Sunday, February 24, 2019

Catching a wave

Having not been out on the board all winter, and only (I think) 3 times in 2018, I've been (more out of idle curiosity) keeping a watching brief on surf forecasts every week or so through the winter.  In case an opportunity came up with a nice looking day where I might be able to drop everything for one day, and go get a few waves in nice conditions.

In general, bigger swell comes to Ireland not much separated from the Atlantic swell that generated it - so big waves with a load of chop and wind-blown chaos and whitewater.  Then around mid last week, the long-range forecasts started showing for this week coming.  Straight away it was pretty obvious that there was going to be a ton of swell... but more unusually, the winds didn't look like they were going to be too crazy.  But forecasts are notoriously unreliable at range (generally ~48 hours out gives you a relatively honest picture), so... marked it down and carried on with work.

Over the weekend, the size didn't go away - but the wind forecast continued to improve, and then some.  During Friday, I find myself looking at the forecast 4 times.  Monday through Wednesday are going to be *solid* - but the winds are up one minute, down the next.  By late Friday night, Tuesday looks incredibly promising, with moderate offshores and *big* surf - most unusually, big long-period  swell.  (In my experience surfing the West Coast of Ireland, 10 seconds is decent - 12 seconds is a really solid long-period swell.  If you can get 12s with a few feet of swell and amenable local winds, you've scored).

I go to sleep on Friday with the forecast showing Tuesday afternoon as something like 10 feet @ 15 seconds (FIFTEEN!), and medium onshores.  I wake up Saturday, and the forecast now says this:


Topping out at 11.5 feet at 17 seconds.  And 5mph offshore.

I spend most of Saturday with a blank face.  I am not a heavily practised surfer - but I have been going out for 12 odd years.  I don't have a huge knowledge of spots, but my favourite spot in the North-West, Rossnowlagh - is more sheltered, and strips some of the volume from larger swells.

Sunday morning, the forecast has gone to this:


I've never been grateful to see the size of a forecast fall, but I am this morning.  9 ft @ 15/16 seconds with 5mph offshores (a breath of wind), is the most extraordinarily unlikely combination of parameters for Ireland ever - especially in February.  I cannot think of another time I've seen this.


I have never had one of those cornball surf movie moments - "all he knew was, it looked like the day of days, and he might never get the chance again"

I've having that cornball moment now.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Scotland and the referendum

I have wondered all my life about Scotland.

What it means, and what it does not mean.

Who we are, and who we are not.

Growing up close to the border (for there is only one) focuses the mind.  27 miles was all that separated my childhood house from England.  One day far back in my youth (and I mean significantly before I was 10), I declared my intention to use one of my cycle rides with my late, great father, to ride to England.  In my vague memory, it was both a grand statement of intent (a different country no less!) – and eminently achievable.  It was just past Jedburgh, wasn’t it?

Luckily (and not entirely unpredictably) for my Dad, the reality of the task hit long before the border was in sight – in fact, I suspect the wind on the long, open bridge high over the river Tweed was probably the snapping point.  In the end, I satisfied myself with a return trip to Melrose – an awe-inspiring odyssey of about 3 miles in each direction.

Since I can remember, thoughts of Scotland are not separated by much from thoughts of England.  I don’t know if the same is true in Cardiff, but it seems to me that as Scots, we know who we are, because we know very clearly who we are not.  This is not to condone anti-English sentiment – quite the opposite.  It is however important to realise how fundamental the sense of being on the wrong end of an unequal power equation has been, and how unhealthy it seems to me to define yourself in negative, exclusive terms.

Identity of any sort is an often confusing and deceptive construction – a pointless quantising of an endlessly variable reality, and at the same time an essential categorisation system to enable us to deal with the  vastly variable world through which we move.  This is a discussion you could spend forever exploring - time for that later.

