Sunday, 14 December 2014


Made it through another year (2nd on from diagnosis) more or less intact!

Go me!


Thursday, 23 October 2014

Temple Blocks...

I am prone to compulsion. I become single-minded in pursuit of my goal.

I've developed an unhealthy interest in the history of the drum kit. How did it get to look like that? What led to that configuration?

More or less like this:

Generic Drum Kit

It starts with the demise of the marching band where Bass Drum, Cymbal, and Snare Drum would each have been played by individual performers. Not having to march means the three elements could be combined and played by one person. Probably the same person who plays the drums in most young people's cars.

Into the early part of the 20th century the sit-down kit starts to appear in the form of the 'Contraption' or 'Trap' kit which augments the basic three elements with anything that would make a noise.

Many of the anythings seem to have been Asian in origin. The toms appear to be traditional 19th century Xiao Tanggu or ceremonial hall drums annnnnnd, temple blocks.

I bought a cheap (poor quality) temple block from eBay to add to my collection of things that make good noises. It wasn't enough...

Just for the cheap-thrill of bidding to lose I bid on a set of four 'antique' temple blocks. I was convinced some drummer would spot them and snap them up so I only bid £20 knowing it was a ridiculously low amount for items of such rarity..

So, I won four 'antique' temple blocks.

Here's what the seller had to say about them:

Four genuine Chinese Temple Blocks with 3 beaters, complete with original Chinese cardboard box. I bought these items from an antique shop in Zhouzhuang, an ancient residential area of China which has a profound cultural background, during a tour of mainland China in July 1999.

The blocks are carved from wood and each have a distinctive emblem carved on the top and bottom surfaces that looks like two fishes.

The sizes of the blocks are 120mmWide/ 300mm deep, 100mmW/95mm D, 80mm W/ 80mm D and 50mm W/55mm D.

The four temple blocks each have a quite unique sound, ( a recording of the sounds they make can be emailed to you on request ) and they are a dream find for any discerning percussionist. As well as being a fine addition to a percussionists kit, these items could equally be acceptable as a bric-a-brac fine collectors item.

One of them has a sticker on it that reads '¥12'... hmmmm.

Of course, for them to be used to their full effect, they needed a dedicated stand to mount them in.

They now look like this:

These have been the source of much hilarity for both Linda and myself.

Here's what they sound like...

A full set of five 'pro' temple blocks costs £150....


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Condition: 'So, How Are You Doing?' & Supervision Today: 'I'm Fine Thanks'

I 'missed' the check-up appointment I was supposed to attend in February. It was during the dark-age of my tenure at the college. My non-attendance was unintentional. I simply forgot about it.

I attended an appointment today. This appointment was arranged for me, by my nurse, after a recent 'episode' that caused me to take a week off work.

The examination was routine. Testing of reflexes and responses to stimuli. There was a good deal of laughter. It's refreshing to know I still can't stop myself laughing when someone tickles the soles of my feet.

I was 'pricked' all over with 'a sharp object', which I was not allowed to see, which produced another bout of laughter.

I had an ENORMOUS tuning fork applied to various areas. This wasn't as amusing, especially when it got to the tops of my feet and my toes. I couldn't feel it.

So, I can still feel small, sharp things, but not larger, flatter things that vibrate.

Examination over we do the talking bit...

I was asked why I'd cancelled my appointment at the disease modification therapy clinic. I was asked if I'd reconsidered my objection to a lumber-puncture. It was pointed out that I still hadn't given the blood samples I'd been requested to supply.

I cancelled my appointment at the DMT clinic because it seemed a bit of a waste of time. The treatment options are all ludicrously expensive for the NHS and, because they only prevent around 30% of relapses, not appropriate for the way things are going for me at the moment. My last serious relapse, I have to remind myself, was 2012.

The lumber-puncture was always a non-starter. Epidural, needle up the spine, 3 hours laying flat on my back drinking water so I don't get the ice cream headache to end all ice cream headaches. Not only that, but the results of the procedure may confirm the MS, or they may not, even if one has MS. One Consultant Neurologist insists that the procedure should be carried out on all newly diagnosed patients, but most seem to think it unnecessary.

