A Window into the Future

A Window into the Future
Ashley Road, Bristol – Age 29

This entry is taken from a work in progress collection of memoirs:

The old Cybertown welcome banner

During the period of Spring to Summer 2001, I had become well ensconced in web-culture. I’d learnt a lot of new computer skills by virtue of being generally addicted to being on the web most of the time.
This had been fine by me, I’d been made redundant from my call centre battery-hen job, working for B.T, the prospect of getting lost in some other low skilled, mind-numbing role held little appeal to me.

I’d been doing call centre work for a couple years, which had felt like a small eternity.
Instead, I celebrated my freedom to have no agenda other than get up in the morning, sit at my computer and (to my mind) learn some valuable new skills for the coming millennium.

As I didn’t have sufficient finances to go out and meet up with actual normal people, the web became an easy portal to talk with strangers, especially ones who shared my technological and musical interests. With hindsight, this was both a good and bad thing, but more on that in another entry!

Someone (probably Dave) introduced me to a new browser based experience called Cybertown. This was, at the time, a revolutionary glimpse of the future of the web.
Cybertown offered simple citizen accounts allowing users to log in, choose a 3D avatar, then choose a 3D location to talk with other users in.
When I say talk, I mean, there was a window showing a virtual world and played somewhat like a game, minus guns, violence and beneath it was a chat window where users could type messenger style to each other, which was then converted into a strange robotic voice which resembled what I would have imagined the late professor Stephen Hawking would have sounded like, if someone had slipped him a Mickey.
Under the hood of all this 3D content was a computer language called VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language) I won’t bore you with the techie stuff, but it wasn’t a million miles away from the script that runs all web pages, it was just that this one had 3D space programmed into the code.

Given the state of connectivity and download speeds of the era, Cybertown was by modern standards a fairly low-res affair, prone to the occasional crash as servers overheated due to its massive popularity with geeks and other net-newbies wanting a piece of the cutting edge. Upon reflection, this was my first experience of social media before the term had been coined.

I wasn’t content with just visiting. I made it a mission to learn how to make my own chat environments and content. The main tool for achieving this was probably the worst software title to ever grace the world of apps; Spazz 3D, It had to be an American software developer, someone who’d never watched Blue Peter or been present in a 1980’s UK school playground.
Shitty title aside, once I’d learnt how to get around its UI and manipulate objects, I began a feverish spell of generating content for 3D web. My designs had the added benefit of being something I could bolt onto my website, so for a year or two, hiab-x.com contained quite a bit of my technological imagination in the form of models and environments that allowed for interaction and communication.

I wrote in a diary at the time “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life”
It is now the year 2020, my Oculus Quest wireless VR headset has conjured up the same kind of excitement that I felt nearly twenty years ago. I cannot deny that I recently said to my wife, “This is how I want to spend the rest of my creative life” It’s impossible for me to not draw parallels

Rewinding back to 2001, It transpired that I had become something of a visionary champion of flogging dead horses.
For example, I pitched the idea of The Sandman VR to Neil Gaiman, who was doing a book signing tour for his new book American Gods and happened to be in Bristol. He seemed to like the idea, but mentioned that as he didn’t own the rights to his own work The Sandman, I was better off pitching it to the owners, who were DC Vertigo comics. He gave me an industry contact to get in touch with, which I did, but found that there was little interest in developing it further. The web was still quite a niche market and I don’t think that Vertigo could see a suitable way of developing one of their top-selling titles into a ‘Chat room?’ This was partly where my pitch had failed, I had the models, I had an environment or two but how did this make use of the story? Cosmetically, it was good, from a functionality perspective, it was ill-conceived. VRML wasn’t sophisticated enough to tell stories in a meaningful way. I had some notion that events could be organised where particular key characters from the anthology could make an appearance as a for of fan service, beyond this, i didn’t really have a clue as to how the idea could sustain itself.

My next project was making 3D musical chat environments inspired by the band The Shamen. On a plus side, they’d waxed lyrical about the future of VR and the web, so seemed likely to embrace some bespoke content that might underline their psychedelic visionary ideas. On the downside, the band had just announced their retirement, which meant as far as anything new was concerned, music or otherwise…nothing was going to happen. NOTHING!

Animated Shamen virtual record sleeves with musical remix abilities.

This was a pity, as I’d made some interactive musical objects based on some of their records, these were translucent cubes which had animated versions of their sleeve art. When the user rotated the boxes in various directions, it would allow the song to play different sections in a crude kind of virtual dj remix. I made a chat space inspired by the art for the track Boss Drum, which really pushed the boat out in terms of being a fairly faithful version of the original artwork, moving around in the space allowed a visitor to remix by simply being in various locations within that space. It was all quite pointless given that nobody was going to get me to develop it further. Band break-ups tend to dampen all enthusiasm for reprisals in any form, especially when the time frame from disbandment can be measured in months. At the time of writing in 2020, I still think that the ideas I explored would have been fully suitable for use on their website Nemeton.com, It was unfortunately a case of the right idea at precisely the wrong time.

