The Smith's Journal - May 2006

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Vitae Drum Circle perform at Spirit of Prestwood Fete

This time about fifteen of us turned out to entertain the folks of Prestwood. We did our best to fill a vast, open field with sound (unamplified), and I even got to sing a high harmony solo over one of the songs; luckily there were no wineglasses about to shatter.

[ Justine clapping with Vitae Drum Circle | Anthony and Malc playing dun duns at Prestwood Fete | Vitae Drum Circle djembes at Prestwood Fete ]

Afterwards I stopped by the bluebell woods near Ashridge, but the poor little flowers were too confused by climate change to know whether it was time to come out yet or not.


The majesty of the night

At midnight, I just nipped outside to get something from the car, and was entranced by the majesty of the night. Warm air bathed me and invited me for a brisk stroll. Drunk on the heady scents of blossom and crisp nocturnal atmosphere, I wandered down the lane out of the village, becoming besotted by the sound of a fountain amidst the sublime silence. I remembered this joyous feeling, from Senegal, wandering back through the cool darkness from the disco or some late-night drumming mayhem. Pausing to write about this by the light of the last streetlamp of the village, a hedgehog clambered carelessly and noisily across dry leaves straight past me, oblivious to my statuesque motionlessness. When I bade him goodnight, he suggested I come back and share my happiness with you.

I then realised another truth: since returning from Africa I had largely kept myself cooped up indoors, suffering from ill health and never getting enough exercise to cure me of it. A major factor in this was that I had been enslaved by poor footwear. My old shoes are falling apart, and so walking anywhere has become a chore without me realising it, whereas in Africa I'd been zooming about in a new pair of Karrimor sandals which are like automatic walking machines that just propel you with little effort (but nothing in comparison to my new ergonomic Chung Shi shoes). (Despite Justine's strident efforts, I'd soon proved myself to be the swiftest walker in the place, leaving the locals in hysterics at my lightning-fast Minister of Funny Walks skills :-) So no wonder, after walking 5-10 miles per day in sunshine, that in coming back to a cold place and locking myself indoors, I should lose my vital signs. Now that summer has arrived, I can safely wear sandals with pride and reactivate myself. Another corner is turned... :-)


Vitae Drum Circle perform at Wycombe Arts Festival

Despite feeling very unwell, I made it to High Wycombe on Saturday morning for another Vitae gig. Justine had cleverly ordered fine weather and it was a beautiful morning, warm enough to wear our T-shirts bearing our cool logo. The Wycombe Arts Festival had kindly provided a canopy to cover us, and we arranged our arc of about sixteen djembes under it, set up in a prime spot (on holy ground :-) in the churchyard on the main High Street. For our first set, we played Djagbe, Limanjitoho+Lenje, Soli, Pap Magatte and Asiko. The first song has a very strenuous dun dun part, and I feared I would not survive the gig, giddy as I was already from sleep deprivation and still lingering ill health. Luckily it got easier, and I was able to complete the first set without paramedic assistance. Sadly my partner in crime Anthony was not here to support me on dun duns, but Lynne stepped in playing no less than six drums! Annie and Justine danced and Jed kept us all smiling :-)

[ Malc and Lynne playing dun duns outside Wycombe church | Justine dancing with Vitae Drum Circle | Vitae Drum Circle smiling ]

In the interval, Justine and I chatted with Jan about her new drumming accomodation venture and charity project in Senegal. A big thanks to Jan for taking these great photos.

[ Vitae Drum Circle performing at Wycombe Arts Festival ]

The second set was the same as our recent gig at The Swan Theatre round the corner: Sabar+Chausan song, Kuku, Yankadi and Djole, with Sanja as an encore. During the second song, rain began and so I had to move my dun duns under the canopy, which was almost large enough to cover us. I say almost, because I was lucky enough to get a waterfall down my back as the rain cascaded off the canopy, providing intermittent cold shocks to put me off my timing! My bell stick (a screwdriver) then broke (!) and I managed to forget a few rhythmic breaks, but overall, we put on a spirited performance. We gave out flyers for the Drum Circle and got a great response from the gathered crowd, as well as some photos taken for the press.