The blood samples... yeah, I must get them done. The consultant was very good about it really. She pointed out that she could end up treating me for something that might turn out to be as simple as a vitamin B12 deficiency, but she wouldn't know because no blood tests.

Fair comment.

I've had two very distressing collapses this year. One whist I was at the college and another more recent event that triggered this appointment. While MS didn't help the situation it was not responsible for either of them. What, in retrospect, I appear to have had were nervous breakdowns due to over-work and stress.

I posted about depression. I thought it was an arbitrary morbid phenomenon. It's not. It's brought on by over-work and stress.

The consultant asked me if I'd like help in dealing with stress. If she'd have asked me anytime before the dim lights of realisation started to glow in my mind about 3 weeks ago I'd have said 'no'. The answer is still 'perhaps'.

I've grown up with stress. I know no other intoxicant like it, It sets my mind on fire, and I fan the flames till it consumes me.

If I'm honest, this explains a few things.

Annnnd, we're back in the room...

I was rambling on about stress quite nicely when, out of the blue, the consultant asked me 'are you in denial?'

I was bit surprised by the question. No I'm not in denial, I've got multiple sclerosis and I'm learning to live with it mate! I'll tell anyone who'll listen about how I've got multiple sclerosis.... problem is, multiple sclerosis is the least of my worries at the moment...

I've got targets to meet, I've got staff issues to deal with, I've got a mind-manglingly complex payroll to sort out every two weeks, I've got a 'mobile' support cleaner who's not allowed to drive a car in the UK, I've got to find staff for a site in Littlehampton where they stand a very good chance of physical attack from the residents who tend to be either 'newly released', just plain mad, or a combination of both. I've also got to wash my van... the list is endless.

I don't have to go back for another year. I like my consultant neurologist. I think she understands what I'm trying to do and we laugh a lot.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

El Reporto de Frontie Lino...

Watch this space...

No, this one, here...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Toward a 'Pop' Gun Effect.

I've become interested in what would, many years ago, have been described as 'contraption' devices. Sound makers included in the early drum or 'trap' kits.

I already own several of these instruments. Duck call, siren whistle, cuckoo whistle, ratchet, wash-board, a temple block, and various other hilarious novelty sound makers.

I wanted something that went 'POP!'

A professional orchestral 'Champagne-Popper' would cost around £130. I'm mad, but I'm not that mad.

Having thought about the subject for a couple of days I realised an old bicycle-pump with a cork stuck in the end would probably do the trick.

Down the market I bought a pump for 0.99p:

I sawed the end off:

I stuck a cork in it:


It needs a better fitting cork with a restraining string fitted so I don't spend inordinate amounts of time retrieving the cork from under various items of furniture.




Thursday, 4 September 2014

Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold (The Bonzo Dog Band). Interpreted By OSM.

In search of the 'sound' I currently on the hunt for I've been listening to The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band's album Gorilla.

There are many stand out moments on this 'transitional' Bonzo's album, but there's one I keep retuning to time and again.
Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold.

The story goes:
  • This Gorilla cut found the Bonzos savagely parodying their early "trad" jazz roots. Founder member Neil Innes recalled the story of the song to Uncut magazine: "It was decided to do this as a dada track, one take, and whatever happened that was it. Viv (Stanshall) picked up the trumpet, which he'd never played before. Rodney (Slater) took up the trombone, which he'd never played before. Roger (Ruskin Spear) moved over to clarinet. And we steamed into this 32 bar sequence, as you hear it on the record. It makes me laugh every time I hear it."
The Bonzo's version is based on a common 32 bar sequence in Bd which I 'drilled' into my fingers before changing it to C in the hope I may have been able to add the bass harmonica.
(I'll have to practice that a bit more.)

I gave it a go:

I laughed till I cried.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Condition: OMG!

I've not been avoiding monitoring my M.S. Its just that nothing really significant has happened since earlier this year while I was managing the college contract.

Looking back it very nearly killed me.

I first assumed I was having a relapse, but I was wrong. It was my first real introduction to the world of fatigue.

