On Thursday I posted episode twelve of our podcast Crudely Drawn Swords
and it is going pretty well so far. We've now got a handle on the game we're playing and I feel as though we've managed to create a fun balance between ridiculous antics and grand adventure.
The great thing is that we've got a lot of really good feedback, people who aren't familiar with this style of podcast are surprised how enjoyable it is listening to other people playing a game. People who have listened to a few Actual Play shows think we're up to standard - obviously I am biased, but I would say we're as good as any I've heard, with the exception of Friends At The Table
which transcends game podcasting altogether to just be the best thing one could possibly listen to. We're not there yet, but its nice to have a target. When I'm editing I often find myself crying with laughter at the quality of the ridiculousness on display. It turns out that the theory that if you have a collection of sufficiently funny and imaginative people that matters more than the structure they are working in, is pretty much right. So far a little over 500 people have listened to episode one and although that trails off somewhat, in the next couple of days we'll top 2000 total listens. That is approximately two thousand hours of our antics being listened to.
I have had to teach myself to process and edit voice recordings, to arrange strings and use linux midi tools ( which I've got better at as we've gone on, so I'll probably have to revisit the original theme ) in addition to getting better at running the game. As you might expect, hearing every word you say repeatedly is a good way to refine your storytelling and to pick up on every irritating mannerism.
So if you haven't given it a listen yet, I can confidently say that the first season will reward you, but if you want a more competent jumping-on point Season 2 will start in a couple of weeks. You can listen on Soundcloud
or just search for "Crudely Drawn Swords" on iTunes or your podcast client of choice and we should turn up. The only proviso is that it's perhaps a little bit sweary and disreputable for the kids. That aside, it is our attempt to bring joy to everyone.
This weekend has been another clinic with Jeff Sanders
, which has been pretty amazing. The thing about Jeff is that he builds you up from the start towards work that is at least equivalent to high school, and talks about it like it is just bread and butter riding. And the thing is, that to him it really is. That is a pretty inspiring environment to be working in - admittedly most of what we were actually working on was shoulder in/out ( mostly on four-tracks, like Gueriniere intended ), travers, renvers and then working onto half-pass and rollbacks. Everything is working towards flexibility and collection and also towards subtle riding - Jeff characterised me at the last clinic as suffering from "hand tourettes" and I've been working on trying to do less with my hands, which is paying off gradually but I still need to do less.
Jeff is very big on working in the bosal and Iris never seemed to like that, shaking her head and losing focus when wearing it, so I have barely used it. Jeff was suggesting that it might be easier to move forward with that than the snaffle - he doesn't use a snaffle bit at all with most horses - and I was keen to try so we spent our session this afternoon trying to get her more used to it. Jeff looked at how she responded, retied my mecate so there was a bit more length on the knot end and it wasn't tickling her chin. With this done Iris was quite happy with it, which is pretty great and I don't know if it would ever have occurred to me that this was the problem. So maybe Iris will make it as a hackamore horse after all.
Just like last time, I feel very inspired and immensely proud of my horse who was exemplary throughout. Iris is teaching me so much and with the expert guidance of brilliant human teachers it feels like we could achieve anything*.
*Except a nice peaceful trail ride, which is apparently beyond the limits possibility.
Obviously the next thing that happened was that I got hit by what was probably this winter's flu and spent two days in bed unable to move, which was tiresome and painful. This morning I woke up and the fever seems to have broken so I'm mostly just contending with the mother of all sore throats. It's not great, but it's better than I have been.
While my brain was cooking with fever it was trying to create a weird conflation of magic and data processing where it could file away aspects of things to create... something? So a person or their place in a story would be defined by a the way these aspects were slotted together. This was also to do with magic and also a literal filing system, one of which probably comes from watching Once Upon A Time
and the other from... I don't actually know. But every time I closed my eyes for the last two days my brain was back to obsessively filing aspects or deriving them or creating them and putting them in their drawers so I thought I'd note it down. Maybe I'll have a use for this information later, or maybe I'll just look back on it and think "oh yeah, brains are weird
when you cook them."
