The Smith's Journal - April 2006

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My 35th Birthday

Wow, halfway to seventy - time to retire soon! I really should have those wife+kids+house+car things by now :-) Not me! Hold tight for the obligatory mid-life crisis...

Ailsa's Pink and Purple 50th Birthday Party

Played dun duns with Vitae Drum Circle and percussion with Justine Hart at Ailsa's Pink and Purple 50th Birthday Party (my 35th birthday too! :-) 'Twas a good show - we're getting pretty together as a band now, and know our repertoire instinctively. Hopefully some photos may end up here eventually...

[UPDATE: Ailsa was happy to report that the day's festivities raised £640 in donations for Breakthrough Breast Cancer :-]


35th Birthday Jam Session

Today would have been great if only Mr. Scott would fix that Transporter... I woke up late at 6:30am (!), supposedly picking up Anthony at 7am, to then meet Justine and then all drive to South London. Having to go straight to Wycombe, I managed to make it just in time and we all made it to our Fankanta rehearsal. After three hours of playing we joined the traffic again, getting stuck on the A205 and M25... :-(

I'd asked folk to come to the usual place at 3pm to celebrate my birthday. Anthony and I didn't make it until gone 4:30pm, and then began the mammoth task of unloading a world-tour amount of instruments and recording gear... Eventually we got half of it ready before some of the guests had to leave (!) but there was not even time to set up microphones to record! :-( This was quite silly as the music we finally made was quite lovely, with a fresh new vibe that shows that it has been longing to get out in the open. We'll do this again soon...

Anyway, a big thanks to Bizia, Ana+Joni+Naia, Ian, Susanna, Jayne, Tina, Patrick, Pieter, Steve (who wrote about it), Anthony, and Kate for making a special day even more so :-)


Hit the wall

In the Tour De France, if a rider "hits the wall", it means that they have reached the point of exhaustion from which there is no escape but to give up. You can only battle uphill for so many thousand kilometres and eventually you will have no energy reserves left to dig deep into.

This week I hit the wall. After working 82 hours overtime in March, lots of rehearsing and never enough sleep, I was taken out at an inopportune moment of low ebb by a virus and laid off work with horrendous indigestion. Usually some vibrational therapy with Tibetan singing bowls will soon solve most cases of wrong-/over-eating, but this was something biologically hostile (apparently other people had a similar bug). My stomach swelled up and I was unable to eat or digest anything, and I was experiencing headaches and loss of balance. After a day I seemed to get better and so went back to work, only to then be plunged into an evil 'flu by midday. I had a temperature and spent an horrendous night unable to breathe, trapped in a self-enforced sleep deprivation, where I kept waking up every ten minutes for what seemed like days :-(

The Day-Job Problem

All this suffering made me realise that I must calm down and take life a bit easier. Until I have a viable financial plan to give up the day job, I can't commit to as many schemes and projects as I'd like, unless people are going to pay me and give me a solution to The Day-Job Problem (or alternatively, solve The Rent Problem). Ultimately though, I have to work less overtime and spend more time in Real Life.

[UPDATE: The problem is solved by redundancy! :-]

The Rent Problem

The Rent Problem is simply that our 'culture' has now regressed so far that our young generation (and I still include myself in there, despite hitting the 35 mark ;-) have no hope of buying their own house. On my modest but not meagre salary, I would still need at least two working wives to be able to get enough of a mortgage together to afford a basic home. So instead I am trapped in Rent Limbo, all the while paying more per month (in dead money to someone else) than even a generous mortgage repayment. Sort it out, Chancellor!

This situation is made even more crazy when you consider that Great Britain has about 58 million inhabitants, and the island's total land area is 218 595 km2 (84,400 square miles), which happens to be 54,016,000 acres, or roughly 54 million acres. If divided up fairly, that would give about one acre for every man, woman and child, or four acres for a typical family. So why are we all crammed into tiny overpriced boxes and squashed into the bottom corner of our island? 69% of the land is still owned by 0.6% of the population. (Thanks to comedian Marcus Brigstocke for this enlightening insight - I just verified the maths.)

Plot a new course, Mr. Sulu...

Dark time like this is not all negative though; it caused me to reflect that actually, I seem to have lost my way somewhere, and am not approaching my true goal, which is primarily to get my studio operational and produce my own music as well as that of other people's that I admire. It's like being on the Journey of Life and suddenly realising you're not only on the wrong road (albeit a nice one), but heading in the wrong direction. Although I do love drumming, it is really only one part (albeit a major one) of my musical endeavours; I originally got into playing drums in my electronic youth because most drum machines at the time sounded lame, and I needed a powerful rhythmic accompaniment for my other instruments. Of course, once hooked, drums are impossible to put down :-) But now I am doing little else besides drumming, and my studio and computers just gather dust. So I need to try and spend a little less time drumming and focus more on the other myriad aspects of the life of The Smith.

If the Universe is prepared to fund me as a drummer, then all good. It's out of my hands, man :-)

My astrologer assures me that this is quite a natural reaction to Saturn turning around from a long retrograde period; the Bringer of Old Age and wisdom is no doubt waking up and pointing a finger, saying "Look, Son, you are lost! Find your true path again!"


I am a Designer

Convalescing from my fever, I walked down through the horses' alpine field to the A505 and back up over the bridge, and remembered that I am a Designer; I love to design things. As a child it was obsessive architectural drawings of buildings and road junctions, Scalextric tracks and Lego space stations. I was always easily seduced by wireframe graphics, and spent my youth learning to program computers. For a while it was thought I'd become an architect; later I attended an Open Day at Birmingham University for a Production Engineering degree, but in the end chose Computer Music as my path. Now as an 'adult', it is studios and websites and computer programs that occupy me, not forgetting the architecture that is musical composition. So back at home I dug out my books on The BASH and hacked all weekend on a shell-script I'd been writing to generate thumbnail images for websites. There's nothing like a good productive project to heal one's body and spirit. This script speeds up the long process of editing images, and hence I was able to put a few more choice pics online. Soon I'll start scanning the Africa shots...