I've written about the effects of fatigue before, but now realise the 'mild' episodes I'd experienced weren't even a '101' for what was to come.

I hope don't have to write that again in another 6 or 7 months!

A few weeks ago we experienced a strange phenomenon here in Blighty, the sun came out, stayed out, and bestowed it's radiance in abundance on our perpetually damp island.

I now know that when the temperature rises above 20C (sorry, can't find the degree symbol on my iPad) my body goes into shut down. I'd have an uneducated guess at Uhutoff's Phenomenon. It doesn't effect some with M.S., but that's M.S. for you... individually tailored, bespoke.

I can't actually begin to describe what it feels like. Some over on the M.S. forum have tried, but analogies are just that, analogies.

The lack of energy ain't the half of it. There's the background nausea that's suppressed my appetite. My mental functions are greatly impaired, which leads to lack of motivation, which leads to frustration, which leads to depression, and I'm back in the cycle.

I still dose myself nightly with 15mg of Mirtazapine, which was prescribed to help my sleeping. It's also an anti-depressant.

I'm somewhat underwhelmed by the varity of anti-depressants I've been exposed to over the years and now believe, much as it grieves me to admit, I probably do have some kind of cognitive problem.

I've always found it easy to think myself into a ditch, It's thinking my way out that's the tricky bit.

I don't really need the Mirtazapine as sleeping aid now, I could sleep for England at a needle match between Man U. and Liverpool FC., but, considering the levels of depression I've experienced recently I worry about what new gates of hell would open up if I chose to stop taking it.

6 weeks ago I began trying to get a grip on what was happening to me.

Using a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being 'normal' and 10 being 'OMG. Kill me now!'). Most days were in the 5 - 6 range (with one anomaly of a 2 on a cooler day). The last two weeks have been in the 7 - 8 range.

The amount of sleep I get seems to have no baring on the level of fatigue I experience. I can sleep for 8 - 10 hours and wake feeling like I haven't slept for a month... or two.

My hope is this will be a temporary situation and it will improve as the cooler weather arrives, but I'm not holding my breath.

There is another, rather more worrying aspect of this current situation..

In my head, when ever I find my mind drifting, when ever I close my eyes to sleep, a huge red neon sign lights up in my consciousness. It reads...


Do you think I could be trying to send myself some kind of message?

Republic Concert Resonator Ukulele Strip Down/Re-Build/Re-String.

There comes a time when every stringed instrument player 'knows' it's time for new strings. Some change strings on a regular basis, others choose to ignore the necessity and solider on.

I tend to be in the later category.

When I played the guitar I ended up on the expensive new string treadmill round about every six weeks. I favoured Elixir strings with Nanoweb coating at £10 a pop. Boy, am I glad those days are over.

The stings on my resonator uke are the same ones it came with when I took possession of it... I'm tempted to change that line to 'when it took possession of me'.

The stings on this uke are anchored in slots on the body and, on close inspection, to my horror were beginning to stretch-out to thin strands. Considering how hard I thrash this instrument it's a wonder I've managed to get away no broken strings.

N.B. string breakages happen at the most inconvenient moment, usually mid-performance, usually in public, usually when you don't have spares, and will usually have a detrimental effect on the tuning of the remaining strings.

It's time for change.

On removing the old stings it proved to much of a temptation not to open the uke up...

12 small screws later... Inside we see the aluminium cone c/w 'biscuit' bridge assembly. I found the 'biscuit' was bolted to the cone. I'd assumed this would be a 'floating' assembly which would allow some intonation adjustment. On further inspection I discovered the cone has a good bit of 'elbow room' in it's housing, so I suppose that's the intonation adjustment...

On removing the cone...

A disappointing stick self-tapped in place with two struts linking it to plywood discs placed against the back of the chamber. Crude, but effective?

Then there's all the dust a fluff. I found a spherical 'pill' of fluff had formed inside the body..

Cleaned up, reassembled, and re-strung..

Now the annoying bit starts...

New strings need stretching till they stay in tune. I use the ubiquitous Aquila Nylgut strings. I stopped experimenting with uke strings the moment I first threaded a set of Aquilas on to my baritone uke. They have the astonishing capacity of improving the sound of any ukulele they're fitted to. Most new Ukes seem to come fitted with them as standard nowadays.

