Category Archives: Writing

BOOK UPDATE! Extract and discount code now available

Herding Hemingway's CatsOH MY GOD – it’s all getting a bit too exciting! My new book, Herding Hemingway’s Cats, has finally gone off to print. I’ve recorded the audiobook (amazing fun but such hard work)  and you can now read an extract from it here on the interwebs.

It’s launching in the UK on Thursday 14th January, and I’ll be hosting a fantastic event at the Royal Institution in London that evening from 7pm-8,30pm (SQUEEEEE!!!) featuring talks and discussion from me and two characters who appear in the book – Anne Ferguson-Smith from Cambridge University and Ben Lehner from Barcelona. Find out more and buy tickets now.

And if that has whetted your appetite, my publisher Bloomsbury Sigma is offering a super discount if you pre-order it direct from their website using the discount code GENES. Click here and buy buy buy!

Have a lovely Christmas and new year. Roll on 2016 – year of The Book!

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A quick pimp for BPOD

BPODNo real blogging for the time being – I’m still mad busy. In the meantime, here’s a quick pimp for something that’s been taking up my time – writing for the Biomedical Picture of the Day (BPOD), run by the Medical Research Council.

The premise is simple, based on the Astronomy Picture of the Day – the editors pick an intriguing and/or beautiful biomedical image, and get one of the writing team to conjour up a few lines about it.

I’m thrilled to be involved in this project, as I think it really showcases the beauty in the biological world. Here are a few of the pics I’ve written about:

Pop over to the main BPOD site for a daily dose of biomedical beauty, and join their Facebook page to get in on the action.

On slang – I’ll show you mine if you show me yours

The Winner TacoEvery group of friends and colleagues has their own slang – words they use to signify things that are peculiar to that group – and it’s something that fascinates me.

As a child, my friends and I would describe something particularly good as an “Eggy one!” (nope, me neither – I still don’t quite know where it came from), although it was obviously very uncool if your Dad started using it…

At university it got worse. Regardless of the slightly archaic language of Cambridge in use in everyday life (bedders? plodge? P-hole?), we developed our own. Toilets became the “lageteria”, andanything that reached the pinnacle of awesomeness was referred to as “the Winner Taco”, in reference to a popular Spanish icecream.

And it still goes on. Within Sunday Driver, we have a habit of referring to a kurta, a traditional Indian shirt worn by several members of the band, as a “Norris”. Coined by Matthew, our old tabla player, this is nouveau cockney rhyming slang: Norris McWhirter = kurta.

I’ve shared a few of mine, and I’m intrigued to hear yours. What are the words that have become common parlance in your social group. Where did they come from, and why do you love them (or hate them)?

International Women’s Day – Suffrage Science launch

Nancy Roman

NASA's Dr Nancy Roman

Today sees the launch of Suffrage Science, a booklet celebrating the work of some of the top women in science.

I wrote the chapter featuring Liz Robertson and Sohaila Rastan, who were fantastic interviewees and both very funny. Unfortunately, their most scandalous anecdotes didn’t make it into the book…

Here’s the blurb:

“We’re delighted to launch the digital version of Suffrage Science on the centenary of International Women’s Day, March 8th 2011. Featuring conversations between leading female researchers in neuroscience and psychology, embryology and genetics, structural biology; and the biology of cancer and HIV, the publication brings to light a collection of stories about the significant contributions that women have made to science over the past 100 years.”

The booklet is available online today, and I’m off to the launch of the limited-edition print version tomorrow night at the ICA, featuring a public debate entitled  “Are Women Changing Science?” Exciting!

On the politics of cake tins

Cake tin

The amateur baker's most precious possession - wars have been fought over less...

Ask any amateur baker what their biggest concern is, and I’m willing to put money that their answer won’t be about traumas with leaden sponge cakes or temperamental macarons.

It’s cake tins.  Not the ones you actually bake stuff in (that’s a whole other discussion…) but the ones you lovingly put the fruits of your culinary labours in for transportation to the lucky recipients.

Good cake tins are surprisingly hard to come by. Every Christmas I’ve seen fights break out over who in the office gets to keep the tin once the traditional Roses chocs are eaten.  I lost a treasured tin at a recent gig – that’s occupational hazard of baking cakes for the audience, I guess.

And when I sent a tin of cookies along with my boyfriend to his workplace, the tin never came back. Despite my repeated requests for its safe return, like a closed community hiding a criminal, nobody apparently remembers ever seeing it in the first place.

