Month: December 2016

Into the West (Audacity 4)

My free Audacity programme is quite dear to my heart.  I recently typed into Google; ‘is Audacity any good?’  to find many disgruntled users complaining that there are so few techno bells and whistles involved that this limits what you can actually do, and that the sound quality isn’t that great (which it isn’t) – but what can you expect when it’s free.   Audacity’s state of simplistic affairs suits me just fine.  It means all I have to do is hit the record button and maybe add a few harmony layers for depth; being that I wouldn’t have the faintest idea what to do with the ‘effects’ that come with the programme, or how to edit the stuff I record.  I once tried to ‘equalise’ a song with disastrous results.  The thing is I can’t be bothered to actually learn how to use the gizmos on offer.  Moreover, the basic recording quality I get with Audacity beats the quality of a couple of songs I recorded in an actual studio many singing moons ago (mind you it was a very basic studio) – this continues to amaze me.

The reason for this adventure in audacity is that I’ve not been feeling much love for the human race recently.  When it comes to my fellow man I’m with Jonathan Swift:

 ‘… principally I hate and detest that animal called Man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas and so forth.’

This current streak of misanthropy is due to the fact that I now take part in the morning and evening rush hours.  These daily journeys are only 2 miles each way but every single time I take my life in my hands.  Mine is a straight route, comprising 30 and 40 mph zones but these speed signs may as well be non- existent.  I stick to these speed limits a) because I always do as I’m told and b) because a significant number of school kids cross the road.  In return for being a law abiding citizen I’m faced with road rage at every turn – it’s actually beginning to give me a driving phobia.  Other daily commuting drivers take it as an insult that I drive at the speed limit.  Therefore, drivers place themselves about an inch away from my rear end (the car’s) in an exceedingly threatening and intimidating manner; sometimes dodging to the right to get the message across that I’m taking up valuable road space and they REALLY NEED to overtake or, sometimes, (and this really happened) overtaking me in a single lane, getting so close I had to swerve into the cycle lane (where there could have been a cyclist)  then racing ahead at roughly 60 mph, just before the lollipop man and his ‘slow down’ school crossing sign.   This is actually completely irrational (and murderous) behaviour because they always end up just in front of me at the traffic lights when they’ve gone red.

The thing is, you can write this off as normal behaviour – the husband has been facing it daily during 30 years of commuting – but it isn’t.  And it’s a mindset that’s seeping into almost every aspect of our culture.

My recent Christmas choir concert reminded me that there are nice people around and maybe I have to hold on to the fact that the kind of people, who think nothing of intimidating a middle-aged woman driving her tiny car, are in the minority.

The Christmas singing got me in the mood to put another song on my blog – something soothing, something like a lullaby so I can forget the rotten rat race and I landed on ‘Into the West’ by Annie Lennox, sung over the end credits to one of the Lord of the Rings movies.

The recording process, as always, was fraught with difficulty.  I found an instrumental version on YouTube by Eline Homburg, which did not contain the main melody – exactly what I needed.  Eline gave us all free rein to use her version, so I used my usual youtube to Mp3 converter, which immediately, and unexpectedly, downloaded malware.  This meant installing Spybot  (very good free anti malware software) and scanning my entire laptop, which took forever.  I then searched for a virus free converter, landing on one which would convert backing tracks whose owners had agreed to the use thereof (hurray) – I’m also desperately hoping it hasn’t also downloaded any nasty, hidden viruses in the process.

I then found that the key to the original Lennox song was too low for the tone of my voice so changed pitch, via Audacity, which always degrades the original track somewhat – I don’t know why.  I then sang it in the lounge a couple of times for practice.  Then moved up into the loft, where I assembled my microphone, on my usual unsteady pile of books, and sat in Son No.3’s chair, singing it through a couple of times before realising that sitting down wasn’t the ideal way to hit the high notes, and was also giving me a crick in my neck.

Lacking a microphone stand, I decided to stand up anyway, held the mic in one hand, and the pop shield in the other, and stood as far away from the laptop as my iPod headphones would allow and thought right, this is it, and pressed record.  About half way through the husband decided to ring from work which put paid to that version.  During the second version the postman knocked, which put paid to that one.  During the third version the husband’s computer suddenly decided to spring into life, making a very loud whirring noise.  By now I was getting stressed, husky and heartily sick of my lovely, soothing lullaby – not the effect I was going for at all.