Look at the lovely speedboat you could’ve won.

I decided to try another avenue of fandom tie-ins. I created some content for the TV series Twin Peaks. I really enjoyed recreating locations as seen in the series. The only problem here, was that it had ended on a sour note for its creators; David Lynch and Mark Frost, who saw their show pulled after two seasons in 1991.

The room above the convenience store
No actors lost revenue in the making of this scene.

I don’t remember how, but I somehow got into dialogue with a budding new film director called Eli Roth*, who was interested in my work and said that he’d show it to David Lynch. I pitched Twin Peaks VR* in an email conversation with Eli, who in turn took it to Lynch, who apparently had zero interest in the project.

[Don’t bother trying to type the URL, it has been dead for a long time]

By the time I got to 2002, having had several bubbles popped, I began withdrawing from attempts to pitch VRML content to people I admired. Every door I knocked on seemed nonplussed by my offerings. I piddled around with a few of my own creations for entertainment purposes but found that the combination of rejections, a limited technological audience, limited technology etc just took the proverbial wind out of my sails.

VRML slowly died a death over the next couple of years*. It didn’t catch on or evolve, setting it up for inexperienced computer users was a perpetual headache. Cybertown saw its user population slowly decrease, by the mid-naughties, web 3D content barely had anything resembling a pulse.

I’ve been inspired to write about these past creative cup-de-sacs now as I’ve witnessed a new technological wave begin to swell in the digisphere. Having recently acquired the Oculus Quest VR headset, I’ve witnessed first-hand, a recalibration of old ideas resurface and present themselves as just the sorts of things that my younger twenty eight year old self was dreaming of. I knew that this day would come but I had no idea what technology would enable it.

The Shamen never reformed

Twin Peaks VR became salt on an old wound because the creators of the show somehow managed to revive their old series and in doing so, generated enough fan interest in its new incarnation that some software was released and it was called ‘Twin Peaks VR’, which allows VR users to enter locations from the show in virtual reality and play a game based on the narrative surounding it.

*Eli Roth went on to be an infamous film director for movies such as Cabin Fever and Hostel.

**VRML -Died a death, transforming into a newer format called Web3D, which also never caught on.

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics have yet to debut as any kind of virtual reality project, though I note that in the modern age, the parent company have outsourced a few of their I.P’s to software developers, who in turn have begun delivering immersive, story-driven VR content such as Batman Arkham VR. It is quite conceivable that one day, VR users will be able to enter the ‘Virtual Dreaming’ because the tech has found a respectable sweet-spot where immersive experiences are achievable within the digital domain.

The most modern equivalent of Cybertown is now a platform known as AltspaceVR. Headset owners can now occupy a virtual meeting space and see each other’s avatars as they did before, but now with this wonderful technology, have the sense of presence when interacting with each other, because In VR, If someone from Scotland is talking with you to your left, whilst someone from New York is part of the conversation and in front of you, simplified avatars aside, this feels like a genuine human to human interaction, to a point where you forget that you are looking at a headset embedded screen. My younger self would have been delighted.

As for me in the present?

Well, I have the hardware necessary for VR immersion. I have yet to nail down the path In which I can begin creating and sharing content again. A strong contender for an all-in-one package would be Media Molecule’s marvellous Dreams software, which debuted on the PS4 earlier this year. I’m still ver much at the beginner stage of skills in using it and am keenly awaiting its much anticipated VR capabilities to be launched; Due July 22nd 2020.

Lesson’s learnt from past misadventures means that I’ll be very sure to avoid working on any creative project that isn’t inspired by my own imagination, even if I get a tempting idea about developing someone else’s creations. It just isn’t worth the investments of time and effort. Fortunately, I’ve built up a legacy of my own creations to draw upon. Preliminary experiments in VR have proven to be a blast. Recently, I found a sketch in the back of a diary from around the time I was teaching myself VRML. The sketch was a doodle, but I liked it enough to cut it off the piece of paper it was drawn on and stick it in the back of my book as part of a bank of undeveloped ideas.

Recently, I recreated the sketch in some excellent software called SculptVR. This allowed me to make a 3D model of the sketch with the unexpected benefit of being able to treat the model as a kind of environment that I could then wander around and explore. The power of VR is that it can allow an artist to do this. You can fashion an object, which may have elements that could translate into a kind of scene or environment. You can then shrink yourself down to a minuscule size, which in turn makes your creation become unbelievably massive. This allows a user to be able to sculpt or illustrate at a microscopic scale, even if that hadn’t been the original intention.

To me, this sets a standard for an infinite potential for future artworks. What would the great artistic masters have created if they’d had access to such tools?! The time for a reimagining of what art, sculpture and music can be is finally here.

The time is now.

Website Coma

Uh, wassat? How long have I been out?

I know, I know, the last entry was a maudlin meditation on the death of an admired one, then silence.

