And so, gentle reader, we draw the curtains on 26 days of alphabet-prompted writing and cosy up once more beneath the duvet of sporadic blogging.

This month has been a good reminder of the pleasures and annoyances of writing to a schedule. I was going to write joys, and I suppose there is a bit of that, but the correct partner then would be pains (sunshine, rain), and that would make for a somewhat overstated representation of the process. Some of the posts cracked a direct line into my favoured seams of inspiration… some seemed rather like I was forcing water into the fissures a little, but not many, though, not really.

That aspect of going through the motions was a prime mover in stopping blogging last time I stopped, and managing to avoid that was positive. Finding suitable subjects was mostly fun. There were some topics I was interested in exploring that I abandoned for a complex of reasons, mainly because I didn’t have an appropriate amount of time to potter about in them to a satisfactory level.

Getting a smattering of chatter from pals has been good too. Sharing views… It – The Process (dramatically sincere and emphatic voice) – has whetted my appetite for producing more regular discursive whimsy in this or similar outlet.

It’ll probably more than likely be a newsletter in some form, although there’s an element of them being a bit five minutes ago. So it goes. Who knows what innovation waits round the corner… personal websites and… blogging?

Imagine. Right now, o thrice-blessed reader, I’ve careered through bedtime and it’s time for lights out on this month’s endeavours.

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Perusing the dictionary in search of inspiration, I happen upon the word yoicks.

>exclamation used by fox hunters to urge on the hounds

Of course – of course! – the first thing I thought of was Scooby Doo.

…although I realised I was likely conflating “Yikes!” and “Zoinks!” in relation to usage by Shaggy or Scoob.

Yet… yikes is listed as a possible variant of yoicks, and the notion of a word being used “to urge on the hounds” turning up in a cartoon about a dog has a nice continuity about it.

I am delighted further to find that etymological discussion on this issue has been exercising internet scholars for some time.

Tally-ho! It’s Z on Monday.

Perusing the dictionary in search of inspiration, I happen upon the word yoicks.

>exclamation used by fox hunters to urge on the hounds

Of course – of course! – the first thing I thought of was Scooby Doo.

…although I realised I was likely conflating “Yikes!” and “Zoinks!” in relation to usage by Shaggy or Scoob.

Yet… yikes is listed as a possible variant of yoicks, and the notion of a word being used “to urge on the hounds” turning up in a cartoon about a dog has a nice continuity about it.

I am delighted further to find that etymological discussion on this issue has been exercising internet scholars for some time.

Tally-ho! It’s Z on Monday.

Skating around my enduring affection for verfremdungseffekt, I bumped into the marvellous vigintennial, or vicennial, meaning 20th anniversary.

As if that weren’t enough! Okay, delving into Stuff-Having-A-Vigintennial, I was delighted, but delighted, to see it has been 20 years since Quasi released the album Featuring “Birds”.

Quasi is a two piece, Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss. They used to be married, but, yeah, things happen… anyway, fortunately, they remained a musical item.

Featuring “Birds”, the duo’s third album, is a collection of lively yet lugubrious songs for roxichord and drums, with mordant, witty, often bleakly cynical lyrics. Thematically, they grapple with politics and relationships in particular.

Music lovers may recognise both names from other outfits – Weiss with Sleater-Kinney, for example. Quasi also toured with Elliott Smith, as support and backing band, which I was lucky enough to see in action. My then partner and friendship group found a rich seam of gigs In Them Days. We’re all largely scattered about the planet now, and breakups are never easy, but let the annals record those were also often the best of times.

Perhaps one of my favourite ever gigs was when we got to see Quasi do their own headlining set in September 1999 at the 13th Note Club in Glasgow… and here, he shuffled excitedly among his effects, is the set list:

…on lovely pink paper, you may just about discern.

The embedded tune is “It’s Hard To Turn Me On”, which came as an encore that night. There was Coomes, semi-seriously claiming to the rapt crowd to be running out of songs to play, when a slightly slurry Scottish voice suggested “Walt Disney!” He had to run it by them a couple of times, as I recall. “Walt Disney disnae make me happy!”. Quasi duly obliged.

