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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Article also published on the Golf Monthly Website

Coverage of the final round of the South African Open yesterday was full of stories of players narrowly securing, or narrowly failing to secure, their 2012 European Tour playing privileges.

Richard McEvoy managed to grab his place on next year’s circuit by firing a closing 68 to end the week tied third. He climbed from 121st to 107th on the money list. The top 115 gain a card for next year, but players down to 118th might be safe owing to various exemptions coming into effect.

Gareth Maybin of Northern Ireland didn’t do enough to move up into a card-winning spot but he will have one last chance to do so in this week’s Hong Kong Open.

It was from two Scots that the real hard-luck stories of the tournament came. Steven O’Hara led the event after 36-holes and needed a top-three to save his card. But he fell away over the weekend and finished in 25th place.

Lloyd Saltman required a par at the last to finish in joint third. It would have pushed him right to the edge of the top 120 and earned him a start in Hong Kong next week. That would have provided a real chance of gaining playing rights for 2012 as many of those around the bubble are not in the Hong Kong field.

But the 2005 Open Silver Medallist suffered a disastrous double bogey on the 18th. It dropped him from third to ninth and meant he will now be making a trip to Q School next month.

As I watched this unfold I found myself feeling sorry for both Saltman and O’Hara. This was probably something to do with the hangover I was nursing making me a touch emotional. It was also a great deal to do with the fact I was being brainwashed into feeling sympathy for them by the TV pundits.

Between them, the Sky commentators make the loss of playing rights and a trip to Tour School seem like a fate worse than death. From the way they talk about it you begin to wonder if Steven O’Hara will be able to feed his family next year.

But then I thought about it more and did a little internet-based research. Steven O’Hara has earned €198,000 from the European Tour events he’s competed in this season. He’s earned almost €2 million on the circuit in the last 10 years. OK, he will have spent €50,000 or a bit more each year in expenses. But that’s still a six figure average pre-tax profit per annum.

Saltman has also earned just less than €200k in prizemoney this year – pretty good for a 26-year-old when you consider that the average annual salary in the UK is £25,000 and very few are enjoying what they’re doing to gather that sum.

So why on earth would I feel sorry for guys making €100k plus a year to do something I would pay to do? I should just feel envy.

I suppose, they do have to go and play six rounds at PGA Catalunya – one of the best tracks in continental Europe where green fees are up to €100. That’s a bit of a bind. At least they’ll have a few of their mates there. That should make the experience more bearable.

And if they do well at Catalunya they’ll be in line to pick up huge sums of money again all next year – it sounds a pretty good prospect to me. If they don’t quite make it, they’ll get a few European Tour starts, Challenge Tour status and will have a bit more time at home to practice, play with their pals and look towards better things in 2013. Let’s be honest, life’s not so bad.

I think times have changed on the European Tour in recent years. When John Hawksworth, Wayne Riley or Tony Johnstone speak about the struggles of the golfer fighting to retain his card, they’re remembering their own playing days.

In 1990, when all three of those guys were on the circuit, Ross McFarlane finished the season in 120th on the money list and earned just €34,000. Manuel Calero who was 133rd (the same spot Lloyd Saltman has finished his campaign this year) picked up only €27,000.

So Lloyd has earned €168,000 more than Manuel did – that’s a 620% increase. Given that inflation in the UK since 1990 is more like 70%, we can safely say that players narrowly missing out on their card this year are in a far better position than they were 20 years ago.

I agree, it must be hugely disappointing for a player if he just misses out on full rights on the lucrative main tour, and it’s the job of the commentators on Sky to add excitement by making the battle for European Tour playing rights seem like a matter of life and death.

But let’s have some perspective. If I’d spent the year playing golf in exotic locations around the world, and had been paid €200,000 to do it, I wouldn’t be feeling sorry and I wouldn’t be expecting anyone else to on my behalf.

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I’m not sure if it’s because I’m increasingly demanding in my taste and expectation, but TV totally sucks at the moment.

Every evening I go through the same rigmarole of searching through the listings. First the main, “old school,” channels: soaps, reality rubbish and documentaries that don’t interest me; then the newer channels, Sky 1, Sky Atlantic and the like – “Oh look it’s Series 3, episode 29 of that repetitive crime “thriller” that never sorts itself out and shows no sign of ever trying to.”