The truth is, my website has been put at the back of the queue as far as creative output goes. There’s a new lady in town, her name is ‘Day One App’

I’ve been having an affair with it while neglecting to add reflections and news on these pages. Guilty! The thing is, just because there is no news, it doesn’t mean that there is no news

2020 has got off to a racy start of my own creativity. I use Day One to compile and collate many previous works in terms of journal entries, autobiographical gap-filling reflections of the life I’ve lived, dreams dreamt, people, places. The project of digitising old battered diaries has been quite an adventure and I’ve barely made a dent in transcribing the volumes and tomes.

And for what reason? I think it has partly been a growing sense that life is short and uncertain, if my writings and works form part of a creative legacy, then how would I like it to be presented when It gets handed over to my daughter or other friends and family members? The original works are fairly fragile, the grammar in places was terrible, the art has faded etc.

I admired the small series of web-documentaries called “Everything is a remix”. The title alone got me thinking of remixing my own works and to try and consolidate them into a central chunky narrative. I also thought of the time I used to lose when I was a Windows 98 user, attempting to breathe life into my spluttering machine. I’d run a script called ‘Defragmentation’ and watch the visual representation of the computer reshuffling its hard drive contents into some form of order. This project has been the human attempt at performing the same task with my own mind.

Day One App is a marvellous bit of journalling software, I’ll link it below. I’ve been using it since September 2017. I was on holiday taking a much-needed break. During the brief and beautiful period of having nothing to do and nowhere to go, I decided to take up an old habit and start journaling again. Thanks to the multitude of distractions that the web had provided in terms of blogging and social media, I’d dropped out of keeping a written record of my life events and feelings sometime in early 2004. Given that from 2004 onwards, the best years of my life had begun, I had a growing sense of shame that I’d never stopped to write about them. So at some future point, I intend to put this historic wrong to right and compile them into a retrospective journal.

This is all very well for you, the reader of the blog, you’ll probably never get to see any of what I’m describing? What? You think I should share it online? Give it all up for the great algorithm? Come on! I have got some dignity.

At best, I may select certain entries and artworks and ‘might’ post edited versions here.

Well, there is a middle ground…

Earlier this month (Feb 20) I decided to take a small break from the practice of mental defragging , I decided to get my head around some other new software called ‘Affinity designer‘. A very splendid company called Serif have decided to take on the digitally ancient company Adobe, and offer software that not only competes with the likes of Photoshop and Illustrator, it also offers a very attractive point of entry pricing model which confidently urinates all over the Adobe cloud-based pricing plan.

Like many digital artists out there, I create for the pleasure of art. “Art for art’s sake” I haven’t attempted to sell any of my works for a long time, so It seemed like a kick in the balls when Creative Cloud was unleashed into the world and Adobe wanted at least £20+ per month for the privilege of using its software. The team at Serif clearly found this an objectionable business model too and decided to take on the Adobe behemoth with their own alternatives. Cue Affinity Photo/Designer and Publisher. All three programs offer similar functionality with a superb interface, brilliant tools, cross-program compatibility and (Cherry on top) a one-off flat fee for the experience. Their pricing is very reasonable, to me, switching over to the Serif way of doing things seemed a ‘no-brainer’ I’m delighted with the software and what It can do.

During the last couple of weeks I’ve put some of my fairly limited break time into learning Affinity Designer and have fallen in love with what it allows me to do. I’ve returned to the slowly simmering Umpquamadic Peel project as it suits the software perfectly (or is it the other way around?)

I’m delighted with the results, which is a point of creative glee for me personally, as I know I haven’t fully tapped into the power of the software yet.

One suspects that they know how you feel…” – Lord Pointy Head

Keeping things creative, I’ve also spent a combination of Birthday and Christmas money given to me by my mother, on a bloody brilliant little device called an Instax SP-3. (Thanks Mum!)

The device prints slightly smaller than Polaroid format, Polaroid-style photographs. During the history of my dreaming, I’ve often dreamt of taking photos in my dreams of subconscious weirdness that has caught my eye. I’ve lost count of the mornings I’d woken up with an instant disappointment that photos taken in dreamland have stayed in dreamland. I’ve ended up resorting to recreating what I’d seen using photo editing software, then making a digital dream photo. All very well, but a jpeg is a jpeg, It looks nice on screen, but like a dream-photo, it doesn’t necessarily exist.

The Instax SP-3 has helped me overcome the problem with something tangible. I can now print dream photographs and the format more or less makes the imagery seem a little more credible.

Photographs taken in Dreamland.

There is a grander vision to all of this, but If I told you what it was, I’d have to kill you. Given the limited readership this blog receives, I’m afraid that this is where we have to leave things for today. No, I don’t blog often, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not doing things in Actual Reality. The most faithful of my subscribers here will eventually benefit from the fruits of my everso secret projects…you are just having to sit it out while I focus on ‘the long game’


Affinity Software

Day One App https://dayoneapp.com

Everything is a Remix

Instax SP-3

Node 303

I have to be careful how I word the following entry as I would like to talk about what I’m up to creatively but not give away too much at the same time. So, expect cryptic but no spoilers.