The biggest dilemma for me is what to do if you’re baking cakes as a gift and can’t hang around to rescue the tin. Do you leave the tin with the recipients in the vague hope that they might remember to give it back next time you see them? Or do you just write it off, mourn the loss, and sharpen your nails for the battle for the next Quality Street tin that appears on the office filing cabinet?

My twitchy paranoid vigilance has only increased since I bought a Cupcake Courier for taking cakes to gigs. I’m now terrified that some low-life bakery/music fan will swipe it while I’m on stage, and I’ll have to go back to dragging around piles of battered tins filled with squished cakes.

So here’s a question for all the bakers out there – how do you transport your goodies? Are you obsessive about your tins? And how far would you go to nab a new one?

Review: An Optimist’s Tour of the Future by Mark Stevenson

Optimist on tour cover

Click to buy on Amazon

I first met “The Optimist” – or Mark as I like to call him – when he rescued me from a bothersome sex pest at a formal dinner (insert your own frying pan/fire joke here…).

We instantly hit it off with a shared love of geekery, music and bad jokes, meeting up whenever our diaries permit to drink pricey booze and laugh till it hurts.

After more than a year of travelling, researching and writing, he’s finally finished his first book – An Optimist’s Tour of the Future. Like its writer, the book is by turns geeky, funny, thought-provoking and  – at times – controversial.

An Optimist’s Tour is a rollercoaster headfuck of a book that leaves you shaking your head and muttering “wow!” as it speeds around the world asking the question “what next?” The premise is simple, but the answers are incredible and have the potential to change humanity as we know it.

Rather than all the doomsayers predicting war, famine, death, drought, pestilence, climate catastrophe and Katie Price’s next book, Mark asks what would happen if all the amazing technology that scientists are working on actually comes off. What if we can make robots that can think and feel? What about cheating death and engineering humans that can live for thousands of years? Solving the energy crisis using only some humble algae or a giant cauldron? How about restoring the drought-stricken Australian outback with nothing more than a few fence panels and a motorbike?

To answer these questions, he went on an incredible journey to meet some of the most visionary (and geeky) people in the world – Google’s Vint Cerf, futurist maverick Ray Kurzweil, Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed, transhumanist Nick Bostrom, one-woman Kiwi superhero Vicki Buck and robot “godmother” Cynthia Breazeal are just a few of the characters brought to life in glorious detail. You get a real feel for what it’s like to meet these people and get caught up by their energy and ideas. It helps that much of the book is written using direct quotes as the scientists set out their stalls in their own words, handily sidestepping the acres of dreary prose that can dog popular science books.

The stories they have to tell are just as vivid, and have major implications for the future of humanity.  As I read the book, my mind kept filling with plots for schlocky science fiction stories – The man who lived forever! The sludge that saved the world! – but these are real-life scenarios that Mark’s describing. Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace, and he finds out that we already have – or nearly have –  within our grasp a lot of the tools that we need to significantly improve human health and lifespan, reverse rising CO2 levels, solve the energy crisis and even create a networked tube of toothpaste that can re-order itself when it’s empty.

But here’s the rub – how do we actually cope with it all? There’s a nice bit of pacing at work in the book, as Mark pulls the reader through three sections entitled Man, Machine and Earth, laying out not just the “what ifs” but the “what whens” of this new technology. It’s enough to leave you feeling amazed, dazed and not a little bit frightened. How does it all fit together? What will the future look like?

It’s hard to imagine that our lives will be significantly different from today in ten years time, or even 20, 30 or 50. Will it really have changed that much, or will I still be yelling down the phone at my broadband provider while dodging the feral children roaming the streets of Hackney? And haven’t we always had this promise of a glorious techno-future dangled at us? It’s 2011 already – I want my hoverboard, dammit!

Luckily just at this point, there’s the final section – Re-boot – where Mark tries to pull it all together and make some kind of sense from the tsunami of ideas he’s collected. The main conclusion seems to be that human curiosity, ingenuity and creativity has never been a problem – after all, that’s why we’re not (mostly) still living in caves and grunting at each other. It’s whether we actually have the will, both personal and political, and the vision to embrace change and run with these new ideas that could make the world a better place.

To me, this is summed up in the quote from Mark Bedau, telling us that “Change will happen and we can either try to influence it in a constructive way, or we can try and stop it from happening, or we can ignore it. Trying to stop it from happening is futile. Ignoring it seems irresponsible.” In summary, Yay! For technology, and fingers crossed for human nature.