BBCs 3 and 4 occasionally put on something good, reference an excellent programme American comedian Rich Hall did recently on Hollywood’s portrayal of the southern states of the USA – “Dirty South.” That was a fine piece of TV: funny, informative and opinionated. Let’s have more of that type of thing please.

But, generally, it’s all crap and this is a problem as we head into another tiresome winter. Through the summer I don’t really care as I’m normally out in the evenings, playing golf, barbecuing, gardening etc.. But as we go into effective hibernation for five months, I need some distraction.

Our technique is to flog the film channels within an inch of their lives. Thank god for Sky Indie. If we search hard enough, record things when we see them and make use of Sky’s “Anytime,” we’ll find enough decent films to last us until next March.

I think films are just so much better than TV mini series’. Principally because they’re one-offs, (except if they’re part of some appalling franchise, in which case they’re probably not worth watching,) so the writer and director will have given everything to say all that needs to, and should, be said in a two hour slot. They can also be far more niche, they don’t have to appeal to a TV audience, they can be more subtle, more weird and more unique – they just tend to be better.

To try and prove that rule I’m going to talk about an exception – an exceptionally bad film we watched last night. “The Warrior’s Way” is not a good film. In fact, it’s bad on a number of levels. It’s one of those weird crossovers where martial arts meet the Wild West. Why? Well apart from trying to milk two different genres to make more money, I can’t really see it. Is it something to do with the rivalry between the East and West? Asia’s economic and political power growing to threaten the dominance of the West…  Is this some sort of metaphor? I don’t get it if it is.

Anyway this is briefly what happens in this film: A sword-wielding ninja hero kills every member of his old clan enemy save the last one – a baby girl. His clan is cross that he doesn’t kill her. He takes baby across the sea to somewhere that looks like the Wild West to see an old friend. Old friend is dead. Town where old friend has lived is plagued by a gang of outlaws. Hero meets heroine whose family has been killed by outlaws. Hero trains heroine to fight using swords. Outlaws turn up in town, ninjas turn up in town – hero and heroine kill the lot with a bit of help from Geoffrey Rush.

One of the key problems with this film is that the hero character, played badly by Dong-gun Jang, is just way too good at fighting. At the start of the film he kills, “The greatest swordsman in the history of mankind ever,” with one blow. Where do you go from there? He’s totally infallible, he kills 10 ninjas with one sweep of his blade, he’s clearly never going to get hurt and nobody, save for someone a safe distance away with a nuclear missile, is going to be able to beat him. That makes for pretty boring and inevitable viewing.

It’s a fundamental error in this type of action film. If one character is too powerful then there’s no uncertainty, no question of how the story will pan out. And, if the script does find a way to manipulate a circumstance where there is uncertainty then it seems contrived and awkward.

But that wasn’t all that was wrong with this film. It attempts to be surreal but does it in a half-hearted way – throws some clowns and a dwarf into the mix. It attempts to be funny (I think) but totally fails. It’s a real mish-mash of badly done bits and pieces. In short, if you see this coming on one of the movie channels, turn back to “I’m a celebrity and won’t cook on ice” or some other drivel.

Just keep it in Beatrice!

One of the disadvantages of working from home is the fact there’s no escape from family drama. If I worked 9-5 in an office, I wouldn’t have spent half an hour this morning scrubbing vomit off the hall carpet. I suppose though, I’d scrub vomit from the carpet for half an hour every day to avoid working 9-5 in an office.

This was Beatrice’s vomit by the way – that’s daughter number two. Flora (daughter one) woke her up ludicrously early this morning – 5.45am – and they were running around downstairs like a pair of howling banshees for about an hour before I could be bothered to go down, make a cup of tea and express my severe displeasure at their pre-dawn chorus.

I brewed the Tetley, poured a cup of milk for each of the monsters then retreated to my bed to try and relax for another 10 minutes before starting the day properly.

After two and a half minutes, Beatrice came upstairs dragging her duvet and promptly puked all over it. It was a very milky puke though and we dismissed it as caused by over-exuberance and early rising.

She then went downstairs again and found herself a small box of raisins. They appeared again on our bedroom floor reasonably quickly. Then, against my advice and all rational thought, Jessie gave her breakfast – a large, oaty and fruity breakfast. I had the pleasure of cleaning up this breakfast’s second coming while Jessie took Flora to nursery.

The problem is, we’re supposed to be going out tonight so we’re in denial about the whole thing. We’re just trying to brazen it out, blaming it on anything but a nasty bug.

“It’s because she’s exhausted having been up so early,” I said.