The initial tuning I make is 3 semitones above the normal tuning of G C E A. So, that's Bb Eb G C. I 'hammer' away at a few chords, adjusting the tuning as necessary until the strings stablise and hold tune, then tune to the G key.

3hours on from the change over things seem to have settled down nicely.

To be honest this instrument's intonation isn't entirely correct, just that little bit 'off' that makes it sound interesting. (it's not a good idea to drift above the 5th fret BTW) All my favourite instruments have an endearing 'quirk' like this, the slightly 'broken' sound appeals to me.... that and it's 'BARK!'

So now I don't have to worry about changing strings for another 5 years, or so.


What would this ukulele sound like with steel strings?

It certainly seems built to take 'em.



Sunday, 3 August 2014

'We go to the gallery' Dung Beetle reading scheme 1a.

Pages of Miriam Elia's Ladybird reader spoof have been floating around the interwebs for a few months. I first saw them on Tumblr, where I seem to see lots of things that Linda draws my attention to 6 months later when the same thing turns up on FaceCloth.
I was more interested than is usually the case with things I see on Tumblr because, in it's original print run, the book was a complete mock-up of a Ladybird reader right down to the logo. Humour + Nostalgia opens wallets. (I'm working myself up into posting a rant about how nostalgia is probably a bad thing for society in general and another about my unrestrained loathing of stand-up comedians.)
The saga of Miriam Elia's 'journey' (I've come to loathe that word) in producing this wonderful book is chronicled here:
Artist's spoof Ladybird book provokes wrath of Penguin
My post-wallet opening journey begins here:
I've never really struggled with 'conceptual' art since a person, now long gone, told me 'Airfix kits are what you make them'. I realised this concept could be applied to most aspects of my daily life and have applied it ruthlessly ever since. I now disregard the artist's intention or interpretation and construct my own, however misguided that may be.
Anyway, basically (I loathe that word as well) the plot is Mummy takes Susan and John to a gallery and attempts to explain the concepts behind the works.
Buy the book because it's a hoot.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

'Dancing in the Dark' (Springsteen) slight return...

So, on acquiring a Bass Harmonica the first thing one asks oneself is 'why doesn't it sound like the noise I had in my head?'

I'm far from disappointed though.

It was great fun making 'spooky' noises in the dark when I first got my hands on it, but it has a job to do, and that means I have to make some attempt at learning to play it.

Easier said than done...

One of the reasons I purchased this instrument was wanting that 'sound' on The Flying Aspidistras'  version of 'The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God'.

I tried playing along with the second demo version.

It wasn't a great success.

I kept noodling away... errr,  alright, I imitated farting noises and laughed like a drain for about 2 days.

I eventually found I could very-nearly-almost accompany the demo version of 'Dancing in the Dark' I'd recorded.
I hadn't planed to re-record DitD, as - always happens - I'd become... well, sick of it.
It might come out to play if I can't think of anything else to twang, but it's definatly on the back-boiler.

So, back to work then.
Garageband reloaded into the iPad.
The DAW app doesn't really work of me, I find GarageBand much easier to edit on.
The problems with GarageBand are all the 'bells & whistles'.
It's always a temptation to add 'automatic' backing instruments to fatten the track out.

The only non-human instrument I recorded was the drum track and, initially, only to provide a metronome, but in the end it sounded better in than out so it stayed.

Instruments (in order of recording)
  • Track 01: Metronome Drum Track
  • Track 02: Resonator Ukulele c/w guide vox
  • Track 03: Baritone Ukulele.
  • Track 04: Resonator Ukulele.
  • Track 05: Pocket Bass Hamonica.
  • Tracks 06/07/08/09 Vocals
I made a slight mistake in the recording procedure.
When recording the guide uke/vox track I turned the drums off and used the annoying clave metronome.
My timing drifted in a couple of parts.
This had the knock on effect of throwing the subsequent recordings ever-so-slightly 'out'.