An Optimist’s Tour is an exciting and engaging book, but not just because of the gee-whizz subject matter. It’s clear that Mark knows his stuff and has done his research, as the book bristles with facts, figures and scientific detail. That’s not to say it’s a dull read. He uses stats like Rocky uses his left hook, delivering killer blows to support his arguments. Clever analogies and metaphors, coupled with his easy-going, conversational writing style, make complicated scientific principles pop off the page into graspable reality.

Although I really enjoyed reading the book, I do have to vehemently disagree with one of Mark’s premises. Duran Duran are clearly NOT better than the Pet Shop Boys.  Despite this lapse in musical taste, An Optimist’s Tour is an absolutely cracking read, providing plenty of food for thought and discussion, and I highly recommend it.

On women, music, feminism and all that

Feminism

Don't rock out too hard, little lady, you might hurt yourself.

I guess I’d call myself a feminist. Although, in order to avoid the negative baggage that seems to have got lumped in with that tag, I’m more “equalitist”, or whatever the word is – striving towards a place where men and women have genuinely equal opportunities. Sadly, looking at the world today and the place of women in it, I don’t think we’ve reached that state quite yet.

In my working life, I’m lucky enough to have swapped a relatively male-dominated world – science – for the female-dominated charity sector. It’s not uncommon to find myself in meetings consisting entirely of women, or peppered with just one or two men.

I’m surrounded by exceptionally talented and passionate women (and men!) all working hard to make a difference.  Where I work, as far as I can tell, your gender is unremarkable – what counts is whether you can do your job, although a love of musical theatre helps…

This all sits happily with my egalitarian leanings. But there’s another world I inhabit – the world of popular music.  And it’s here that I need to challenge my own prejudices, and some ingrained baggage that I seem to have picked up along the way. Namely, why do I do a mental double-take when I see women playing rock guitar, drums, or bass, DJing or fiddling about behind a mixing desk?

I’ve been wondering about this for a while, but was inspired to write this pathetic-excuse-for-a-brain-dump-of-a-post by watching the Michael Jackson documentary This Is It. Among the cast of dancers and musicians I noticed a stunning blonde female guitarist (the awesome Orianthi Panagaris) shredding it up and pulling off some kick-ass solos.

Clearly, this woman wouldn’t be have been picked to be in the band if she wasn’t an exceptional musician, but she stood out as being the only female.  And she totally rocked. But it still seems unusual to me to see women in the ‘back line’ – seeing a female drummer makes me want to run around shouting “LOOK! LOOK!! THERE’S A LADY PLAYING DRUMS! AND SHE’S GOOD AT IT!”

I have no idea why I’ve picked up this bizarre notion that there’s something odd about women being guitarists, drummers, sound engineers, bassist or whatever.  Perhaps it’s the legacy of growing up feasting on male bands like the Beatles and U2, and a popular music culture that says that women can only be singers (oh, OK, maybe they can strum an acoustic guitar whimsically or bash a piano a bit. or even – god forbid –  play the flute…).

Or perhaps it’s years of subtle indoctrination that says women simply can’t rock, have crap taste in records, and can’t tell one end of an XLR cable from the other.  None of which is true, but all of which I have heard more than once in my life.

But why should we be surprised when a woman can shred a guitar better than most guys? What’s the difference between a girl who spent years learning classical violin and the one who spent hours a day fiddling the frets on a Fender Strat? Nothing. They’ve both diligently put the hours in to master their instrument, and we should celebrate their expertise.

And while there’s still a gender disparity in classical music, it feels to me – trawling round the live music scene – that the situation is even worse on the other side. There are certainly plenty of women out there who are incredibly talented, and rock it hard, from the famous ones like Kim Deal and Meg White to the not-famous-yet ones like Laura Kidd and Dana Jade.

However, I’ve been gigging for more than 15 years now (I started young, OK?) and I’ve seen endless female singers, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of lady bassists, drummers and sound techs who’ve crossed my path.

Do girls lack the nerdiness and dedication required for those long hours of practice? I say not – after all, I’ve done my time in solitary, as have the many talented female musicians I know. And although I’m pretty nerdy, they’re certainly not.

So what’s the problem? Are women discouraged from learning instruments like the bass, electric guitar or drums? Where are all the female superstar DJs? Do we still have a sexist culture in popular music? Who are your female music icons? And why are there so few female sound techs?