The title of this post harks back to a previous one
which is, in itself, quite weird. I don't feel like I have been using LJ for more than a quarter of my life, but there it is.
This is the last day of my thirties and I have to say, I have come out of it richer than I went into it. Chatting with one of my colleagues about this I realised I have been a ninja, a cowboy, a rock guitarist and a wizard in the last ten years. So at the very least my twelve-year-old self could be well content with my achievements.
I have also been divorced, found true love, travelled to the far side of the world, made new friends, played interesting music and enjoyed a lot of fine stories along the way.
I am taking the next few days off work and plan to dedicate them to a) not putting any pressure on myself of any kind and b) deciding what I'm going to do with the next part of my life. Obviously in a way where I ensure that b
doesn't conflict with a
there. We'll see how that works out. Either way, I have a herecirm
with me now, which makes everything better, and she's taking time out from work as well, so whatever we do will be together.
Perhaps slightly less than six years ago, after some kind of conversation that might have taken place on LiveJournal I made an exchange agreement with skiesfirepaved
( who you might know better as herecirm
these days ) where we each agreed to send one another a playlist of songs. Both being music obsessives of different - but related - streaks, this seemed like a great way to hear some interesting songs and if I am open in my feelings now in a way I wasn't then, I can certainly say that I wanted to get to know her better. I listened to the music she sent me a lot and it made me very happy. Happier than I had been in a long time. Today I was reminded of one of the songs that I sent to her, which comes from one of my favourite albums by one of my favourite songwriters. It is fair to say that the chorus of this with its "you don't know how precious you are" may have carried a hint of the future about it then, but still rings true now. No matter how absolutely I express how much I treasure her, it feels like no more than a drop in the ocean.
A month in and I'm really happy with how the podcast
is going - we have racked up a couple of hundred listens already - in fact at the time of writing 149 people have listened to Episode 1. That's a tiny bit amazing considering we have only really promoted it to friends and acquaintances. We've also got a lot of really positive feedback from people who experienced the actual lols from listening to it, which I can get behind as I often find myself giggling when I'm editing. Until I have to edit out my 1000th "Um... Er... Sooo..." of course, at which point I pretty much just want to gaffa tape my mouth up for being so damn stupid.
I've also set up a Tumblr for it
, though I don't know how much use it will see. If we ever get any fan art through I will be the happiest, though I think we'll need to rack up a hundred times as many listeners before that becomes a likelihood...
I am terribly close to being forty, my friends. Not quite yogurt-in-the-fridge close yet, but within a week or two I will be.
I don't know if this is related to having an idea of turning my life upside-down, but it may not be unrelated. I think the other part was some of the inspiration I got from riding with Jeff Sanders in December, which really got me thinking about where I want to go with my horsemanship and with my life if I am not to spend my last days looking back on what I might have done if I had only applied myself a little more.
One thing I discovered, whilst having these thoughts, was that this course exists
and that if I wanted to do a taught postgraduate equine course in this country it is about my only option. The idea got its hooks in me and after speaking with the member of staff who looks after it, we decided to go and visit Aberystwyth and see what we thought of the place.
The first thing I noticed is that it is far away - even if not far in distance it is not quick travelling, once you get away from the south coast of Wales there aren't any dual carriageways and even if Google hadn't sent us down a dramatic single-track road through the mountains ( THANKS GOOGLE ) instead of on the relatively broad and easy A-road, it would have taken a long time to get from Newport to Aber.
We visited the University and I got a guided tour showing some of the facilities and talking through what the course consists of and whether I would be suitable for it. There is a lot of biology there- if you look at the course modules through that link, you'll see that a lot of it relates to fairly low level function and I would have to really up my game in that respect. I planned to study biology when I left sixth-form college but I realised at the last moment that I wouldn't enjoy it so I changed my course to philosophy. At that time I didn't have enough passion to balance out the parts I found boring, but I think horses have stoked that fire sufficiently that I would be able to push through and at the end of it I would have a much more comprehensive understanding of equines and how they work. Of course my real and deep interest is behavioural, but that is also the part I have the strongest grasp of and I think it would really be a case of bringing the rest of my knowledge up to that standard.
