Seasons…

We’re now in what feels (occasionally) like Spring. There’s life in the trees again; the birds are singing; my eyes are streaming from the tree pollen and there’s certainly a bit of warmth to that sun now. So, where are we?

Well, the 365 project is still on, helped in no small part by the return of “easy mode”. Easy mode is where it doesn’t get dark until after I’ve finished work. Sure, I’m still walking the same loop near enough, but at least I can see where I’m going.

The highlights

Rather than bore you with the run-of-the-mill account of each month, I’ll provide you with the edited highlights of the first four months instead.

I’ve had a few keepers since the beginning of January, but I’ve yet to put them up on the store. I’ll hopefully get to that over the next couple of days. Still, if you fancy a shower curtain or a phone case, you know where to look. (shameless plug…)

One complication of doing two 365 projects back-to-back, during a time when I rarely leave the village is that everything feels really familiar. I did expect this, but boy have I painted myself into a corner.

Music

At the end of last year I might have suggested that I’d like to get back into music again. I assumed it might be playing it and that I might have acquired another guitar. It’s April and I’m still not strumming away again, but a Youtube rabbit-hole or two has led me into the (shock, horror) murky world of HiFi.

No, I didn’t expect that either. I’d have been the first to call snake-oil on the idea that one USB cable might sound different to another, but here we are. Truth be told, I still think most of that is as daft as the wine-tasting world’s flowery language to describe grape juice locked in a dusty cellar for months.

However, I’ve found a few very entertaining and somewhat relaxing channels that talk about the subject of HiFi components and headphones that are as far removed from current affairs, pandemics and war as you can get.

The upshot is, I now have a USB DAC, a pair of open-back headphones and a Tidal subscription. I’m not sure how to feel about it. 🤣

I’d been using iTunes for many years, which eventually morphed into Apple Music. It mostly met my needs, but over the years my account had become so full of clutter –albums I started listening to but lost interest in, with no easy way to just delete everything and start again. The other problem with Apple Music is that it doesn’t play well with others. To get the best out of it you need to just use Apple products, but I occasionally use Windows, Plex and I generally like to keep my options open. Tidal works with most streaming boxes, integrates well with Plex and the Windows application isn’t quite as awful as iTunes is.

Most importantly, Tidal is effectively a clean slate. Something I can fill with the music I actually like right now.

So, what’s playing?

The first few months of this year have been quite good on the music front. I’ve acquired a few more CDs –albeit mostly ones I used to have and had sold a few years ago.

There were some new ones though. Tears for Fears released their excellent new album “The Tipping Point”. If you are so inclined, have a listen to Rivers of Mercy at track 8.

One big surprise came from another Flickr user who put me onto the Oh Hellos. This is an indie folk band from Texas, formed by siblings Tyler and Maggie Heath. They released four EPs between 2017 and 2020 –Eurus, Zephyrus, Notos and Boreas and they’re excellent. That has probably had the most play since January.

Other news

So, I talked briefly before about removing myself from social media again. Whilst I still have my accounts, Facebook is deactivated and Twitter is uninstalled. It feels good not being on them at the moment and I recommend it to anyone.

Yes, they can be good, but the detritus has a habit of rising to the top. If you have a hobby or interest, you’ll soon find the less desirable part of it all up in your feed without you really needing to go looking for it.

I think that’s all I have for now. Until next time…

001/365 - Once more, with feeling

December – An ending of sorts…

The year is finally at an end. Three hundred and sixty five photographs, one a day for twelve months.

It has felt like a very long year. Then again, this was kinda the point. It’s all too easy to tune time out, ignoring the mundane for years before realising you’ve reached middle age and wondering where the time has gone.

I started this project in the middle of a pandemic, quietly hoping it would document the path out of it, but a new variant is circulating and it doesn’t feel as though we’ve moved on at all.

However, it hasn’t been a boring year by any stretch of the imagination.

December

The last month of the year, aside from the slight issue of Christmas, was a little dull for the most part. There was the foggy day, but more on that later. I’ve struggled to muster any enthusiasm for Christmas for years now. It’s a bit of time off at the end of a long year, but the days of community spirit and the festivities we see in the saccharine-sweet movies seems to have ebbed away over the years.

335/365 - Needles...