Cruiser Bruiser

I saw my first convertible Chrysler PT Cruiser today, and was nearly sick. A grotesque fusion of open-top sports car and SUV bad attitude, why anyone would want to see such a beast topless is beyond me. I felt really insulted having to share a planet with such design monstrosities. It prompted me to create a new place on my website dedicated to this car's designers and drivers.

[UPDATE: My journey to work today was made joyous upon seeing that the local dealer of these disgusting machines had closed down ;-]

[UPDATE: Read a less than glowing review of this car ;-]


GIMP talk at Herts LUG

Steve described this month's Herts LUG meeting where I gave a talk (with expert help from James and others) about using The GIMP to edit photos. We had fun making an animated Tux that winked at you and sharpened up some spears just like the pro's. Thankfully the good turnout has reassured us that our merry bunch of hackers is flourishing.

[UPDATE: I've since written a script to ease the image editing process, which I later gave a talk on; time to get scanning...! :-]


Crooked Sixpence perform at Hughenden Church House

What a magical night! Justine had invited me to record her singing with her partner in crime Chris Park in their duet Crooked Sixpence. Having accompanied her myself on a few occasions, I was delighted to. I'd only previously caught fleeting glimpses of their rich sound world when they had played short sets at other events; tonight was their first proper gig of a whole evening of just them and nobody else. What made it even better was that it would be a completely acoustic event with no PA system to distort the sound.

I arrived at Hughenden Park looking for the venue, Church House, which I half expected to just be some ugly village hall next to the church, but in fact it turned out to be a delightful small medieval hall with a timber frame just like my own house. This charming building has excellent acoustics (as attested by experts) for chamber music, and the historic setting coupled with Chris' fine collection of ancient instruments transported us back in time many centuries and all around the globe. He began the evening with tales of a local legend of a dragon in the pond (most likely a crocodile imported by Knights Templar) being slain. Then began the music, Justine singing and playing guitar and percussion, accompanied by Chris singing and playing all manner of things including Welsh harp, crwth, bodhran, flutes and Borders pipes. Keen to document all this finery, I photographed them performing using two cameras (a digi with flash and my old analogue without) and recorded using two DAT machines lest one fail, which it did (batteries died after the first set, as there wasn't time to get a mains extension lead to plug it in - DOH!). The audience, about thirty people all over fifty, must be praised for their rapt attention and quietness - you could have heard a pin drop, and the atmosphere was very intimate in this small hall. Each song surpassed the last and everyone knew that something special was happening here.

[ Crooked Sixpence in Hughenden Church House | Crooked Sixpence playing harp and drum | Crooked Sixpence playing flute and guitar ]

Afterwards, a lady from the audience taught Justine and I a medieval folk song that she had learned 63 years ago! Once our gear was packed up, we walked out into the warm night air to see the almost Full Moon with Venus alongside her hanging together in the sky over the valley. Back at our cars, it seemed that the cows who had earlier stormed the car park had been attacking vehicles - wing mirrors were pushed in and Chris had even lost a windscreen wiper! We reluctantly said our goodbyes, and headed off with dreams of future events and recordings at this wonderful place.


Bluebell Walk

Steve posted some nice shots of our fun day at Michael's Folly, and I've finally got round to scanning my own. First we went on a short walk around Dennis and Yaz's enchanting bluebell woods with Bizia, Ianji, Ian Stephens, Susanna, Steve, Tony and Jane.

[ Bizia in the bluebells | Fabrizia in the forest | Bizia and Jane in deep woodland talk | With friends in bluebell woods ]

Music For Friends

Then we were joined by Jayne, Pieter, Danielle+child and their Mexican friends for some mellow Music For Friends at the Strawbale Studio. We played some pretty extreme music with Ian and Steve pulling out some cool electric guitar riffs over our percussion grooves, and Tony adding some delicious accordion. I'd brought almost all of my metal bowls, flowerpots and Tibetan singing bowls, which covered much of the floor, leaving little room for drums and people. In the middle of the session, Yaz came to visit with lots of little children who joined in with the joyous vibe.

