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Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Ben Harris" journal:
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Sing to me, all you voices of doom.|
This year, for the first time, I went to the Wave-Gotik-Treffen in Leipzig. Clare and David have been going for years, but this year they managed to persuade several friends to join them, and thus last Wednesday evening eight of use caught the daily direct train from Cambridge to Harwich International. Five trains, one ferry, and an unexpected pizza in Berlin later, we were in Leipzig.
As might be expected, a group of eight people couldn't agree on anything much, so we started to do different things pretty much as soon as we left Leipzig Hauptbahnhof. I'll use first-person plural pronouns to refer to whatever group I was in at the time without trying to remember who that was.
We arrived in Leipzig on Thursay evening, and on Friday morning converted our tickets into the wristbands that would keep us entertained for the next few days. The first entertainment they provided was a trip to the Museum der bildenden Künste, where I was entranced by something orange, amused by drinking vessels, and awed by a statue of Beethoven.
Our first musical entertainment was Jordan Reyne, with guitar and loop machines, stompy boots and horns. "Of course, he wasn't a gentleman, or I wouldn't have written a song about him." After Jordan's set, I took a tram full of goths (free with a WGT wristband) to the main festival site in the south of the city. I had intended to see Bergtatt in the Heidnisches Dorf, but I was confused both by the timetable and the layout of the site and ended up having dinner outside the Agra before going in for the last two bands of the evening. Deine Lakaien were the only real disappointment of the weekend for me: their music didn't really work in the cavernous hall of the Agra, and technical problems with the singer's monitor didn't help. Eisbrecher on the other hand were great fun, but it says something that I can't remember a single one of their songs.
On Saturday, we got up slightly early for a trip to the Grassi Museums, of which I chose to visit the Musical Instrument Museum first. It was full of instruments, some sensible and many utterly ludicrous. I now know what a glass harmonica looks like and how a clavichord works.
After the museums, we wandered over to Sixtina, an absinthe bar that puts on bands in its courtyard in the afternoons of WGT when little else is happening. There we saw molllust and heard their rather marvellous kind of "opera metal". They were hampered only slightly by the need for the guitarist to change the batteries in the singer's radio transmitter mid-song, a feat that earned him a round of applause. Next up were Eigensinn, a much more conventional but very entertaining metal band.
I knew how I wanted to end my Saturday evening, but was at a bit of a loose end at the start, so I followed Clare over to the Stadtbad for The Present Moment. They were about as uninteresting as I expected, but the building was quite interesting and they passed the time until I left for Ashes You Leave at the Schauspielhaus. They were much more my cup of tea, even if they did lead me to suspect that "acoustic" means "without a drummer".
One of the first things I'd worked out about my schedule for WGT was that Saturday evening was likely to end with Substaat and Ari Mason. Thus I found myself over at Moritzbastei watching the locals watching the goths and waiting for Clare to turn up for moral support. The room felt fairly crowded, but we had no difficulty getting to a good position and Substaat turned out to be precisely the bouncy Norwegian synthpop I'd been hoping for.
Ari Mason was my favourite new discovery while sampling this year's WGT bands, with twiddly sythensizers and softly interesting vocals. WGT was to be only her second show as a singer, so I wasn't sure how it would go, or whether she'd be scared off. I needn't have worried: she was fine, if slightly larger in real life than on my computer. After the show I acquired myself a T-shirt -- the only band merchandise I acquired all weekend.
Sunday began with a (relatively) early morning trip to the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, a huge modernist monument to a 19th-century battle, enhanced on this occasion by a choir performing in the singers' gallery. A staircase winds its way to the top, first spiralling up a wall, and then threading up through the thickness of the dome. The view from the top gave Clare an opportunity to point out various other WGT venues we might go to.
My original plan for Sunday's music had been quite simple, involving a run of electronic bands in one location, but I felt like I'd already had enough synthesizer karaoke, so I made a new plan involving more real instruments and much more travelling. Our first plan was to try to see Die Kammer, but once it became clear that we were likely to be waiting on a staircase for quite some time for a concert involving only two of the band, the lure of absinthe slushies from Sixtina across the street became too much.
