30.10.12

Betty


Last night I heard the telephone ring and rushed downstairs to find it was my parents’ number. I called back, hoping my dad was OK or that my mum hadn’t had another fall. MY mum answered and told me that her sister, my aunt, had died earlier that day.

The day before I had been chatting to my cousin, who told me of her visits to her mum in a Sussex hospice. She didn’t expect a recovery and the unspoken message was that Betty had only a few days left. So while I knew it was coming I wasn’t prepared for just how quickly it came.

Betty was one of my mum’s younger sisters. She was, a curly haired, fun loving, outgoing type who, along with my uncle, dedicated her working life to looking after vulnerable children. Where my mum would get passionate about classical music, rugby and tennis, Betty would prefer pop music and a cigarette. Where my mum slowly gave up on holidays in favour of staying home, Betty would go to Majorca several times a year and soak up the sunshine.

After I left home I had less and less to do with my mum’s side of the family but something that always tied me to Betty and her family (aside from them being warm and lovely people) was that she gave me my first camera. It was a slightly broken Instamatic. I could take passable pictures on it and after getting my first envelope of prints back I was hooked. It took me a few years to save up and buy one of my own but ever since I’ve been mad about taking pictures and grateful to her for starting me off. Ironically, the only took one picture of my aunt, and that’s not here.

J suggested I have a drink after getting the news but my standard reaction to death seems to be, cry and then do the washing up. So I did.

26.10.12

Super Happy Software

Something I rarely write about is software. With music, photography, writing and chess being the things I do most (aside from driving around trying to remember what I was supposed to buy at the shop) there is a pile of software titles vying for my attention. Almost none of them are essential: I can enjoy music, chess and writing without a computer. Photography, the way I do it, does though. Despite the non-essential nature of the following software, I am excited about what they can do.

Aperture: Native to Apple, this is the one piece of software I’ve mentioned before. I could use iPhoto, or one of a variety of freeware titles but Aperture just seems to work the best for me. I do almost nothing with it, but the almost nothing makes a lot of difference to a photograph.  Installing and using Aperture has made me take photography that little bit more seriously and allowed me to have some more fun with it.

Scrivener: This is software for writers. I’ve had a copy of Microsoft Word (starting with Word 5) on all my computers until now. I had Apple’s Pages word processor to take care of all the bog-standard writing tasks such as letters, leaflets, posters, etc. and intended to get MS Office. But, Pages is doing such a good job (it reads Word documents seamlessly) I’m going to wait until I feel buying Word is a necessity. Scrivener, on the other hand, leapt out at me when I first saw it. For the long form things I write this is the perfect tool. I used to open a folder and fill it with word documents; often producing one Word file for each chapter in a book, say. This worked up to a point, but doing any kind of revision or editing became increasingly hard as changes often had to be made in and out of multiple numbers of documents. Almost all these projects were twinned with large sheets of paper and hundreds of post-it notes to keep track of all the changes on. Scrivener does away with all that. It is the most flexible, intuitive and invisible tool to write on ever to be seen on a computer.

Shredder Chess: For chess on computers I’ve either used unsatisfying simple chess programmes which were like playing a mute, unhelpful savant. Or I’ve used big, complex devices that have so many options I lose track of what’s going on. Shredder Chess is, for me, perfectly pitched in the middle. I can get on with a game, and feel that I’m learning as I go. All this without getting bogged down in complicated menus and graphics. There, I’ve said ‘bog’ twice now.

Ableton Live: For me, the best music software on the planet. It allows you to play with sound and music in a way that no other programme does. It’s less of a recording machine than an instrument. Albeit a hugely complex and multi-faceted instrument. Next year Ableton are upgrading to Live 9, which looks like making music making even more exciting.

Like I said. I could be happy with a bass and amp, a chess board and opponent and a pencil and pad of paper. But when well-designed software comes along that makes a given pursuit more interesting, it’s worth following up.

 

25.10.12

More on my dad


More changes are happening in my parents’ lives this week. My dad is convinced he has days, rather than weeks or months to live and this has altered his behaviour. This is the flip side of ‘living for the day’. Instead of embracing each day and making the most of it, dad is (understandably) working on the assumption that whatever he does will not be a problem for very long. The tensions and pressures in the house are being alleviated by a fine team of carers who are now coming in to help him. Essentially though he has taken to his bed to die but may be there longer than he had anticipated.

Bring in a hospital bed, to make him more comfortable and help the carers, has been quite an adventure in itself. As soon as the word ‘hospital’ was uttered dad bridled and decided there was no way this was going to happen. Thanks to some short term memory loss on his part I was able to have another go an explaining what we wanted to do.  Desperately trying to avoid the H word I called it an electric bed (which, now I write it down sounds scarier) and described how he could sit up or lay down at the press of a button. He was happier with this but still didn’t want any change in his room. So, on the third attempt I just told him it was coming. Yes, I took away some choice, but at the same time I made things better for him, my mum and the backs of the carers, so I’m not that bothered.

I’m writing this before visiting the house and finding out how the arrival of the new bed went. It’s entirely possible I’ll post again tomorrow with a stories of dad fighting off the care team with a cut-throat razor. We’ll see.

We’re in the process of making my mum and dad’s place more secure and getting them an alarm system for emergencies. Hopefully all these things will combine to make dad’s final days less stressful. I just hope the stress of fitting them all in doesn’t do more damage.

