Next week, our church hosts its annual bereavement service on Sunday afternoon, as do many other churches on All Saints – or All Hallows – Day. It aims to provide a place of comfort and support for those who have lost loved ones during the past year. We are holding a service at the church but, recognising that some of those who might otherwise attend will want or need to stay at home because of COVID-19, I offered to provide a video that will be shown in the service and also go online.
This isn’t that video (which isn’t yet cut together) but it is an original piece of music composed as a sound track for it. Partly this is a pragmatic solution to how to get a piece of music that doesn’t raise issues of copyright but it has also been an opportunity to exercise my composing muscles and enjoy a burst of musical creativity.
The piece is an arrangement for an imaginary string quartet – in this instance, voiced for first and second violins, cello and double bass. All the parts have been created using Logic Pro. I think I could probably manage to perform the bass part on my double bass; it grounds the piece but isn’t overly ambitious on range or articulation. However, I’m certainly not going to get the rest of the quartet ready in time! I don’t think it is quite authentic enough to fool any string players who might hear it but the timbres are listenable in themselves and allow it to serve its purpose.
When we got a delivery of firewood recently, most of it was well seasoned and we stacked it neatly in the space I’d set aside as a log store. However, we also got a few unseasoned, unsplit logs as a bonus, which I put in an unused wheelie bin. They had been sitting exposed in the back of the tree surgeon’s van for a few weeks, so he was glad to get rid of them, but they had got a bit damp and, when I checked yesterday, I spotted that some of them were developing some furry mould!
We’ve now got a bit more space in our log store, having brought some of the wood inside (and used some of it), so one of my tasks today was to get those fresh logs split and stored in the better ventilated spot, which will speed up their drying and should sort out the mould growth.
It’s the first time I’ve had my splitting maul out since moving from Oxford and it was a pleasure to put it to work. It all seemed to go surprisingly easily – I don’t know if that was because the wood was relatively well proportioned and knot free (a couple of awkward looking pieces did get set on one side) or because I did a bit of sharpening before I set to work. Either way, it was enjoyable and I’ll look forward to getting the tool out again soon to deal with some of the slightly larger bits of seasoned wood too.
There is some wonderful in our garden – and beyond. In previous houses I’ve owned, the back garden has ended in a fence, beyond which is someone else’s garden and house. In our new place, the garden backs onto the canal and, on the far side of that, we have the tow path and some warehouses.
The canal and tow path are pretty well screened by the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), which is looking gorgeous at the moment. We’ve kept it off the bottom of the gate so we can see the flowing water but preventing passing boats and people making us feel overlooked.
The warehouses are also screened by some large trees and, like the creeper, they are resplendent at the moment, adding their glory to the sight we enjoy. It will be interesting to see what it is like in winter but, for now, we will revel in this mix of owned and borrowed colour.
To add to our precautions in the church worship team, we’re keeping our masks onto sing… which is doable but not ideal. It feels pretty hot – like certain rock clubs I remember – and seems to place some additional strain on the throat. In addition, it is much hard to cue people into exactly when you are going to start singing a phrase, especially when you’ve got both hands on your bass at the same time!
Still, if it keeps each other a bit safer and makes it reasonable to continue with short rehearsals then I’ll wear it and be glad.
I’m a little overdue in writing up this review as I got a copy of Best of British Fantasy (ed. Jared Shurin) a few days before and I wanted to have time to refresh my palette before diving into the Sci Fi compendium, Best of British Science Fiction 2019. As she has done for a number of years, Donna Scott has brought together an excellent collection of works, most of which clearly fit the genre although there are a few exotic tastes in here as well.
Indeed, the opener (The Anxiety Gene by Rhiannon Grist) is as much fantasy as anything. Without giving too much away, it draws on multiverse theories from the field of physics but that’s about as scientific as it gets. It is a taut thriller though and, if you can proceed on the assurance that spaceships and aliens lie ahead, not a bad place to start.
There is plenty of variety including one or two that seem fitting for this pandemic year. In particular, I think of Ab Initio by Susan Boulton, set in the aftermath of a much more devastating plague. Some of the stories are quite long but there are also some very brief ones. I think the briefest, also with very pointed contemporary connections is Ghosts by Emma Levin. Barely a couple of pages long (quite a meaningless measure unless your eReader has the same sized font and screen as mine!), it illustrates the potential dangers of an increasingly digitally orientated world.
Finally, one of my favourites which, I admit, has a strong whiff of ‘fairy tale’ about it: The Land of Grunts and Squeaks by Chris Beckett. If we ever do encounter truly alien aliens, communications are likely to be a significant issue – history shows that it has been hard enough even with other Homo sapiens. This one is an excellent brain twister, which you will either want to talk or think about.
It has been another good year for British Science Fiction: long may that continue.
Today I was doing quite a lot in the kitchen – baking bread, green tomato chutney and goose stock as well as putting dinner together. I needed to be in the kitchen area to keep an eye on things but I wasn’t always actively working so I decided to watch Ready Player One (2018) on Netflix. It was a film I’d vaguely heard of but didn’t know much about but it was worth a punt.
I understand it is based on a book but, as I’ve not read it, I was watching the film for itself. It posits a future where most people spend most of their time hooked up to a virtual reality gaming host system called OASIS. Although an odd mixture of dystopian and optimistic tropes, I did enjoy it.
What struck me though was how much of the movie was in ‘game worlds’ and rendered in the style of contemporary computer games. It is the kind of film that probably could be made entirely on computers and I’m sure there was a lot of CGI enhancement of ‘real world’ scenes. In fact, I think they emphasised details like odd skin textures in ‘game world’ sections in order to make the uncanny valley less obvious in bits where they didn’t want the CGI noticed. It isn’t that entirely computer rendered films are new but I think we’re getting to the point of the technology where real and virtual are hard to distinguish, at least within the confines of ‘filmed reality’, which raises all sorts of wonderful possibilities and not a few potential dystopian scenarios of its own!
Sowing for next spring has started in our garden – broad beans, which should overwinter happily. We also had our first harvest of kale yesterday (sown in the spring and then planted up from pots when we moved in during July). We’re still far from self sufficient but it’s satisfying that we’ve got some of our own crops.