Still, I can’t turn down some free time to catch up on me time. Life started to get on top of me towards November and December. I had a few wobbles and felt rather burned out from the day job. It is part of the reason the journalling has been restarted –it’s best to get these things out in black & white so you can make sense of it.

Music

I started buying CDs again this year. I managed to fill a shelf with CDs both new as well as some I never should have sold. One of the upsides of the pandemic is that many of the artists I like have been stuck at home writing and recording music rather than touring. This year we had:

1. Gary Numan – Intruder

2. Black Label Society – Doom Crew Inc

3. Gojira – Fortitude

4. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

5. Mastodon – Hushed & Grim

6. Chvrches – Screen Violence

7. Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

8. Mechina – Siege

9. Ministry – Moral Hygiene

10. John Mayer – Sob Rock

It’s not a bad haul for one year. Mastodon’s double-album was spectacular; as was Screen Violence by Chvrches. Gary Numan’s album had a lot of play this year too. It seemed the perfect album for a locked-down world failing to grasp the gravity of a rapidly shifting climate.

What I do find interesting is how some of them have adapted to working remotely –with some of them recording their individual parts at home and sending the stems to someone to mix everything together. The wonders of modern technology eh.

Then again, when I was in a band in my early 20s you had to pay lots of money to spend a few days in a recording studio to get anything close to presentable down on tape. Nowadays a USB audio interface and some microphones and a laptop are all you really need.

On that note, I did get around to watching PressPausePlay this year. It’s free to watch on Vimeo, so get to it. It stars Moby and a few others you might recognise and talks all about a new breed of creative people who are able to use technology to break down the barriers to entry that the old world might have had.

Plans

Aside from taking photos, I also run a website called Cardiff By Bike. I’ve been gradually adding to it since 2015 and I’m quite pleased with how it has turned out. However, one irksome part of running a website is dealing with social media.

For the new year I’m going to withdraw from the socials again, mostly in the interests of my sanity, so the twitter accounts will be used to share links to new posts here and on the other site. Other than that, the app will be deleted. I’ve already removed my Instagram account and disabled my Facebook account.

I’m still on the fence about starting a new photo project. Truth be told I’ve both benefited from the structure and the exercise it has forced me to take, so there is that. However, I do feel as though I’m wasting people’s time on those days where I really don’t like what I’ve shot.

I have started another 365, mainly for my own wellbeing. I’ve started journalling again and it is always good to be able to embellish them with a photo or two. You can keep track of it by scrolling down to the bottom of this page, but I am undecided about posting monthly updates. I’ll see how I get on over the next few weeks.

New store items

This year has been quite fruitful in terms of new stock for the online store. One benefit of these projects is that whilst 50% of photos are likely to be just life updates, occasionally there are some good ones that I’d like to put on my wall.

In December we had a day of very low cloud, so I took a walk up the nearest large hill and took some photos.

A few of these, as well as a few others are up on the store, should you fancy one on a shower curtain on phone case. 🙂

Happy new year, everyone.

October…

Another month has gone, but we’re closing in on the end of 2021. Time seems to be flying by these days, but taking a photo each day does at least provide a bookmark for each day that passes.

October is usually the time when the temperature drops, the rain starts to get a bit excitable and the fungus starts to grow from every rotting piece of wood it can find.

The fungus…

I suppose we had better get this out of the way. There was a lot of fungus to be found.

One downside with October is that the nights draw in really quickly, which isn’t helped by daylight savings time on the last day of the month. The first of November saw sunset arriving at just after 4:30pm, which means I’m going to have to rethink how I get the last 60-ish photographs for the year.

On the upside, the forests are full of various shades of brown and red.

Music…

I’ve done a lot of listening this month, with Tool making up a large part of that. Tool are one of those bands that have long had a cult following, but for so long I couldn’t quite figure out why.

Tool are best described as a progressive metal band, but to do so may make you think of Dream Theater or Porcupine Tree. They’re not like that. Dream Theater are undoubtedly a talented bunch, but musically they’re far too cheerful to be compared to Tool. Tool are dark; basslines are dirty, prominent in the mix and their videos are disturbing…

So, I’ve acquired most of their albums on CD this month, including Undertow, Ænima, Lateralus and 10,000 days. I’ve not picked up their latest one yet (Fear Inoculum) because they’ve yet to release the CD on its own –it comes with a book that I don’t really have a use for.