I don’t know – you tell me.

Book review: The Honest Look by Jennifer L Rohn

The Honest Look

The Honest Look - click the pic to buy on Amazon

Disclaimer: This is another review of a book written by a friend (see also Dance you Way to Psychic Sex).

It’s tough to review mates’ books. If I love it, I sound like a sycophant – and of course, I’d rather keep schtum than publish a damning review. But I’ll start by saying that I do love this book, and you should all buy it (and not just if you’re a scientist).

Set in the world of scientific research, Jenny Rohn’s second novel – The Honest Look – is all about interactions. From the mysterious interplay between proteins buried deep within cells to the emotional interactions between colleagues, friends and lovers, The Honest Look teases them apart to show us how they work.

The plot centres on Dr Claire Cyrus, fresh from her PhD and harbouring a secret double life as a poet. She’s one of the three people in the world who can work a mysterious and idiosyncratic machine known as the Interactrex 3000. This beast – seemingly part HAL, part Heath Robinson – hoovers up tiny samples of gloop from cells, identifying the protein players duetting in the molecular ballet within.

Packed off to an up-and-coming biotech company in the Netherlands who have just forked out a significant amount of cash for the machine, Claire’s arrival goes unheralded by resentful and dismissive colleagues. She ignores them and settles in to work, but gets distracted by a sexy and charismatic researcher (yes, they do exist, trust me…) and starts working on a sneaky side project – partly to fire up her own scientific mojo, and partly to impress him.

Things start to unravel when Claire makes an unfortunate discovery that throws a dark shadow of doubt on the effectiveness of the company’s sole output – a seemingly near-magical drug for Alzheimer’s disease. But coming clean gets tricky when she starts an affair with the aforementioned sexy researcher, whose future financial gains are dependent on the company’s success.

As we all know, secrets can’t stay hidden for long. Eventually everything comes crashing down, leaving Claire to be salvaged from the wreckage of the company, her relationship, and her scientific career by a different sexy, charismatic scientist (Yes! Another one!)

The whole book is scattered with snippets of poems, as Claire seeks solace and meaning in poetry – both in books and her own. As a writer as well as a scientist, I really enjoyed the insights into the poetical, as well as scientific, side of Claire’s mind.

Although it ends a little too neatly for my liking – any struggling artists reading the book are likely to laugh bitterly at the last scene – it’s a fantastic read. I devoured the whole thing in just a couple of days, and got totally wrapped up in the action.

If I’m to criticise anything (and I’m having to dig deep here) it might have to be the slightly excessive intrusion of Amsterdam into the book. Rohn paints a wonderfully evocative picture of what it’s like to live in the city, although at times it’s just a little bit of overkill, with Dutch references crammed into almost every page. But that’s being really petty, and generally her references to the people, places, culture and food of the place – one that I’ve visited many times – really do conjour up the spirit of the ‘Dam.

I recently read Jenny’s first book, Experimental Heart – a romantic science thriller (is that a real genre?) telling the tale of a hapless postdoc, a glamorous virus researcher, and a dodgy biotech company. Again, I loved it. The writing is pacey and engaging, and the plot twists and turns like the process of discovery itself.

I’d definitely recommend Experimental Heart to my scientist friends, but I wouldn’t suggest it to a non-scientist reader. In my opinion it’s just got a bit too much jargon in it, and the plot depends just a little too much on understanding the biological principles at work. But that’s not the case for The Honest Look, which I’ve been recommending to pretty much everyone since I finished it.

Yes, it’s set in a lab. Yes, the plot hangs on a point of biology. But there’s so much else to it that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know your nuclei from your neurons. It’s just a really great book, extremely well-written, and packed with action, intrigue, romance, poetry and – yay! – science.

On fantasy vs reality

Perfect life

I'm just jealous, really...

My life was so simple before I discovered the wonderful world of lifestyle, food and fashion blogs. I was happy with my scruffy clothes and shabby house.

But now these bloggers dangle an impossible fantasy in front of my face, and I am completely beguiled. So here’s a brief imagining of the collision between fantasy and reality that now taints my life…

Fantasy: Awakened by sunlight streaming through billowing white curtains, illuminating my tastefully-decorated boudoir, resplendent with chic 40s-style dressing table and elegant wall decals (Cox & Cox, £73). My sexy, talented boyfriend has already got up to make me breakfast in bed, served in this chic crockery set (only £89 from Habitat – and that’s just the butter dish!)

