Ballad of a fallen salad

The Asda Prawn Layered Salad. I don’t know how healthy or not it is, and I don’t know whether it is the best of the Prawn Layered Salads offered by the various supermarkets. All I know is that the Asda variety got my vote as it is the only one which doesn’t contain bits of carrot.

It’s a small tub containing pasta shells, prawns, bits of cucumber and lettuce and a tomato which is usually softer than it should be, but provides one of the few occasions when I eat a tomato. The whole thing is topped by a savoury dressing, and a small plastic bag containing a folding spoon, which picks up far too much of the dressing when you have to fish it out and throw it away.

The great thing about this salad is that it goes with anything. Put it on a plate with a warmed-up sausage roll, quiche, or Quorn escalope, as I have been doing recently, and you have an easy-to-prepare and very satisfying meal.

At least that was the case. As of a few weeks ago, the words “improved recipe” appeared on the lid. An inspection of the contents shows that the pasta shells have been superseded by small pasta tubes. Having tried a couple of these since the change, I can also confirm that the tomato has gone missing. The new pasta is stickier and generally tasteless, the lettuce gets more and more disappointing, and as a whole it looks like a shadow of its former self. So much for “improved recipe” – there goes one of my staple weekly meals.

I suppose this means more visits to Morrisons to use their salad bar, but it’s a lottery whether they will have any of the bits that I like. Sainsbury’s and Waitrose seem obsessed with putting strings of spinach into most of their salad bar items, which puts me off.

Luckily for Asda, I am still too fond of their microwaveable packs of salmon or haddock to stop going there, and the fact that it is the nearest supermarket to me also works in its favour. But I feel like firing off an angry letter to their customer services to demand the return of the “classic” Prawn Layered Salad.

Adventures in home recording

I don’t want to write here about my “career” of songwriting and home recording – I covered that in a Myspace blog I wrote a couple of years ago, which is <<here>>.

This is just a plug for some of the home recording that I have been doing over the last week or so, now that my free time has given me the opportunity to properly investigate and learn the software I bought some time ago.

I only intend to record new material – there will be no going back to the songs I wrote 20 years ago. It is only recently that I have even begun to compose new songs, and so far all of them are instrumentals. This at least means that the output won’t be ruined by my non-existent singing voice (and sometimes cringe-making lyrics!). I know that I’m no virtuoso on any instrument, in fact I’m barely competent on anything, but I do my best!

My first effort was a recording of a piece called “Upstream”. This project took off when I discovered the “delay” effect which gave the guitar part that ringing, echoing sound. I’m rather pleased with my drumming on this track, considering I have hardly touched the Yamaha DD-11 in 20 years. I cheated by recording the bass drum separately from the rest of the drum part, but it’s all played live – no pre-set rhythm track. I also had to quickly re-learn the bass guitar, which I again have barely played in years.

Anyway, here is “Upstream”:

The second project is a little tune called “Sunshine” which I wrote over Christmas. I’ve already posted solo acoustic versions of this, but I wanted to add an arrangement around it. The first problem is actually playing the guitar piece through without major mistakes – which is something I have rarely, if ever done, so far. The main guitar part on this version is constructed from around six takes. The percussion gives it a bit of a Latin feel, I think – again this was all played live and not a pre-set rhythm!

Here is the latest mix of “Sunshine”:

Any comments or criticisms on the tracks would be welcomed!

My recording studio

Independence Daze

“I can’t stand up and I can’t sit down ‘cos a great big problem stopped me in my tracks
I can’t relax ‘cos I haven’t done a thing and I can’t do a thing ‘cos I can’t relax”
(Independence Day -The Comsat Angels)

It all sounded so good in my head when I was daydreaming at my desk, contemplating life after the office. I imagined days of relaxing in the garden with books and music. Endless hours of free time to practice the guitar. Time to catch up with the many hours of recorded TV as yet unwatched, and the growing pile of still-unopened DVDs, not to mention watching again the best of a collection which, if translated into VHS tapes, might rival the size of the Bob Monkhouse archive. Days when I would just get in the car and take off somewhere, and yes, days when I would knuckle down and tackle the exercise of thoroughly cleaning, decluttering and rationalising every room in the house.