Node 303: It’s the working title of a gradually evolving assembly of audio works I create on a day to day basis in my very limited free time. Often, it will begin on my commute, stop when I reach work, resume during my tea and lunch breaks, then continue on my ride back home.

I’ve been noodling away at audio production for a few years now. If you follow what I do via this blog or my other channels, I know it would seem like I produce little and infrequently. This isn’t actually the case at all. I’m just the kind of individual who likes to keep my creative cards close to my chest, especially while I consider myself to still be in a state of research and development or learning.

As the lights of civilisation have slowly been flickering out over the last few years, for example: the rise of ugly nationalism in various countries, the apparent political cluster-fucks of Brexit and the horrendous catastrophe that is the Trump administration, Syria, a dying biosphere etc etc, I have found at times that my creativity has suffered from a slump, particularly in making music.

I recognised that this wasn’t a mentally healthy state to be in so, as mentioned before in an earlier post, I’ve either jumped onto technical problem solving such as working out how other artists do certain things, or I’ve switched to avenues such as writing or playing with graphics as ‘gap fillers’ until I get into a better frame of mind.

Something I had always shied away from was the use of my voice. I’ve no vocal training, have never thought of myself as a singer or song writer. As I love music, and have learnt how to make my own, it always felt like a chink in my metaphoric armour.

Over the last few months, I’ve had a happy accident in my creativity, I’ve begun taking elements from certain journals that I’ve written, recording my reading of my works, then adding a soundtrack that I’ve created. I found that even though the vocals are spoken, they have served very well to act as a skeleton on which to hang the flesh of rhythm, melody and various other sonic embellishments. So far so good…

All works to date can be considered as part of a larger body of work that will eventually be grouped together as a collection called ‘Node 303’ I’d like to think that this will be an indefinitely ongoing project while I’m alive.

It may take a few more months before I share what I’ve begun creating, but I’m excited by what I’ve produced so far, even though I know when the time comes to unify the various strands, I will need to add a lot of polish to the current collection of vignettes.

There are other plus points to this current paradigm of working. The music that forms the soundtracks is personally satisfying for me to listen to, If I mute the vocal elements, I find that everything else has a certain musical flow that I’m happy with. Not necessarily following the structure of a song: opening, verse, chorus, middle eight etc but as a soundtrack, the music has a logic to it. In this light, I may well use the soundtracks as another creative point to spring from. (I said that I’d have to be cryptic, didn’t I.)

At the conclusion of this brief update, I’ve told you ‘all and nothing’ at the same time, which in turn gives me a sense of success in achieving my slippery aims as stated at the start of the post. 

As an aside:

I’ve only a limited number of subscribers to my blog here, at the time of all the GDPR mayhem, I abstained from pinging out yet another mail asking you to consent and change your privacy settings, however, I did enable some extra privacy functionality to this website to allow users to manage privacy, should anyone wish to do something out of character and actually leave a comment beneath a post. If you no longer wish to receive copies of the infrequent blog entries such as this one, just click the ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom of the mail. There won’t be any hard feelings if you do, I’m very much at ease with being unpopular on the web. If you don’t change anything, well, st some point soon, you’ll probably get a mail with a link to something weird and musical…

Umpsquamadic Vector

I stumbled into generating Scalable Vector Graphics by accident as I was experimenting with the Wacom pen.
I began with an app called ‘Assembly’ and it turned out that using fingers was more effective anyhow. I’ve spent most of my breaks this week having a go at making a test Umpsquamadic Peel image.

This took a bit of time and developed into the following graphic

Just for shits’n giggles. I’m encouraged that the digital files are so easy to manipulate and add quick variations to.
In Assembly, certain limitations became apparent. The repetition of dots around the perimeter involved a lot of copy/paste operations and scaling down. The end result being an object of somewhere around one thousand components. The iPad seemed to deal with this fairly well, however, once I’d attempted to duplicate the object within Assembly, adding another thousand or so components, the device went painfully slow, clearly suffering from insufficient RAM . Once again, the case for upgrading hardware becomes a consideration.

Saturday became a day of creative exploration in the visual domain. I carried on with experimental imagery based upon the fateful day in 1992 using a collection of graphics programs mainly for the iPad. These had been apps that I’d previously downloaded but found little in the way of use for as I had no particular plan in mind. Today however, I went to town messing around with all of them (as they suggest and link to each other) the following images are from those experiments.

As it turns out, I can produce artwork on the fly and quickly. Yes, it’s a little rough around the edges but I’m rediscovering how to express imagery that has been kicking around in the back of my brain for years. I think the digital medium is an excellent way of expressing it. I tried with pen and ink back in the 90’s.

Back then it was the best I could do, and as any artist will agree, when a person has a photographic image in their head, although traditional mediums are a useful way of expressing the seed idea, there is always a compromise that the image is an approximation of the idea, rather than a vivid capture of what is seen in the mind’s eye.