23.10.12

Eclipse Trio 2012

Eclipse Trio 2012 by WJCruttenden
Eclipse Trio 2012, a photo by WJCruttenden on Flickr.

Last Thursday’s gig went well. The set list took us from 19th Century songs to original compositions written earlier this year. I do like a good dose of eclecticism but in concerts you have to make sure these disparate parts don’t ruin the whole. To my great delight the last minute changes to the set (dropping one song and re-ordering a few more) produced a flow that took us from quiet and tentative to (literally) table thumping and singing along.
We’re going to work at getting the trio out in front of an audience more often, so we can knock the remaining corners off the set. The situation with my dad changes by the day though, so making any sort of plan is hard.
A drum free trio with a three century spanning set is a refreshing challenge to work with. Next year I’m going to take part in something more radical.

18.10.12

More trio news

3rd October 2012 by WJCruttenden
3rd October 2012, a photo by WJCruttenden on Flickr.

Last night I rehearsed with the piano/guitar/bass trio and we played our way through tonight’s set list. For the first time in a while I found myself playing through a set with too many songs.
This promises to be an interesting set. Original songs that are due to appear on the slowly forming album are going to be played alongside covers. A quick tally revealed we’re playing country, jazz, folk, blues, soul rock (and roll) songs, all morphed through the sound of the trio. One song, Al Green’s ‘Take Me to the River’, is a favourite of mine but I’ve only ever played it with an eight piece soul band before. It’s a wonderful thing to hear a song so stripped back but still working.
The toughest thing for me last night was fixing a bass line which (it turns out) I’ve been playing wrongly for about six years. The notes are controlled more by muscle memory than conscious thought, so changing it was surprisingly hard. Whether I’ll play the old, wrong version or the new correct version tonight is still unsure.

10.10.12

Writing... and an update on my dad.


With serious concerns about the health of my dad to deal with, the dayjob, two small children and two active musical projects , only an idiot would take on a writing project that lasts all of November.

I am that idiot.

I’m not attempting the NaNoWriMo novel again (that should be next year) as 50,000 words might just kill me. However, I do have another idea which I want to use NaNoWriMo’s concept for. For those of you who don’t know it. NaNoWriMo’s basic concept is  that you write a 50,000 (or more)  word novel in November. You can plan as much as you like before-hand but all the writing happens in November. The secret to doing this is not to revise, or so much as peek at what you’ve written until the calendar says 1st December. It’s worked for me, twice.

So, this November I’m going to use that approach to write something different. All will be revealed next month.

For those of you interested in my dad, he’s still telling stories and managing a little walking. He is finding eating difficult and that is having an unfortunate effect on his overall health. He once told me that if he knew he only had a few months left he’d take up pipe smoking again. This hasn’t happened, yet.

7.10.12

Pictures

I know that usually when I get nerdy on this blog it's all about music but I am keen photographer too. Although most of my photographer friends make me look like a rank amateur I have spent a fair amount of time working on my photography chops.

This year I'm taking and publishing (at least) a picture a day. I imposed some rules to make this more interesting and to make me work harder.

1. I have to use my Nikon (not much of a restriction since I truly love this camera)
2. I can only use the 50mm prime lens. So no zooming and a field of view similar to that of the human eye).
3. After the shot is taken no cropping or Photoshopping (made easier by me not having a copy of Photoshop).
4. Must try not to take a crap picture.

Rule four gets broken every time I realise it's 11:45pm and I haven't taken a picture yet.

Recently though I've been getting more positive feedback and started to feel that iPhoto wasn't quite enough to do the job. I recently upgraded to the Apple Aperture software and now feel I can publish pictures that are closer to what I imagined them to be.

Questions

I went to see my dad yesterday and we had a fascinating discussion about his time in Rome, while he was in the Royal Navy. I must ask more questions.


4.10.12

For National Poetry Day


Stars



The stars are markers of the past.

They tell the tales of giants and dwarves.

Their light conveys the stories although

That light has left them long ago.

Just like the boy with a catapult,

Whose lengthy journey through the years

Has stretched out and almost erased

His adventures.


The stars are makers of the past.

They are calling,

My dad,

Every morning.


Every morning as they fade

They invite him

To join them.


The twinkle,

Twinkles in his eyes,

But one day soon,

The stars' delicate light,

Will catapult him,

Into the past.

My dad

My dad is now home from hospital but the doctors have given him months, rather than years to live. In all the fuss and stress of coming home he somehow didn't take in the prognosis so I had to go over and ask if he wanted to know. Months ago we had had a conversation about his earlier days when people were routinely not told how long they had.
I sat at the end of his bed and asked if he wanted to know and he said yes. When I'm made sure he knw the truth it dawned on us both that my mum need to know to. My job was to deliver the news, which I did a few monutes later.

Some years ago a friend asked me to call the hsopital where her sick friend was, to find out how she was doing. She was nervous about calling so I volunteered. While my pal sat on the sofa having a cup of tea I worked through the hospital switchboard until I got to a nurse who, after an awful pause, told me my friend's friend had died in the night. I then had to go back to the front room and tell her.

Telling my parents that dad would be lucky to last three months was only easier because they were older and more prepared for the news. It wasn't a huge shock.

Now I'm in the strange world of visiting my dad, having conversations and keeping him up to date on the events in my life - but in the same day I might be talking to the funeral director or working on some other practical tasks. My dad is a practical man, I am just becoming one.