The last weekend of July 2014 was another epic journey for our trusty runaround, the Nemethmobile. The car has now clocked up so many miles that the digital odometer has suffered the distance-equivalent of the Millennium Bug, rolling around to zero after it hit 299,999 miles, much to Dad’s surprise and amusement.
After a lovely National Youth Choir of Wales concert in Wrexham, North Wales, we pointed the car towards Gloucestershire. Mum had identified the Almondsbury Interchange Hotel & Restaurant, which offered us a very reasonably priced family room. My first port of call is usually Travelodge, but the availability that weekend was (unusually) very poor: in fact, there were no family rooms at all in the nearest ten hotels to Gloucester (possibly, as we’d later find out, due to the WOMAD festival). Whilst we often use Travelodge, it’s good to be forced off our ‘default setting’ once in a while. A friendly phone booking left a good impression, and we were informed that the reception was open 24 hours: this was important to us as we knew we’d be arriving in the early morning. The room was spacious, incredibly clean, and the beds very comfortable. The shower was straightforward and all the better for it; showers with temperature controls purport to be better, but they can be tough to turn especially when wet, and it normally takes me a good few minutes to get a comfortable temperature out of them. Call me old before my time, but a hot and cold tap is far more preferable, not to mention the option of a full bath. Little things, too: there were enough seats for people in the room (something which you tend not to take for granted as travellers on a budget), and even a bedside cabinet and lamp each, as well as enough cups, tea/coffee facilities, TV, hairdryer, etc. (I really wanted to use the trouser-press, just for the sake of it…) Continental breakfast was included in the room price, served in a pleasant restaurant room, and the cooked breakfast option for £2 was more than reasonable.
The gig I’d be playing at was a private party a few miles from Gloucester. Usually, for ‘long-distance’ gigs, we’re travelling specially, and we rarely get a chance to look around the area I’m playing in. This made a lovely and leisurely change. We nearly rejoined the M5/M4, but not being in a rush (and generally fans of weird and wonderful single-carriageway routes), we took the A38 instead. It’s only now, looking at the map properly, that I’ve realised how circuitous a route we must have taken to Chipping Sodbury, in order to even pass anywhere near to The Fleece Inn at Hillesley. Immediately intrigued by the words ‘community pub’, we headed inside, by chance catching their second anniversary celebrations of buying the pub. It’s always lovely to see what can be achieved if a community pulls together, and I had to have a commemorative tankard as a memento. It was filled at my request with ‘Velvet Ale’; the label asked if I could taste the peaches, and I could. We even tucked in to some chilli and pulled pork rolls for lunch, and then watched the enthusiastic line dancers accompany the live musical entertainment in the outdoor marquee.
We then headed off, swinging by the gig venue to make sure we knew we could find it later, then on to Tetbury. The Chipping Court Shopping Mall brought back fond memories of the range and character of shops we used to have in the Oxford Street Arcade in Swansea years ago – unusual antiques and artwork – and it was lovely to just browse as we walked past. Emerging on the other side, we had to look at the wine cork stools next to the table outside Vinotopia. I remember thinking how convincing these giant corks looked, which must have been made of stone, so I assumed…then I looked closer and thought it was some sort of wood…and then, on tactile testing (or, in other words, like a toddler, I had to reach out and touch it), it was actually made from cork! Our intrigue was held for the crucial amount of time to be tempted in. Of course, us not being connoisseurs, the thought crossed our mind that the lowest price wines here may be beyond our price range, but we were immediately put at ease by the knowledgeable staff, who recommended a selection of reasonably-priced good wines. We bought a gift of wine for a friend and a recommended rosé for ourselves, and on mentioning we had a long distance to travel home (and a long time to wait to do so), the staff went the extra mile and donated us a polystyrene box so we could keep it as cool as possible. It is this type of ‘shopping experience’ that is forgotten when everything you need is available in the supermarket, where you zip up and down the aisles spending hardly any time contemplating, in some ways similar to the difference in the process you go through to buy a CD in an independent record store and doing the same in a supermarket, or online. In the latter case, you normally already know what you want, you just may need help to find it. In an independent store, there’s always the possibility of finding something new that you’d never thought of trying. If we’d passed the bottle of rosé that we bought in a supermarket, our thought process might have stopped at “that’s an interesting colour”, as we tried to keep in mind the loaf of bread we were actually heading towards picking up. At an independent, dedicated store, as happened in Vinotopia, this became the springboard to a dialogue, and of course a sale, but one which brought pleasure to the seller and customer, rather than an emotionless bleep before you hear the words “unexpected item in the bagging area” for the fifteenth time.