Umpsquamadic Peel Song: Pt 2

Umpsquamadic Peel Song: Pt 2

Last night I put guitar practice aside to nudge the Umpsquamadic Peel song along a bit further.

I lined up four vocal variations of me singing the song as an overdub, in Logic. I then experimented with some plug-ins for vocal transformation, space designer (reverb) I was particularly pleased with the vocal transform as it managed to create a female tone amongst the masculine ones.
At some point during the noodling, I added another distortion effect to make the piece a little less human sounding. It worked very well but at the cost of losing the female sounding voicing . I’m not 100% committed to using this experiment in the final piece but it has emboldened me to know that I’m now getting better at taking sounds from my mind and have a basic enough knowledge to do a fairly accurate reproduction of them.

I took the loop I’d created and dropped it into the project ‘Walk of fear’ (working title) I was pleasantly surprised that it fit the composition without my need to time stretch or chop up in anyway. So now I know that the Umpsquamadic Peels sing somewhere around 110bpm

It occurred to me whilst singing the loop , that I could add a variation. It’s a gut feeling that my idea is faithful to the nature of the incident.
I’m thinking of a line that goes:

I’ve always known I’ve felt like this before, and I always knew that I was born before.

Two before’s …I might have to think about tweaking the first line.

(Later )

During the day I had a play around with the Umpsquamadic vocal track combining it with a copy of the ‘Walk of fear ‘ track. Rhythmically, they don’t quite line up and I’m going to have to resolve this somehow without compromising either in a significant way. It’s only the last two bars that present the issue.

When I got home I played around with a couple of other connected ideas belonging to the overall arc of what will he the entire piece. Firstly I recorded a paragraph of dialogue along the lines of

“There is a word. If you find yourself in a terrible place and you are no longer able to cope, if the world becomes mad and you need a way out, then say _________ and an exit will appear”

I inserted a high pitch tone into the blank space, added some vocal butchery to the dialogue and found that the result was a pleasing approximation of this baffling memory.

I played it back to Tanya later and she immediately picked up on errors in delivery and cadence, giving me some tips on how to deliver the vocal more commandingly. This was useful to know, besides, this recorded dialogue was only an experiment.

Down the studio later, I spent around twenty minutes recording another element I’ll refer to here as ‘supersonic bionic
A weird memory of an acid drenched flight of fancy, the amuse bouche before the main course of horror.

Back From the Dead

Shucks. Does anyone still visit? Well, I’ve reconciled a difficult issue I felt myself facing whenever I’ve updated this blog, namely age+experience+doubts=No posting

Age: Less need for having my ego fed by having a ‘Look at me’ website

Experience: The recognition that the web has mutated into a deformed monster version of its sweet little baby younger self, it is angry, full of wicked lies and crooks. If I have a personal blog, how do I know that it won’t be used against me? 

Doubts: Who gives a monkeys if I blog and have a website?

No posts: see above.

Yet I pay for my domain name every year. Well, that’s stupid If I’m not doing anything with it.

Solution: I’ve been keeping journals again using a fabulous app called ‘Day One‘ I admit that I love it as it helps organise my thoughts. I’ve subdivided the journal into Life, Dreams, Questions asked by users of (and answered by me) on Quora. Lastly, a creative journal.

In the case of the later, I’ve found that it helps and motivates me to keep a track of what I do, why I do it and how i do it. I began to think, this journal in particular would be a candidate for blogging. In this spirit, I will copy entries from my personal journal and post them here on my site for my ever invisible, somewhat limited audience. Having said that, as my SEO metadata may be picked up by search engines and attract new viewers. If what I’m doing interests you or if you feel that I could be doing it better and you know how I could, then I will always welcome correspondence from interested, creative parties.



Winter Is Coming…

Here’s an update of sorts. Busy seems to remain the flavour of this part of life’s seasons. So, being rather ensconced in my career as I am, I still fill the pockets of free time that I can snatch, with musical creativity. I compose tunes in break times, always gunning for a development in my style and ability to arrange. An hour a night at meddling with my electric guitar is starting to pay off. I’ve been (according to my Instagram page) been practicing for thirty seven weeks. That’s two hundred and fifty nine hours based upon my hour a day regimen. “The path is long” as I’ve been told, I can believe it, but on the whole as each week passes, I gain a little confidence and have found on certain occasions, I have a magic hour where my hands seem to intuitively glide around the fretboard and satisfying metallic shreds occur. Given a little more time, I’ll post something for your anonymous curiosity.