My next plan was for a trip to the Heidnisches Dorf, which I now knew how to find, and a band of Dutch folk pixies called L.E.A.F. They were quite entertaining, and came with a bonus contact juggler. Then back into town for Jo Quail who did magical things with an electric cello and loop machines.
Then I went back the Heidnisches Dorf again for Arkona, who were interrupted a couple of songs in for an announcement about a found child. It was interesting watching the contours of enthusiasm move through the crowd during the set: there were definite lines behind which people were standing still and not clapping. By the end of the set, though, the band's energy had pushed the dancing contour well behind me.
After Arkona, I wandered over to the Agra where there was plenty of time for Clare and me to persuade one another that Wikinger Blut slushies were a good idea. Somewhat to our surprise, we turned out to be right. That having been discovered, we went inside for the last band of the day, Mono Inc. Mono Inc. had probably the showiest performance I saw all weekend. They had flames, explosions, and a teleporting drummer. They played with the audience and got us to sing along. Their music was pretty good, too, and left me with an earworm or two and a title for this post. We left before their encore so as to get a not-ludicrously-crowded tram back to town.
Monday, like most days, started with a quick museum trip, this time back to the Grassi Museums, where I showed Clare my favourite musical instruments and she showed me her favourite applied art. Then, again as usual, to Sixtina, where the "surprise" guest was Unloved. I can't remember any of their music, but I must have enjoyed it as I stayed to the end of their set even though that meant that it was rather hard for me to get into the main room to see Meystersinger. Meystersinger were more memorable, dressed in matching silver dresses, lit from below, and singing in harmony over an electronic backing. The experience was made stranger as the best place I could find to watch from was half-way down the stairs into the cellar, where the singers were visible through gaps in the balustrade.
Monday evening was a bit awkward, since there were two excellent bands on at Felsenkeller, but some terrible ones in between, so I needed to find something else to do in the gap. Still, it was worse for Clare whose two favourite bands of the weekend were on opposite one another. The first band at Felsenkeller was Otto Dix, who gave a rather good show. They were notable not only for Michael Draw's voice but for his movement and tendency towards miming the entire plot of each song. In the middle of their set, the rest of the band left the violinist alone on stage for a solo piece. At first the audience were a bit uncertain about this, but he gradually won our favour and got a huge round of applause before the rest of the band came back.
While Clare ran away to hunt punks, Duncan and I went in search of dinner and Die Kammer. For a Monday evening in a major German city, we found it surprisingly hard to find a sausage in a bun and ended up at the Moritzbastei buying felafel. We still got to the Schauspielhaus with ten minutes or so to spare, but there was a queue stretching out of the door and a nice security person told us we were unlikely to get in. Given that, joining Clare at the punks seemed like a good idea.
We found Clare on the balcony in Täubchental watching Rezurex. They were quite jolly and had a sparkly yellow double bass. Their gender politics left a little to be desired though. The Other were next, and if nothing else I think I can now distinguish between psychobilly and horrorpunk. Mid-way through their set, though, we left to go back to Felsenkeller.
Diorama are probably my favourite band, so I was quite excited when they were announced for WGT and it seemed fitting that that should be my last band of the festival. We cautiously arrived a little early, so we got to find a spot near the stage and watch the band setting up before the show started. They were great and I spent most of their set bouncing enthusiastically, especially at "Ignite", which is probably my second-favourite Diorama song. At the end of the main set, Torben received a single red carnation from the audience.
Diorama's encore began softly, with Torben alone playing something that I eventually recognised as the introduction to "Das Meer", which is both my favourite Diorama song and slow enough that I could get a bit of a rest. A few songs later, they finished with "Child of Entertainment" and we left to find a tram back to our hotel.
The next day was full of trains as we wended our way back across Europe back to Cambridge.
There are many other things I want to write about WGT, but this has already taken too long and it's surprisingly hard to find the words. I will say, though, that it was both more fun and more civilised than I'd expected, and there's a fair chance that I'll be back in some future year.
Six hundred miles in an aluminium box, part II|
[ Posted now because I'd like to write a post about WGT ]
When we left our hero and its driver, they were in Wembury. After Christmas, of course, we had to get back to Cambridge. This first involved getting to Exeter. Normal people driving from Plymouth to Cambridge use the A38, so obviously that was out. I was tempted by the A379, which wends its way to Exeter via Slapton Sands, the Dartmouth upper ferry, the bridge at Teignmouth, and the middle of Kingsbridge and Dawlish. However, wiser counsel prevailed and I decided to go back across Dartmoor where there might be fewer traffic jams.
