Monday, 30 January 2012
Black Currents EP
Given my comments on last Monday's gig, it will come as no surprise that I'm delighted by Rachel Sermanni's new EP that was released on iTunes today (and physically next Monday).
What is a little surprising is that of the four tracks, the one I could take or leave is the title track. But the other three are breathtaking.
In particular I love Song to a Fox, which talks of a fox dancing along the railway line after the "London train has passed". Its ethereal production sends me back to my first experience riding the Caledonian Sleeper through the snowy Highlands.
The songs on the EP are rather melancholic, but there's an exuberance waiting to burst forth (just see what the band got up to after Monday's gig). I look forward to more.
Photograph: Rachel Sermanni playing at Solas 2011.
Saturday, 28 January 2012
Severn Tunnel Junction → Severn Beach
The definitive moment on today's walk came eight miles from the start. Here, on the M48 bridge over the River Wye, we passed into England and finished our 850 mile walk around Wales, completing the first of the three countries of the British Mainland.
The "Welcome to England" sign on the motorway is a further two miles to the east, but the observant walker will notice a bollard by the side of the road that says "WA" on the Welsh side and "GL" for Gloucestershire on the English side.
This boundary is in the middle of the Wye Bridge, the westernmost (and lesser known) part of the 1966 Severn Crossing.
Routes across the Severn and Wye were the central theme of this walk. The most downstream crossing is the Second Severn Crossing, which assumed responsibility for the M4 on its construction in 1996, demoting the 1966 bridge. The walk began near one end of this new bridge and finished close to the other.
Shortly after passing under the second crossing we reached the village of Sudbrook. Here a pumping station works continuously to extract water from an underground spring that would otherwise inundate the nineteenth century railway tunnel.
East of Sudbrook the path was easy to follow, primarily because of the frequent brand new way marks bearing the symbol of the Wales Coast Path. More will no doubt be erected elsewhere in the country as the 5 May launch date approaches.
Beyond the village, we bade farewell to the formal coast path and headed up to the motorway, Wye and Severn bridges. And so we crossed the confluence of two of the daughters of Pumlumon. Once in England we took another detour - to the viewpoint beside the old Severn View service station. Ultimately the view was disappointing, and I wouldn't suggest the detour is worthwhile.
Heading downstream once more we passed Old and New Passage, the English embarkation points for the pre-bridge ferries. But I don't remember much about them; my chief memories of this section relate to walking as fast as possible in order to catch our scheduled train home and being frightened when three horses, who had been walking inquisitively beside us on Northwick Warren, took off at full speed along the embankment before running back towards us.
We finally reached the English shaft of the tunnel, passed under the approach viaduct of the Second Crossing and a mile later reached our destination with two minutes to spare.
So Wales is complete. Focus now turns to England, and when that is complete in two years' time, Scotland.
Monday, 23 January 2012
One of the last acts performing at Solas last year was Rachel Sermanni, a young solo acoustic performer whose spirit and songwriting captivated the audience. A month or so after the festival we got hold of her "first" debut EP, "The Bothy Sessions" which promptly became a firm favourite. Next weekend she is launching another EP, "Black Currents" which is also being touted as her debut.
Tonight Rachel was the support act in the Union Chapel, this time playing with an eight-piece band. How could we not go along?
The venue was filled with continental voices, waiting for the Spanish headliner Russian Red, but I suspect a fair few were won over by Rachel and the band's dynamic set. Three fiddles, a double bass, keyboard, guitar and two percussionists added depth and texture. The set drew from both EPs, with a few unreleased songs thrown in for good measure. Even then some songs we heard at Solas were missing - this is an artist with a repertoire ready for releasing on a full length album.
Rachel Sermanni's been getting an increasing amount of radio play in recent months. I hope this is a sign that we will all be hearing a lot more of her in the future.
Saturday, 14 January 2012
Newport → Severn Tunnel Junction
My first coast walk of 2012 started with a flight. I've long put off doing this walk, hoping that I could arrange to do it on a day when the high-level walkway of the Transporter Bridge is open to the public. Plans for this year are to do so on 3 June and 31 August - both after the official opening of the Wales Coast Path, which is my self-imposed deadline for finishing the country.
With that in mind, I decided to cross the river in the bridge's gondola, which is suspended just above the surface of the River Usk, hanging from a sled that runs on rails below the walkway.
The ride was amazingly smooth. I barely noticed the motion start, although admittedly there was a clunk when we reached the far side.
Newport doesn't know what to do with this bridge. "We've never turned a profit," the attendant told me. "Haven't had a car yet today." (This much was evident from the untouched frost on the wooden deck). "But we've recently been taken over by a different part of the council - one the looks after tourism - and the boss there wants to open the walkway year round."
This seems to be the key. Cars have to pay to cross, so typically use the free bridge just upstream instead. Pedestrians are free. It's amazing to think the bridge generates any income at all. But if I'd been able to use the walkway this morning I'd have gladly paid £5 to do so.
Newport is very proud of the bridge. And so it should be; she's a graceful centenarian, one of just two in the UK, and the longest of the dozen or so remaining worldwide. Here's hoping they come to realise its potential and keep it going another hundred years.
Back to the walking! A new permissive path took me through grazing on the east side of the Usk, avoiding a few miles of country lane. A power station stands guard at the river mouth; in its shadow, the Newport Wetlands National Nature Reserve.
On the far side of the reserve, polite signs directed me inland away from the sea wall and I picked up peaceful paths fringing the salt marsh.
I didn't walk all the way down to the sea wall at Goldcliff, but suspect that would've been a good option. There's no right of way marked on my map west of the road, but I could see people walking that stretch, and when the footpath that had taken me across further pastures (complete with newborn lambs already!) joined the sea bank there was nothing to deter those keen to head towards Goldcliff.