I would also come out with a lot of contacts around the industry and a good qualification from a well regarded university as a basis for moving from a profitable career with computers to an almost-certainly less profitable but more rewarding career with horses.
Aberystwyth itself is a nice town and I could see us being happy there- Sari and I have talked of relocating to Wales often and I expect it will happen sooner or later - but I did feel the distance from home. That said I live less than four miles from my parents now and I might well see them more if we were on the far side of the country just because I am bad at dropping by and visiting with people and my time is always full.
It would have been easy if the course overview had either been completely offputting or fired me up entirely, but of course life is seldom that simple ( and I am very rarely fired up entirely for any reason these days ) so I still have a decision to make.
It is really a two-part decision, maybe three-part:
1. Do I want to change everything, move elsewhere and begin a different kind of life?
2. If so, do I want to do it by enrolling on an MSc, moving to mid Wales and spending two years studying there?
3. If so, what do I plan to do at the end of it? Or do I just keep my eyes out for opportunity and see what the things I learn and the people I meet can take me towards?
There is also a diverging path - if I want to change my life, is this course the right way to do it? Could I move into a different direction- spend the money and time on learning in another way, work towards another qualification or move in a more entrepreneurial direction?
It is good to have so many opportunities, but it is also daunting and hard to know which direction to go. I'd be interested to hear from any of you who has done a course like this- or just gone back to university as a middle-aged mature student - how you feel it worked out.
It has already been a bitter year for iconic heroes of the arts and it has left me thinking a lot about the music I grew up with.
I was never a great Bowie fan- I only own a couple of "best-of" albums - but I grew up listening to bands who grew up on Bowie. His influence was absolutely pervasive. It is also undeniable that he was responsible for some of the greatest pop songs ever recorded - I cannot think of any song that could get close to Life On Mars as a contender for greatest pop song ever. He had a brilliance for tunes, a great voice that showed us that one could sing rock with an English accent and a knack for finding amazing musicians to collaborate with throughout his career. That's without even thinking about his impact on fashion, art, cinema, video games - he was an explosion of ideas that touched every part of our culture, particularly in the early seventies when ( by all accounts ) we really needed it.
The other thing is that he was able to do this because of when he was alive. He was, as his friend sang, a twentieth century boy and his art defined the last third of the century. David Bowie lived at the only time that he could possibly have been David Bowie.
Now that he is gone, we have not only lost his bright light in the world, we are also seeing the passing of that age. The music I grew up with was powerful, but it was on the cusp, becoming a reflection of what had gone before - Zeppelin and Sabbath powered the Grunge scene, The Kinks, the Beatles and Bowie were fossil fuel that Britpop burned. As the nineties ended bands were looking back to New Wave and the early eighties followed by an interminable eighties revival which may be petering out at last- I didn't really listen to eighties music at the time and when I did get into music it felt like that was everything the music I enjoyed was a reaction against, so I never came to like it.
The feeling I get now is that music is recycling. The best modern artists are creating music that is heavy with references to the past, that looks backwards rather than forwards. It is hard to be clear about this because music has been inextricably wound into my life and I have gradually gained context as time has gone by so I can see more than I ever did, but it feels to me as though pop ( in which I include all it's genres and subgenres ) has simply run out of places to go. I couldn't say when that boundary was crossed - probably the last truly new sound to appear was that of electronic dance music and the way that started to cross over into rock around the time of Madchester. Since then - which encompasses the entire part of my life when I have cared about music - there have only been iterative changes. Different tunes, different arrangments. Play a little slower and it's a new subgenre, play it a little faster and it's a new subgenre, but nothing that feels different and new.
Technology has changed us- we can now make any sound that can be imagined, but it turns out that only a few sounds actually appeal to our ears. We're still playing the same scales, the same twelve semitones, the same three or four beat rhythms.