Dartmoor on a clear, dry winter's day is very different from the same place on a rainy night. Every small roadside car park had a few vehicles in it, and there were people scattered over the moor, I suspect recovering from Christmas with their several families. I had intended to stop at the Fox Tor Cafe in Princetown, but I was enjoying the drive too much to want to stop, and I carried on towards Exeter.
I only got slightly lost in Exeter and was soon trundling out along the Sidmouth Road. A sign bearing the magic words "P Free Toilets" tempted me to stop in Newton Poppleford for lunch. At Coryford, I was surprised to encounter a level crossing over an electrified railway. This was the Seaton Tramway, which I suspect has the only electrified level crossing in Devon.
As the road crested the hill to the west of Lyme Regis, a glorious view opened out along the coast ahead down towards Portland. Then the road dropped down into the town and I found myself picking my way through town-centre streets that really shouldn't be an A road. On the other side, I stopped off at Charmouth for some National Trust tea and a quick walk up a hill.
I finally left the coast road at Abbotsbury, heading up a narrow road that mh map showed as passing a monument. The monument turned out to be to Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, who perhaps unfortunately is most famous as the subject of Nelson's last words. The monument itself is nothing special, but the views from its base all the way to Portland and beyond are quite amazing.
From the Hardy Monument, I headed down towards Dorchester (narrowly missing Maiden Castle, as it turns out) and picked up the A354 towards Salisbury, where the map supplied by the Youth Hostel saved me from the confusion of the ring road and guided me to their gate without a wrong turn.
The next morning was cold and frosty, and a thick layer of frost covered PEH 578L. Despite a pretty decent battery, its starter motor was only able to turn the engine over very sluggishly, presumably because the oil had turned to treacle in the sump. After a few minutes' trying, I decided to leave it a while in case the weather warmed up a bit. There was, after all, a cathedral to visit.
After a chilly circumambulation of the cathedral, I returned to PEH 578L to find it not much warmer. I fiddled with its choke linkage, which seemed not to be fully closed, and added a bit of new and thinner oil. Then it was back to the starter motor. At first everything seemed the same (ruh, ruh, ruh). After a minute though, something fired (ruh, ruruh, ruh), and fired again (ruh, ruruh, ruh), and then a second cylinder joined in (ruh, rururuh, ruh). Finally, with all the cylinders firing (rurururuh) the engine finally started properly (rurururrrrrr!).
I set about scraping frost off PEH 578L's windows and mirrors while it filled the air with a dense white cloud. Even as I cleared the windows, they were starting to frost over again, so as soon as I could see roughly where I was going I set off cautiously down the drive. By the time I reached the ring road, PEH 578L's engine had warmed up enough that its heater was working and all the windows were perfectly clear.
To the north of Salisbury, past Stonehenge, lies Salisbury Plain. The eastern half of the Plain is used as the Larkhill Artillery Range, and across the middle of this range runs the old turnpike road between Salisbury and Devizes. Despite running through a firing range, this is still a public byway, and I hoped that just after Christmas would be a good time to find it open.
There were no red flags flying as I entered the range at the Bustard Inn. The road, while potholed, was fairly smooth and the mud seemed still to be mostly frozen, so I was able to make good progress. In the middle of the Larkhill Range there's a complex junction of tracks. I knew that I wanted to keep heading north, but there was a gate closed across that track, and a large sign telling me that if the gate was closed I should turn around and go back.
I pondered my situation. I knew that the status of various tracks across the range had changed recently, and also that my Ordnance Survey map didn't include the changes. I suspected that 3G coverage might not be good enough to look up Wiltshire's on-line definitive map. Given that, the only choice I could see was to obey the sign and go back to the south side of the range. As I set off, my path was crossed by a very muddy Discovery whose occupant waved cheerfully to me.
As I accelerated along the road to Larkhill, I came to engage PEH 578L's overdrive, only to find that it was already engaged. That, I supposed, would explain why it had felt sightly high-geared and slightly noisy while crossing (and recrossing) the range.