Having watched the referendum debate unfold from across the water in Ireland, it has made me proud in a positive way once again to be Scottish.  A famous businessman from Edinburgh – from an immigrant family – once described the “democracy of the people” as one of his favourite things in Scotland, and it has again become raucously, glaringly apparent these last few months, as the debate within Scottish society has left for dead the soundbite digging from the politicians on both sides of the argument.  There’s an old saying if you leave a Scotsman alone on a desert island, he’ll either start a church or an argument – and whilst I haven’t detected any new religious factions (yet – there are still 3 weeks to go) – the noise of the rolling argument is both deafening and invigorating.

I hope for a huge turnout.  It seems unthinkable to me that anyone within Scotland would not take the chance to at least voice their democratic opinion on what seems to me to be the single biggest issue in a generation – or more.  This is not a subject on which anyone can afford to let their vote pass unused.

On the issues, many of them can be argued either way, and neither camp has (for me) put forward anything solid on really any issue.  The ‘yes’ camp has failed to explicitly show how it will be funded, and the ‘no’ camp has failed to show why Scotland would be the only non-viable small European state.  How much oil is left?  You will find an expert who will tell you anything.  The pound, the EU, let no one kid you these issues would not be resolved.  Nuclear weapons, I have no time for - the kind of "protection" and jobs we do not need.  Salmond, and the SNP. I'm not be a big fan, but if they were to deliver independence, they would be free to make their case for election thereafter – and the electorate would then be free to take them or leave them.  Independence is not about the SNP.  It’s about Scotland.

I hope for a yes vote.  I have lots of small reasons, but only two very large ones.

I distrust politicians, but they are predictable.  They are susceptible to all kinds of influence.  For this reason, I’d like to have as much power as possible, as close to the people as possible.  I believe that arms can be twisted harder in Holyrood than they can be in Westminister – the critical mass is smaller, the screw can be turned harder, easier.  Let’s bring the politicians to where they are less comfortable – close to us.

Most crucially for me – what it shouldn’t mean to be Scottish.  The unhealthy dislike of “England” – often verbalised - perhaps an inferiority complex.  A built-in, taught, indoctrinated attitude.  (I blame the predominantly English media for a lot of this, but that’s another day’s work).  For too long Scotland has both been dictated to and held back from deciding matters on our own, for ourselves.  In some ways treated like a child, and as a result we’ve maintained a childlike attitude.

Perhaps, we’ve secretly liked this endless stalemate.  Devoid of responsibility, full of opinions but secretly hoping nobody ever calls our bluff.

It’s time to grow up – to leave the house, pay the bills, do our own washing.  We can be a fairer, more equal society.

The inclination - the "democracy of the people" - has always been there - now we need to deliver ourselves the power to implement that which we believe in.

Noone should think this will be easy - but there’s nothing unviable about Scotland, if we have the courage and the desire to take responsibility for making it so.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

"Just Add Surf" - Easkey Britton at TEDxDublin

Some brilliance here from Donegal's Easkey Britton, well worth 15 minutes of your time.

Surf, nature, connectedness, and a brief but very sharp point on the distorting power of the media on societal perceptions of norms.

What you see is not necessarily what is happening...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


What are we supposed to make of this?

Huge multinational brand repackages corrosive chemicals as soft drink, then attempts to release us of the minimal post-tax income the system allows us, by marketing it with the notion that the best way to enjoy it is by "sharing" it with - you.

This is the ultimate in the unfettered capitalist vision of sharing - joyously, selfishly not sharing.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Magic from the Nord

The flashy red keyboard. My recollection may be hazy with the passing of time, but I remember at first the colour as much as anything.

Before I even heard a Nord, in my head it had marked itself clear of the rest of the synthesiser field: born in to a sea of black, it was red. Solid, bold red. A bit more metal, a bit less deep. Then there were the controls. Reared on Roland controls - the thin plastic pitch-bend stick of the Juno 106, the thicker plastic one on the JX series. A brief flirtation with the thin plastic stick on the Korgs. Then there was this red thing from Sweden. The pitch bend stick wasn't plastic, and it wasn't even a stick. It was a strangely shaped block, sprung in a way unlike anything before. And it was made of wood! Then there was the modulation control - it was a disk. A disk made of stone!!

