Regrets, I’ve had a few

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More than a few… but we can none of us do it any way other than our way, surely?

Hmm, anyway, I started a song yesterday, so here comes the early morning listenback – dammit, what does it remind me of? A half-assed, half recalled, heard-once-through-a-closed-door-down the-hallway incompetent version of ‘Comfortably Numb’. Maybe. Maybe crossed with Johnny Cash’s version of ‘Hurt’. Or perhaps that’s gifting it more than it deserves. Maybe if I change the bass line, add the vocals it might become something. In any case –  Needs Lots More Work. Oh well, I gives me something to do am Wochenende. I quite like how it goes when it hits the ‘crunchy bit’ ™, I am pleased that I can get *a* sound of sorts and a decentish recording out of the setup, that I do appear to have my own guitar style … and I am fucking delighted that I have actually done a proper act of musical creation – for only the 2nd time in over 6 months. Here’s hoping this is the start of another productive period.

I manage to make my interview, but it goes just how expect. Nice chat, nice guy, but I really seem to have the wrong tech skillset for Berlin. Maybe the fact that I can’t work out how there can possibly be any money in it shouldn’t stop me writing an Android app… Or give in and learn to do websites (on non-MS tech). I learn best with a real project … but there’s nothing I want to build for myself, this is always my issue with learning new tech. I have asked my geekoids and geekettes for suggestions, but I am getting a wee bit disheartened. Maybe it’s a sign that work is the wrong way to be thinking in terms of a move here – after all aren’t I trying to get away from all that? Changing my life? Hmmmm… There are a few good ideas come back from the crowd, so maybe I will sort something out when I get back.

In any case, I am unhappy, unsettled and glum. I feast on the remaining raisinbread, knowing damned well it’s bad for me. I haven’t got a plan for life. My last plans ran aground, washed ashore out of the dark of a North Sea night that took too much of my soul, on the probably-resultant loss of way, even whilst I got the Minions album together, held FSTH together by sheer willpower, tore down my life, dazed and confused, fucked things up, caused too much pain… kept only just above the water.

I never expected to need a plan. I never expected to live so long. I can feel the depths pull at me if I don’t keep myself distracted. So do, and I hope and I wait and I try.

Class is fine, just us girls again, though. We are into the final lesson. One week to go. I have learned a lot – but it seems still like too little. Listening comprehension is getting pretty good. I should read more. Should dig out that damned newspaper I bought yesterday too! I wish I could stay for the follow-on class – the school boss asked us today, but none of us can. We all want to, it’s a really good school – although the teacher seems a bit bemused by my mix of talents. Today we learn just enough for me to say that I have a sailing licence and a big blue motorbike, can sing, program computers and can design tools for fixing/building boats…

I did manage to buy cheese today. Also to eat soup. Also to eat chocolates. And crisps. Fuckit, it’s Friday, and I ain’t going out. My life is No Sex (right now), No Drugs (ever),  Rock and Roll (hell yeah!).

I am hiding indoors, reading and writing this up/messaging with friends [every message so appreciated – keeps me just about sane]. Also listening back to the song idea, letting it percolate so I can do a really good coupla sessions on it over the weekend. I miss working with someone else, but I will manage/am managing. Just like I am managing being alone.

Suitcase recording studio

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The suitcase is the largest permissible cabin bag size, and it’s all I need to take on most trips, I can fit enough clothes and surround as padding – the guitar body is very thin – about half the thickness of my Strat.

I should start doing these writeups before I go to bed, or first thing in the morning – that way I might recall more. What I do recall does not reflect all that well on me in parts – at least I used it, at least there is that.

The rest of the day I can’t really comment on. I did another session out in Wilmersdorf with Melanie – mutually practicing singing tuition on each other. I swap some rock Edge [think Axl Rose or Ozzy] for some Classical mellifluousness. I went to class. I ate herrings. Bratherings, to be precise – in a recipe worthy of love by a Scottish lass, these are fried and then pickled :-).