“Yes, that’s surely it. Just one of those toddler things. Remember Flora used to get them…”

Now we’re debating how long we can leave it before calling off the babysitter.

“I think she’ll be fine after a nap,” said Jessie

“Oh yes, she’ll be right as rain.”

Small children are ill pretty much all the time and it’s hardly surprising. They catch all sorts from the little tykes they run about with at toddler groups and nurseries: rubbing snotty noses with a hand before picking up the “Pritt Stick;” rolling about on the floor coughing on each other: dribbling on a cheesy Wotsit before passing it on. Let’s face it they’re just not au fait with the concept of personal hygiene.

The worst are those soft play centres. Can you imagine the cocktail of gruesome bacteria lurking in one of those ball pits? Just dip in a big toe and you’re guaranteed to be bed-ridden for two weeks.

It’s a real bind because, if the kids are ill 85% of the time, it invariably means that you’re ill for 85% of the time. I went to the doctor a little while ago because I thought my immune system was failing – I’d basically had a cold for six months. Her first question was, “do you have small children?”

She said that, as a young adult you pretty much steer clear of illness, you’re just not exposed to it that much. Then, when you have kids, they bring the germs back into your life and your body has a bit of a paddy trying to deal with them all. That seems about right. I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I caught something nasty through my early and mid 20s. Over the last few years I’d need an abacus to work it out.

I’m still refusing to accept this one though. Beatrice will be fine in a couple of hours, I will not be ill. I will be able to go out tonight and drink copious amounts of lager, I will be playing the winter Stableford at my golf club tomorrow and I will not be scrubbing any more vomit from the carpet. Who am I kidding?

Also published on the Golf Monthly website

In the clubhouse yesterday I was chatting with a pal of mine about just how difficult it is to make it as a top touring professional these days. With golf unions, colleges and other development schemes across the globe providing ever-improving coaching, fitness programmes, funding, equipment etc – an increasing number of players are emerging with the technical ability to compete at the highest level.

So it’s now more than pure golfing skill that separates the success stories from the also-rans. Self-belief is undoubtedly one of the key qualities required to make it at the top level, then there’s: good backing, grit and determination, a solid work ethic and a desire to improve. But we wondered if, perhaps, a little lucky timing is also important; that those who make it manage to find their best game at the right time to secure a break.

The discussion came about as we were considering how this year has panned out for two of GB&I’s Walker Cup winners – Tom Lewis and James Byrne. We have a particular interest in James’ career because he’s been a member of Banchory Golf Club since he first started out as a golfer. In fact, when I worked in the pro shop at Banchory in the late 1990s, I used to sell James Mars Bars and regularly lose out to him on the putting green.

Anyway, at the start of this year James was the leading Brit on the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He’d finished runner-up in the 2010 Amateur Championship and had narrowly missed out at Local Final Qualifying for the Open Championship, losing a four-man playoff at Kingsbarns. Tom Lewis was a bit further down the ranking, but he’d come to the attention of the British golfing public by losing in a playoff for the New South Wales Open to Peter O’Malley.

As the 2011 season kicked off, even the most experienced pundit would have been hard pressed to say which of these two would go on to enjoy the greater success this year: Both men clearly in possession of a superb all-round game, both fit and powerful, both exuding an air of confidence – so important in the cutthroat world of elite golf.

Tom qualified for the Open at St George’s where he won the Silver Medal for leading amateur. As a result of his exploits there, he went to the Walker Cup as the star name on the GB&I side. But he didn’t perform particularly well at Royal Aberdeen, securing just 1.5 points from 4 matches, losing both his singles. James did better with 2 points from the 3 matches he played.

Still then, at this time, I wouldn’t have wanted to put money on who was the better prospect.

Both turned pro and signed with IMG. Clearly the world’s leading sports agency recognised their potential. Tom made his pro debut at the Austrian Open where he finished an excellent 10th. He and James then received invites to the Dunhill Links Championship where he finished 70th and James 45th, the latter picked up some €16,000 – not bad. At this stage there was still not much between the pair.

The following week James travelled to the first stage of European Tour qualifying school at Ribagolfe in Portugal. Tom didn’t need to enter because he was exempt from the first stage.

This, we decided in our clubhouse debate, was the first piece of “timing” to have an impact. James must have been tired following the stresses and pressures of the Dunhill Links and it was, perhaps, not overly surprising that he didn’t fire on all cylinders at Ribagolfe. He struggled over the four rounds and failed to make it to stage two.