[ Music For Friends at The Strawbale Studio | Music children at The Strawbale Studio | Malc playing djembe wearing AfroCouture waistcoat, May 2006 ]


Scanner Access Now Easy

After my talk last week about image editing with The GIMP, I've finally got around to setting up the scanner I bought (six months ago!) using SANE, which rocks. After installing SANE, the man pages explained the simple matter of adding my username to the scanner group (originally only root could access the scanner). I use the QuiteInsane plugin for The GIMP, since that suits my personality. After years of borrowing time on other people's computers struggling with Windows to scan things, this is a breeze. Cool - now I can scan everything in sight!

This minor milestone was accomplished shortly after deciding to remove all timewasting games (most notably Doom ][ which was eating weeks of my life) and other pointless stuff from my computer, in a decisive action not unlike when I quit smoking.

I know most people nowadays use scanners and think nothing of it, but this is because they are asleep and don't notice the magnitude of their actions, nor the breakneck pace of change of modern life. For me it was a bit of a revelation, since I now have the power to capture any image (that I own the copyright for), and publish it on the Internet so that people can view it from all over the planet. Twenty-five years ago when I started computing, images were just blocky graphics made of sprites, and photos were unheard of. The recent photo revolution is not unlike the introduction of the printing press in medieval times. We shall utilise these newfound powers in our Quest.

Anyway, I digress. After a few attempts, I realised that my cheap scanner tended to lose a bit of the colour, and images looked a bit washed out. (I had intended to buy a pro-quality model, but gave up chasing rainbows and opted for one (a Canon CanoScan LiDE20) that was fully supported by SANE, didn't look ugly and matched my decor.) Hunting around in the menus of The GIMP, I discovered a brilliant solution in the Auto button in the Tools / Colour Tools / Levels menu: WOW! This restores the colour lost in the scanning process, and gives images a new lease of life.

So now I embark on a massive task of scanning all the photos I'd never got around to, in order to present them here for your viewing pleasure (starting with my Senegal pics :-) A recent count of my archive lists 193 films * 36 exposures = 6948 pictures, so I may be some time! Even assuming only 10% of those are good, that's still more than 500. Perhaps I should apply for Arts Council funding...

Automated thumbnails

To aid me in this regard, I have just finished writing a simple BASH script (well, adapted various other similar scripts) called that uses ImageMagick to convert files from The GIMP's .xcf format into smaller JPEGs and thumbnails suitable for putting online. The script is of course buggy and still a work in progress, but may be useful. [If anyone can figure out why it doesn't do quite what it should and ignore any filenames containing "_IGNORE", then please put me out of my misery ;-]

Batch processing rocks! ;-) I love being able to edit and polish a whole lot of photos and then set my script loose on them, to shrink them into little web pics in the background while I get on with other stuff. Except this old computer takes many minutes to process a 40MB 600dpi image file, and typing is noticeably s-l-o-w-e-d d-o-w-n with all this number crunching going on. Time for some beowulf action perhaps, or maybe I can start running batch jobs overnight just like the payroll systems we learned about in 1986 ;-)

[UPDATE: I later gave a talk about this script at Herts LUG.]


Harmergreen Woods reconnaissance mission

In readiness for this summer's Festival of Song, Drum and Dance, I took a wander through Harmergreen Woods near Welwyn to acclimatise to the site of our future music- and merry-making, before a meeting there with the organisers next week. Skirting the wood on the public bridleway that encircles the 44 acres, I was pleased to see the last flocks of bluebells, apt since I had originally planned to go walking with friends in another bluebell wood this afternoon.

Gentle rain fell as I walked back down Turpin's Rise (possibly named after the highwayman?) into the village of Oaklands. After completing a full circuit of the site, I drew a magical string of protection around the place. No Harm had come to me and my car had not been stolen from Robbery Bottom Lane where I'd left it, so any negative karma from the area's criminal past had now been undone.

The sublime scent of field beans

I continued my flower patrol by heading east to Tewin, to see if the poppies were out yet. There were none to be seen, but the field had changed from corn to my beloved aromatic field beans which were already in flower. So I stopped the car, opened the door and breathed in the heady scent that filled the air, caring not that the rain was pouring in. Sweet ecstacy! Not succumbing to the temptation to go and lie down in the field and die of pleasure, I travelled home, intoxicated. These flowers are only around for the first weeks of June, so get out there and breathe in that heaven - the best things in life are free :-)

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 2006-05-01 - last updated 2009-02-08