I am grumpy after class, just miss the bus, try the local shop but they have no large tubs of yoghurt, so I hop off the U-Bahn one stop early to hit Netto on the way home. I intend to get some yoghurt, washingup liquid, cheese, a newspaper … I add to that Haribo tropical fruit gums, peppermint chocolate and raisinbread. This means that the homemade cream of chicken soup does not get touched –  it’s an evening of pure junk all the way. I do belatedly recall that I have an interview at 10am the next morning, so I abort the full experience – binning half a bag of sweets, wrapping the raisinbread up. I tend towards excess, always have. Revel in it. I have never been a bulimic – but that’s frankly down more to a lack of gag reflex than any blithe lack of regrets…. ach, TMI, I’ll shut up. I glug peppermint tea to try to proactively appease my digestion. I don’t read the paper.

There’s a bit of a song concept brewing in my head, has been for a few days, I think, and the evening’s glumness just feeds that urge. Not the one you might think, not the one from yesterday’s post, but another. As ever, a moderately chewy concept tends to come out far simpler when I try to make a song from it – done right this can be good, very good, but I often regret what gets lost from the full thought. Oh well.

I bash the lyrics out fairly quickly – as it stands right now there is a bit of structural interest, a bit of variation, reasonably tight theme, and a little use of the ambiguity/dual/multiple use of the word ‘down’. Nothing great, but it’s the first full lyric I have done for entirely too long, so I am grateful just to get a start in on *something*. In celebration, I decide to try out my portable recording set up, part of which is pictured in the headline, part of which is below.

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(Missing is the SM-58 which connects to the MicPort – I wasn’t doing vocals. Mini speaker in the background next to the coffee is not used, that’s just for radio/films/music)

Warning: techy bit – skip if not interested!

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It is a bit of a fankle of wires! And, annoyingly, it needs 2 sets of earphones, putting one ear of each in, cos the POD amp puts the mp3 input track out on the ‘Amp Out’ as well as the headphones, meaning it’s on the recording of the guitar part – which is an arse, and certainly not what I expected. So… out comes the MicPort, to give me earphone access via USB. I didn’t have room to bring the TonePort or the money to buy the AxePort (which would stack with and or replace the MicPort), either of which would give recording straight into Ableton. I’d have to use software amp/cab though…. swings and roundabouts. [You can’t live monitor through Ableton and stay in time, btw, the latency is a bit crap, hence using ADCs with built in headphone outs]. So, given what we have got, we go

Guitar -> pedal -> POD -> earphone 1 (guitar) and R09HR recorder

Laptop -> MicPort -> earphone 2 (drum track)

I can hook up a USB lead to the R09 sound recorder to pull the files off after recording and line them up to the beat easily in Ableton. I have to go into the mic in as the signal is low-level and as it turns out I only get output on the left channel and interference whine on the right,  so I end up having to pull some muting/track duping/channel swapping/track grouping sleight-of-hand in Ableton. Kein Problem. Utility insert, oh how I love thee….

At home I just mic a guitar combo and have a mini mixer to handle monitoring – much easier!

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After a bit of fiddling, I get it all going, concoct a simple drum track to keep me in line, play the stuff, hack out a quasi-bass line to octave down once imported (by this point it’s late, so just root notes for the bar, mainly – a bit of a mistake I will realise in the morning…). It’s too late to do vocals by now, past midnight. My tentative hummings lead me to finding the track far slower than I’d thought (120 bpm but halftime feel) – might still work – it suits the mood of the lyric.

I can’t sleep, so end up FB posting pics of the setup, and sending a few other mails. I don’t know when I get to sleep – but it’s getting on for 2am and I have that interview at 10…

In the morning, I will realise that I need to redo the bassline to avoid incompetently re-inventing a classic – but for now, I sleep, feeling an acutely physical loneliness.

The whole damned fairground ride*

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Seems my moods are not just up and down, it’s not just swings and roundabouts but the whole damned fairground ride, the entire amusement park, nausea inducing tilt-a-whirls, epilepsy-inducing flashing lights, Yardbirds on the loudspeakers… “Over under sideways down”.