From Larkhill to Cambridge, the journey was long but uneventful. I stopped for lunch at a recreation ground in Wantage. Somewhere near Biggleswade I saw my first Cambridge Road and gave a small cheer. Shortly thereafter I turned onto the road that I knew would eventually become the A603. When I turned off that road again, I'd be in Cambridge.
Six hundred miles in an aluminium box, part I|
To get to my parents' house near Plymouth over Christmas, I would usually get the train. This year, I thought it might be entertaining to instead drive down in PEH 578L (pronounced "Phlebas"), my 42-year-old Land Rover Series III.
My general plan was to avoid motorways and dual carriageways and to roughly follow the Icknield Way and the Ridgeway to somewhere around Warminster and then get to Exeter somehow before crossing Dartmoor on the B3212. I had overnight stops booked at Streatley and Salisbury Youth Hostels on the outward and return journey respectively. I'd bought a new road atlas, and it turned out to have scenic roads marked, so I also resolved to visit those where possible.
Before I set out, I had hung tinsel around PEH's cab, fixing it in place with cable ties. This turned out to be a really bad idea. It rustled slightly disturbingly as I drove across Cambridge, but at higher speeds along the Barton Road that rustling became a loud beating on the cab roof. I stopped and took the tinsel off before it drove me mad. PEH is quite noisy enough without gratuitous additions.
Apart from the tinsel, the first day was fairly boring. I set off from Cambridge around lunchtime, stopped for tea at my cousin's house in Luton, and then followed the north-west edge of the Chilterns down to Streatley-on-Thames. The second part of the day should have been fairly picturesque, but the sun had already set by the time I was leaving Luton, so what little I saw of the Chilterns was by the light of PEH's sealed-beam headlights.
I did have a couple of problems on that first day: My navigation left something to be desired and I tended to find myself on completely the wrong road more often than I'd have liked. Also, towards the end of the day I noticed that PEH's fan belt was squealing whenever the engine revved up, so I resolved to have a look at that when it was light again.
Thus I found myself lying on the drive of Streatley Youth Hostel early in the morning armed with several spanners and a big green book. PEH's alternator is apparently held on with a mixture of metric and imperial fastenings, but I'd brought plenty of spanners and was able to get the fan belt back to a reasonable tension in time for breakfast.
The day's driving started with a trundle along the south side of the Vale of White Horse. An hour or two in, I spotted a sign on the left for the Uffington White Horse, and I felt like a break so I pointed PEH up the hill, fed the ticket machine, and ate a mince pie while walking over to see the horse. On the way back down to the main road I discovered a new feature of PEH: along with its known habit of jumping out of first gear, it will jump out of second under engine braking.
My route then took me southwards through Avebury, where the lure of a National Trust tea shop was enough to cause me to stop for a cup of tea and brief perusal of stone circles before PEH climbed over the downs towards Devizes. This was the first really scenic bit of the journey, with what might reasonably be called sweeping views over the Vale of Pewsey. After going through Westbury (fuel) and round Warminster, I stopped for lunch in a field entrance near Mere.
My next plan was to head west on the A30, which could take me all the way to Exeter if necessary. The A30 around here is mostly very nice, but it does go through the middle of some significant towns, and two days before Christmas wasn't really the best time to do that. In Crewkerne in particular I got bored enough with crawling along below walking pace that I diverted off up a surpisingly empty A-road to the north and then picked my way through narrow lanes to pick up the A30 further west. It may not have been any quicker than sitting in the traffic jam, but it was certainly more fun and PEH 578L is much better suited to country lanes than to town centres.
Eventually, the A30 joins the rather busier A303, and around Honiton it becomes a dual carriageway all the way to Exeter. This was obviously undesirable, so I diverted southwards towards Sidmouth onto a more interesting and more coastal road into Exeter.
In Exeter I ran into the problem with using a road atlas for urban navigation. The usual way around Exeter would be to use the M5, but that was obviously out of the question, so I tried to find my way around the city on smaller roads. I knew that I wanted to leave on the B3212, but this wasn't shown on most of the signs, so I ended up following signs for the A30 westbound which led me on a merry tour of the roundabouts of the Marsh Barton Trading Estate.