Halloween 2015 has just passed. It got me thinking that I should mark the occasion in some way so I delved into my music files and dug up the first piece of music I created back in 2013. I added a simple visual from the opening sequence of Halloween 3 (An old horror favourite) and uploaded it to Youtube. The piece, as with most of my noodlings, is thought of as a work in progress, as I intend to return to it at some future point and flesh it out a little more. It was always intended to be a track with spoken narrative, mainly inspired by the Bauhaus  tracks ‘Departure’ and ‘Of Lillies and Remains’

In the mean time, I’m refining my ability to 1. Play the guitar parts myself. 2. Develop the guitar melody so that it builds and evolves more throughout the track. That said, I’m still pleased that this first version was the main reason I began this musical adventure, I found that I’d proved an old daydream to be something that would eventually find some substance. So, here’s ‘The Summoning’ a working title that may become something else eventually.

As mentioned, life is busy and it seems all available space is filled perpetually. I’m working in Bristol currently, helping restore an old Victorian hospital so that wealthy people can live there in luxury apartments. There’s a certain irony that the site is immediately adjacent to a massive, crammed block of flats inhabited mainly by the impoverished. As a partial remedy to this juxtaposition of fortunes, a new building is due to be erected that will serve as a visual barrier between to the two classes. One can almost imagine the kind of neighbourly dynamic that may present itself if civilisation reaches the kind of societal boiling point that it sometimes seems we are heading into.

I’ve digressed, what I had intended to mention is that my wife has provided me with access to her Audible – audio books account and recommended gems within. Whilst I perform architectural conservation tasks by numbers, my mind and ears are often operating in a different sphere altogether. Recently I have listened to a magnificent anthology of spooky stories by John Connolly called ‘Night Music -Nocturnes Volume 2’

I’d adored his earlier book ‘The Book of Lost Things’ and subsequently found that the aforementioned audio book was equally, if not more gripping that the previous offering. I highly recommend it and the narration is superb. I found particular delight in a section of stories around the middle of the recording under the heading ‘The Fractured Atlas’ If like me, you enjoy the spooky old yarns of M.R James, H.P Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, then you’ll find your spine suitably tingled by these stories.

Available here.

The next audio book I listened to was ‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett. A most enchanting love story about two people, Jim and Eva who meet in Cambridge during the nineteen fifties. One of the things I really loved about this beautifully written story was, the way the narrative branched out into different timelines, allowing pivotal plot points to unfold in entirely different directions to each other. It digs deep into the questions I think all of us sometimes wonder “What if I’d chosen to _________ (Insert hypothetical tangent universe question here) Instead of _____________ ? (What you actually did here) What you are left with is a rich tapestry of three vivid narratives of the same couple living their lives through seven decades with all the love, heartbreaks and loss in three entirely different universes to each other. The book saves the reader from the complications of  the ‘why?’, it isn’t necessary. Each story is so luminous with believable characters, dialogue and situations, one just easily accepts the three versions of events as they unfold. It also made me snivel repeatedly during solitary moments on my scaffolding, I don’t mind admitting it.

Available here

Once I’d regained my manly composure, I moved on to Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. In a strangely similar vein to The Versions of Us, this story follows the multiple lives and deaths of Ursula Todd, beginning in the early 1900’s. A very effective plot device takes the reader/listener through a fractal maze of the protagonist’s existence as she lives the same life over and over again branching off at various narrative points to discover the paths that never were or what might have been. She never fully recognises all the other versions of herself that had been before and we never really need to know why. In an age where concepts like the Multiverse and Parallel Universes are fairly well understood constructs, I think Atkinson makes the assumption that the reader will bear these things in mind whilst enjoying the stories. Once again, I was entranced by the richness of the narrative and the growing beauty of the characters as they are slowly revealed throughout their various subtle iterations. As the story takes place over several decades and passes through the Spanish Flu pandemic and two world wars, it creates an often harrowing account of life in both Germany and Britain, particularly during the later war, where we see through the eyes of Ursula as a young woman and consequently see the carnage from an adult perspective. It is both a wonderful story and history lesson.

Available here.

By now, I’ve learnt to carry robust tissues in my pocket whilst listening to these stories. It is a credit to the authors, and narrators that they can reduce a man to a snivelling wreck when he should be focussing on the job at hand.

Listening to the last two stories prompted me to think about life’s ‘What if?’ a little, quickly realising the futility of such lines of enquiry. It did make me ponder however, the recognition  of the transient nature of things and people; our lives in general. I thought of the passage of time and that curious knowledge that comes with having lived a few decades, that there are people you know, that you meet up with for one last time without either party realising that you will probably never see each other again in this life. School friends, ex lovers, occasional family members. Its a funny thing, you say  your goodbyes in such a casual manner, perhaps even say something like ‘see you soon’ and then it never happens. Its like a little death of sorts and I have pondered if we would all act very differently if we were armed with the knowledge of these fateful last encounters?

And then there are those you know you’ll never see again if you can help it, and you’re glad. Good riddance you fucker!

It’s a funny thing, this life…

Said to nobody in particular.


RADIO HIAB-X 2013: Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality 2013 from hiabex303 on 8tracks Radio.