Good gosh, I am old before my time! I said “good gosh” as well, didn’t I?! Golly.
There were many more wonderful shops in Tetbury, as well as one of the British Toilet Association’s Toilets of the Year 2007 (there’s a British Toilet Association?!), and we were wowed with the range of crafts in Artique, which was a Tardis-like shop, extending much further back than you would have expected from the front or the ‘front room’. Incredible large wooden murals were plentiful in the back outdoor area, and unusual crafts and textiles all around.
We’d remembered seeing a sign for a farm shop on the way there, so headed back in that direction to try and find it. The Farm Shop at Hawkesbury (Upton) was behind a house, seemingly in their (large) back garden, and despite worrying that we’d interrupted the owners’ garden lunch, they were more than happy to open the shop for us. There was a plentiful selection of local cheeses, meats, jams, icecreams and breads. We had the scones with cheese for an evening snack when we got home, and they were delicious. I’d never tried cinnamon icecream before, either.
- Write more blogs
I’ve fulfilled this resolution just by starting this blog post…it has been a little while since I’ve written anything on here…been busy!
- Come up with a new career plan
My original career plan – if I ever had one – ran out at the end of my first degree. I was offered the incredible opportunity to ‘bolt on’ a PhD, of course, but then chance took me on to teacher training. I’ll admit to feeling I was finally on to something near the end of 2013, in terms of a new career plan – “this is it…I’m going to be a science teacher!” – but in today’s world especially, nothing is certain. I did join the world of employment briefly, but it was only a short-term teaching contract. Now I may be rejoining the academia ‘track’ after all, and I’m quite looking forward to it, though I’ll miss teaching…or maybe I’ll get to do a bit of both in 2014?
- Read the magazines I’ve subscribed to
Only I could subscribe eagerly to the Times Educational Supplement (TES) shortly after starting my teacher training, and then never get round to reading the things. It’s getting embarrassing. I don’t want to end my subscription as my reasons for joining haven’t changed, but at some point I really must open the plastic bags in which they arrived through the letterbox (yup, I haven’t even opened the packets!), shred and recycle the job newspaper bits (since all the jobs will almost certainly be out-of-date), and keep the magazine parts, giving myself some interesting bedtime reading for the next few months to keep the teaching part of my brain ticking over. Do you know what’s even more embarrassing? I haven’t opened up most of my Physics World (IoP) magazines either. And I call myself a physicist…
Not sway imperceptibly, DANCE…like nobody’s watching (even though they are). I think the teacher training has helped me immensely with this too: it necessarily forces you to stop being an introvert, even if you’re putting on a front and it’s all an act. As you practice, and practise, it becomes less of an act and even starts overwriting your previous behaviours (the amount of times I’ve found myself picking up dropped items for total strangers, before they’ve even noticed it’s hit the floor). I recently taught the topic of Forces and Motion, and I know it sounds silly, but the combination of having gotten used to being watched, and using myself as a visual example when explaining concepts, seems to have been the key to unlocking my ability to dance! New Year’s Eve going into New Year’s Day was a revelation! So many have tried and failed to get me on to the dancefloor in the past, some of them using quite a lot of force and they’ve still failed…or they’d get me on there under duress and I’d dance like a musical statue when the song had been paused. However, it wasn’t for nowt…all these years, I must have subconsciously been observing and noting and recording and thinking…2014 saw me hitting the ‘play’ button on all that stored information. I think my legs actually ached the next day – they’ve never moved so much! Even ‘worse’, now I seem to have the bug…
Oof…this is going to be a tricky one. I don’t sing. Then again, I don’t dance…and…well…now I sort-of do. It’s not that I can’t sing, but I won’t sing. I’ve been through this process of not being shy (to the point of being precocious, so I’m told, when I was younger), to being unwilling to play a single note in public on my violin, to finally realising I was missing out on enormous amounts of fulfilment and fun by being too reticent, which was the first step on my road to ‘recovery’ and beyond. I’ve even managed some really wild moments on the violin, and I want more! So why is this not the case for singing?