This has put him on a bit of a sticky wicket – by missing out at the first stage, an avenue has closed for 2012. He can’t get his European Tour playing rights for next season the conventional way, in fact, he won’t even be able to secure Challenge Tour playing rights as these go to players who make it further in the qualifying school process.

Two weeks later Tom made his third start as a pro, receiving an invite to the Portugal Masters. He played superb golf all week and ended up winning the tournament. In one fell swoop he’d collected €416,660 (€400,000 more than James pocketed at the Dunhill,) secured his Tour card to the end of 2013 and earned a start at the HSBC Champions tournament. A pretty useful week to find your best game!

So, in the space of three weeks these two players who had been travelling on a very similar path, suddenly parted company and began to go in rather different directions.

Tom can now plan his life for the next two years with gainful employment secured. There’s even talk about his chances of making next year’s Ryder Cup (a little premature I fancy.) On top of this he’s also made himself a rich man. James, on the other hand, faces a more uncertain future. Will he try Asian Tour qualifying? Should he rely on sponsors’ invites for European and Challenge Tour events in 2012? Or look towards a feeder circuit like the Europro tour?

Did James make a mistake by playing the Dunhill Links? Should his focus have been the first stage of qualifying school? Perhaps. But remember in 2007, Rory McIlroy received an invite to the Dunhill and, by finishing third, secured his card for 2008. Could he realistically have turned down the chance to replicate that feat? If he’d produced his very best golf during that week, I reckon he could have won – he is that good.

It just shows how fine the margins are at the very pinnacle of this sport. One good performance at the right time forges a career. I’ve no doubt that James will make it to the top of the game too, but his passage now looks like being a little trickier than his Walker Cup team-mate. I’m sure that when he’s lofting the Claret Jug in 10 years time he won’t really care.

I am master of all I throw away

Throwing stuff away is a cleansing and cathartic process. I always feel considerably better when I build up the courage to tidy out my desk and chuck away the hundreds of scraps of paper I’ve collected, or jotted things down on, that have become totally irrelevant some months previously.

Well, if filling my waste paper bin makes me feel good, just imagine the state of pure elation I’m currently in after filling a skip this morning… I can barely type I’m so keyed up. I’ve just removed 10 cubic yards of my life that I no longer need – therapeutic to say the least.

Jessie and I decided a couple of weeks ago that we were going to have a blitz and make a concerted effort to reduce the amount of detritus around the place.

When we moved here we seemed to have endless room to keep things because, “you just never know.” It’s true that actually, you do never know – I might well have needed the parts from a broken hoover. And, how cross we’d have been if we’d had a sudden requirement for a mouldy and damp, horsehair mattress and we’d binned it!

Five years of throwing basically nothing away has led to rather an impressive selection of little junk mountains around the place – particularly in our garage – see below – It was the first area we tackled.

Admittedly, we'd let things get a little out of hand

Yes it was pretty incredible in there. I think I discovered a new life form in the corner where a pile of cardboard boxes and old bits of carpet had been left in a soaking heap after a flood a few winters back. I can’t be sure if it was alive or just a jellyish mass of rotting bits and pieces.

First I had to remove three dead birds in varying stages of decomposition and something I reckon that had once belonged to a rabbit. I managed that using a spade, but then I had to tackle an ominous looking pile of goo behind an old fridge. I went for my gardening gloves and, as I did, we chuckled as we re-enacted a favourite scene from Withnail and I

“Yes, put on the gloves,” Jessie said, “Don’t try anything without the gloves…. Now what? What have you found?”

“Matter,” I replied.

“Matter? Where’s it coming from?”

“Don’t look, don’t look,” I said. “I’m dealing with it.”

Anyway, we got through that little challenge and continued to rapidly fill our skip. I can’t quite believe how quickly we did actually. I was a little worried that we wouldn’t have enough trash to warrant the hire of a skip. As it turns out we probably needed two or three. I’ve got a huge pile of garden waste around the corner that I was planning to chuck in there (actually it’s two trees that I had great fun cutting down with an axe,) but it’s just going to have to wait.