Goal Evasion

[Just one more sad tale of woe before the mid-life crisis wears off... I hope! :-]

Why am I unable to realise my strongest wish? The thing I yearn for most in Life, making my own music, evades me. Or rather, I evade it; I have everything here ready, but I never get on with it, instead wasting my time lusting after things I don't need or can't afford, locked into the old capitalist trap of greed, or simply doing anything else to avoid doing what I should. A good friend has a similar quandary with her own music - no doubt it is a common ailment of all artists who swim against the tide of conformity.

Since my Senegalese trip, I seem to have gone into reverse thrust, unconsciously trying to erase Africa from my mind, even forgetting rhythms I should know well. I seem to have reverted to my old bad habits and excesses with a vengeance, as if my Bad Self has stealthily taken over, aided and abetted by ill health and auto-toxic behaviour. I can neither explain this, nor seem to be able to do much about it.

Twisted Pseudosphere

Meanwhile I keep myself awake at nights endlessly scouring links in vast meme repositories like, reading about mind-bending mathematics, looking at the pretty pictures, and worrying that I may just be downright lame and incompetent after all, while my life stumbles blindly on inside this infinitely Twisted Pseudosphere I currently inhabit.

Secret Agent's Second Ascent

So much of my life and my work remains, like an iceberg, mostly hidden under the surface. My accomplishments so far pale into insignificance compared to what I know is to come. Nobody knows anything about my epic plans - countless piles of files of unfinished ideas, words and musics - enough to keep a small company busy for decades. I feel like a lone secret agent at work in foreign territory, lonely and ever-watchful, biding my time and waiting for the right moment to go into action - yet the coded message never comes. (For a while I got scared I might die or lose my work - I've moved critical folders to an easily accessible place in my house in case I have to grab them quickly in the event of fire; I must make copies.) I have so much music within me, but it seems my channels of realisation are blocked. If anyone has any spare keys, clues or magic words of wisdom, they'd be much appreciated. After my years of intensive study of P. D. Ouspensky's The Fourth Way, I really should be able to shake myself out of this Trough of Logic, but I keep falling back in again. I shall reassign some vital variables to pre-Africa values and hope to rebuild enough motivation to try again to complete The Second Ascent of The Mountain of Will, and see if the view from the top helps.

[UPDATE: It helped! :-) I found a new tune, and am now once again wandering happily in the foothills, looking joyously towards the summit ahead... (The final bars came a fortnight later :-) Playing through my Sonata also brought great delight: simultaneous therapy for heart, head, body and soul.]



Ugh again! Last night I got home to find that the old 486 PC running my FREESCO router had died :-( After 5+ years of loyal service (and many more before I had her), the power supply or motherboard had finally given up and the machine refused to start at all - no power LEDs or activity whatsoever, just a faint electronic buzz. A mild panic ensued, with me unable to access the internet to figure out what to do next. Luckily, since FREESCO is so cool that it fits a firewall, router, DHCP server, and more on a single bootable floppy disk, all I had to do to restore my connectivity to the internet was to insert the floppy disk into another spare machine and replug the modem cable into it. We do like resilience like this ;-)

I currently have a 350MHz Pentium II standing in on router duty, but it seems a bit overpowered for the job. I may try and utilise another 486 I have as router, if its 12MB RAM is sufficient; if not, perhaps I should go the distance and install a mail server on the PII to filter my emails using spamassassin. Of course, if I was really obsessive about reducing downtime, I could always set up a hot spare PC (linked to a second modem connected to a phone-line splitter) running a simple script which checks via the network that the FREESCO router is operational, and if not, reboots itself onto a second FREESCO floppy and automagically takes over the role of router for the LAN! This is doable with even the basic kit I have here, perhaps I'll do it as a proof of concept.

In Praise Of Learning

Meanwhile, the trauma continues: like my computers, I too spent the week feeling pretty down and constantly fatigued, still unable to fully shake off the lergy which took me down weeks ago, but finding great solace in the Henry Cow album I just bought called In Praise Of Learning, which, since first hearing it I am unable to take out of my CD player for a week now; it's truly a masterpiece for inspiring passion in the struggle. It really is time to wake up now. Indeed, the final four verses of Tim Hodgkinson's amazing 15'30" epic Living In The Heart Of The Beast are what have kept me sane during the darkest times this week:

Now is the time to begin to go forward - advance from despair...

The way the lyrics are woven into the music displays true genius at work, not immediately obvious just reading them - you have to hear it, repeatedly, loud. And more, from their song 'War', which are sadly still relevant 22 years after its creation:

Pilgrims at the double march
Through meadows and seas
Abattoirs and libraries
The pilgrims increase
Boasting they are led by peace
They gut huts with gusto
Pillage villages with verve
War does what she has to
People get what they deserve.

©1974 Anthony Moore/Peter Blegvad

Sounds not unlike Tony and George. Speaking of which, hopefully the British public will use this week's local elections to demonstrate their disgust with New (capitalist) Labour politicians' perverse and incompetent behaviour.

[UPDATE: They surely did, only they went in completely the wrong direction: Barking Mad!]

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Licence © The right to copy is left with the user copyleft Malcolm Smith 2006-03-20 - last updated 2007-07-02