I’ve not sung for so long that my voice is a complete unknown to me, whereas even if I was given someone else’s fiddle to play I’d have a fair idea of the sound that will come out when I move the bow. You need no words when you play an instrument, so I’m not used to the concept of performing notes and lyrics at the same time, especially not with the alien instrument that is my own voicebox! I used to sing in school choirs, though, loud and proud…so I used to be able to do it…but if I try and sing like that now, I find that some of the notes are missing. I guess my voice must have broken, after all…(!)
I need to take this slowly, and it may be a resolution for next year instead…but something inside me is brewing. I shouldn’t allow this self-made strangle-hold to continue, especially if it would give me a bit more weight in the music world. I’ve had lots of great experiences, don’t get me wrong, but every now and then something hits you for six. Maybe if I’d been a singer as well as a musician in 2013 (and before), these negative musical experiences would have played out very differently.
- Get a show on BBC Radio Wales / Radio 2
OK, now you’re just getting silly, Jamie. Even the singing is faaaaaar more likely to happen…but we can all dream!
Hello blog, it’s been a while! Since I launched myself headlong into teacher training (PGCE) in September 2012, I’ve barely graced the interweb, except to grab teaching resources and carry out research for essays. I’ve now got a bit more free time to catch up on my pastimes, so here goes.
Looking back on the PGCE, I realised that the technogadgets I purchased bit-by-bit over the course of the year might have been even more useful if I’d owned them all right from the start. Who knows, this advice might even help the next bunch of PGCEers? Some of the items are pretty obvious (a laptop, for example), some of the items I already owned, and some of them I only acquired near the end.
I won’t spend too long describing the laptop itself, but the principle. Whenever I buy new technology, I like it to be ‘significantly different’ to what I already have, at least in some aspect (my first snapshot digital camera had 6 megapixels, my next was 9 megapixels, for example). My mind wandered onto all sorts of exotic, feature-packed laptops – Core i7s and HD screens and backlit keyboards and reversible touchscreens – with the cost spiralling towards unrealistic heights. Was it really sensible to spend over £1,000 on something that was going to be carted back-and-forth to university and school in a rucksack on the bus? Not really. I had to forget what I wanted, and boil things down to what I needed: a small, portable laptop to type stuff on. It didn’t need to play games, it didn’t need to be fast, and as I’d be spending lots of time illuminated by massive fluorescent lights, I didn’t really need a backlit keyboard, tempting as it was! I’d spotted the Samsung NP-N102S in Sainsbury’s for just under £200, boasting a long battery life and a spacious 320 GB hard disk, but it only had 1GB of RAM, which on Windows 7 felt a little small. It turns out there’s a solution which doesn’t break the bank…
Cheap RAM (memory)
It suddenly occurred to me to have a look at the Crucial website. I’ve seen adverts for their site so many times I’ve lost count, but I’m a relative latecomer when it comes to ordering things online, and I’ve previously only ever bought RAM from a shop.
The website makes it incredibly easy to find what you need, something which I treated with scepticism at first, as it seemed ‘too quick’, and I didn’t want to accidentally order the wrong thing in haste. Everything seemed to check out, though; you can either find the model number of your laptop directly, or download the system scanner. Either way, it found me a 2GB DDR3 chip for £6.99 (the least I’ve ever paid for a stick of RAM). I chose the free postage option (3 – 5 business days) and it actually arrived a day earlier than I was expecting, in a strongly-sealed plastic envelope with protective packaging inside, in the form of a plastic holder which did the job of holding the memory away from the edges of the envelope without being wasteful. Within minutes I’d opened up the access port on the laptop with a small screwdriver, and swapped the ‘old’ RAM for the new, doubling the capacity for a fraction of the price that it would have cost to buy the next-highest laptop model. There were no problems on boot-up and a noticeable speed increase (even though RAM doesn’t strictly affect the speed of the computer, RAM is faster to access than the hard disk, and computers use both to store temporary pieces of information as it’s running – that’s why your hard disk sometimes whirs and clicks furiously when you try and do anything – so overall you get an improvement). It’s been working perfectly to date, as far as I can tell. I’m a very satisfied first-time customer, and I won’t hesitate to use them again (well, I didn’t; I soon bought some RAM for another project – a computer with a relatively-old motherboard – and it was just as easy to find the RAM I needed quickly).