I’ve now realised it isn’t a lullaby at all but is actually about going into the Lord of the Rings version of heaven – so basically it’s a song about dying – which, again, isn’t quite what I was going for.  I tried to lose my Yorkshire accent in the singing and to make it all floaty and ethereal and very Lord of the Rings’ish.  I did this by adding echo, choosing 0.3 as my decay and delay factors, which may have been overdoing it somewhat.  I go very wavery and hoarse towards the end – this seems to happen when you get old.  My pop shield was also woefully inadequate at dealing with the explosive ‘P’ sounds and all the other unwanted sounds I don’t know how to get rid of.  I had to sing the word ‘ships’ very carefully to prevent it sounding like ‘sh*ts’ which would have been an audio-based calamity.

Son No.3 asked to listen to it the other day and visibly jumped when I hit the high bits, claiming the sudden change came as a big surprise and was pretty funny – which doesn’t bode well.

My new blog’s muted colours mean that the Mp3 shows up as a very faint orange line just below the image; if you can manage to see it just press the play arrow and it will turn blue.  Wearing earphones is always recommended.   I’ve added an LOTR image which you can stare at fixedly to create a bit of atmosphere while listening.


The Christmas Spirit

Christmas is upon us once again.  This took me completely by surprise as it feels like just a couple of months ago that I uploaded a series of Christmassy posts to my old blog.  Three of my neighbours got their outdoor lights up last week and I mentioned this to the husband; as in who’d be mad enough to deck the halls when we’re still in November.  Well, it turns out it’s December and has been for the past 8 days.  According to my internal biological clock, I’m still back somewhere in October.  This could be the case actually, being that Einstein once opined that: ‘People like us, who believe in Physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a subbornly persistent illusion.’

Christmas might be on the yuletide horizon but I don’t feel Christmassy at all.  And this in spite of the fact I’ve been practising a couple of Christmas songs, in amongst the secular ones, for my community choir Christmas concert next Monday.  ‘Are your family coming?’  one of the ladies I sit with asked last Monday. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘they’ve been to the last two concerts and the husband doesn’t feel he can stomach another one.’   ‘Oh dear, don’t they want to support you?’  ‘Well, I can’t make them come can I,’ I said with emphasis.  ‘No, you can’t’ she said, ‘my daughter came to the first concert I took part in 4 years ago and hasn’t been back since.’

I don’t blame the assorted relatives for their lack of community choir support, being that your average, amateur, choral-based endeavour tends to be somewhat hard on the ears.  There are a couple of renditions we’re doing – Simon and Garfunkel’s Feelin’ Groovy and Handel’s Glory to God – that really shouldn’t be allowed.  Last Monday our leader suddenly realised that the bass section were alarmingly off key (this was after roughly 10 weeks of rehearsal) and (cruelly I thought) made the poor fellas stand up (one of them is 92, so this was a difficult manoeuvre) and sing their bit alone so he could find out who the duffer was.  My ladies immediately leaned into me and asked if I could tell who was off key; that they thought it was possibly the impressively big, young bloke; did I agree?   This was all ‘whispered’ in a volume that the big, young bloke could hear quite clearly.  It’s amazing how quickly the mob mentality emerges when you put someone in the figurative stocks.  Our leader then increased the public humiliation by telling the young man (and by young I mean about 40) to put his finger in his ear while he sang (this would have been good advice for the audience too actually) as this would act like an earpiece, enabling him to more easily hear his own voice and thus hit the right notes (it didn’t work.)  I firmly believe that you can either sing in tune or you can’t but, more importantly, our community choir is supposedly for everyone, whether they can sing or not, so give the nice young bloke a break I thought.