More than a month into my unemployment and I’m starting to wonder what I was thinking. The dream of freedom has turned into a world of bewildering possibilities, each one shouting into my head at the same time until I hardly know which way to turn. That is, of course, once routine chores have already taken their chunk out of the day, and not forgetting the passages of time which fly past in an instant when sat at the computer.

I get to lunchtime and wonder exactly what I have been doing with myself since breakfast. I might have read a few pages of whichever book I am currently reading, picked up the guitar for five minutes, made cups of tea or been shopping, but it all seems like marking time. Rarely have I felt a sense of achievement, or considered myself to have made genuine inroads into my long to-do list. Each room displays vivid reminders of what I haven’t yet done. Neither do I feel in any way relaxed, or have a sense of enjoying my freedom.

Then there is the issue of job-hunting. I have no pressing need to look for another job straight away, but the knowledge that I will have to find one some day looms large in my head. Thus I have already started searching, and once that process has started it is difficult not to see it as a full-time occupation in itself.

Perhaps finding a job sooner rather than later would be for the best. It would take away from me the responsibility of having to organise every day by myself, and push my personal time back to the margins of the evenings and weekends where it lived quite happily before, knowing its limitations.

But maybe just being able to express my frustrations on paper like this will help me to understand the issues. Organising my thoughts coherently could be the first step towards organising my days. Thus, one of the things I should certainly set aside some time for each day is writing.

I’m pretty sure I have no inclination to write fiction, so this writing will probably take the form of essays on whichever subject takes my mind. Whether anybody will want to read them is another matter, but I plan to post them here anyway!

Farewell To The Shade

“The poplars are felled, farewell to the shade”
(The Poplar Field, William Cowper)

February 2010

They weren’t poplars, in fact I didn’t know that they were called “Trees of Heaven” until the man from Tree Fella gave me an estimate on removing them. But the two Ailanthus trees that had stood guard in front of my house since before I moved in 18 years ago are now gone too.

They should never have been there in the first place. Planted by the council along with several others 20 years ago, they were the wrong type of tree to be growing so near to houses, given their potentially huge size and extensive root system. Builders must have earned a fair trade rebuilding the front porches of homes in this street over the years, mine was one of them two years ago.

July 2010

The issue of my trees possibly causing damage to surrounding properties was brought to my attention by a neighbour last year, after he had been in consultation with a surveyor. What bugs me, though, is that both in 2002 and 2008 surveys were done on my property, commissioned by the insurance company after I had reported the cracks in my front porch. Neither survey made any reference to the trees, even though I made a point of asking whether they were the problem.

In 2003 a pointless “semi-rebuild” of the lower half of the porch was done, which started cracking again almost before the builders had driven away. In 2009 the porch was demolished and rebuilt on new foundations , but even the new porch has several hairline cracks appearing now.

Maybe the felling of the trees will prevent any further damage to my house. I won’t miss the hours spent in autumn sweeping up the fallen twigs and leaves, and trying to stuff them into a wheelie bin that is too small. Perhaps my energy bills will be reduced by the fact that natural light can now reach my front bedroom and living room.

I will miss the trees, however. I’ll miss the distinction they gave my property, the pleasing sight of driving into my turning and seeing the two biggest trees in the street sitting in my front garden. I’ll miss the dappled light effect they created when the evening summer sun filtered through, and the sense of seclusion they fostered when in full bloom. And of course, the shade.

It’s not the only loss I have faced recently – I took voluntary redundancy from my job of 23 years in April. Likewise I am missing the shade and seclusion from the real world that my unremarkable job provided, but maybe I now have a clearer view of all that is out there, and natural light can now shine into my existence. And just as new, less destructive trees can be planted in the garden, perhaps the seeds of a new beginning are ready to grow in my life.

Last sunset on the trees, 25th April 2011