It’s entirely possible to buy a rucksack with a special lined pocket designed specifically for a laptop, but they’re really designed for standard-sized laptops (around 13-inch or above), not tiny netbooks. Small laptop, big bag … you can hopefully see the problem! Either you’d have to pad out your rucksack, or find something to put the laptop in to keep it safe from bouncing or slipping around in there.
I’d seen a few of my fellow students using neat little carry cases, which were solid and offered their own protection (i.e. outside of the rucksack). I found a similar case in Maplin for £9.99, which fitted my netbook perfectly, and I managed to put a few more things in with it, as we’ll read later on (it was like Mary Poppins’s suitcase by the time I’d finished!) It provided a reassuringly snug fit, but the added elastic strap secured the laptop. The carry handles are secure, but I accidentally tugged one whilst pulling the case out of my rucksack and tore one of them, so they’re not that robust (mum did a brilliant repair, though, which hasn’t failed yet).
[UPDATE: 27th October 2013] I forgot to write about the most value-for-money and probably the most useful item I’d ever bought: my USB Flash Drive Case! (Maplin, £2.99) Previous USB drives I’d owned either got mislaid within a couple of weeks, or I had to make sure to use portable USB hard disks which (in theory) were too big to lose. Of course, the case can’t do anything to stop me walking off and leaving the USB drive plugged into the computer, but at least I realise it’s missing within seconds or minutes, when I casually check that I have my keys and/or go to unlock a door. This could be, quite literally, the best three quid I’ve ever spent.
The laptop carry case is described as a ‘Netbook and Tablet case’, but I don’t think they necessarily meant at the same time. However, I quickly realised that (protected by its own sleeve case) my Kobo Touch e-reader fitted happily in the net pocket within the case. I bought the Kobo originally to read research papers in preparation for my PhD viva exam (read my original review of the Kobo Touch here), but it came into its own on the PGCE, where a lot of the course material (course notes, presentations, research) was provided electronically for review. It probably would have cost me the value of the e-reader to print it all out, and my eyes wouldn’t have coped well with reading it all off a computer screen. Also, it meant that I could read this material before lectures, refer quickly to them during seminars, or peruse them on the bus or in the car (I wasn’t driving, before you say!)
Mini USB hub
This handy device came from the demise of poor Comet. Still pricey at £12.99, I thought carefully before I bought the Belkin Flexible 4-port USB2 hub (can’t find it on Belkin’s own site, but it’s still available here), but I could immediately see how it would fit nicely into my case. Any solid parts are small, and the ‘extension’ USB ports are on cables which branch out from the central block, which itself contains a USB port designed so that you can slot something in vertically, e.g. a Wi-Fi stick. One of the branches has a micro-USB connection, obviating the need for me to pack a separate micro-USB lead for the e-reader, and an attached mini-USB converter for other devices. The disadvantage of this, of course, is that (without additional leads) you can’t use micro- and mini-USB at the same time, but the inclusion of micro-USB as part of the hub is the selling point – micro-USB leads are expensive and difficult to come by, whereas you can pick up a cheap mini-USB to USB lead from pretty much anywhere (the supermarket, a ‘pound shop’, or even some corner shops and petrol stations), and you can just connect this to one of the other full-size USB ports. There are other (cheaper) small hubs, but I haven’t seen one like this before: other small hubs I’ve seen tend to slot directly into the USB port – it only takes one accidental knock and you could break the hub or the port, or both – you’re also relying on the USB port to support the weight of the hub and anything that’s plugged into it. As the name suggests, the flexible parts of the Belkin hub are a distinct advantage for storage and whilst it’s in use. It’s been a fantastic little gizmo and worth every penny.
If only I could have squeezed a printer in there as well, I could have been entirely self-sufficient, like a technology-filled version of BBC’s The Good Life (ignoring the fact that Tom Good’s character would have been horribly offended by the comparison, since that was all about avoiding the rat race and the trappings of modernity). Still, the ability to scan the odd document without having to trapse to a special room was a huge advantage, not to mention that it saved carting back-and-forth the material you wanted to scan.