I also (rather incredibly) took part in the turning on of our local town’s Christmas lights last Friday.  This is because I help out with a local school’s kids’ choir.  ‘Help out’ is perhaps too strong a description of what I actually do, which is to stand at the end of a row of kids as a symbolic sign of adult authority (even though I have none) in the hopes that it will stop them playing up.  My other role is to sing loudly enough to keep the kiddiwinks in tune (a couple of them don’t need my help at all) and to also try to overcome the vocal efforts of a TA, who recently joined the choir to replace a couple of adults who left.  This lady is very good at barking at the kids and keeping them in line but, unfortunately, she can’t sing.  The teacher who runs the choir welcomed her TA with open arms (being there’s a shortage of willing adult helpers) until the TA opened her mouth.  Now we’re all in a process of damage limitation.

‘I’ll teach her some vocal exercises to stretch her throat a bit’, the teacher said’, ‘that might get her hitting the right notes.’   I’d never heard that one before, and also how is said teacher going to broach the subject without giving offence?’   Also, doesn’t the TA know she sings out of tune, or does it all sound ok inside her own head?   And, again, does it really matter as long as she’s enjoying herself.  Human interaction is just fraught with difficulty; it’s why I mostly stay at home being a boring housewife.

The turning on of the Christmas lights involved a local brass band, various community minded volunteers, who took their jobs very seriously, and the vicar from the medieval church.  Those of us who were taking part were herded inside a cordoned off area in front of a marquee which held microphones and amplifiers.  The cordoned off area was very small indeed, so that I was squashed in with the kids who kept asking ‘what time is it?’  ‘When’s our bit?’  over and over again;  and delighted in showing me assorted Christmas jumpers, which actually lit up, and assorted outlandishly festive headgear.

The audience were corralled around the ‘arena’ and we were off.  Proceedings began with the broadly Glaswegian vicar giving his Christian themed address, which was something to do with the fact that the world would be a much better place if only we broke into a smile a bit more.   At least I think that was his gist being that I couldn’t hear a thing above squawking kids and the brass band who were still playing (nobody had told them to stop apparently.)   I have no actual teacherly authority beyond the ability to SHHHHH everyone very loudly, but my meagre Shhh’ing was lost on the cold wind.

Our leader marched us all into the little arena and the vicar started a countdown to the switch on.  10, 9, 8……   Ooh this is exciting, I thought, I wonder what will happen.  A bloke marched out of the tent, pulled on a lever and, above our heads, criss-crossed lines of coloured light bulbs appeared.  To be honest, it wasn’t the Blackpool lights and my neighbours houses looked slightly more impressive but the local Council does its best.  The switch-on was our cue to start singing.  I was standing next to the tuneless TA, with instructions to drown her out but failed miserably.  Oh, just let her sing thought I – it’s in keeping with the spirit of Christmas, which our Scots vicar had just been blathering on about.  The teacher informed everyone via a microphone that kept screeching horribly that we were going to impressively sing in Latin!  This received no reaction at all (it later transpired that no-one could hear anything due to the brass band and the rubbishy set up of the microphones, which meant the off key TA wasn’t actually a problem at all.)

This is a very good choir singing what we sang. We were unaccompanied too and the kids even did the harmonies.  Our leader is nothing if not ambitious.  Some people don’t go in much for medieval carols in Latin but I just love them.

But still I don’t feel Christmassy in the slightest.  Back at the community choir on Monday, towards the end of rehearsal a woman came running over to me, all excited, and said: ‘I saw you at the Christmas lights;  I turned to my friend and said that’s Sue from our choir that is!’  ‘Ooohh fame!’  one of my ladies said.  ‘Wasn’t it awful?’ the woman continued (this was a sentiment I wasn’t quite expecting) ‘organisation was awful, we couldn’t hear anything, the microphones kept screeching and that brass band never stopped.’   ‘People do their best I suppose,’ I offered in my hesitant, stammering way.  Seems like I’m not the only one not feeling the Christmas spirit, thought I.

Anyway, yesterday I got my lights up on the windows, placed my various Christmas themed knitted decorations around the place and bought two advent calendars, 6 days late (for myself and son No.3)  The shop woman gave me £1 off on each one to compensate.  Son No.3 was disappointed to find that they were boring calendars, the kind without chocolates inside each door, so I rushed out and bought him a box of chocolates, one to be eaten when he opens each door.  Well, at least that’s in keeping with the Christmas spirit thought I – greed and gift-based disappointment.