Now I think I can finally say I understand what all the fuss is about. Yes, they’re pretty awesome.

Speaking of awesome, Mastodon released a new album at the end of October, called “Hushed and Grim”. It is one of those rare gems that is consistently excellent from start to finish. However, there are some standout tracks in “More than I could chew”; “Teardrinker” and “Eyes of Serpents”.

Mastodon are one of those special bands that features many lead vocalists, but the clean vocal in the song above is that of Brann Dailor, the drummer. Brann’s an incredible drummer, but he does what he does whilst singing at the same time.

His voice contrasts nicely with Troy and Brent, who also share vocal duties. They’re amazing, but Hushed and Grim is an excellent album that is perhaps a little more accessible than their earlier works.

Apparently, in November there’s a new Black Label Society (Zakk Wylde) album coming out, so that’s something to look forward to. Speaking of November, better get on with it, I guess…

274/365 - Nostalgia

September…

Would you believe it, a whole nine months have passed already. This month we crossed the 100-days-to-go point and oh boy, I really need to find some other things to photograph.

Much of the warm and settled weather is now behind us and we now stare down the barrel of another 6 months of darkness and rain. Would you believe it, this post is already eight days late, so better squeeze something out.

Discoveries…

257/365 - Outside

As months go, it was pretty uneventful, apart from the very end. The last week of September was spent nursing a poorly cat, who spent the weekend at the emergency vet after being mauled by a dog. He has nerve damage to his front leg and a load of bite marks around his chest. He’s a stubborn old thing though and has handled the ordeal like a champ.

Speaking of dogs, I did have a visit from the black dog earlier this month. It has been a while, but I could feel it creeping on for the past few weeks. You can’t do very much when you’re in the middle of one –they suck all of the vitality out of you, everything feels like an ordeal, but the fog inevitably lifts and gives you a chance to reset and figure out where you could have done things differently.

Thoughts lead to feelings, which inevitably lead to behaviours that result in altered thoughts again. These can either be good or bad, a virtuous circle if you will. If you neglect physical activity or diet, or live with clutter, this can create a feedback loop that is difficult to get out of.

I’m fortunate that I know enough about myself now that I can usually find my way through it and I can see it for what it is, but if you are struggling, please reach out to someone, whether that is your doctor, a friend or your local mental health service, if you have one.

247/365 - Caught in a web

Being September, Autumn is starting to show its face again. The leaves are starting to fall from the trees, but the temperature has other ideas. It has been very warm lately, which is probably a good thing as the cost of energy seems to be spiralling out of control.

I must say, I am looking forward to winter though. As I’ve got older I’ve started to appreciate not being constantly hot and sweaty, or needing another shower after a short period of physical activity.

Music

I don’t have too many new music picks for the month unfortunately, apart from one. Armored Saint released an album in 2020 called Punching The Sky. It’s excellent.

If you’ve not heard of Armored Saint, you may have heard John Bush from his time in Anthrax (the best period of Anthrax, I’ll have you know). Bush is a great frontman and a classy metal vocalist and Punching the Sky is a fine album. There’s also a new Ministry album out, but that’s a story for October.

Ok, that’s it for September’s ramblings. On with October…which we’re nearly halfway through already. Oops.

244/365 - Breakout

Physical Media

This past year I’ve been doing something I didn’t think I’d be doing again. After getting rid of all of my CDs, DVDs, books and anything else that wasn’t bolted down, I’ve been re-buying many of them.

Whilst streaming can be great for discovering things you might have missed, it’s all too easy for an album or song to disappear from your chosen streaming platform when you just need to listen to it again.

Compact discs…

I started buying CDs in the early 90s. The first one I ever bought was Megadeth’s “Youthanasia”. It was a great album and, because I was relying on pocket money at the time, it was my only CD for a very long time.

I played that CD to death. Well, when I say to death, I mean to the point where I couldn’t face listening to it again –and I still can’t some 30 years later. The CD was completely unharmed and would still work today if I hadn’t minimised it.

Some months ago, I wanted to listen to Type O Negative’s last album, “Dead Again”. I went onto Apple Music, searched for it in my library and there it was, greyed out. “Sorry, this album is no longer on Apple Music”. Really? Why?