The EasyScan Portable Handheld Scanner from Maplin (currently £49.99) runs on 2 AA batteries, and stores complete scans as JPGs onto a microSD card (not included). It’s really lightweight, comes with a custom-made soft carry bag which fits snugly around it, and the whole thing (by chance) slots neatly into the laptop case. The scanner is easy to operate and the instructions straightforward, directing you to scan slowly and carefully. A green light will appear if the scan is successful, and a red one if you’ve moved too fast. It’s not painfully slow, but you do have to be careful not to slip, since the scanner tracks its position on the page using rollers, not optically (i.e. the green ‘success’ light will still appear, even if you’ve slipped a few times, causing distortion in the final captured scan). On a completely flat surface, with a completely flat sheet of paper, results are very good. However, it’s very difficult to keep the scanner moving in a smooth straight line on booklets, since the edge of the scanner overhangs the page margin by around an inch, meaning it catches on the staples. You can’t run over them (if you try, the freedom of the other end of the scanner causes the whole thing to go off at an angle), and the overhang is just that little bit too long for you to dodge the staples (you’d have to move the entire apparatus an inch to the right, meaning you’d lose some of the left-hand edge of the page in the scan). Also, if the batteries run out, it won’t run off USB power, unfortunately (which also means, if you don’t have a microSD card reader to hand, you can’t transfer the scans you’ve already done, either). So, some minor disadvantages, but I’d argue they’re overshadowed by the quality of successful scans, and the mere (and very cool) fact that you have a high-quality portable lightweight scanner that you can carry around in your laptop case! It’s not something you’ll want to use for high volumes of scanning (you can use your flatbed scanner at home for that), but there were a few times during the teaching placements where I thought to myself how nice it would be, if I could just lift a diagram from a textbook and display it on my computer slide presentation. For that, and that alone, this scanner is worth having (you could do this with a mobile phone camera, I suppose, but it could be out of focus and a lot more shaky, and therefore take you a lot longer to get a good ‘scan’ with your phone than if you just ran the portable scanner over it).
Last but not least, I spotted the Trust Flex Design Tablet (Maplin, £29.99). A flexible graphics tablet sounds about as useful as a chocolate teapot, but looking past first impressions makes you realise there are distinct advantages, particularly in terms of portability. It’s light, thin, small, and whilst you can’t roll it up into a tube (not sure why you’d want to), the fact it flexes makes it fit nicely behind my e-Reader in the inside net pocket of the computer case, without me worrying that either will crack when the case is zipped closed. For processes requiring design accuracy, you’ll obviously want to use it on a flat surface, but as a mouse you can position the tablet and the laptop such that you can use both on your lap … sort-of comfortably. I found this incredibly useful when doing exam marking on the computer, avoiding repetitive multiple swipes of the trackpad in order to click on buttons and text-boxes; selecting these with a pen felt much more intuitive; this was also true when designing graphics for worksheets and slide presentations, which could be done much more quickly than with a trackpad or mouse. The tablet is very much like a mousemat in appearance, and this provides a pleasant surface to write or draw on, more so than a standard graphics tablet in my experience, because the interaction of the plastic nib of the (fairly standard) electronic pen with the softer flexible tablet didn’t feel as unnatural as with a rigid tablet, nor was it as hard on the hands.
A good friend and regular Off The Chart Radio show listener introduced me to Stornoway‘s music around four years ago. They went on to be the first band to spend an entire year on my Unchart feature, as well as performing at festivals including Glastonbury and BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, and performing on Later… with Jools Holland (after being spotted at Glasto). It was a privilege and pleasure to hear them perform live at Oxjam in Brecon three years ago, and to have the opportunity to interview the lead singer, Brian Briggs. You can imagine how excited I was to find out that they’d be playing in my hometown of Pontardawe on 20th February 2013, where I caught up with bassist and vocalist Ollie Steadman for a follow-up interview, and had another chance to speak to the whole band at the end of the show.
There’ve been a couple of line-up changes since 2010, but essentially Stornoway have the same core, not only in terms of musicians and musicianship, but in attitude. Even with all of their accolades and achievements, the band embraced and included the whole audience in a down-to-earth fashion, sharing with us their friendliness and good humour, as well as epic arrangements interspersed with beautiful unplugged vocal items. The intimate layout of the Pontardawe Arts Centre lent itself to creating, if you like, a ‘giant folk club’; the band seemed taken aback by the attentiveness of the audience, but performed as if they were at ease with it, interacting so closely with each and every one of us that they could have been sitting on the next seat over.
