasionally be physically distressing, music is an obligatory defence against the outside world when I’m trying to lose myself in a story, whether writing or reading. I listen to music when I’m training. I can’t imagine life without it. I spend more than I should on music – for the shapes, for the soundscapes, for the inspiration, for the motivation, for the rhythm, sometimes for the distraction – and I love discovering new artists. I used to be a heavy Pandora user. When that ceased being available in the UK, I switched to Last.fm, which offered a similar service.
Two days ago I received an email that said the service was changing.
From 28th April, our subscription radio streaming service will come to an end. This means subscriber radio will no longer work on any platform or device. We’re making this change to focus on improving scrobbling and recommendations, while continuing our goal of being your #onemusichome. Of course you’ll still be able to listen to all of your favourite stations on the new Last.fm Player, as well as listen to your favourite tracks with our recently launched on demand playback feature via Spotify.
If, like me, you’re not sure what that means, allow me to simplify.
The last.fm streaming service ceases to be from the 28th April. You will no longer be able to open the desktop app, turn on your favourite radio channel, and have it play for as long as you like with no ads. Instead, you will have to go to the website, where you can start your radio station, but it will stream videos from YouTube, complete with the adverts.
Even if you subscribe.
As a subscriber, you can get 30% discount in the forthcoming merchandise store (woot, I’m sure) and use tags to exert some illusion of control over your ad-filled youtube stream. And your avatar will say “subscriber”, so everyone knows you’re a sucker prepared to pay for a 30% discount on a lousy t-shirt.
Needless to say, I am cancelling my subscription.
I don’t know if there’s anything out there offering Last.fm’s comprehensive level of curation and discovery. They had one of the largest catalogues on the internet for streaming music and cross-platform availability. They had a range encompassing obscure industrial ambient and popular classical. I had prog rock, opera, trance, dance, electronica, baroque… I have yet to find a genre Last.fm has excluded, whether by act or omission.
Last.fm claim that they are going to focus on scrobbling, but I have no idea where they get the idea that anyone is going to pay for a service that merely records what one has been listening to recently. Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun knowing how my musical habits are changing, but my musical habits are constantly changing. I don’t really need something to tell me that.
There are plenty of artists who have earned royalties because I discovered them on a streaming service. Artists I didn’t know, like Roly Porter (I now own his two most recent studio albums on CD); artists I knew and loved but whose catalogue included songs I hadn’t heard before, or hadn’t heard in a very long time. Streaming radio is a way for people who love music to discover new things to love, and people are willing to pay for things they love.
Yes, there will always be those who say why pay for something if it’s available for free, but they’re the hawks of Game Theory, and they’re outnumbered by those who want to reward the creator of something good. If we don’t reward our artists, they will stop making art. Most people with half a brain cell can comprehend that.
I have spent 6 years teaching Last.fm what I like, which is a considerable investment, and now starts the difficult quest for another streaming service, and the painful process of teaching it what I like.
I have a Ford Mondeo Estate. He’s called Claude, in line with the Frood Standard Naming Convention*. I do love my car. He’s big and red and swallows two bicycles without thinking about it. When I race, I can lay Thokk or Peregrine nicely in the back and don’t have to worry about them being damaged.
The one problem is the stereo.
Back in the day, this thing had a 6 CD multichanger, but it ate my CDs. It just swallowed them, much like Claude swallows bikes. I ended up with 8 CDs in there, all trapped, while the CD player insisted it was empty.
Feed me, it said, whenever I pressed the eject button. I’M HUNGRY.
Needless to say, it wouldn’t play.
So we had to use the radio. Which was fine, until the radio started cutting out. Initially we thought it had got damp in the car wash, but no. It was merely possessed. After a while, whatever demon was infesting it and eating the tunes gave up and went away, presumably sated, and I have spent the last couple of years listening contentedly to Classic FM while driving around in my big red Claude (not a euphemism).
When Frood achieved New Job recently, we had to acquire another car, as he needs one for work. We now have a small, greenish-grey Ford Fiesta, called Bill for short (we’re still working on pronunciation of his full name). Claude took against Bill – not in any specific, spiteful way. He’s a big boy, he’s above that sort of thing. He knows Bill can’t take two bikes and all our plush camping gear. He knows he’s more comfortable for long journeys and is one of my most important pieces of triathlon gear. He knows he’s loved.
Nevertheless, he has decided to host a radio demon again, and my FM radio is now cutting out after a couple of minutes. I don’t know if he felt sorry for the one living in Bill’s radio when we first got him (as Bill’s radio was doing the same thing but works fine, now), or what, but Classic FM is lost.
I’ve been listening to Absolute Radio on Medium Wave, instead. They have a no-repeat guarantee, and that means they play a lot of old favourites, including songs I haven’t heard in years.
I listen to music when writing, and need to match the shape of the music to what I’m writing. Thus, I necessarily have a wide range of music in my collection. I acquire music usually by hearing something I really like, or which matches a specific shape in a work in progress, or gives me an idea for a brand new story. My most recent purchases have included Verdi’s Macbeth (they used Patria Oppressa as the music in the Hannibal episode Sorbet and I fell in love), Sky (a prog group with John Williams, ermagerd – one day someone will buy me a copy of the now highly-collectible Cadmium and I’ll have a wibbly-wobbly flashback to being 11 years old and reading Ursula Le Guin in bed), and Aion (I love The Serpent’s Egg).
Then along came Absolute Radio, and I’ve had too many moments of “Oh gods, I love this!” over the past couple of weeks. I’ve had to add two R.E.M. albums (WHY did we not have any already?) and today I gave in to the impulse to grab some Kula Shaker.
I need to stop. I know this stuff is cheap, mostly – certainly cheaper than a night out, which we don’t do – but, seriously, I have books and bike parts looking at me reproachfully from my “to get” list, and I’m at serious risk of falling out with Fingal permanently.
I should persuade that radio demon to depart from Claude so I can have Classic FM back. Or switch to the Gaelic language radio station, which is largely unintelligble.
*Names must use the final three letters of the number plate in order, although they may occur any place in the word. Claude’s number plate ends AUE. I’ve also had cars named Rasputin and Voltaire.
Today it’s the Autumn Equinox, although autumn arrived here in the ‘shire a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been grateful for getting our first wood delivery in early; the fire has already been in use on the cold evenings as the nights draw in. It’s remarkable how quickly things change when they get going. It’s almost as if winter has attached a big bit of elastic to the sun, and while summer clings on as long as it can, eventually the strain gets too much and it snaps back. We’re in the penduluum stage right now, with cold nights and warm days, sudden showers and oddly hot, humid lunch breaks.
The weather isn’t the only thing that’s changing. In some vague effort to tidy things up and make this blog slightly less disjointed*, I have started a new blog over at ravenbait.com. I will use that to focus on my writing, leaving this blog — my home on the internet for 15 years now — for all the random stuff that fills in the gaps§. I’m not a big one for cross-posting, although I’m not saying I never do it. I doubt I’ll take all the writing away from this site as it’s such a big part of my life, but I won’t be cluttering up the writing blog with Playstation posts, recipes, triathlon, wittering about adverts, complaining about Doctor Who (unless it’s a comment on specifics of the writing), gear reviews or odes to bicycles. And Stitch. Mustn’t forget Stitch.
If you come here for the velocipedes and the wittering, carry on as you were. You won’t notice much. If you come here to read what I think about writing, specifically my writing, then take yourself over to ravenbait.com where I’m slowly building up steam.
* ‘Less disjointed’ is all relative, you understand. This is me we’re talking about.
§ And it’s a tight squeeze for a lot of it, I can assure you.