One of the guys I spoke to at c-base got back to me, and it’s no-go cos they don’t use a Microsoft technology stack. I spent some time trying to hunt up Berlin IT jobs – found one that’s a decent match – but permie. Sent an email anyway. Speaking fluent German would help, but that’s not happening any time this week. I schooled myself to patience where the Relayr thing was concerned, telling myself that if I didn’t get an email by Thursday, I’d try ringing him.

I also had some paperwork for my UK Ltd. Company  to do, so I got that sorted before I went to class. Not much to report. Seemed a shorter day – we were on the topic of food shopping, so maybe it seemed much more relevant! I am still frustrated with all the things I can’t say yet.

I missed a text from Eva, so I had dinner at home and played my guitar and met with her at the King Kong Club at Rosenthaler Platz just after 9. As a musician, I am impressed that they are collecting a 5 EUR entry fee, I hope it goes to the performers! I feel sure it does. The event is a regular singer/songwriter night, but tonight there is also a larger band as the first act. Ah, singer/songwriter. I am a singer and a songwriter, but not a “singer/songwriter”. I am not a girl(guy) with an acoustic guitar and a head full of melancholy, whimsy, reflection or protest songs taking it solo round the bars and cafes…. Oh I cover all those topics – but I also cover just rocking the fuck out … reckless life… Dammit, maybe there’s no difference, I just make more noise. Need a band to cover up my punk-standard guitar abilities (lack thereof). I write for a full band, that’s all there is to it. And that is harder to get out there and do, at least so it seems.

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Anyway, the bar is great and the whole night is pretty good in a low-key acoustic sort of way. I am impressed by the glockenspiel solo – at least the concept. Maybe it’s just the end of too long a couple of days. Eva managed to talk to the organiser and get herself a slot in April, so that’s great. Even roped him in to play cahon for her.

It’s just such a different, minimalist scene for which I am just not equipped as a performer. I am haunted throughout, by what-might-have-beens, what-can-I-dos and other thoughts that stop me from being fully present in the moment. I don’t know what I can do about that. I so much want to be present where I actually am, to live in the present, not in the past or future (it’s this latter that is usually the problem). I manage it on stage, and in a few other limited, very physical, circumstances. Otherwise, life goes on in my head, not in the whole of me – and the joy isn’t in that.

Still, state of my head notwithstanding, the night is what it is, and not a bad way to pass the time, not at all. I make the last U1 home, succumb to a kebab, avoid staring into the semi frozen canal, manage to persuade the main building front door open with a combination of key and kick  – and finally roll into bed sometime after one.

I end up dreaming of picking a dubious, very grappling-type fight with a bloke I don’t know and getting trapped alone on a boat. Hmmmm.

*this will probably end up a song title. If you write one too, and it’s any good, I might have to hunt you down and kill you. Just saying! If you already have, please don’t come after me 🙂

Hipster? Me? nah……

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Today I had an introductory meeting with an estate agent/ letting agent, trying to find out what the situation/opportunities are here in Berlin. We had a pleasant chat, and he gave me a form to fill in about what sort of thing I might be looking for, and promised to get back to me with info on all the procedures, what they can do for me etc. I was put onto this guy by Kat from my German class – he found her boyfriend’s flatmates a place, and is helping him and his mother to find something too, I think. He deals mainly with foreigners as he finds them more open to ideas than the Germans, who tend to buy once and then live there til they die. Perhaps this explained his very-much-unGerman unpunctuality. He did let me know beforehand though :-). I am still not at all sure what I am doing in terms of Berlin, so this is all just data to feed into the decision-making machine.I didn’t get as much as I want/need but perhaps that will come with the followup(s).

The cafe we met in was very near, and had a rather Scandinavian-minimalist feel to it. Terrible background music though – no idea what genre, but electronicy and also minimalist. Really not my cup of tea/coffee/hot chocolate. I did manage to solve my headphone issues on the way back (one earbud gone AWOL, one expensive pair snapped!). I found a small computer/mobile phone repair shop that had a bargain bin of mobile phone accessories, including headphones. Managed the conversation in German. Bought 2 pairs just in case, one is Super Bass – so maybe save those for the guitar headphone amp. Also one pair came with spare buds, so I now have the Creative noise-cancelling ones back in operation. The Sennheisers actually look repairable (once I get home, and if I can avoid sticking myself to them with the Superglue).