It's an odd sensation, listening back to the guide-track whilst recording another part.
You know your timing is dead-on against the drums - which I'd turned back on - then the backing-track 'wobbles'.
You only have a split second, once you realise something's wrong, to readjust.

It's a bit like being seasick.

I could not get the vocal right, one of the reasons it's fallen off my top 20 songs to sing and play.
The result is a combination of several takes.
I like the way I attempted to extend the word 'and' in the stanza  'I get up in the morning, and I have nothing to say'.
It was an attempt at a tension building 'annnnnnnd here's Dickie' talk show host way.

I like the way I sung 'tired and bored with myself' in my impersonation of a narky teenage way.

These observations may not actually be apparent to normal people, but I can hear them.

Here it is then:

It's growing on me, but it's done now.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Tombo Pocket Bass Harmonica (in a green eye).

During recording the demos for 'The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God' I became somewhat facsinated, if not obsessed, by the sound the tin-box-&-broom-pole bass was making.

It's a difficult instrument to record. It has a built-in piezo microphone, but plug it into an amp and you've got feedback only people with names like 'Jimi Hendrix' could control. It's not a subtle or, in fact, particulaly loud instrument either which makes using an external mic tricky. It ends up being a trade off between volume or horrible string scrapie noise.

'EQ to the rescue then?'

Errr, no, not until the track is recorded. I just try to get as close to the sound I want in the finished product.

That's all well and good, in theory. In practice, well... it didn't happen. The string buzz won the day.

Now EQ?

Yes. Now EQ.

I haven't the faintest idea what I set the various parametric EQ controls to, but I ended up with something that fit the overall sound of the track.

I wrote in the original post about how I'd managed to make the bass sound like a crumhorn:

It was the only thing I could think of comparing it to and yet I knew that wasn't 'it'.

To avoid rambling on like this... I eventually, through subsequent recordings and re-recordings, boiled it down to the harmonica family.

I can not play the bloody harmonica!

I've tried, I can't, and don't have time in this life to sit around learning how to be a medioca player.

and... while I'm on the subject of the 'tin sandwich' and the players thereof...

The bane of the open-mic events I used to visit in my old home town were bad 'blues harp' players who would leap in with 'wotkeyzzitinmate?' whilst juggling pockets full of slobber encrusted 'organs' before I'd had chance to plug my guitar in let alone decide what I was going to play or what key it might be in when I played it and then the endless metal calculations of 5th above, or 5th below, 'E' would be great, 'ang on I'll try this one...

My God, the bollocks were endless.

To be honest I'm not really into Blues Harmonica playing. Enjoyed it when I was about 16, but now the thrill is gone.

There are however, Harmonica players I really like. They have names like 'Larry Adler' & 'Max Geldray'.

So, I typed 'bass Hamonica' into the interwebs and eventually found "The Tombo Pocket Bass Harmonica' which, after studying various YouTube videos and establishing even I could play it, I bought.

Since banging the button on 'pay-now' I've bored anyone who came within 10ft of me to death about it.

It arrived today.

The manual has the mandatory 'Engrish' hilarity:

"Many thanks for purchasing Pocket Ensemble Series. We, Tombo musical instrument Co.,Ltd., are a serious manufacturer specialized in producing harmonicas consistently since1917

Pocket Ensemble Series are epoch-making Ensemble Harmonicas innovated with new concept for players to enjoy the harmonica ensemble with much ease..

Both Bass Harmonica and Chord Harmonica consist of C-key and the other keys which are used frequently for the pieces in Am-key. For the pieces in the other keys, you can enjoy playing a wide variety of the pieces by transposing to these two keys.

Small, lightweight and easy to carry, so, these do not pick the place. Why don't you take them along freely and enjoy the harmonica ensemble anywhere and with anybody?"

(The manual covers the Tombo Pocket Chord as well.)


  • Blow only, 10 holes/10 tones (2 tones duplicated)
  • Tonal range E~f (E/F#/G/A/B/C/D/F)
  • Plastic body
  • W145 x H59 x D49mm
  • 395g
  • Complete with carrying case

Cut to the chase...

Oh, I'm going to have some fun with this.