Email 12th February 2009

Fish 2009 - View from the Mole Hills

Dear FishHeads, Freaks, fans and the Company,


Unbelievably I am typing this in my new office in the redesigned control room and staring out the window into beautiful sunshine and emerging buds on the Quince tree in the Japanese garden.

The only weather warnings in my neck of the woods are for flooding as most of us are wetting ourselves at the folks down South struggling to come to terms with a few inches of snow. :-D
Normally it's us up North taking in plummeting temperatures and digging our cars out in the morning.

I just find it unbelievable that Britain falls apart as soon as the flakes start to fall. It's interesting hearing the views in the media of the Danes and Norwegians as well as the Southern Germans who all seem to manage quite well under far more severe conditions while we go into "drama mode". You would think we have never had snow on this island before.

I remember being in Calgary once when it was minus 38 with wind chill with snow on the ground in the main streets and falling lazily throughout the day.
People were just going about their normal routines and schools were open. We even managed to attract around a thousand fans that night to the gig, who all drove through snow blizzards to get there! :-)

In Scotland we are more used to it and just deal with it.
"Angus get the shovel out, there's fifteen feet just fallen and you'd better start digging your way to school before you go to bed!"

Personally I love the snow, but then again I drive a Volvo 4x4 :-D
Some of my favourite journeys have been in snow with my best ever being a trek in my Cherokee Jeep along an "officially" closed road by the side of Loch Laggan, making fresh tracks, in the sunshine, and not seeing another vehicle for over an hour.

I can remember back in my forestry days driving on forest tracks in the darkness of morning and having to dig 2 feet of snow around the trees to get down to where I would make the cuts with the chain saw (and avoid the bollocking from the forester when the snows melted to reveal 2 foot high stumps in the wood!)

And I lived in t' shoebox in t' middle o' road! :-D

The only thing that gets me this month is that I can't get out as much as I would like in the garden and it's too early to get excited about putting seed in.
The wet weather holds everything up and all I can do is plan.

One project coming into being in March is The Company Orchard!
With all the vouchers you gave me last year for my birthday I have been pondering on something meaningful and substantial to put them to and decided with Katie that the best solution was to plant an orchard in the "lower field".
That area had been levelled and grassed in 2007 but since the "launch party" it's never really been used and maintaining the lawn is a pain. My Dad spends at least three hours a week in the summer months and beyond doing his "Mr Rusty" impression on the mini tractor, keeping the lawn trim and I don't know if I could spend another year listening to the stream of epithets that follow him as he buzzes round the field in ever increasing clouds of smoke while shouting at him to wear a hat in the beating sun.
Before anyone suggests I am abusing the elderly I have tried time and time again to get him to hand over the keys but he insists it is his job and no one else is allowed to ride his "Tommy the tractor" :-D

And so, the chess move!
I contacted a nursery in Norfolk ( and they have been sorting out planting maps and species selection with us.
It's a great service with advice on line about pruning and disease control and everything else you need to maintain a fruit orchard.
We should be planting the trees out in March and so far we have a wide range of apples, cherries, plums, greengage and - believe it or not - apricots!
It's about 40 trees in all which will fill the lawn space.
Add to that a present from Doc Bob's charity that we helped raise some money for and who have gifted us a walnut tree, and we have a pretty happening Company orchard. :-)

Our fruit growing capacity was severely curtailed just before Christmas when our neighbours' "gardener" decided to let some more light into their orchard and took a chainsaw to the espaliered apple hedge dividing the bottom edge of the properties. The hedge has been there for at least the last 50 years and when I had the old house I had manicured the trees and kept the hedge in shape (it requires heavy pruning and training of the branches to run parallel with the ground, tying them to posts and stakes to hold them down. Reasoning is that the sap doesn't have to rise as much and you get more fruit.)
I was hoping I could spend the next few months pruning and tying as the hedge had got out of hand since I left the main house 8 years ago and all the branches were growing vertical and had reached 9-12 feet. I thought that this would be a great project and occupy the dead time between writing.

Before I had the chance to even oil my shears, it was gone.