The remainder of the walk was on the sea bank. A cold wind picked up and sent the sun scurrying behind the clouds. It was a long, lonely walk to Rogiet Moor although the view across the Severn and ahead to the bridges never got tiring. England is very close now.
At Rogiet the military firing range was active, blocking further progress on the sea wall. I'd intended to stop here anyway to walk inland to the railway station at Severn Tunnel Junction. As it turned out, the path around the range goes almost as far as the station itself so it will be from here that I pick up the next - and possibly final - stretch in Wales.
Thursday, 12 January 2012
The most interesting book I read last year was written in Haitian Creole.
(Read phonetically and interpret what you say as French, or rollover for English.)
"IMAJINE OU LEVE DEMEN EPI MIZIK DISPARET"
[12 Janvye 2010] se te yon sware kote mwen tapral konprann vrè sans fraz sa-a paske mwen pat santi'm te ka ni chante ni tande mizik e sitou pa gen mwayen pou yon moun te tande mizik. Trajedi sila te ede'm konprann tou ke moun pa anyen e ke ou dwe pwofite tan ke ou genyen pou ou viv la paske ou pa janm konnen kilè wap mouri.
"Imagine you wake up tomorrow and all music has disappeared."
[12 January 2010] is the night when I came to understand the true meaning of that sentence because I didn't feel like I could sing nor listen to any music and there was no way to get access to any music. Music had ended. Disappeared. This tragedy made me come to the understanding that we human beings are nothing and that we should make good use of our time because we do not know when we are going to die.
Imajine is a first-hand account from the heart of Port-au-Prince in Haiti. It's compelling and heartbreaking. I thoroughly recommend it as an alternative narrative on living through a national emergency.
Monday, 9 January 2012
For a good year or so my laptop has been suffering from insomnia. Every now and then, for no apparent reason it'll wake itself up. It might be lying undisturbed on the desk, or it might be in the bag on my back. This is not good, especially in the latter case when it typically doesn't fall asleep, but instead runs the battery flat.
You can find out why your Mac wakes up by typing the following command in Terminal:
$ grep "Wake reason" /var/log/kernel.log | last
Jan 5 19:56:53 fowey kernel: Wake reason: EC LID0 FRWR
There'll be one line of output for each time the laptop's awakened recently. The LID0 indicates that it woke because it thought the laptop had been opened.
In my case I think the lid sensor is defunct — perhaps the magnet that activates it has come out of alignment somehow.
Rather than take it in for service, it's possible to disable the "wake-on-lid-open" feature.
First, check that the feature is indeed enabled:
$ pmset -g | grep lidwake
The 1 indicates it's enabled; a 0 would indicate disabled.
Now change the setting:
$ sudo pmset -a lidwake 0
The prompt should return without further output, but if you repeat the above check, you should see the setting has taken.
Now opening the lid won't wake the laptop, but key press or mouse move will. Excellent, sleep-enhanced nights all round.
Friday, 6 January 2012
Do you recognise the rightmost thing in this picture? Yes, it's a mobile phone. Top marks if you identified it as the Nokia Lumia 800 running Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. Now how about the thing on the left? Maybe you know it's a floppy disk, but how many people under the age of twenty have ever seen or used one?
I had to undertake some serious attic archeology to find the floppy. I think I last used one in about 1995. The BBC wrote an obituary for floppies almost ten years ago, and Sony (who invented the technology) stopped manufacturing them last year.
So why is there a picture of a floppy on the mobile phone screen? Why does Microsoft think that a depiction of this antiquated media is a suitable mnemonic for "Save" in their 21st century mobile phone operating system? They chose an X for cancel; would a tick mark for "OK" have been too obvious? It isn't the case of one app doing something odd; the floppy disk is in Microsoft's recommended guidelines.
This is just one example of the muddled design of Windows Phone 7. Here's another.
Each Windows Phone has a dedicated Search button decorated with a looking glass picture. This always takes the user directly to the Bing search engine online. Microsoft recommend an identical picture for any application-specific search feature, so users end up seeing two looking glasses, each performing a different action. There's also no way to search across all apps in the phone. Don't press that search button in the hope to find a friend's phone number. You need to pick the People app first.
After using it for a month, my opinion is that Windows Phone 7 is a beautiful operating system. There are a few touches that make Apple's iOS look a little dated. But it's in need of a critical, uniform design review if it is to stay at the front of the pack. It needs to shake off the feel of a system designed by programmers who've read up on typography.
Sunday, 1 January 2012
We walked more "new" miles along the coast than in any other year; at 435 miles, the total for 2011 was actually greater than the combined totals for 2007-2010 and pushed over 400 miles for the first time. We also managed to complete a coast walk each calendar month, something I've been wanting to do almost as long as I've been on this journey.
What was the secret? We had a plan.
February 2014 will be the fifteenth anniversary of my first setting out to walk the coastline of Great Britain. I hope by then to have completed two of the three constituent countries, leaving only Scotland.
In 2011 the aim was to complete Wales and the north west coast of England. We didn't quite manage that so we're already about six walks behind. Progress to date is shown in purple on the map on the left below.
2013 has us striking north from The Wash, across the Humber, Tees, Tyne and Tweed before finally crossing the border into Scotland beyond Berwick (orange).
Will you consider joining us on some of these walks?
This year I'm particularly interested in company for the three thousandth mile, which is likely to be sometime in the Autumn. There will be other events to celebrate too, not least joining up the west and south coasts at Land's End sometime in the summer.
Now that I've shared the plan, I hope I can stick to it. But if events conspire to make that impossible, I can always postpone the "end of England" celebrations another five years.
Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011