I remember commenting that the entire night was so brilliant that the word ‘gig’ was blatantly insufficient to describe the experience. If there was any way to clearly and undeniably demonstrate the difference between a gig and a show, this was it: incredible harmonies, instrumentally and vocally; choreographed instrument changes which flowed as perfectly as the tunes; perfectly-timed contributions, even when those contributions came from the sound of a torn newspaper, or a saw (yes, a saw, dragged through a block of wood, rhythmically and musically). In fact, the carefully-considered musical journey began with Laura J. Martin, their support act for the night and the entire tour, who opened with single-handed mastery of the loop pedal, flute and mandolin (perhaps it should be double-handed mastery of the flute and mandolin, thinking about it, so it’s not a perfect metaphor!) Her vocals and style had more than a pinch of Kate Bush, and she filled the stage, not relying on technology to do this, but using it expertly as a tool, creating a virtual orchestra. Ollie (from Stornoway) then joined her on the double bass for a couple of numbers, which was a teaser of things to come, in terms of the vibrancy of his playing.
After a short break, the lights went down and the audience volume with it, setting up an electric atmosphere. Led by a beautiful violin solo which blended perfectly into the catchy piano riff to ‘Coldharbour Road’, the remaining musicians appeared from the wings to take their places one-by-one. Many great performances followed, but I feel they excelled themselves with their performance of ‘November Song’, with Brian revealing its connection to West Wales, it having been written whilst he was staying there. There’s also a connection with the Swansea Valley itself, since Stornoway’s tour van was donated to the band by Abercrave man Pat Hall (read more about this here). The band were really pleased to find out in advance that he would be in the audience, giving them the opportunity to speak to Pat and everyone else about the impact of this kind gift, which had certainly not been forgotten. They also paid tribute to the van itself, which they’d been using since 2009, until its recent demise.
Talking of vehicles, hearing ‘Fuel Up’ live was another special moment for me; it’s reassuring to know that the song isn’t considered by the band to be ‘too old’ to perform – it’s the song that remained on the Unchart for an entire year thanks to listener votes, and remains a favourite of friends and listeners – but it’s also a timeless song by the very nature of its lyrics, which uses a car journey as an analogy for life’s journey. The imagery of travelling in the back of a car at an early age merges analogy with reality at a point we can all identify with.
The band finished the set with another unifying song – ‘The Ones We Hurt The Most’ – with the vocalists stepping down from the stage and positioning themselves just in front, to perform a capella in five-part harmony amongst the audience. This powerful work made many (if not all) of us realise that we were not only fully included in the musical experience of the night, but also in the emotional experience, with the song bringing myself and mum to floods of tears and a tight hand-hold. All of us as a family having watched my grandmother “fighting to hang on … [putting] so much in for nothing in return”, hearing these lyrics sung almost hymnally was so difficult and so incredibly emotive, as the sincerity of the vocals connected on a level which was almost tangible. When they sang of feeling like “strangers in a town we don’t recognise” on coming “out the other side”, the lyrics captured our emotions at the time perfectly, so perfectly that the song couldn’t possibly have been a work of fiction. On top of everything else the band had already shared with us, now they were sharing their hearts. Stornoway had created the very opposite of a ‘them-and-us’ atmosphere from the start, but at that moment, the concept simply didn’t exist. We were all just people, “… all going the same way down this long hard road”, as in the ‘Fuel Up’ lyric, a song which gains more meaning and poignance every time you hear it.
“And when your days are darker, put your foot down harder, drive on, fuel up and drive on …”
Stornoway’s new album, Tales From Terra Firma, was released on 11th March 2013 on the independent 4AD label.
How amazing is this? My incredibly talented friend Becky has created a three-dimensional model of the Nemethsphere, with incredible attention to detail!
I want to take it everywhere, but it’s far too precious…I don’t want to lose it or break it…but if I get the opportunity to take it on tour safely (and get a few pictures in the process), rest assured I will.
So, here it is: my long-overdue blog about my experience at the Swansea University Summer Ball, which every year brings together hundreds of students at various stages of degree completion, but is the end-of-university-forever party for many. This makes everyone eager to get as much as possible out of the experience, which is a difficult task given that there is so much on offer. The tickets for 2012 were £40; slightly lower than in previous years, and comparable to (or cheaper than) some single-artist ‘big gigs’ (e.g. stadium gigs), where you don’t get a free funfair!