By the time I found the B3212, it was dark and raining. As PEH climbed up past Moretonhampstead it started to get cold as well. Happily, unlike older Land Rovers, PEH 578L has an electrical system that's capable of running the heater, wipers, and headlamps all at the same time, so with all of them on I set out across the moor.
Driving across Dartmoor at night may not provide such good views as in the daytime, but it's quite a special experience nonetheless. I stopped half-way in the deserted and very dark car park of the National Park visitor centre in Postbridge. I left PEH's sidelights on while I took advantage of the facilities: I wasn't sure I'd be able to find it again otherwise.
After descending off Dartmoor into Plymouth, I had one last bit of routing silliness planned: I wanted to take Plymbridge Road through the woods to Plympton rather than having to brave Marsh Mills. Finding the road was easy enough -- follow the signs saying "Unsuitable for heavy goods vehicles", and there followed an entertaining few minutes as the single-track road squirmed down through the woods and back up again to join a main road. I was a little confused, though, because the road signs suggested that I was still on the wrong side of the Plym. Checking afterwards, it turns out that the Plym Bridge has been closed to motor traffic for some time, so I drove straight past it and had to visit Marsh Mills anyway.
Thus it was that I arrived in time for dinner in the village where I grew up. Four days later, I was planning to do it again, backwards.
The 0158 from Stevenage|
All my magic diary-posting scripts are broken, so I'm using LiveJournal's posting interface for what may be the first time. I could fix the scripts, but I've been playing with train timetables instead, which is what I'm here to write about.
On 25th March this year, the clocks in the UK go forward. This means that they jump straight from 01:00 to 02:00, skipping all the times in between. I've mostly worked out how this is represented in ATOC's public timetable data, but there's one rail-replacement bus I can't understand, since it's timetabled to start its journey at Stevenage at 01:58, a time that doesn't exist. This causes perl's DateTime to throw an exception when I try to instantiate the departure time.
My usual approach to understanding a timetable oddity is to see what National Rail Enquiries makes of it. Unfortunately, they show the bus as leaving at 02:58 and arriving at 02:33, taking -25 minutes. There's a helpful warning that it's a bus, but no warning that it will go backwards in time.
Maybe First Capital Connect know. It's their service, after all. They have it leaving at 01:58, arriving at 01:33, and taking -1h 35m. So backwards in time, in an hour that doesn't exist, and taking longer about it than can really be justified.
East Coast try harder than most to make sense of the data. They show the bus leaving Stevenage at 02:58 and arriving in Letchworth in 02:33, but do manage to time it at 35 minutes. When asked about intermediate stops they permute the journey, showing it starting at Hitchin, before calling at Letchworth and then Stevenage, albeit with a note claiming that it terminates at Letchworth.
Given all that, I think my approach of catching the exception, printing a warning, and otherwise ignoring the service is probably about as good as I can hope for.
The Norfolk Nips 1 and home again|
Last Sunday, I caught an early train out to Norwich in order to ride the first
of three monthly 100km rides. I managed to get somewhat lost in Norwich, but I
made it to the church hall in Hellesdon with time to spare. The weather was
perfect and the ride took us pleasantly out to the coast and back, visiting a
cafe with nice cake along the way. After refuelluing with soup back at
Hellesdon, I set off for an additional 100km ride home.
Cycling from Norwich to Cambridge is slightly annoying because the obvious
route is along the A11, which is not the nicest road, espectially between
Thetford and Mildenhall where there aren't any parallel roads. To avoid this,
I diverted to the north along the B1108, A1065 and B1102. When I'd planned the
route, I failed to notice that Google suggested going via Stanford, a Norfolk
village that's well known on Geograph for being at the centre of an area that's
been closed to the public since 1942.
Still, I got myself some fishcakes and chips (a new standard Audax meal) in
Brandon and got home just after 9pm. Next month the second of the Nips.
Emitremmus Desrever Dednetxe|
Every year, Stevenage and North Hertfordshire CTC organises a 100km ride on the
last Sunday in October. I've ridden it for the last several years, but this
year I wanted a 200k in October, so rather than getting the train to and from
Stevenage, I rode there and back instead. This worked pretty well, especially
since the steady southwesterly meant I had a tailwind for the homeward 50k.