September Sun

Well, between the release of “Life is Killing Me” and “Dead Again”, the band changed record label and for whatever reason, Dead Again disappeared from streaming services for a while. It has come back again, but mostly because there are still members of the band still around to maintain its legacy. Pete may no longer be with us, but Kenny and Johnny are doing some great work with Silvertomb.

However, we are talking about relatively recent albums here. What will become of much older works that are left to the mercy of record labels and the estates of deceased bandmembers? If you have the CD (or vinyl) you no longer have to worry about it. What about bands that released one great album and then disappeared?

The 90s was a fertile ground for niche metal bands. Drain, Face Down, Pissing Razors –many of them riffing on trends established by the bigger acts of the time. Face Down were often called a Machine Head tribute act; Drain toured with Fear Factory during the Demanufacture tour but sounded rather like Dirt-era Alice in Chains; and Pissing Razors followed the double-bass orientated groove-metal style of Fear Factory.

Drain’s “Horror Wrestling” has completely disappeared; Face Down are still around, but “Mindfield” isn’t; and Pissing Razors’ self-titled album has just returned to streaming services and the band is still around and producing music.

Music aside, there is a lot to be said for having a little booklet of artwork and lyrics to read through on the trip home from the shop. Having a disc that sounds great and will last for decades is also a bonus. So, how do you have the convenience of streaming with the security of physical media?

Plex

Plex is a service that you can run on a NAS (network attached storage). You load it up with your mp3 or FLAC files; any movies you’ve bought from places like Vimeo On Demand; install the apps on your phone, streaming TV box etc and just start listening.

It also means that if you’ve bought anything on Bandcamp, such as some classic vaporwave or mallsoft you can stream them from Plex as well.

If you want to sync music to your devices for offline play you’ll need to shell out the £4 per month for Plex Pass, but with that you also get access to a load of very niche movies –mostly B-movie horror flicks from the 80s.

Of course, there are downsides to rolling your own streaming service. For starters you’re going to have to deal with the maintenance involved in running a NAS. There are going to be periodic firmware and app updates to contend with. I have a QNAP NAS and most firmware updates remove the SSL certificate you use when you login to the server’s back end. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a nuisance.

You also have to deal with power outages. Removing power from a NAS suddenly is rarely a good idea and you’ll have to wait for it to do a thorough check when you turn the power back on. A UPS (uninterruptable power supply) is on the shopping list.

Plex also releases software updates regularly, which usually have to be done manually as the version on QNAP’s own app store is much older than the current version.

The upside is that I have plenty of space for all of my music, camera RAW files, scanned 35mm negatives (massive TIFF files); GoPro footage and anything else I produce over the next few years. If the worst happens and I lose my files, I still have the discs to fall back on.

St David's Day

Film…

I’ve long considered myself quite fortunate that I was born at a time when everyone shot film and I was well into adulthood when digital came along. My first digital camera was a Fuji Finepix A204 with a whopping 2 megapixels.

However, after a string of digital SLRs I picked up a film one back in 2012 –a Nikon F80. It cost the princely sum of £50 from London Camera Exchange and it’s fantastic. It takes two CR123 batteries that last for months (literally, not figuratively) and it does everything you’d want a camera to do. Pair that with a negative scanner and you’re set –providing you can find a lab that still processes film. Sadly I got back into it too late for Kodachrome. I’d love to have shot some of that, for those amazing bold reds you’ll see in the works of Saul Leiter, Ernst Haas and Fred Herzog.

You may groan, but there’s a lot to be said for waiting until you’ve finished a roll to see what you’ve got, then going through the process of getting them scanned and put up on Flickr. It’s exciting in a way that digital often isn’t.

Yes, it may appear more expensive if you shoot a lot, but you have to take the cost of the camera into account, plus the ever-present push to upgrade. A £50 SLR, a £100 50mm F1.8 and a roll of whichever film you want to use. It leaves plenty of change for processing, batteries and more film.

On the other hand, I have hard drives full of files of digital photos that I’ll probably never publish –shots I’ve taken in the hope they might work out. They didn’t, but yet they still sit on a drive somewhere.

Vinyl

Yes, digital content is certainly convenient, but it’s easy and often forgettable as experiences go.