I hadn't noticed it's disappearance as it's at the bottom of the garden and out of sight of the studio. My mate pointed it out and I was horrified to turn the car headlights on it when I came back from the pub to discover a row of stumps less than 2 feet high. There was no point in getting too annoyed as the deed was done. All that work put in over the years, now decimated.
The "gardener" got the message though and I pointed out that he should be working in the Amazon basin where his "pruning skills" are better suited! He avoids me now.

The wet weather means poring over garden catalogues and I have decided to up the ante a bit and develop the kitchen garden into something more commercial. There is a plan to double the number of raised beds and also to add a fruit cage for growing berries.
It's quite a big outlay and I'm not sure yet whether it's too big an investment but with the prospect of food prices going through the roof when the EU bring in the new pesticide controls this year, an organic garden that can supply not only our own needs but also to sell at the monthly farmer's market and to local restaurants seems an attractive and sensible proposition.
KT is well up for it and we are waiting on the weather to clear so we can disinfect the greenhouse and start filling seed trays.


Clattered by snow this morning. Drove to town for kindling for the Morso stove and it was lucky we got a load of firewood yesterday from my supplier "Lord of the Trees". He's called John Lord - not the same as the Deep Purple keyboards player!
He was supposed to trim the hedges this week but the snow and wet put a halt to it.
I refrain from hedge cutting as a few years back I nearly lost my thumb when the saw slipped and I grabbed it before it took my knee out. I made the mistake of grabbing the blade! :-|

Spending most of my writing time dealing with corporations and bureaucrats.

BT cut off our broadband at the end of November until just before Christmas for no apparent reason. They accepted the blame and agreed we are due compensation but following this up has resulted in a mountain of what I consider unnecessary paperwork and dealing with a company where all the different departments don't appear to communicate.

It's a significant sum through losses of revenue and costs and, even though the contact we had at BT (we were told it was the Chairman's office, which it turned out not to be) was "very sympathetic and sorry for the inconvenience" I was finally, after many requests, presented with a claim form that requires my accountant to compile a host of information - much of which I consider totally unnecessary and intrusive - together with a clause saying that "BT reserves the right to request additional information" :-|
This is their self-created maze and seemingly designed to frustrate and deter customers from seeking damages.
Needless to say I am pursuing this and have contacted BBC Watchdog and my own press officer to bring this matter into the public domain. In this present day and age small businesses are struggling enough without the additional stresses caused by large corporations who operate a cavalier attitude toward their consumers and seem to think that their actions, which cause substantial damages, can be redeemed by simple apologies and the passing of the corporate buck while hiding behind a blizzard of paperwork and legalese.

I'm also wading through paperwork on the publishing and registrations of the last album which have taken an eternity to get together.
I have been waiting to pay publishing monies over to them for months and keep on getting invoices with the wrong information on them or the incorrect registrations.
That counts for about 5 emails a day and I seem to be going round in circles as I try and sort this out with my advisors in London.
Together with dealing with a new simplified contract with EMI publishing to tidy up all my writing side it can get pretty mind-numbing.
It could all have been a lot easier but other parties made other decisions and now I am enmeshed in the cogs of a machine which moves slowly and is very inflexible.

I had thought that by now I would be in the clear and that I would be concentrating on the novel and dealing with other more positive issues but as always the landscape of molehills and occasional mountains divert my attention.

The Convention has been a pleasant light on the horizon and I am glad everyone appears so up for this.
It's still a long way off but I can announce that "Pendragon" are guests on the Saturday with "The Reasoning" playing on Sunday hopefully with another band on the bill that day. "It Bites" are playing the "Three Rivers" festival in the US that weekend and were gutted they can't make the weekend.
I still plan to go down to Leamington next month sometime to recce the place and hopefully will get as better idea of what we have to "play" with.

Rehearsals for the band are scheduled for July but a couple of offers for festivals have come in for June so we may activate earlier than we planned.
As I said in a recent email I don't plan any bus touring but we are open to festival offers and "one offs".
To be honest, and as you can probably read, the music is not in command of my thoughts just now.