So I’m feeling purified and new this afternoon and I’m contemplating my next move. Perhaps I should just throw everything away and we’ll start completely from scratch. We’ll only procure things we absolutely need. We’ll sleep on the floor in sleeping bags, we’ll cook potatoes over the fire in a cauldron, we’ll clean our teeth with sticks and grit, I’ll make my own booze using blackberries and other things I can find in the garden, the girls can go to work in the mill, we’ll worship the sun and make sacrifices accordingly…

OK, ok, well maybe I’ll try and throw out some of the old broken tools in my potting shed instead.

Why it's all worth it

Words: Fergus Bisset

As I broke through the final layer of congealed fat and loo roll releasing a torrent of water into the tank I felt a sense of elation many would consider strange for a man who was sweating profusely while holding a shit-covered stick. But for me, solving the long-running issue of our persistently problematic septic tank was an achievement beyond parallel.

I came back into the house glowing, if a little whiffy, and announced the success of my Herculean effort. The news was greeted as if I’d just split the atom or completed my first concerto. After a quick shower, I cracked open a bottle of wine and Jessie (wife) and I toasted the fact that our crap was once again flowing happily away from the house.

When we moved to the Scottish countryside from central London there were a number of things I was expecting – peace and tranquillity, wildlife, barbecues, a spot of light gardening perhaps. We’ve enjoyed all those things, but we’ve also encountered some things I wasn’t so prepared for.

What I hadn’t considered was the wider impact of isolation. The fact that, in the middle of winter when you’re snowed in and a pipe bursts, nobody can solve the problem except you – I’ll come on to that one.

It’s been over five years now since we moved into this house and they’ve been five fantastic years that have seen our lifestyle change totally (and for the better I think.) But it’s been a fairly steep learning curve and we’ve had to overcome some pretty good problems. Here below are a few of the most amusing:

Outdoor tap catastrophe

Two winters ago we endured the worst extended spell of snow on record in Deeside. It came in late December and we still had a covering in the garden in mid March.

The most extreme of it was just after New Year when temperatures fell as low as -18 and there was, at times, snow drifting above the lintels of the cottage windows.

We live up a steep dirt track that comes straight up from the main road and becomes highly difficult to pass in snowy conditions. We’d been effectively snowed in for four days.

On day five I woke and went downstairs for a shower. I turned it on but only a piffling little dribble spluttered out. Concerned, I went to investigate.

I couldn’t see anything untoward in the house so decided to venture outside. I tightened the belt of my dressing gown, put on my slippers and opened the back door. As soon as I did I heard a strange hissing noise. I stepped out (into snow up to my knees – slippers were the wrong choice of footwear) and followed the sound.

It grew louder as I walked towards the front of the house. I came round the corner and was greeted by a jet of water firing some 20 feet into the air and arcing across the roof of the garage. I got as close as I could and saw an outdoor tap attached to the edge of the garage had been blown from the top of its pipe.

“OK,” I thought, “I’ll have to find the shut off point.” I went inside to put some clothes on, I checked the thermometer by the back door on the way. It read -12 and, as an unpleasant addition, the wind was gusting and a blizzard raging.

When I got back out there I faced another problem – there was two feet of snow on the ground and I had no idea where the shut-off point was. After 45 minutes of fruitless digging I realised I wasn’t going to find it and needed a new strategy. I was conscious of the huge volume of water still pulsing out of the tap-less pipe and freezing almost instantly over the garage roof and the driveway, creating a rather lethal ice-rink.

I phoned a plumber friend of mine who confirmed there was no way he could get out, let alone reach our house. He suggested trying to bend the pipe in two to stop the flow.

It was a good idea and my only option but a difficult proposition as the pipe was screwed to the wall of the garage in an awkward corner and I couldn’t get closer than about three feet away without being soaked by a high pressure jet of icy cold water.

I put on my golf waterproofs and went at it with a bucket to catch the jet. Remember now, it was -12 and blizzarding. Within seconds I was soaked through and my hand so numb I could hardly hold the screwdriver I was using to attempt to dislodge the pipe. After 10 minutes of effort I’d made little progress and went back into the house. I was so cold I think I remember crying a little.

“I can’t do it,” I whimpered to Jessie.

“You’ll just have to,” she replied matter of factly.

So I went once more into the breach and summoned an amazing level of determination to unscrew the pipe then to bend it in two. It did indeed stop the flow but I had no means of keeping it bent. I shouted for assistance and was eventually heard. Jessie came with a roll of duct tape (my most precious possession) and we managed to secure it. Job done. Not fun though.

