Summa: Diary (February 2022)

February 7. 8.00 am. The town was waking, yawning into the day. ‘Here comes the Sun!’ There are moments of rapture — neither loud, nor overwhelming, nor ostentatious — that may come out of the blue even on an orange-pink morning. Today I witnessed the starlings flush from beneath the Grand Pier, where they’d been sleeping overnight, in a succession of squadrons heading eastward over the Old College. Further south a small dog ran before its owner across the beach, barking with a joy that was enviable. The beacon at the harbour’s mouth flashed intermittently in the semi-light.

February 14. We’re half way through February. Valentine’s Day and my mother’s Birthday coincide. When I was young, she’d always receive two cards from me. For which I’d receive two kisses. On the lips, mind you; which was the tradition in my part of the world.

8.30 am: Appalling weather had put pay to my morning walk. I settled to review the week’s forthcoming appointments and decided how I’d allocate those days for which I’m no longer gainfully employed to my current undertakings. The Penallta Colliery project is well and truly in its stride. The sound has found a ‘voice’. Composing, and acquiring new skills in sound manipulation, are proceeding in tandem. I’ve never been able to master anything unless the knowledge gained is deployed immediately. Doing grounds learning. I’m writing a paper on the project as I go, too. This has helped me to explain what I’m doing to myself, in the first instance. It will be delivered online at a Tŷ Cerdd CoDi Off-Grid event in April. This is my first address to a music organisation since 1995, when I spoke at the Inaugural Conference of the Centre for Advanced Music Studies, held by the, then, University of Wales, Bangor. On that occasion, I discussed the Welsh artist Nicholas Evans’s (1907–2004) use of musical metaphors to explain (to himself) his experience of creative inspiration.

February 16. 9.00 am: The first PhD Fine Art tutorial of the day. Wednesdays are set aside for the research students, whom I’ll have under my charge until the end of June. Over the next few months I’ll be discharging each of them into the capable hands of other staff. For the remainder of the morning I reviewed and responded to textual submissions, which some of them had posted me. Nailing the essence of the research proposal in 500 words is a feat of distillation. And one that’s impossible to achieve unless you first have a thorough grasp of what you were searching for and found during the course of study. As I worked, Storm Dudley began to buffet the house. His big sister Eunice will visit on Friday.

4.00 pm: With the afternoon’s postgraduate admin behind me, I turned to the large work bench and got a grip on a new DJ interface controller. This essentially ‘hands-on’ device obviates the need to be clicking a mouse like fury over the surface of the software. To be a very good DJ requires not only the kit but also a well-honed technique, an abundance of imagination, and a feel for the groove. I do not aspire to be one. Nevertheless, I endeavour to bring my technology to heal and impose a creative discipline upon the sound output.

February 17. My last eye test was in 2018. Lockdowns and the slow pace of appointments over the pandemic have forestalled the possibility of a visit until now. Gone is the strange box full of small light-emitting diodes that sparked on the periphery of one’s vision. Now (and for a £25 fee), there’re laser-scanners that map the interior of the eyeballs in order to determine both their, and the host’s, health. (I still don’t like the eyeball puffer. It used to be that going to the opticians, unlike a trip to the dentists, could be anticipated without the threat of physical discomfort.) A strip of very strong light was directed at close range to the rear of my eyes; ‘This is like experiencing a religious vision!’, I remarked to the optometrists. ‘You’re eyes are perfect!’, she concluded. ‘So why am I so appallingly short-sighted’, I remonstrated (in silence). On screen, my eyeballs resembled the orb and terrain of an exoplanet.

February 18. 7.30 am: Storm Eunice presented herself as a low to moderate wind only, initially. All trains have been cancelled in Wales. (For the first time, I’m told.) But as any seafarer worth their salt will tell you: you should never underestimate a storm; their mood can change from polite to fierce very quickly. The university and local schools have been closed. We’ve been advised to observe a self-imposed lockdown of a different kind today. Some will not live to see the end of this day. Others will lose their livelihoods and property. Centuries-old trees are uprooted; rivers breech their banks, inundating the plains; and flocks of birds travel in directions that they’ve not chosen. From my studio window I could see, against the skyline, the woods above Parc Natur Penglais and the Buarth tremble violently. At 11.30 am, the local RNLI (bless them) recorded gusts of 59 mph. The wind that buffeted the south-westerly side of the house developed a pronounced bass resonance. By noon, its speed had gathered to 69 mph (60 knots), rising to 72 mph (62 knots). Sirens screamed like banshees, in the distance; car alarms were startled, close-by; and thin rain hissed complainingly against the Velux window above my mixing desk. I recalled Dorothy’s house being whisked-up by the cyclone in the Wizard of Oz (1939). By lunchtime, the worst of the storm had passed. Henceforth, days like this will be part of our way of life.

February 22. Storm Franklin (Eunice’s younger sibling) made himself present on Monday, February 21. Plas Grug Avenue was strewn with thousands of twigs and small branches. As I entered from the west, Council operatives were already sawing into logs what had been either a downed or severely damaged tree. It would have stood on the stream-side of the avenue for over a century; now it’s gone forever — like an extracted tooth. I was reminded of Paul Nash’s painting, The Menin Road (1919): one of the most strikingly memorable and encapsulating paintings to emerge from the First World War. The remains of trees that divided-up the Western Front’s skyline, like bar lines on a stave, blasted and toppled by the constant pounding of shells, were a visual metaphor for the plight of so many soldiers on both sides who’d been decimated by the same — and in far more disfiguring ways, which the restrictions of censorship at the time would not have allowed him to represent. Yesterday, the Russian army entered Ukraine. Another war in Europe had begun.

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