Saying that, the one project moving ahead is the "NEARfest" live recordings. Calum Malcolm is going to be mixing the sound recordings this month and I hope to get the NEARfest film crew to edit the footage in order that I will have the new DVD from the 13th Star tour for the convention if not before. It's a way off yet but the idea is in action.

I haven't started writing the "Nam" book yet but the recent acquisition of a new bookcase in my refurbished control room meant that all my reference material is now at hand and I have been researching. I just need some clear head space devoid of nuisance factors to get laid into the first couple of chapters.
As I said, a landscape of molehills.

On the subject of furry creatures I was doing my domestic bit on a rare occasion the other day and pulled back the big Turkish rug I'd bought in Istanbul last time I was there in order to wash the floor. Two feet from the edge of the carpet, I found a mouse. It was squashed absolutely flat in what I can only describe as the "cartoon squashed dead mouse position" with wee paws outstretched.
I had to get a knife to scrape it off the wooden floor. It had obviously crawled under for sanctuary from my two raptor cats and had thought itself safe.
That was until a 16 stone Scotsman with a size 11 and a half boot entered the equation. It must have been there for well over a year judging by the near mummification but still managed to raise a squeal from KT! :-D

There's still a fair bit of decorating and repairs to do. We still haven't got into Elspeth's office yet but that requires her absence and a bunch of Fraggles to sort out. We need to get that sorted as part of the mole hill clearance and to get everything in a clearer and more manageable position.

Part of that procedure has been getting rid of old reels of tapes left over from "Funny Farm" days and beyond.
We accumulated miles of Ampex and other tapes which, although kept in dry conditions, were now just cluttering up the office.
I obviously kept all of my own masters but there were banks of reels that were recordings from bands who had used the studio in the past and were now lost to memory.

In the early days when the studio was trying to get a name, we had funded some recordings on the promise of using the studio if the said band got a deal. Needless to say they were few and far behind. In fact there were none.

Two bands in particular "The Joyriders" and "Gingoblins" had made their albums at our expense and then split the week after they had mastered the albums leaving us with the bill (the first had a huge kick off while the other had a member who announced he was gay and was going to live in Amsterdam with his boyfriend - it typified my luck back then. Both were pretty decent bands.)

"The Joyriders" actually contacted me recently asking for their recordings for a Japanese licensing deal but, on finding the recordings were on tape and that they would have to hire a studio to get them transferred after having them "baked" to restore the medium and that they had an unpaid bill, needless to say they passed.

Others who had paid for their sessions and whose tapes we had stored for them told me to get rid of them.
I checked about selling second hand but the cost of sending them away to have them degaussed (wiped) and baked didn't add up.

I was therefore left with around thirty reels of tape which I couldn't just throw away as it still had artists material on and although they didn't want it themselves I couldn't exactly allow someone else to get their hands on it.
I didn't want to burn it - although it is pretty spectacular - as leaves some pretty noxious chemicals to invade the atmosphere so I had to find another solution.
I couldn't cut or razor them as the tape was tight on the reels and I didn't have a spooler to get it off.
So I drilled them.
I spent the entire afternoon with my Makita drill and a 6 inch long metal bit making holes in the tape. Not only did it make a hole right the way through from edge to the centre of the reel it also melted the tape on the way though. Righteously effective!

It felt like sacrilege to be honest. Deliberately vandalising hundreds of pounds worth of tape, which I would have drooled over ten years ago, and throwing them on the skip outside to let them be damaged further by the rain, ice and snow.
It was quite sad in a way and yet another indication of changing times in the music industry.
I felt a bit embarrassed and guilty as they lay under a film of ice outside but in the end they were redundant as a medium.
A pile of dreams and ambitions in an open skip.

And now my little cherubs I am off to the pub in the dog sleigh to drink a pint with my friendly polar bears before picking up our North Indian Garlic Chilli chicken and pilau rice to munch in front of the stove while the snowflakes dance in the starlight.

Until next time,
Stay warm

Onkel Fish x

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