Usually on Emitremmus, I'd have lunch at Mocha's cafe in Saffron Walden, but
the queue there was long and slow-moving enough that I decided to press on to
Therfield where the W.I. were serving tea, cake and sandwiches. That worked
As usual, the organisation was amazingly efficient. With over 300 riders, it
really had to be.
The weekend after next, it's off to Norwich for the first of the Norfolk Nips.
To try to clarify my thoughts, I went to Suffolk.|
There, I visited Flo-Ridaz (<http://www.flo-ridaz.co.uk>) to see what it was
like to drive a Hovercraft, and took Owen and Ian along as well. The
experience was an entertaining one, and while I'm still not entirely convinced
of the practicality of a hovercraft, I do know that they're a lot of fun.
Hovercraft, having no wheels or keel, can only change their direction of travel
by thrusting. Thus, I had expected driving one to resemble playing something
like Xpilot or Asteroids. I was wrong, because it a hovercraft you can only
turn the craft (and hence change the direction of thrust) by thrusting as well.
I got to drive two Flying Fish hovercraft, a Snapper and a Marlin II. The
Snapper was easy to drive and felt very much at home zooming around a small
field. The Marlin, despite being only slightly heavier and more powerful, was
much more of a handful, and I managed to make enough of a mess of one corner in
it to fall off the edge of the track into a ploughed field. On the other hand,
it felt like a much more capable craft, one which wouldn't let one down in the
middle of, say, the Wash.
Ian and I took quite a lot of pictures. Even after vigorous editing, there are
still far to many of them here:
For the last few years, autumn new moons have seen me heading off to Hunstanton
to go walking in the Wash taking photographs. This has been a surprisingly
enjoyable activity and means that Geograph now has pretty good coverage of the
eastern Wash down to Wolferton Creek. But I'm running out of squares. I think
there might be one more square that I can reach from Hunstanton on foot, and
then I'll have to find something else to do.
The obvious and sensible alternative (insofar as any of this is sensible) would
be to try setting out from a different shore of the Wash, maybe between the
Ouse and Nene, or all the way around near Gibraltar Point. This would involve
quite a lot more travelling, though, and in the former case quite a lot more
A more technological solution would be to accept that the sea is a silly place
to go walking, and that maybe a boat would be a better way to get around.
Except that if I'm visiting sandbanks a boat is likely to get stuck, so clearly
what I need is a hovercraft. Hovercraft aren't cheap, costing much the same as
a family car, but I can afford that, not least because I'm not supporting a
family, or a car. A low-end cruising hovercraft will do maybe 30 mph, and
has an endurance of several hours, so it's quite a practical vehicle. There's
a boat park in Hunstanton it could be stored in, and I could even bring it up
the rivers as far as Bottisham Lock (the Conservators won't let hovercraft on
their bit of the Cam).
On the one hand, it's clearly utterly ludicrous that I should go out and buy a
hovercraft. On the other hand, hovercraft!
As a result of Clare, I've recently found myself helping with the
Ramblers' Association's Mystery Walker program, in which they send me
a grid reference and I go for a short walk starting there and tell
them how it went. A few weeks ago, this took me to Quy Fen, and I
noticed some waymarks that were not just inadequate but actually wrong
(giving the wrong status for several paths). I reported this to the
County Council and got a friendly reply explaining that they'd love to
correct the problem but had no money. In the meantime, I'd looked up
the council's policy on waymarking on their Web site and noticed that
they would provide markers to parishes and volunteers on request. So
Thus, I found myself visiting the council offices on the way to work
so that a slightly counfused rights-of-way officer could try to work
our whether this strange person from the Internet could be trusted
with a pile of waymark disks and a bag of County Council nails. After
a generally useful conversation, it turned out I could.
Thus, the next weekend I was back on the paths near Horningsea with
the council's signs and nails and my own hammer, along with the
knowledge that I was authorised under section 27(5) of the Countryside
Act 1968 to erect signposts along those paths. A little while and
quite a lot of nettle-stings later, and the waymarks were corrected.
I returned the spare disks and nails to the council the next week in
the knowledge of a job done, possibly even well.
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