Featuring “Birds”. Please seek it out and wish it a happy vigintenary year.

Q3: Analyse how the writer uses language and structure to interest and engage the reader. (15)

In this text, an examination board is stating a task for candidates to complete. The question begins with an attempt to engage the reader directly with an imperative (“Analyse”), which leaves no doubt as to the action required.

Two pairs of components then offer further detail of the task to the reader. First, the reader is informed that they must discuss how the writer uses “language and structure”. The conjunction “and” in this noun phrase is perhaps intended as a signal to the reader that they must address both linguistic, and structural, features of the text in their response. There is an implicit point made here that failure to mention one or the other may be important, but why this might be is not made clear.

Furthermore, the terms used are themselves quite vague, which may also impact the engagement of the reader. It could be argued that the terms offer open-ended scope for reader interpretation, which is potentially engaging. However, students unfamiliar with the exam format may not be entirely sure what aspects of language or structure they are supposed to discuss, unless explicitly coached on what they will have to discuss in the exam.

Given the wide parameters suggested by the vague terms of “language” and “structure”, different readers may respond more generally, for example, commenting on the use of English and the question format, rather than specific technical details of the content.

Following this, the writer has provided another pairing, this time in a verb phrase (“to interest and engage”). This offers a range of actions to complete. The conjunction here could also be important, although the use of near-synonymous words may lead to some confusion, hence causing disengagement. It is possible that a reader may interpret this phrase to mean they should not address ideas that fail to be both interesting and engaging, and in not doing so lose further marks.

The question closes with a reference to “the reader”, which in this text clearly refers to an examination candidate. Although the word “engage” can mean “occupy”, which the simple of act of reading the question achieves, the idea of a “reader” being interested by the bland terminology is not particularly convincing.

In addition, there is an implication from the wording employed that the student is expected to know how to respond to a question phrased in such a generalised way in the exam. This suggests that such knowledge is presupposed by the exam board (“the writer”), with a logical inference from that perhaps being that teachers are expected to make this mechanical awareness the point of their lessons, rather than, say, making words and reading fun activities.

The number “15” appearing at the close of the text, isolated in parentheses for emphasis, may be a mocking final note reflecting the idea that the only truly important outcome of any interest to the reader is how many marks they need to get.

This edition of The Mortal Bath is brought to you by Martin’s of Bond Street, whose sale must end this Saturday.

I only started following podcasts a couple of years ago. “only”, indeed – by which mean I am a relative neophyte, not pretending to any deep expertise, also wishing to signal a kind of regret at having missed the original boat, and also as well in addition implying a somewhat evangelical zeal for the form.

So, yes, podcasts! While I remember the advent of podcasts as a medium – sort of a radio show? downloadable formats? opportunities to explore different areas of special interest? audio zine kind of notion? – the apparent fiddliness associated with getting hold of them put me off. I’d been an enthusiastic downloader of mp3s and albums using the Pitchfork/Audiogalaxy axis, then moving to Soulseek when Audiogalaxy fell. This techie context is intended to illustrate that podcasts should have been a natural progression, but me and they just didn’t happen for some reason.

It’s probably an Apple thing. Never been a devotee or even a user of Apple, so the Pod aspect absolutely passed me by. I think that I then had a period of missed-the-boat-ism, wherein I just couldn’t be bothered.

Some time passed.

The writer Warren Ellis does a well-worth-your-bother newsletter, called Orbital Operations. He has a lot of great ideas, and links to stuff, and also exercises himself over matters such as incorrect omelette technique. He’s also an podcast advocate, and from time to time provides a list of his current listens.

Thusly… At a point when my model of (Android) phone had advanced enough to allow the ease of access thing, one weekend, I thought I’d give them a go.

The Android app I use for organising and downloading them is Pocket Casts.

It’s nice and straightforward, allows a range of play list options, customisability… Although, I tend to just pile everything in one of two playlists: Digest (mostly talking) and Music (er, music), pretty much.