Sometimes things need to be a challenge, sometimes you need to spend time working out the kinks; sometimes you need to remember the journey there, not just arriving.

Music in 1991

I’m going to show my age now, but 30 years ago a raft of really important albums were released.

Music, like most forms of art, can transport us back to what was probably a simpler time and for me, 1991 was a much simpler time –apart from the existential horror that is puberty.

However, the grunge scene was starting to find its feet in the USA, pushing the hair-metal off to the side and giving us some astonishing albums to boot.

Temple of the Dog

In April 1991, Temple of the Dog’s self-titled and only album was released, seeing the late, great Chris Cornell join forces with the equally great Eddie Vedder, who would both have albums released later that year –Pearl Jam’s stunning “Ten” in August and Soundgarden’s “BadMotorFinger” in October.

Unfortunately I didn’t discover Temple of the Dog until much later in life –the only way to listen to anything that wasn’t mainstream in 1991 was to either take the chance on the cassette or CD, or hope to see it on Beavis & Butthead or Noisy Mothers in the early hours of the morning. We didn’t get the internet until the mid 90s and Napster didn’t arrive until the early 2000s. Even then it still took hours to download a single song.

What I did hear is Pearl Jam’s stunning debut album Ten, Nirvana’s Nevermind and in the metal sphere, Metallica’s self-titled “black” album. Truth be told, Guns & Roses was my gateway into hard rock and metal with Appetite for Destruction. My sister made a tape for me, with Appetite for Destruction on one side and Metallica on the other side, without telling me what was on side 2.

That would set me off on a path that shaped the rest of my life. My best mate would introduce me to Pantera, Fear Factory and a host of others and things just escalated from there really. Time spent learning the guitar and drums soon followed and well, that’s a story for another day.

In 1991 Use Your Illusion 1 and 2 were released, which would feature on 1991’s big blockbuster movie, Terminator 2.

This is just a handful, of course. There was also the Red Hot Chili Peppers “Blood Sugar” album; U2’s “Actung Baby”; Sepultura’s “Arise”; Ozzy Osborne’s “No More Tears”; PM Dawn’s “Of the heart”; Van Halen’s “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”; and many more.

Best of all, I still listen to a lot of these regularly, 30 years later. That’s the great thing about music. It is with you from one decade to the next and can transport you back to those simpler times at will. There may always be songs on heavy rotation at pivotal times in your life –for better or for worse. They’ll always be with you —providing you still have the CD.

May…

You may or may not have seen a little-known mini-series on the SciFi channel called The Langoliers. It was a TV adaptation of a Stephen King short story called Four Past Midnight.

Anyway, it tells the story of a disparate bunch of people who fall asleep on a plane ride and wake up to find that everyone else is gone. After a bit of detective work they discover that they’ve entered a rift in time and are a few minutes behind the rest of the world.

Well, that pretty much sums up my May anyway. Apart from the plane ride and the disparate bunch of people, obviously.

Lots happened, I think?

I reached the end of the month thinking it was all quite dull, but looking back it appears we had an election, a lot of rain and some new music to listen to.

126/365 - Civic Duty
Election day

This month we had the Senedd elections here in Wales, Scottish Parliament elections in Scotland along with mayoral and local elections in England. There wasn’t a lot of change for us, apart from the Ayn Rand enthusiasts losing their seats in the Welsh Parliament, so that’s good.

121/365 - More reading...
Reading material

I had a bit of a shopping spree this month. I picked up a few books to read –Michael Lewis’ “Boomerang”; Morgan Housel’s “The Psychology of Money”; and Scott Galloway’s “Post Corona”.

Michael Lewis’ book “The Big Short” was very entertaining, so I thought I’d try another. The other two popped up as recommendations, but the Scott Galloway book seems particularly relevant at the moment.

The Rains

123/365 - 'Spring' has encountered an error...

There was a lot of rain this month…so many of the photos I took had a certain look to them. That of overwhelming dampness.

I shouldn’t be too surprised, I am in Wales after all, but even so, on the back of a very dry April it is a bit of a shock to the system. It’s what the plants sorely needed though.

Fortunately I’ve grown to love shooting in the rain. The outside world becomes much more peaceful; there’s a lot more life in the woodland streams and the local industrial estate looks positively dystopian.