Class seemed long and hard, and I misread the time for the “Hack and Tell” geek-meet so I didn’t come home, ending up grabbing a choccy bar and sitting in a cafe up near the venue, drinking hot chocolate, coffee and scribbling financial calculations and dire conclusions in my notepad. Like “I need a job to do this”. I was starting to get quite down about it all, so it was a nice distraction to go down to the venue and check it out.

The meeting was held at a place called c-base, a computer geek hangout done out like a spaceship, with a bar and where they hold talks/presentations etc. I got talking on the way in to a guy called Jurg, mostly in German, a bit in English. I was quite happy to be able to do the “who are you, and where do you live/what do you do” stuff – I guess the classes have paid off there in making me practice that. I got myself a half litre bottle of the local energy drink “Club Mate”. I have had this before, but it only now struck me that a) it was the last bloody thing I needed on top of Snickers, hot chocolate and strong coffee b) it’s the slightly-anaemic-looking, slightly-less -sweet Berlin equivalent of Irn-Bru!!

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With arty paint-effect! Blame the Club Mate….

The fully-addressable RGB display behind the guys is made from Xmas tree lights inside crates of glass [Club Mate!] bottles and controlled via micro-controllers. Must have been a bugger to wire. It can display text, graphics etc, scroll it all that. Very cool.

The format of the evening is 8 people get 5 mins to explain their cool thing, no marketing pitching allowed – and show us TEH CODEZ!!!! There’s a halfway break preceded by a “Flea Market” where if you are looking for people for your project, or looking for work, you get up and say so, so that people know to come talk to you at the bar at half-time/after. I get the feeling I am a bit corporate and a bit Microsoft for these guys, but I make use of the flea market anyway, to make myself known, and end up talking to Paul from Relayr, who have some cool micro-controllers and are into The Internet of Things. It seems a tad nebulous at this stage though he has prototypes to show us in the 2nd half. He mainly wants to build a good team and there will be Big Data involved at some point, so we arrange to try to arrange to meet up on Friday morning. I also talk to another guy , Magnus from SO1, who is looking for a data person. I can think of people I know back home who would have a much better skillset to fit in with all this – but I have always managed, always learn new things, and I am quite enjoying the atmosphere. The hipster-geek is a different breed to the trad-geek – they can, and do actually do, style and conversation! Amazing the difference 20 years (and Apple) makes.

Not surprisingly, the bottle-light display wins the little trophy for this month when we all vote (on our phones/laptops) at the end. I hang around a little, talking to a guy from Leeds and his GF, here on holiday. He demoed a client side javascript lib called jsPDF [no guesses for that that does! If you can’t guess, don’t worry, this just means you are not a developer and couldn’t possibly care] I also chatted again to Paul, to make sure he remembered me and to make sure he knew I liked the ideas of his company. It was about half nine by then, so I packed up and went home. Had only average transport luck, but at least I could listen to stuff on my headphones again!

Oddly, despite sugar+caffeine+loneliness+no music done, I slept well, and felt optimistic.

(Not) Down with the Sickness

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Started the day with a few messages – one from Callum, with details of the geek meetup and a few job sites for English-speaking jobs in Berlin. I can’t complain I haven’t got the resources to find some sort of gainful employment here if I wanted.

I actually managed a decent guitar/singing practice this morning – just an hour, because I wasn’t up early, but it was actually enjoyable and not a grind.