Today I’m assembling the ancient six foot fake tree in the hopes I’ll feel some yuletide gaiety; if I could just get past the feeling that it doesn’t seem like a minute ago since I packed it all up and put it away.



New Blog

I’m taking a moment here to mourn the loss of my late and lamented blog.  I would also like to give thanks to Mr Tomas Toman, whoever he is and wherever he is, who supplied my free Time Turner theme two and a half years ago.  I loved my theme.  I loved its digitised parchment-like ‘paper’ on which my posts appeared.  I loved its layout.  I loved my little sunflower I’d knicked from Google images.  My deceased blog was self-hosted.  It was a blog but, due to a recent turn of events, I’ve had to find another host and son No.2 suggested  For an annual fee (the poor husband was badgered into paying £81 for a one year account) I’ll get all the plugins etc I had on the old blog without having to install them myself.

My WordPress account does not allow the use of my old theme but it comes with many free themes (I wasn’t mad enough to force the husband to pay up to $99 – it’s all in American – for a new theme) and a live chat thing which pops up at the bottom of the screen when you’re logged in as an admin.  So I rapidly chose a new theme, customised it with colours and type fonts and added my little sunflower as a remembrance from my old blog (lest I forget.)

And I’ve live chatted (for the first time in my life) twice with, first Raul, and then Gemma, and what helpful, happy people they are (there’s a reason they’re called Happiness Engineers.)

And now I’m going to take a moment to mourn the loss of an illusion I’d been under for quite a while, here in invisible blog land.  My new account came with enhanced stats (page views etc to those of us who blog) and these cold and heartless stats showed me that over half of my blog views were by me, the author.  I had no idea that my views of my own blog, via my admin page, were counted as bona fide views in the stats.  Those views have now been separated from the actual views and what a dismal sight it is.  And what’s worse is that a significant number of views have been coming from all over the world (it is the worldwide web after all) and are clearly those crawling spidery bot things.  And now I feel that my precious old blog has somehow been tarnished by visits from people I’d rather not have had visits from.

After I’d got over the shock that I’d written millions of posts over the course of two years to absolutely nobody, barring sundry family members (who are not ‘nobody’ of course) and people who occasionally landed on my blog whilst searching for something else, I gave myself a good talking to – after all there are much, much worse things in this god forsaken world (which I’ll be referring to in future, scintillating posts) than finding out your stats page is a misrepresentation of what was actually going on, and further reminded myself that I don’t advertise my blog – which is a waste of time in my opinion, considering that the Facebook page son No.2 linked me to garners me roughly one hit a post (thanks mother);  and considering that I don’t comment on other blogs, except when I really connect with the writing style (which happened just once, recently); or they happen to be blogs which provide lovely knitting patterns.

So, for the second time since I started writing a blog, I’ve questioned just why I feel compelled to type words out into the internet ether and I think it’s because my blog feels like a ‘place.’  Not a real place; not a walk to a favourite wood; or to the castle grounds down the road; but a virtual place, made up of electrical stuff and bits of code that I don’t understand, but it’s a ‘place’ all the same and a place that’s mine.   Somewhere I come to write, because writing is when I think ‘this is who I am.’  Just like reading a book, alone in bed at 9.00 pm, makes me feel ‘this is who I am.’

Anyway, hello new blog.  This is your first post and your first post is to check that everything works and so I can find my way around this new .Com blogging land.  I’ve given you a stock image, featuring the back of a flower, which sort of goes with my little sunflower.  I’ve customised you in the least garish colour palette option I could find, and I’ve chosen a font which resembles the font on my old blog.  I’m not good with change.  The unexpected demise of my old blog caused a couple of days of blog induced panic, in which son No.2 received many irritating messages from his mother (when he was at work too) and answered them all in a spirit of affability and patience.  I can verify that patience is definitely a virtue.

It’s mostly just you and me blog, but then it always was (and assorted spammers and bots) and there’s nothing wrong with that.  So, onwards and upwards (or downwards, which is much more likely.)  I’ll get my blog writing mojo back;  I’d better get it back and justify that £81 blog fee.