Two thousand and thirteen had its own musical flavour, I seemed to gravitate towards electronic grooves and music that, in my mind, would be the perfect soundtrack for floating around in Virtual Reality to. My enthusiasm for the Oculus Rift VR headset was constantly in the back of my mind, perhaps because I’ve been keen as a gamer to see a true paradigm shift away from monitors and screens into a realm of infinite creative possibilities, something totally immersive. The music from that I discovered in this year stoked my imagination. Enjoy this mix.

HIAB-X Headquarters.

I’ve tried a couple of times to write about how I spent the majority of my free time during the last six months of last year. It was the reason blogging and much of my other digital activity fell into a deep and procrastination-free coma.  Rather than post out of date info that was sketchy at best, I’ve just decided to write a new post and start over.

As a little bit of background, here’s how the project began. In 2007 when my career path took a U-turn and ventured into the world of stone masonry, my wife and I had also just been through a year  of minor upheaval as we’d decided that rather than moving house, we would refurbish our existing abode and extend it. Our original plan was to add some extra room onto our kitchen by buying a small plot of our neighbour’s garden that was immediately adjacent to it. When this didn’t go through, we decided instead to buy two wooden cabins to use as extended spaces away from the main property. A ‘his’n hers’ kind of arrangement of outbuildings, If you like.

Time passed and the buildings became functional, I used mine as a workshop for man jobs, and because the cabin was a respectable size with two small annex rooms, we put in a sofa bed, should we need to put up guests. It was an ok setup, damp and cold in the winter. I never felt satisfied that as a usable space, that it worked as well as I wanted it to.

In the meanwhile, my career in stone masonry fully blossomed and the cabin became a place I infrequently visited. Sometime earlier last year, It occurred to me that both cabins would benefit from some retrofitted internal insulation. The materials were ordered, arranged to be delivered at a future date after I’d had time to prepare the spaces, then promptly delivered on the non agreed date one week after ordering. A large palette of styrene backed plaster board, probably twenty large sheets of the stuff arrived one rainy Friday afternoon. Plasterboard doesn’t do rain very well, so I was forced to throw my plans out of the proverbial window and fill my cabin as quickly as possible with the sheets of board, I hadn’t been in a position to clear the place out and now I was filling it up, and taking up half of the available floor space in the process.

What do you do? Well, due to the unpredictable British climate and the desire to not have to keep shifting twenty sheets of giant plasterboard back and forth between cabin and garden, I decided to start work by working around it. “It’ll take a couple of weekends” I told myself, and the gods of D.I.Y had a good laugh.

A couple of months later both cabins were insulated.

So, close to tears, sitting in the chaotic midden of quadruple handled personal belongings plonked over to one side of my cabin, I began thinking. It had been my intention to return to business as usual, I had a work bench area in the main room and a designated guest area in one of the smaller rooms. At the time, I was considering how to decorate over the plasterboard to give the spaces a more welcoming finish for both myself and a wouldbe guest. In addition to that, I’d spent much of last year feeling frustrated that my artistic creativity had been the victim of ‘too much going on’ and no appropriate space to occupy, where my creative juices could flourish. You see, on any given week day evening or weekend, when not working down the cabin, I’d fallen into a trap of sitting at my kitchen table and zoning out in front of my computer. We live in a small terraced cottage, each room is functional but there isn’t a suitable room to bang on a stereo and get out the creative arsenal without encroaching on someone else’s plans for vegging out at the end of the day. I’d long accepted this, but felt creative inertia chewing away at my soul like an angry malnourished rat.

Sitting in my personal midden, an idea popped up rather innocently…”What if, I shifted my work bench over to the small guest area, and what if I turned the main room into a more comfortable recreational area?” followed by “What if, that area was decorated to look a little ‘Bohemian’?”  At the time, I’d recently seen an image on Tumblr that I’d felt a wistful bit of affection for:


Although not entirely to my tastes, it seemed like the person whose room this was, had made themselves a little nest of comforts and stimulations that harkened back to another era. I liked that, and the seeds were sewn in my own imagination. I set to work moving my work bench, then cursing the fact that, having built plasterboard insulation around it, I now had a bloody great gap to sort out, which I did.

The following months saw a flurry of intense activity during my evenings and weekends, sometimes that activity just involved going down the cabin and taking a perch then staring intently into the contents of my own skull. I was working out problems, imagining things that hadn’t materialised yet, just basically building the space in my own mind. I’d come to the conclusion that I’d borrow from earlier ideas I’d tried out in my early twenties, where I’d cheered up dismal bedsits with strategically placed Indian bed sheets to hide flaking, lumpen ceilings and cracked plaster walls.

My wife had been banned from entering the cabin since about June, I’d sold her the idea of there now being a second living room, come reading room, and I wanted her to see the final product without worrying about the gigantic mess leading up to it. During my working days on a large construction site, I’d noted that a fair amount of useable timber was being skipped; off cuts from roof joists and the like, so began rescuing bits and pieces to recycle and repurpose them. My original idea had been to make storage using old scaffold boards, but with my bohemian direction starting to take shape, the idea upgraded to using joist offcuts to fashion shelves that would start in one room, turn corners and continue into another room. Silly ideas began floating up.