When I attended in 2006, it was to take photographs for The Waterfront (our university’s student newspaper), and I managed to get in for free. In 2007, I paid the full price, but pretty much stayed in the main arena. I never even got myself a pint (as the queues were too long), never went on any of the fairground rides (as I felt I’d have missed too much music), and only fleetingly whizzed through the other tents. I was far too busy with university work to attend any Summer Balls during the PhD, but in 2011 I stood behind the site for a little while to listen to the dulcet tones of Feeder sound-checking. I think that was the first year I regretted not buying tickets, although putting the PhD first was definitely the right thing to do. Although my thesis was submitted in September 2011, and my viva exam was in November, it would take me until February 2012 to edit, correct and submit the final approved thesis. I officially received my doctorate at the end of April 2012; going to the Summer Ball in ‘Feeder year’ to ‘celebrate the end of my PhD’ would therefore have been decidedly premature!
It took a little while for my head to clear, and to start thinking about what I’d do next. I did a spot of tentative job-hunting, and fanciful course-hunting…then, one day, I had the crazy idea to email the people in charge of entertainment at the Uni to ask if Thistledown (one of the bands I play with) could perform at the Summer Ball. They replied incredibly quickly, and to my amazement, the answer was an enthusiastic ‘yes!’ The whole band were overwhelmed with excitement, especially once they discovered who we’d be sharing the bill with…the one-and-only Tim Minchin!
We didn’t think it could get any better than this, so much so that we never anticipated it getting ‘worse’. In the run up to the ball, we had the star treatment – official passes, sharing the backstage area – and then came our big moment. Of course we knew we weren’t playing the main stage – this was reserved for Mr. Minchin, Pixie Lott, and Rudimental, amongst others – but I only saw two tents on the site. As we trekked farther and farther across the field, it slowly dawned on me that we were heading to neither of them. We left ‘civilisation’ behind, snuck through a gap in the shrubbery, past the burger vans, and into an understated but reasonably-sized marquee. Our stage may have been hidden from view, but it was fully-equipped with a lovely lightshow and a pretty large PA system. It wasn’t packed, but we had a decent crowd. We sound-checked, then we waited to be invited to start. And we waited. And we waited some more. The audience gradually disappeared as we started to play, but only after our set did we realise why. Reassuringly, it was nothing to do with our music (which the remaining audience enjoyed), but because we were schedule-clashing in the worst possible way, playing at the exact same time as the one artist that everyone in the band most wanted to see, as well as pretty much everyone else in existence – Tim Minchin. Even though we’d had a great time on stage, my elation was tempered by feeling more than a little sick, and not because I’d ridden the dodgems too soon after eating a burger. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me to catch the end of his set, but arrived only to see the remaining pieces of Tim’s piano being removed from the stage. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen; I knew in advance that we were scheduled to overlap with Tim’s set, but we were due to finish around twenty to thirty minutes before he did! Now the entire band had missed him, and even though the scheduling was completely out of my control, I felt somehow responsible.
We headed backstage, and were perked up by being asked if we wanted an interview, but the person holding the mic didn’t seem to know anything about us. It was a very short interview. We chatted, debriefed, chilled out, and then things began to turn around for the better. A load of us had a group photo with Mr. Minchin, one of our band managed to give Tim one of our CDs, and had a nice chat with him. I managed to get myself a pint (a 100% improvement in pint-buying, compared to the last Summer Ball I went to). Meanwhile, Queen B were the next band to grace the main stage; whilst I can’t testify to the authenticity of the tribute band’s performance (having never seen the ‘original’ Queen perform live), it was stupendous, musically brilliant, and overflowing with energy. After exploring the site a little, I remember stopping to watch Pixie Lott performing a strangely-structured set, which swung between her performing to backing tracks, and being accompanied by a guitarist (there was nothing wrong with her vocals, but I felt that they didn’t really gel with the backing tracks, with the result sounding musically ‘thin’…the set with the guitarist was far superior). On my way out, I got to see Rudimental performing their Number 1 single ‘Feel The Love’ live on stage. I say ‘on my way out’, because despite being the headliners, it seems they suffered from a schedule clash of their own, being billed to play at the same time as buses were beginning to take people away from the site to the afterparty! Still, they enjoyed (and Tweeted as much), we enjoyed, and it wasn’t all about everything going perfectly as planned, but about making the best of what you’ve got…and it’s not every day that you can (legitimately) say you’ve shared the bill with such a diverse range of famous acts. Our video turned out pretty well, too (though I wish I’d realised the lightshow was going to be so brilliant, as I might have brought better equipment in order to fully capture the audiovisual experience!)