When I finally got to play one, it confirmed everything the different appearance had promised. It was a digital synth - apparently - and was capable of producing some digital sounding noises alright. But it was very, very different from any digital synth I'd ever touched or heard before. Covered in one-control per function knobs like an analogue, it also felt like an analogue, and - damn it - it *sounded* like an analogue.

I'm not sure I've ever felt so at-home with a synth since, perhaps, the Juno-106. High praise indeed given how utterly instant the 106 remains to this day. So my relationship with Nord Leads started somewhere back in those early adverts and reviews, somehow managed to survive my heightened expectations in the first proper experience, and in time transformed in to a love affair with the Nords that continues to this day.

When my sometimes recording partner and I embarked on a random jam session that turned in to a recording experiment that within 8 hours had nearly completely spawned "Zusammen" and birthed the Otomi project (subsequently released on vinyl by Emoticon), the sound and the feel of the Nord Lead (together with a 909) were effectively the bedrock on which the entire track stood. In fact, they practically *were* the entire track. Subsequent Otomi tracks, and my tracks down the line for Ferox were similarly forged within the circuits of the Nord.

I've tried many other digital synths since - in fact I like some, and even love some. Having worked for E-mu for 15 years, I know a digital sound, an analogue sound, and when it's a digital sound that sounds like an analogue sound. But nothing, since digital synths started, has really come close to the Nord.

For the special red synths from Sweden have a sound, a feel, that is unlike any other digital synth. They might as well not be digital, for the control and the flexibility belies what you hear.

And what you hear is the thing: it's the sound, the sound, the sound. Not just warm - there is something else. Something unique, magical - an organic quality, an emotiveness that emerges from the keys, the electronics, the speakers.  Listening to you, talking to you.

These special, beautiful instruments will forever be classics, and I expect that they will continue to be, as they have been, both catalysts, conduits and carriers for the emotion in my music.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Levon Vincent - "Double Jointed Sex Freak Part II"

Occasionally I love to grab a CD to stick in the car for long work trips.  A recent aquisition was the Fabric Mix CD by Levon Vincent.

I've a couple of Vincent's 12's, and they're typically very good underplayed dubbed out post-basic-channel house.  The mix CD is taking some getting used to - it is (as I suppose I should have expected) very dubbed out and sometimes seems like it's a bit lacking direction, but there are some good tunes on it.

This particularly track however always gets me turning up the volume.  It's one of Levon's own, and it's got some strange, indescribable magic about it.

It reeks of the old nights at The Arches that I keep on banging on about.

It's something in the rythym - that dead, boxy kick drum, and the brushes - it's all in the brushes.  Missing half the beat, pushing against the kick and 2-4 all the time.  Never quite fully settled, it results in a funky, insistent, claustrophobic groove that just gets better and better the louder you crank it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bleak Beauty in the Rebel County

I've been travelling around Ireland a lot with the new job.  It's good - I love travel, all the strange unexpected moments that flip your thoughts totally back-to-front when you're in the middle of thinking about something else.

Yesterday was a doozy - Dublin, to Mallow, down to Blarney and Cork, on to Clonakilty, and then up through Dunmanyway to Bantry.  The plan *had* been to get back from Bantry up to Clare, and stay there for an evening or daybreak surf before heading back through Ennis to Dublin.  But, in my naivety I completely misjudged the Bantry to Limerick section, and ended up having to halt in Limerick for the night.

While Bantry to Limerick wasn't fast, it was (the first part particularly), awe-inspiring.  The section near Bantry is kind of what I'd imagine the isle of Harris would look like if it just kept raining so hard for so long that eventually stuff just started growing on the rocks.  A strange, lush bleakness.  Or a bleak lushness.

Anyway, my route from Bantry (I've latterly discovered) took me within a mile or two of the legendary Gougane Barra.  Gutted now that I didn't take the turn when it was signposted, but I had no idea how close I was.  Which sort of explains why it was so spectacular, *and* why I wasn't getting anywhere fast.

In any case, there was one moment of quick halting the car on the trip - coming in to Macroom, I glance out of the drivers window, and there's a vast area of lake studded with dead tree trunks.  Or a massive field of dead tree trunks flooded with water.

Strange, alien, surreal, amazing.