Thursday, 24 January 2013

Remastered music!!!

The last few weeks have been fairly miserable here at Bramble Cottage except for the batch of red current jelly  we made from frozen summer juice.. Julie has experienced what she calls the worst cold ever coughing like an earthquake. I have tried all her symptoms but concentrated on coughing and tiredness, having insomnia for several weeks too has not helped either. Trying to read a book or watch something I have recorded for the TV has given me a few naps though, but put the book down and try to sleep in bed and I become unnaturally wide awake…

The weather has been miserable too with howling winds and rain sleet, hail, frost and snow following each other at random. Weather from the east always chills this house down so I spend most of the time with my gardening fleece jacket over my normally cosy indoor clothes. Not very glamorous but nor is the rest of me being a month or more overdue a visit to the hair dressers and for my pal Ali to tidy up the increasingly bushy eyebrows. Until the weather calms down I am not going to commit myself to a fixed appointment…

I got bored and rare for me I downloaded Al Stewart’s first three albums as a reduced price package, I still like to hold discs in my hands! I have also been into the ice cold attic to find old LPs from the period, do you remember 12 inch diameter plastic disks, usually black which you could scratch music off with a sharp pointy thing on a stick.

Two things have struck me about music this week. 

Firstly the old LPs have a really different warmer sound, a few crackles because I could not find my disc vacuum and antistatic machine, thankfully when they were packed away some time in the last century the were all pristine. Lps give you a lot of exercise! There is also the ceremony, like a tea ceremony of first removing the outer protective plastic sleeve then withdrawing the inner sleeve with the disc taking care not to touch the surface. After a careful examination for dirt or damage the first side is chosen and sadly skipping the ritual cleaning process it is then offered to the turntable like a precious sacrifice. When I first moved in here my hi fi replaced the existing ultra low fi system but I soon realised that my turntable and delicate pickup arm and hand polished diamond stylus was not going to survive for long since at the end of each side it had to be manually lifted and parked but my fellow hose mates considered the action to be on a par with pulling carrots from the garden and tried to use equivalent force. I replaced it with a deck which could be operated from ten feet away with a remote and it is still spinning happily thirty years later.

Secondly, “remastered” is one of the nastiest words in the language! It means that you have just bought a CD or download of a once loved piece of music and some clown has taken it upon themselves to butcher it. What was once a piece of it’s era looses smoothness and becomes sharp and brittle, alternative takes sometimes get used and the balance changes, even add things which were never there before. For good measure totally inappropriate “bonus” tracks appear. These idiots would restore old master paintings by cleaning with caustic soda then add a few flourishes with felt tip pens!! You can imagine what I think about colourised old B & W films, not seen a good clip yet…

So my ears are not as bad as I thought, though perhaps it would be better if they were. My enthusiasm to rediscover Al’s music and other from the period like Jimmie Spheeris, Nick Drake, Michael Chapman, John Renbourn and Pentangle was somewhat diminished the more I played. If I had only thought about why I buried this period of my late teenage years…

I had escaped an overpowering colourless family home life for one of a poor student but free at last to discover myself. Music played it’s part hinting at possible lives which others had lived sharing intimate relationships. The music at once offered hope and also triggered deep despair. Nobody wanted to  or would want to be with such a strange creature as me. All my beliefs about who and what I was became confirmed as did the fact that it was perfectly possible to correct the problem but I was also told that I would not get help in this lifetime! 

I would have been happy to just cut off the testosterone supply but got a rant about how how it was important to breed with an equally bright girl to help maintain some kind of superior lineage! I would soon forget all my nonsense!!! The music became a taunt. Folksy guitar gave way to loud hypnotic rock and body throbbing concerts…

You would have thought I should have learned by now, Led Zeppelin”s first LP was transferred to disc without extras but remastered and unbearable to listen to, think I will use it as a spinning bird scarer in the vegetable garden before it annoys me again. I have found the original LP and look forward to a chance to try it at 11 on the volume control.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Al Stewart - Year of the cat

Crazy, but I am more anxious about the four girls who are on the verge of their out of sight surgery than I was about my own this time last year. We are like a group of hostages, anxious for each other’s safety and eventual ransom payment or escape but knowing that as close as we feel now most will vanish into their own worlds and may never be heard of again…

Real life takes up most of my time now but we are shut up in quarantine with colds and I am being distracted by playing on the computer. Dipping into someones’s past blog posts I came over a link to music from history, my history.

Thanks for the link carolyn.

Forty years ago I was a lonely student having taken the chance to escape the family home and move hundreds of miles away to a strange country with the hope that I would find some freedom to finally be myself and find a sustainable future. well that last part did not go well... Part of this journey is finding your own music, I was brought up with middle of the road “light music” on the house radio all the time and could only search something more to my liking on a tinny transistor radio. This was a time when the only Pop could be found for a few hours late at night with a feint signal from Radio Luxembourg. Modern youth just would not understand!

In my new city with ever lengthening hair and hippyish clothes I could finally get within touching distance in concerts by The Who, Yes, Deep Purple and Emerson Lake and Palmer etc. if I wanted to get noise and excitement but it all paled into insignificance when I saw this guy who just turned up with his guitar and touched my soul. I wore his LPs flat with repetition and sadly they went out when I finally discovered hi fi and started collecting pristine new discs and I don’t now why I never replaced these favourites. When I first got iTunes I did seek his music but it was not there,I tried seeking CDs in local music shops but he was never there either, probably out of fashion! Now that resources are limited I hardly ever look now, best not get tempted! But one link to YouTube has let me spend a day of nostalgia and discovery for he is still active if not as pretty as when I saw him in our youth...  