Class was quiet – only 2 of us there, which made it rather intense and we finished up a little early. This didn’t help me in getting up to Eva’s as I just saw the back of the bus disappear as I got to the corner. Oh well, 10 minute wait. I had the same issue when I got the tram stop. I didn’t put music/language stuff on on my headphones because I wanted to pay attention to where I was, given it was a new route. So yet again I ended up back up in Weißensee. Took Eva through some breathing exercises, which had been my fallback plan for if she had nothing especially in mind to work on. They are always useful and it will make sure that if I have to refer to support etc. again that I know she knows what I mean by that. She is actually a very good singer, so unless she herself comes up with issues, there’s very little I can volunteer (tactfully, of course) as suggested improvements. It’s always the way, I think that those that are good are those the most aware of their own ‘faults’. There were some experiments on asking students to predict/rate their own performance on an exam versus their actual score that pretty much supported that, as I recall. Those that finished with higher scores were far more likely to have underestimated their performance and those that scored worst had heavily overestimated their prospects… Guess we have all seen that in effect in real life! Still, it’s possible to envy the obliviously happy idiot – seems less stressful, somehow…

After the ‘lesson’ we chatted for a while over coffee. Getting the view of moving to Germany/Berlin . (Eva is Austrian). Quite a different attitude to Callum’s, she did everything legit, and it seems the calmer path – though I suppose there would be something nostalgically romantic about authority-dodging in East Germany. I don’t think it’d be for me. Talking to her got me more optimistic again – and perhaps the Wießensee area is calling to me. It’s close to Blackland, the cool rock pub. The best-looking hardcore gym is up that way(ish), there’s a nice lake, and Eva does Shotokan karate (which I’d love to take up again) at a club fairly locally.

I am prone to trying to solve a problem “once and forever”, for this to be “the last plan” – but it really need not be like that. In fact, that attitude has often lead to me not enjoying the not-as-permanent adventures that I have had as much as I might have, because of investing too much future in them. I need to chill, relax, consider. Maybe think about budgeting for a year here, with loads of trips back, and avoid trying to make it one of my “BANG! DO CRAZY THING ALL THE WAY SERIOUS NOW!” escapades. Rent somewhere as a base, resign myself to working… The attractiveness of that thought (work) ebbs and flows, but maybe that’s the way of it. Like work itself, it’s a tide. Sometimes there’s a beach, sometimes just the sea.

I tried to go to bed early – but that didn’t work well. Sleep was not easy come by, and I woke once, to scribble a line of lyric in my notebook, forgotten until now:

“I leave an uninvited guest and pay with mystery”.

Inspiration or flotsam? Ich wieße nicht, ich vorstehe nicht. We’ll see what I make of it.

Singing in the snow

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Above is the view of the frozen canal at Hallesches Tor, taken on my way home in the early hours of this morning after my trip up to Blackland for their karaoke night. I was not in the best of spirits after my mental totting-up exercise, but I made the effort and took myself back up to Prenzlauerberg. Tried a new (BVG website) recommended route – which was fine except *just* missing every connection. Transport runs so regularly on most routes, that it’s not worth trying to time it, but like a run of red lights, sometimes it spectacularly fails to stack up – and thus was my journey last night. Maybe it was just a Sunday thing – or payback for the good bus karma on the way to Callum’s. In any case, despite the lack of favour from the travel gods, I found myself back in the rock pub/bar.

Amazingly, they were running the karaoke from *actual CDs* – more Berlin retro! All the more amazing because the DJ doing it does his normal background playlists from a laptop like anyone else these days. They also display the words on the huge screen behind the stage – so we, the audience, get to join in :-). I signed myself up for Fool for Your Loving, Sweet Child O’ Mine and something else I forget. I end up doing ‘Paranoid’ first though – feels very weird and the pitch seems low, which is odd cos I am most used to singing with the band downtuned to Eb – at least back in the days when I fronted “From Sabbath To Hell – Europe’s only female-fronted Sabbath Tribute”. Til it all finally fell apart. Rock and Roll bullshit – ubiquitous, necessary, endlessly entertaining – but in this case, ultimately fatal. Oh well, I’m going through changes… just hope it’s not a case of “plus ca change plus la meme chose” to change language (and rock sub-genre, perhaps?). Answers in eyeliner on the back of a whiskey-stained beermat…

But back to karaoke! There were far fewer people here than for the Open Stage, I guess if you take all the pure instrumentalists out it thins the crowd, but we all made a decent stab at it. “Livin’ On a Prayer” came up, and looking round the bar, playing karaoke-Cluedo, there is only one person it could possibly be (since I know it’s not “Kirsty in the Rock Bar with the Bon Jovi CD”).