Music

Speaking of dystopia, Gary Numan released a new album this month. It’s called Intruder and it is excellent. Gary Numan’s work occupies that middle ground between riff-heavy industrial music created by the likes of Fear Factory, Die Krupps and Front Line Assembly and synth-pop like Chvrches. As I’m quite partial to both, it’s right up my street.

As we reached the end of May things started to brighten up. Temperatures rose to the high teens and early 20s just in time for the bank holiday.

I go into June feeling a need to re-set myself again. I’ve somehow lost sight of the plans that I had going into the month and have begun drifting again.

147/365 - Seen better days

I did take one positive step though –I’ve deactivated my Facebook account and removed the Facebook page for my other website. I’m trying to be more conscious of the time I’m spending online and aimlessly scrolling Facebook doesn’t seem like a particularly good use of it. Hardly anything I see in my news feed these days is from friends. It’s mostly ads…and clickbait that my friends have reacted to.

The next mission is to extract myself from Youtube and Twitter. Wish me luck…

121/365 - More reading...
All of May

A Perfect Circle – Disillusioned

A Perfect Circle were a band I regretfully failed to give a proper airing. They emerged in the early 2000s when “new metal” was starting to hit the mainstream. However, unlike a lot of other bands that were around at the time, A Perfect Circle seem to have aged far better than most.

This track is on their 2018 album “Eat the Elephant” and is a standout track in a largely solid album. Why I’m sharing it here is because the video is particularly relevant for the times we are living in.

Despite being more “connected” than ever, as a society we are arguably further apart than at any other time in my life. Pictures on a screen are not a substitute for a real connection.

Social media platforms may have started out as a means of connecting people, but they have gradually transitioned to an advertising platform that gets between you and the people in your life.

April…

April was an interesting month, for both good and not-so-good reasons. I had my first COVID-19 shot and even went to the dentist as well, so that’s good. There’s a reassuring hint of the normal life creeping back in.

With that said, there’s a lot about the past 12 months that I’d like to keep, but perhaps with a little less languishing and uncertainty.

Music…

This month I’ve rediscovered my long-forgotten Last.fm profile. As social networks go, one primarily focussed on discovering new music is one I can get behind. I’ve accumulated over 37,000 scrobbles on the site over the years, but this month saw a new entry in the form of Porcupine Tree.

A progressive rock band from Hertfordshire, England, it featured Steven Wilson on vocals and guitar, plus the excellent drummer and fellow Gavin, Gavin Harrison. I’ve picked up their last two albums (“In Absentia” and “Deadwing”) on CD and they’ve pretty much been on repeat for weeks. It’s a shame they decided to call it a day really.

097/365 - Sometimes days are like exposures....loooooong.

Vaccines

As mentioned earlier, there were a couple of milestones this month on the route back to normality. My first of two jabs happened a couple of weeks ago, giving me a bit of a sore arm but at least some partial protection from the virus that brought the whole world to a standstill a year ago.

There was also a dental checkup and a couple of trips into the office to add to the feelings of normality. However, before lockdown my main mission was to clear away the debt I’d built up over the years. I’m not proud to say there was quite a lot of it a few years ago and there has always been some since buying my first car at around 21 years of age, but after selling most of my worldly possessions and living on a very strict budget for a few years I cleared the last of it in May 2020. Yet, apart from a brief “yay” I never really acknowledged that fact. It just passed by, only to be replaced by the next problem or hurdle that lay before me.

It meant I was able to buy the camera I’m using for this project with my own money, which was a nice feeling, but I still feel like something is amiss. I feel the need to get my teeth into something new, but I don’t yet know what.

107/365 - A bug's life

Renewal

Spring has been taking its sweet time this year. There has been hints of change in the air since February, but the trees remained stubbornly bare and the forest floor was just as barren, but finally the forests are alive with the sounds, smells and colours of spring.

I’ve been keeping a really close eye on the garlic this year. Truth be told I’ve become a bit of a garlic-bore of late. I have many, many photos of Ramsons in various stages of growth cluttering up my photo library, but they’re now starting to flower and it’s probably time to stop…

112/365 - Held Two Ramson

As we head into May I have little sense of what is in store. Here in Wales we have a Senedd election coming up on the 6th May, but after that, who knows. In the meantime, here’s a slideshow of the month just gone. Now, on with May.

091/365 - "I