Reality: Lurched into wakefulness by the mad woman next door screaming obscenities into the Hackney dawn. Boyfriend rolls over and farts. Bedroom (colourscheme – rental beige, with smudges of dead moth) festooned with saggy boy pants, laddered tights, cheap jewellery, abandoned craft projects and piles of junk.

Fantasy: I carefully select my outfit for the day – perfectly co-ordinating my designer silk underwear with a floaty dress and killer heels, c0mpleting the look with a few tasteful designer accessories (this Tatty Devine headpiece is so now, don’t you think? And only £62.75!)

Reality: What’s clean? Anything clean? OK – what’s least dirty? I can’t cycle in that skirt, it’ll have to be trousers.  Did you actually wash my jeans or not? Why are there never any matching socks, godammit?! I scrape the worst of the mud/toothpaste/oh God what’s that? off my £10 ASDA tunic and cycling leggings, teaming them with stinky trainers and kirby grips. Don’t even ask about the underwear. If it’s all black, it’s matching, right?

Fantasy: I head to my friendly local bakery, where I sip a latte and nibble on an extravagantly-iced cupcake while surfing the web, looking for items to showcase on my lifestyle blog, Household Whores.  Look at these shoes! (£97) And this bangle! (£207) And all these lovely shiny things! (£££££s) How did I live before the existence of designer egg-cups, door mats and teatowels?  I bust out my credit card and make a few judicious purchases of key statement pieces that will carry me happily into next season and beyond.

Moving on to munch on a tasty brownie, I browse a couple of interior design blogs, noting the latest trends – white, wood, chocolate brown…  This vase (£813) will look perfect in my tastefully-decorated, minimalist living room. Tres chic, non? I can almost picture it on the driftwood coffee table, nestling next to the chi-chi objets d’art and black and white photography books.

Feeling inspired, I head back home to laze on the chaise longue  (and just how lovely are these scatter cushions – just £43 each from Graham & Green) and drink tea (£9.20 for 100g, but worth every penny!) while I do a bit of light blogging.

Reality: Have we got any coffee left? I asked you to buy some. Ah, never mind. I’ll have some of that dodgy Greek herbal tea that my friend brought back from Kos last year. Was that a mouse? Must buy some more traps.  Who’s that bloke asleep on the sofa? No, I thought he was _your_ friend…

Shuffling aside a pile of pizza boxes, I slump on the badly-stuffed sofa, flicking through a copy of Heat magazine. There’s that funny smell again. It might be the bins, or it might be something to do with the mad lady next door.

The air is thick with the odour of stale cigarette smoke and male feet.  On the wall hangs the Brighton Photography Calendar from 2008. The month showing is March. It’s now September.

Feeling completely uninspired, I loaf around on Twitter for a bit, then go and eat a bowl of cereal standing up in the kitchen, ignoring the week’s worth of festering washing-up in the sink. I buy some overpriced shoes and ill-fitting clothes from ASOS on my weary credit card. Who needs to eat, anyway? There’s that bloody mouse again…

Fantasy: Cocktail time! I head to my well-stocked drinks cabinet and select the ingredients for a perfect Cosmopolitan. Sexy, talented boyfriend and I relax on our balcony and watch the sun set over a perfect urban landscape, nibbling on chorizo and olives from the fabulous local deli. I shoot a few photos of the sunset skyline, which get snapped up by the local magazine.

Reality: Is there anything drinkable you can actually make with brandy and lemon squash? Let’s give it a go… Hmm. Actually, let’s just drink the brandy neat. Or there’s that peculiar purple stuff that Emily brought back from France. You go first… and hand over those Pringles…

Fantasy: We head off to a new supperclub in Dalston, promising pigeon breast on a bed of organic samphire, followed by free-range beef tournedos with locally grown veg, and oloroso sherry and mascarpone trifle for dessert.  So retro! So chic!

The clientele are all super-stylish food bloggers, and everyone compliments me on my delightful charm necklace (£53 from a seller on Etsy that nobody knows about yet). I am so busy taking pictures of my dinner that I forget to actually eat anything.

Reality: Pizza again? Four cheeses with extra anchovies for me please. You phone them. No, it’s your turn – I phoned them last time.  Go on then, let’s have another glass of that purple stuff…

With apologies to the Domestic Sluts, 1 Million Gold Stars, The Beat That my Heart Skipped and all the rest. You know I’m just jealous, really…

On soundchecking, or “Tech spec? What tech spec?”