The septic tank saga

We’d been living here only a few months when we first noticed problems with our tank. The shower was backing up and a quick look in the inspection chamber (a man-hole in our driveway) confirmed it was full and needed emptying. Strange, as the estate agent told me it was a huge tank and should never need to be emptied.

No mind. We phoned a guy who deals with these matters and he arranged to come round. He has a big old tanker with a very grubby pipe that he sticks in the tank and sucks out all the nastiness. It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it and, the fact he charges £250 a go must make it a little more bearable.

Anyway I thought that would be it solved for years so was rather unimpressed when the shower started to back-up again just six months later. A little more investigation from our man with the pipe led him to believe there was a blockage, so he got out some rods and shuggled them around a bit. That seemed to do the trick, for a few weeks at least. When things went wrong again he came back scratching his head, he took off his gloves to do this by the way. He tried emptying it again. Why not? It was only £250. That worked, for a little while.

Next time he came back, he took his little camera with him. It’s like a sort of drainage endoscope. It turned out our tank had been installed back to front, so the outflow is at the level the inflow should be and vice-versa. He did some more rodding, installed some sort of pump… oh… and emptied it again. Fair play, it’s a dirty old job and all that.

This worked for quite a while but when, recently, things began to go wrong again I decided I wasn’t going to line Pooey McGee’s stinky pockets any further so would solve the problem myself. The tank looked fine so I determined there must be some sort of blockage between the house and it.

I got on the internet and purchased nine metres of drain rods with screw and plunger attachments. They arrived and I put them together while pushing the plunger up the pipe towards the tank from the inspection chamber. When I attached rod nine of nine and pushed it up to the hilt into the fetid water I realised I was going to need more rod.

Back on the internet (after washing my hands James Herriot-style) – another nine metres please. They came and I attached them too – still not enough…. For xxxx’s sake!

I decided on a different tactic – to try going from the tank end. It was quite difficult to find the inflow in the dark tank so I attached a small torch to the side of my hat with duct tape (aah sweet duct tape.) Eventually I got the rod into the right hole and began pushing. I could see it was blocked with some unpleasantness (the smell was pretty incredible) and just a few minutes of energetic rodding got the desired result as described in the introduction: My finest hour.

TV crisis

It was a little later in the broken tap winter and I was sick fed-up of the snow. As a writer snowbound in a house with his young family, I couldn’t help but think of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. No that’s not right, I wasn’t considering murdering my family, maybe just hurting them a little.

Having said that, there were some good things about being semi-snowed in: We were eating lots of hearty winter meals like pies and haggis and drinking in the day seemed totally acceptable with nothing else going on. We were also enjoying watching an inordinate amount of telly. Who would know that ski-jumping could be so exciting?

Then, one particularly bleak evening, the unthinkable happened. Sky TV cut out. I phoned them and went through all the usual “have you tried turning it off and on again?” type questions, but to no avail. The bod at Sky was stumped.

I went out into the snow to look at the dish, I shone my torch up towards it and the problem was apparent, the dish was totally caked in snow. There was little wonder no signal was getting through.

It was very cold and, frankly, I was a bit pissed but I was determined to fix it despite Jessie’s protestations.

“Just leave it,” she said. “We’ll do something about it tomorrow.”

“But it’s all I have,” I replied somewhat over dramatically.

I went into our freezing potting shed in full ski gear and found the necessary tools – A garden hoe, a sweeping brush, the ladder and some duct tape (god bless you.)

I taped the brush to the end of the hoe to create an extended sweeper, some seven feet long. With the torch once again duct taped to my hat I climbed the ladder to the base of the roof. I was a little unsteady as the snowy wind buffeted me (and the effect of half a bottle of red took hold,) but I pressed on.

I prostrated myself against the steep roof and lofted my homemade dish cleaner towards its target. It wasn’t easy and my aim was not good but eventually I had knocked a good proportion of the snow from the receiver. I gingerly made my way back down to ground level, shook myself off and went back inside.

“It works, it works,” Jessie called from the sitting room. Thank god I thought as I looked at my watch, just in time for Grand Designs.

#1: Clark – Herr Bar
In 2006, Chris Clark (having recently abbreviated his stage name to just Clark) released his seminal album, Body Riddle. Following on from 2003’s claustrophobic Empty the Bones of You, this album displayed more jazz sensibilities than previously heard in his work. Herr Bar, the opening track off Body Riddle starts with stilted drums backing a music box refrain, as so beloved by electronica musicians, before transforming into a swirling psychedelic behemoth of synths and reverb.