David Bowie worked in the brief period when music was available to everybody, but in order to listen to it someone had to pay for it- whether it was you or the radio station you were listening to. Now music can be propagated endlessly at effectively no cost, something which has been strongly pushed for by the network providers who spend a lot on lobbying against copyright. The idea that it should be given away for free is deeply embedded in the generations who grew up with the internet and that means that it is now exceedingly hard to make a living as a musician and almost impossible to become rich as one. With a diminishing pool of people who can afford to be professional musicians there will be less room for invention and exploration. Bands don't have a shelf-life in the way that they once did - record labels can't afford to finance a career so you get an album, maybe two or three and you're done. The opportunities to grow and change within the music industry are far more limited.
A consequence of this is that the people who pay for music are my generation and older and we get more backward looking music because we are already past our prime and looking for things that comfort us and remind us of when we were young and responsibility-free. Consequently the greatly reduced finances in the music industry go to encourage backward-looking music. If you wanted to make forward-looking music you would need to be appealing to a generation who don't see a need to pay for it and making any kind of living from doing that would be challenging at best. You'd be better off doing lets-plays.
I suppose I don't have a strong point to make here, except that pop music is rapidly becoming ( or has become? ) a legacy genre and that it leaves me wondering whether the all-consuming passion for music that I experienced will be far less available for young people in the future and whether that even matters. I don't see where music has left to go. Of course as a middle-aged white man I'm not supposed to know what the future of music is, perhaps it is already happening in sweaty clubs across the cities of Britain, or Mali or Indonesia. Still it is sad to see that the great beast music, who carried us so far in my lifetime, is emaciated, stumbling and losing its pace. A time will come when there is nothing but the empty plain where those of us who recall it can look back across its bones and listen to the whispers of its legacy. Humans have always needed music and I think we always will, it speaks to us in a very fundamental way. But I think the great flowering of recorded popular music is over. When I was young, jazz was old people's music- it belonged to my granny's generation. As I get older, I realise that pop is going the same way, but I can't see anything on the horizon of the rock and roll that will overwhelm it and take its place.
David Bowie is dead, popular music is slowly wasting away and it feels like that is the passing of the age that I belong to as well.
A few years back I got a new phone which, unlike it's predecessor, did not pack with a built in radio. Consequently I needed to find something else to listen to and I ended up listening to a bunch of podcasts. Being a massive geek, some of the ones that appealed to me most were just people sitting in a room playing tabletop games - I really enjoy the combination of humour and storytelling, the way that a roll of the dice or a random comment can totally change the direction of the narrative. My favourites so far have been Critical Hit
and more recently the truly brilliant Friends at the Table
which hits all the right spots for me. Over the last few years I have listened to a lot of dice rolls.
Of course, being one of nature's original copyists, I couldn't just leave it at that so, taking the path of least resistance, I got together with a bunch of my most ridiculous friends and we set about recording something along the same lines. As we have a few episodes ready to go, I figured that New Years Day 2016 was as good a place as any to start publishing them, so if you want to hear our adventures begin, they are here: Crudely Drawn Swords
or if you have an RSS client ( as most podcast clients are ) there is an RSS feed
. We should be popping up on ITunes soon too.
It's quite silly, a bit sweary ( because we have doveston
on our team ) and I think it works pretty well. Given that it's something pointless that we're giving away for free, I'm surprisingly proud of it.
Rode a clinic with Jeff Sanders
last weekend, another of the top trainers I really wanted to ride with and I may be only bumbling around the borders of being a horseman, but I will allow that I am well advised in the people I ride with because Jeff is an extraordinary horseman both in his expertise and his willingness to openly share an approach that has been a guarded secret over many generations. I came away pleased with Iris and with the work we had begun to build up and very much inspired about our future direction. A really good weekend. If you are involved in horses at all and you get the chance to watch one of Jeff's clinics I heartily recommend it. Really good stuff.