It's pretty much guaranteed that your performance will sound nothing like the soundcheck

Soundchecks are a necessary evil that is the bane of every musician’s life. Why? Let me tell you a story about a typical gig…

A week or so before the gig the promoter emails us.  Along with all the usual gubbins about how they can’t let our partners or mates in for free and we won’t be paid unless we bring 80 people, a Norwegian Blue parrot and a scale model of the Taj Mahal, there’s a couple of lines devoted to the soundcheck: “Please send me your full tech spec ASAP. Load-in is at 4pm, soundchecks will start at 5pm PROMPT.”

Having had to take an afternoon off work in order to get there on time, half the band turn up at the venue at about 4.30pm. After paying £18 to park for two poxy hours, we discover it is still locked.  We wait. Eventually a surly bar manager arrives and unlocks it. By now most of the rest of the band, plus assorted support bands, have arrived.  We load in our stuff and wait for the sound engineer. And wait… and wait…

The sound guy finally turns up just after six. He is stressed, grumpy and still hungover. He spends a good half an hour setting up the stage, while the promoter (also arrived late) starts making tetchy noises at us because of the late running of the soundcheck.

Next, the sound guy takes one look at our set up and says “So, what’s your tech spec?”. Of course, he has never seen the info we diligently sent the week before. That would be too easy.

At this point, he usually starts freaking out a bit about how to mic up the harp, until I just wave the end of an XLR cable in his face and tell him to plug it into the desk.  I love my pickups…

Eventually, we start soundchecking.  Everything comes through the PA fine except for one thing – usually the laptop (for the Shadow Orchestra) or the tabla (Sunday Driver).  We then waste twenty minutes trying to fix it, switching cables, channels, DI boxes, microphones and batteries until finally discovering the fault lies with his/our failure to press a button on something or actually plug it in properly.

By this point, the promoter is stalking up and down in frustration, and the support bands want to kill us.

At long last we are allowed to play a song – just one, mind. It sounds awful –  a mess of muddy bass and/or howling whines of feedback. The sound guy twiddles some knobs, shuffles some faders, and we try again. It sounds a bit better, but not brilliant.  The sound guy promises that it’ll sound better when the room’s full, and the promoter comes over to tell us we’re out of time and to get the hell off the stage.

And then comes purgatory – the seemingly endless span of time between the soundcheck and the gig.  Every minute seems to stretch into about ten. I hate it.

This time can be filled in a number of ways. First, by watching the other bands soundchecking and weighing up whether they’re loads better than us (bad – we will look rubbish in comparison), really awful (also bad – nobody likes to have to sit through a truly terrible band), or pretty good but not staggeringly amazing (best case scenario – they’ll keep the audience happy but won’t show us up).

Other things to do during Purgatory For Musicians (TM):

  • Go for a kebab
  • Get drunk (not recommended)
  • Phone your mum
  • Put makeup and stage clothes on backstage, then feel faintly embarrassed about going back out into the venue to see your mates
  • Knit furiously (I do this a lot)
  • Pick a fight with the bassist
  • Pace nervously about the place, failing to concentrate on anything in particular and wishing it was time to just play the bloody gig.
  • Watch the support bands playing. Same rules apply as for their soundcheck.
  • Watch two thirds of the audience vaporise after the support band finishes, and realise that most of the room was made up of their mates, rather than your fans. Die inside a little bit.

Finally, after a seemingly endless wait, it’s time to go on stage – once I’ve herded all the members of the band out of the bar/toilets/kebab shop/smoking area.  We plug in our instruments and start linechecking. Something doesn’t work. This is never the same thing that didn’t work in the soundcheck. We waste precious gig time fixing it.

And we’re off! We start our set, and it sounds completely different from the soundcheck.  The monitor levels are all over the place, the bass sounds like it’s being channelled direct from the centre of the earth, and there’s that peculiar ringing that usually heralds brain-searing feedback.

At this point, I start wondering why the hell I bothered to turn up so early to soundcheck at all. But we get on with it, and then it’s the end – usually a song or two short because the night’s running late.

Afterwards comes the post-mortem – dissecting everything from the sound and the mix to our performance, the audience and the weather. According to our friends in the audience it “sounded fine” and we were “really good”. They always say that…

[Before I get death threats from disgruntled sound engineers, or risk never having my harp heard over the drums ever again, please may I point out that I have exaggerated for comic effect. Thank you.]