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Yup, the guy in eyeliner, cowboy boots, dangling scarf and perfect 80’s hair … but also his girlfriend, who I had just been talking to. They have great stage presence and he does wicked air-guitar – which turns out to be entirely explicable when we chat afterwards, as he is a guitarist called Charlie. He is also a big fan of all the same 80’s stuff as me. Happy times are had comparing Whitesnake hit-miss gig experiences – always musically great, but vocally, Mr C disappoints about half the time – agreeing on the greatness of Dio and on Randy Rhoads rhythm guitar awesomeness (usually given less attention than the pyrotechnic leads, but the foundation of that era of Ozzy’s sound…).

A tad later, Eva turned up, fresh from some jamming, and signed up for a few, including some Madonna, just for a laugh. We had a good chat, and arranged that I turn up at hers the next day for another vocal-lesson session. I am only learning, so it’s good to have someone to practice on >:-). The last session must have been some use, or she wouldn’t be asking again, so maybe I am managing to pick up and apply something useful.

I left at just before midnight, with snow starting to fall, in order to catch the *2nd* last S/U-Bahn combination home, far happier than when I set out.

Music. Does it every time.

Taxing

Another not-musically-productive day. No practice at all (so far, but it’s almost 6 and I am going at at 8 and I am writing this….). No exercise. Did get invited up to Callum’s to play boardgames with him and his girlfriend’s 13 yr old son. Also picked his brains on various aspects of living here. He’s very much flying under the radar, so it’s useful to have that point of view. Normally I am all for legit – but there seem to be one nasty expensive sticking point that comes with properly registering – apparently you *have* to buy health insurance – there is no state healthcare. I have never done this in my life (various companies have done it on my behalf, but I can’t recall that I used it). It’s frighteningly expensive – even the cheapest “youngish person with no conditions” version (150 EUR a month, going up as you get older) or the government scheme (flat rate about 400/m forever – *but see later, I think that was a bit overstated*). That’s insane. To me at least. If you are employed, your employer pays half, if you are on unemployment I think it gets paid for you. For a buccaneer like me – well, that falls through the cracks… but I’d say I’d gamble on good health – and cheap plane tickets home. Except, except, except … I have had one very serious motorbike accident 18 years ago – that shit is expensive to fix. Gulp. I was stunned that a fellow-EU country that I thought was pretty good at caring for its citizens turns out to be so…uncivilised. It’s given me massive pause.

Seems there is no concept of healthcare taken out of the general taxation budget. I run my own company back home, so I know exactly what combined tax/Employer’s+employee’s NI comes out of a salary. Just shy of £800/m on £24000/year with about £339 being personal. From the very good page http://www.expatica.com/de/finance_business/tax/Individual-income-tax-for-employees-in-Germany-_18488.html – in Germany, general income tax rate is 18.9%, with an annual exemption (8,130 EUR) a little lower than the UK. The total social security [employer’s plus employee] appears to be 39.45% [with a monthly cap of 1924 EUR]. If I interpret it all right ( I am not an accountant!) the Germans end up paying WAY more *personally* in combined income and social security taxes than the UK – in my example, 670 EUR vs 410 EUR (£339). I think unemployment benefits are better/for longer but I haven’t heard the healthcare is any better (and that some things are not free even then). It seems like a startlingly raw deal. I knew the *companies* got hammered but I thought that kinda fair enough – I didn’t realise the poor employees did too. I hope I have got this horribly wrong, it seems a LOT. I must have got it wrong. Surely?

Oh and German residents are taxed on non-German income. Not Good (though i would have to check if the UK would tax a German resident on UK rental income – perhaps not).

Not So Happy Now. At least with the financial prospects. Food for very much thought…