Mainly I listen to them in the car going to & from work, which takes 20-30 minutes depending on traffic. I tend to get through a 1 hour podcast over a day or so. There are a few podcasts that I’ve enjoyed initially then fallen out with, or not warmed to initially but come to enjoy, and some that I touch base with from time to time but infrequently because they require a bit more than commute attention. There’s the time element, and a phone in the cup holder next to the gearbox is not really optimal sound quality.

I had a spell of listening to music mix podcasts while running, another great time to zone into something, but I stopped wearing earphones (noise distraction), then running (ouchy knees), so it’s pretty much the gearbox radio show all the way now. Ooh, now there’s a nice title.

There’re all sorts of little things about podcasts that I love, including the show sponsor adverts, but that’s quite enough from me. What am I listening to?

According to the app there are 36 podcasts I follow… but the 10 I tend not to miss are listed below, alphabetically, ish. All the links are generated through the Pocket Cast app, but you should be able to find them on Your Provider of Choice.

99% Invisible

One of the first things I downloaded was a 99PI episode called Reefer Madness, about refrigerated shipping containers. Hooked! Facts, unusual stories, and witty style.

A Duck In A Tree

One hour of genre-refusing music, sound and background noise.

Against Everyone With Conner Habib

Occult, politics and sex positive left-leaning countercultural ideas discussion prog. Conner likes swearing, and makes gay poem ogre pvt, which is apparently such a naughty word that my auto correct just dropped its monocle. 😀

The Allusionist

Helen Zaltzman lowers a net into the pool of language to identify that thing floating in the deep end.

Babbage

The Economist does a weekly show about science & technology…

Beyond Yacht Rock

This makes me laugh a lot. Music top tens countdowns, adventures in arbitrary genres (e.g. Dance Boss, songs that command you to boogie). Also has a huge amount of swearing. Their deconstruction of the show sponsor section is actually one of my favourite bits.

Deep House Amsterdam

Excellent for your workout/running mixes, or just blasting some tunes, this delivers mostly 120bpm+ dance tracks, lots of premières, as well as longer DJ sets from a wide range of producers. Boom-tiss, boom-tiss, boom-tiss brrackatacka…

Song Exploder

Another show from Radiotopia, the stable bringing you The Allusionist and 99% Invisible, this one explores the stories behind the recording of songs, from a diverse selection of artists. MGMT explaining the interpolation of Dancing Queen by Abba into Time To Pretend nearly made me crash my car, such, such was my joy.

Twenty Thousand Hertz

Another sound exploration concept, this goes into areas like sound design for cars (getting the exact right level of solidity in a closing door, for example), skeuomorphic effects on phones (e.g. the camera shutter noise), drum machines…

WTF with Marc Maron

Talk/interview show with some really ace guests, from Kim Deal, Ezra Furman and They Might Be Giants to Willem Dafoe, Sharon Stone and Neil Patrick Harris.

…there we have it. If you have any podcasts you think might be of interest, do please say hello and share in the comments!

And before I go, I’ve just got time to mention the Martin’s of Bond Street sale, which ends this Saturday.

As part of the Great Clear Out, boxes full of things are being dislodged from their dust foundations and unlidded.

It would be great to announce the uncovering of some neglected but promising manuscript of a novel, an unfinished play, pretty fragments of verse, all ripe for renovation… there are many shards, but a well-decorated commode was still a commode.

I am quite taken by some of the clippings I’ve acquired, including this, from Vox magazine:

May 1994. I think it’s the slightly distrustful tone combined with wide-eyed wonder at the strange promise of the future.

You’ll soon be able to buy standard sized, five-inch discs that will play music and VHS-quality pictures (with the right system from Amiga, Macintosh and so on, of course).

Amiga, Macintosh and so on, of course. Never mind the march of technology – 24 years later, the very notion of wanting to keep something you’ve paid for seems quite retrograde.

So, yeah, it’s mostly going in the recycling.