Thursday, 10 January 2013

Marmalade deja vu...

It"s that time of year again. Since the great rise in the price of pick your own fruit I have given up making strawberry and raspberry jams and concentrate on fruits grown in the garden and at this time of year marmalade. 

There is nothing quite like home made marmalade but there used to be when I first arrived in Dundee in the beginning of the 70’s. There was still a Keiller’s sweet factory right in the centre of the city and most of the workforce probably lived just minutes away, the city centre hummed with life back then and felt so much safer than the bleak place it has become since so many were moved out to housing schemes on the edge of the city. The air used to be heady with the sweet smells of sugary confections. 

This was one of the three “J”s which made Dundee famous, Jute, Jam & Journalism. They were all right there before your eyes every day that you would have bet your life that they would be there for an age to come. No more sweet smells in the air, no views of printing whizzing like a roller coaster on conveyors seen through windows of the printing works made just to show off the process! Huge bales of jute passed through the city centre on route to the factories built to look like Venetian palaces, I could almost time the day since I have never owned a watch except for a couple of years when I used one to time paid parking, by the passage of a flat bed horse drawn cart passing just feet from my bedroom window. Further out of the centre was a famous brand cola bottling plant, again window right on the street to show off. Brand leader denim jeans were sewn in the industrial fringe, almost all the ATM machines in the world as well as cash registers were made by NCR. Timex made uncountable wrist watches and later 3D film cameras as well as being the factory making the most personal computers in the world. Ships were built on the river front, the list goes on but it is all gone. Hardly a trace remains, little more than if it were a long lost Roman fort from a brief time 2000 years ago! Like I said, who would have bet on it?

The Seville oranges are special and are only available for a very short period and being unwaxed are liable to quickly rot so you have to be vigilant. This year they were so early they arrive last year! Luckily lovely Lucy spotted them and bought me four kilos, does not sound much but makes about 40 jars which is plenty to see us trough the year even if some are given away as presents. Seville oranges are very heavily seeded which provides lots of pectin to set the jam and it is also unique in that the pith cooks completely clear.

No two people will ever agree on how to make the perfect marmalade. Some like it pale others rich and dark, some like chunky lumps of peel, some fine shreds. I mince the peel through an ancient hand turned meat mincer, countless decades old and still going strong, I guess I shall never get round to using the newer version which I brought when I moved in here over thirty years ago!

Other essentials are a large jam pan and a plastic slide rule, well the last one is optional and you might only ever find one in a museum now but it is ideal for calculating odd proportions when you come to the second batch which might not have exactly the weight of fruit as shown in the recipe. I know that you can do it by a series of calculations on your smart phone but I don’t have one and it would not be as quick as the slide rule which really does rule in this case! 

To cut down on the cooking time bicarbonate of soda is added to the warming fruit, supposed to help soften the peel. A recipe should be available on a previous year’s post as will pictures of bubbling fruit and sugar. These pictures are from this year’s first batch, I really like the huge jars which had artichoke hearts in and speed things up really well. For small jars I now prefer Bon Maman with a wide open top letting every morsel to be scraped out, British standard jars always had a shoulder which wastes some which drives me crazy. What I do know is that it was a mistake to “lend” a few dozen jars to a friend, don’t think I shall be seeing them again and I have not seen a bargain offer on Bon Maman jam for an age now… Emergency rubbish jars will date this year’s boiling!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Easter is on it's way...

 Easter is on it’s way, at least on my first trip to the local shop this year on the 4th the chocolate eggs were already on sale!

Friends put on a decent display of decorations, if only we had seen these before we had our attempt at putting a tree in the house. 

As Yule see it is a bit spartan but it was cheap. Trees used to be so much cheaper in the past but have become serious purchases now, £60 would have only got a decent one at about seven feet tall + &14 for a stand…

ginger beer!

This was eight feet tall and about ten wide, cost £0, it was hanging over the garden wall into the street. Sadly I could not get the whole thing into the house in one piece so I hung the branch which I cut off over the stairwell so that we could walk through the hanging baubles. Visitors were impressed which is what counts.

I know why the 6th is the designated day to take them down, one sharp clout on the tree and the floor was covered with needles which have taken hours to clear up, they get everywhere. We are missing it already and the bare room is now positively minimalist at one end at least.


Thursday, 3 January 2013

One year on...

Eleven months ago I awoke reborn, transformed beyond anything I had ever imagined would ever be possible for me. Body changed and a surprise for me mind now finally clear of old pain and regret.

That means that a year ago I was here having survived the holiday festivities and in a state of slight anxiety. I had thought that it would have been to do with the impending operation, fear of complications, pain and possible death but non of these things seemed to bother me at all, I was getting a chance to transform my body to something very close to how it always should have been and nothing would stop me signing my name on the consent form and living with the consequences. It seemed a little like signing up for a car crash, go in healthy and come out with wounds to heal, as it turned out there was little suffering from the operation itself, just back pain from lying in one position for so long and gut pain from gases as it all restarted.

What did worry me was getting there at a time of year when a slight fall of snow can bring transport links to a halt and the possibility of a cold or last minute medical thing like blood pressure have me rejected. Not sure how I would have dealt with that!

As it was all went smoothly, I arrived on time a day before snow and ice settled all around and I was so calm having arrived safely my blood pressure for once was not affected by any white coats…

One year ago already!