I know there hasn’t been a blog in a while…apologies…I haven’t disappeared.
So much has happened in the Nemethsphere over the last few months, against a backdrop of tremendous sadness; I won’t (and/or don’t feel able to) go into these events (not yet, at least).
However, just like the Nemethsphere still turns, so does the world in general. Sometimes this can be a hard fact to cope with, but it is a fact nonetheless. There are also great things that have happened (completing my PhD for one), and great things that are about to happen, causing my blog mojo to slowly begin to return, not least because I’ve discovered that I’ve recently gained a number of new readers and followers!
To those new to my blog: I hope you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far.
To everyone: I will be back very soon…watch this space 🙂
I’ve always been interested in science, media and music. In my experience, it’s been difficult for some proponents of science to understand how or why media and music have become such significant parts of my life, but they are there, and they aren’t easily suppressed. I should know…I’ve tried! When it really mattered, of course, I managed to commit the required resources to the completion of my thesis, and I’d have been tremendously disappointed if I hadn’t. However, almost as soon as the thesis had been submitted, I committed to an extra weekly radio show on Off The Chart Radio, took on more gigs with Henry Marten’s Ghost and Thistledown, and even started making enquiries about playing bass with a band.
While I was bogged down in thesis writing, I was harbouring ideas for blog posts, getting spontaneous ideas for show playlists, and wishing I was on the stage instead of sat behind a computer. Naively, I believed that there’d be nothing better than to plough myself into music (and radio) once university finally came to an end.
However – fortunately or unfortunately – my triad of core interests like to coexist in harmony, and the further I push in one direction, the more I’m pulled in the other two. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying my much-needed brain-break from physics; the fiddle-playing is going fantastically, and is even earning me just about enough to break even (after a good few months, and following severe austerity measures regarding my gadget-buying). Now, though, I find that I am actually starting to miss academia!
There is someone who has seemingly managed to strike the perfect balance (in my opinion) between these three interests: Brian Cox. I rarely identify with a public figure to such an extent that I’m willing to call them an ‘idol’. In fact, I generally shy away from expressing strong opinions, as many will know when they hear me ‘critiquing’ music (basically, I hate saying anything bad about anything). On the other hand, if something’s really good, my getting up from the metaphorical fence (that I often like sit on) should be enough to let you know that I’m being genuine. He’s the “rockstar physicist”, and whilst I don’t really seek fame, I quite like the fantasy idea of becoming the folk-world equivalent.
After reading a couple of tabloid interviews with Professor Cox, I started to wonder exactly how well we compared. He’s 44, I’m 26…but in my (not exactly scientifically rigorous or exhaustive) comparison chart, we seem to match up on quite a few things already. We inhabit different echelons in terms of notoriety, perhaps, but I was struck by the fact that neither of us wear watches, and would respond in exactly the same way if asked why. (I wonder, if pressed, whether Brian would reveal he also found it irritating to wear a watch when playing an instrument or writing, so simply dispensed with wearing one at all?)
|Dr. Jamie Nemeth||Prof. Brian Cox|
|PhD in intense-field atomic physics||PhD in high-energy particle physics|
|Plays violin||Plays keyboard|
|Presents a radio show||Presents numerous radio and TV shows|
|Likes to lie in||Likes to lie in|
|Puts simple things complicatedly (sometimes)||Puts complicated things simply|
|Doesn’t wear a watch
(“No, I just use the clock on my mobile.”)
|Doesn’t wear a watch
(“No, I just use the clock on my mobile.”)
|Opposes university ‘top-up’ tuition fees||Opposes university ‘top-up’ tuition fees|
|Inspired by space and astronomy||Inspired by space and astronomy|
|Regularly watches The Sky At Night||Has been on The Sky At Night|
(I’ll probably keep adding to this list…)
|Has been on the set of a Doctor Who episode||Has been on an episode of Doctor Who|