  • It needed flocked, damask wallpaper.
  • It needed skirting board
  • It needed to have a bank of shelving areas to store various house cluttering artefacts, like ornaments, movies and books.
  • It needed to look fucking cool with some alternative lighting methods…just in case the need to dance around should occur.
  • It needed a much comfier and welcoming sofa bed than the shitty Ikea one I’d kept down there.
  • OK, the cabin needed to be multi functional because of the above and more.

These aims and ambitions kept me busy all the way through until December the 31st, by which point, if it hadn’t been the Christmas break, I’d have seriously burnt myself out. It’s pretty hard being a stonemason by day and an interior mover and shaker at any other given moment of free time.

Finishing touches and a grand scale tidy up took place and completed around five p.m on New Years Eve 2013, later that evening I escorted my wife down the garden to see the fruits of my labours over the last six months. I must admit, I felt very uneasy about the prospect as her former banishment from entering the cabin had potentially conjured up ideas of some kind of palatial den, that may or may not have lived up to expectation.

She was thoroughly delighted with her visit, so much so, we spent the rest of the evening celebrating in there. You know you’ve done a good job when your wife is happy to spend her evening in the shed!

Slideshow of the cabin so far: Hover over an image to skip back and forth.

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As it stands, the cabin will remain a work in progress, it needs to be lived in and added to, I may well add images of its development here as I go along. Needless to say, it’s now a great little place to be creative, or just read and listen to music.






I turned 42 a few days ago. As birthday’s go, it was quite unremarkable from the point of view of opting to go to work, the usual wakeup start of 6 a.m, then a day spent in the cold, doing my usual stonemasonry routine in a nine hour day. I had a celebratory meal with my family after work (which was lovely) then came home and the day was just as good as over. It added a sharp contrast to my 41st, which was spent lounging around in the beautiful Caribbean sun of Grenada, I have now vowed to myself that I won’t do a working day on my 43rd, 44th etc. I felt quite flat.

Entering 42 has been a poignant experience lurking in the back of my mind, mainly because it has provided me with a little opportunity to dwell on the numbers involved. It caused me to reflect on ‘halves’, specifically half of my lifetime, twenty one years ago.

At 21 in 1992 I’d just moved to Bristol, having left the comfort zone of my familiar home county in Norfolk. It had been a massive step in my independence as a young man, no longer reliant on the familiar faces and locations I had always known as home. It was a leap into the unknown and uncertainty. I took the move in a brazen spirit, it felt a little risky and dangerous, I won’t deny that deep in my heart I felt the call of adventure and the unknown variables just meant excitement to me.

Historically, twenty one years ago was a pivotal junction in my life, the choices I made in relocation became life changing circumstances which echoed on to present day. I live in Bath now, having spent eleven years in Bristol. Those years, upon reflection were like a burning forge for fashioning the man I would eventually become. I won’t deny that they were emotionally incredibly difficult years in the most part, much of my life in Bristol became a stormy season of letting go of ‘kidulthood’ even though I wasn’t aware of this at the time. I’d wrestled with myself and my often complicated emotions throughout the most of it. I generally don’t look at my ‘twenty something’ years with much affection, I was lost, directionless, emotionally lonely, acutely aware of being in a boat without a rudder and terrified of what that actually meant in the long run. At the same time, the connections I had made with new friends had helped me through the most difficult of those times, I will always be grateful to those who cared.

By the time I reached my thirties, I felt a great relief, It seemed that the most desolate and difficult emotions had passed. Life still seemed difficult but I felt that I’d survived a lot of the shit I had either put myself through or been put through. This gave me a core of resilience, I knew I had it, and it pleased me to know I could survive. Is that how one starts to grow up?

I’m quickly heading into the tenth anniversary of meeting the lady who is now my wife, this adds another contrast for processing half of what happened over the course of twenty one years ago. She has been the greatest personal catalyst I have ever known, my lover and my best friend.

Becoming 42, has been a ponderous experience because of the above reasons. I know that I have lived my whole life all over again since being 21. In turn, the memory of my twenty one year old self has been akin to remembering being a child; something I could never have anticipated feeling. Unlike the string of small recollections I have about being an infant, the memory of who I was as a younger man, seems very fresh, as if two decades worth of living feel like something that happened last year. It makes me feel a kind of emotional vertigo.

It’s easy to imagine further down the line, advice I would have given my younger self, changes I might have made to do things differently, but, I don’t really go too far into those thoughts because I’m mostly happy with who I am and how life has changed for the better. Remembering half a lifetime ago is bittersweet, of course there are things I would do differently if I could do them all again, yet at the same time I’m very aware that my greatest mistakes and challenges have also been my greatest teachers, and now I’m old enough to appreciate such an insight. Isn’t this a case of Ouroboros eating its own tail?


*Hat worn like a lemon for artistic purposes