Thought for the weekend

Reunions. What’s the point? I have one this weekend and I’m not going. Why? There are a few people there that I liked, but not enough to stay in touch with, a couple I could take or leave, and if I go I am going to have flashbacks of all the bullying I got subjected to by the rest. The worst bully has not changed – I had him for a neighbour for a while a few years back and he is as obnoxious as ever and unlikely to apologise or even realise he did anything wrong. I am staying away for the sake of my mental health.


If anyone reads this, and I don’t care if it happens 2 minutes or 2 years from now (when I have another reunion coming up), could you please give me a couple of good reasons to attend a reunion?

I’m off for the weekend to do something I enjoy. Back on Monday.

Earthquake update

It now seems the quake was around magnitude 6.1 or 6.2. I haven’t heard any damage reports from Reykjavík, but around 30 people were injured near the epicenter in Selfoss and Hveragerði, none of them seriously, and there was a lot of property damage. One farm outbuilding collapsed, killing a number of sheep, but I expect some houses will have been damaged beyond repair and will have to be torn down.

Iceland lies on top of two tectonic plates that are moving away from each other at a rate of a few centimetres a year, and this causes the earthquakes. Since the big one yesterday there has been an almost constant seismic activity in the area, but only one that was worrying, about 4 on the Richter scale. It is unlikely that we will ever experience earthquakes on the magnitude of the recent one in China, because the really big quakes are caused by tectonic plates that are grinding together.

I think we may have to have an emergency drill at work soon. When the quake hit, we all just sat there like idiots and didn’t try to either get out of the house or duck under the tables. I am pretty sure we would have panicked and run around in circles tripping over our own feet if things had started falling down, instead of proceeding to the exits.

Earthquake in Iceland

I have just experienced the biggest earthquake of my life. At a quarter to four the building started shaking and continued for maybe 10 seconds. They are saying on the news it was a 6.4 to 6.8 on the Richter scale and originated near Selfoss.

Travel and driving mixtapes


The most common mixtapes I make have always been travel mixes. Before I got my first car I travelled by long distance bus a lot. For 9 years I made on average one monthly return trip by bus during the winter, and I estimate that I made at least 4-5 travelling mixtapes a year during that time. After I moved away from Reykjavík and got a car I continued to make occasional mixtapes for the hour long drive to my parents’ home, and now that I again live in Reykjavík I visit them 4-5 times a year, 3 ½ hours away by car, plus I occasionally take long weekend pleasure drives during the summer, for each of which I make a new mix. I also make mixes for flights abroad. The only difference is that now I am making mixdiscs (and just recently, playlists) with mp3 files, so one disc can last all or most of a trip.

Not all of the mixes I made during my bus travelling days have survived, as I sometimes re-used the cassettes, but I have enough of them left to get a pretty good picture of my taste in music and how it has developed over the years. But enough nostalgia. Here is how I choose travelling music. I hope someone finds my method useful:

First I consider the nature of the journey:
Am I going by bus/train, aeroplane or private car?
Will I be travelling alone, with people I know or with strangers?
How long will the journey take?
If I am going by private car, will I be driving or will I be a passenger?

Then I choose the music:
I have two types of mixes for bus, train and air journeys. One type is a collection of music I want to listen to, while the other is music I can use to tune out my surroundings while I read or take a nap. If I read in a moving car or bus (I am fine on trains and planes) for more than 10 minutes I get motion sickness, but by putting on the earphones and playing music I am able to read without getting nauseous. When I travel by bus I am usually by myself and often when I fly, so I always bring a book to read on such journeys. Books and private stereos are a great way of avoiding getting forced into conversations with strangers without looking rude when you are not in the mood for talking. Combined they create a nearly impenetrable “leave me alone” shield around you.

If I am going by private car as a passenger or as a driver with passengers I know, I try to satisfy the musical tastes of the passengers and make a mix that for the most part will play in the background while we talk, with the occasional song that can be turned up on high for a sing-along or listening session. These are usually what could be termed “radio mixes”, i.e. a blend of new and recent hits and old favourites with no particular theme or genre, such as you might hear on a radio program where the host is trying to please every listener. If I have time I try to make them meld nicely, but if I am in a hurry I just slap together some songs I know will go down well. Whenever possible, I try to include some songs that somehow relate to the journey, e.g. songs about the type of travelling we are doing (wilderness travel, road trip, camping trip, etc.), and I try to use both relaxed and upbeat music.

For a journey with strangers when private listening would be rude (e.g. if someone is giving me a lift) I don’t make a mix. I did have some successes with making such “cold” mixes during my early school years when everyone pretty much liked the same music. Mostly it was a matter of balancing how many Wham! and how many Duran Duran songs you included in the mix, so as to keep both camps happy (see my previous post). Now I would rather spend the drive getting to know my co-travellers than inflicting my musical tastes on them.

When I have no one to think about but myself when I am travelling, I let it all hang out. I include novelty songs my family and friends don’t get (alas, not everyone appreciates the finer points of Weird Al), songs I would be embarrassed to admit that I like (like sappy love songs and Modern Talking tunes) and music I can sing along to. Sometimes I even add sound effects or movie sound clips (the one from Blues Brothers about the distance to Chicago and the sunglasses is a good starter for a driving mix, even if Chicago is not on the itinerary). Most of my driving mixes have strong rhythms and relatively fast tempos, intermixed with slower, more relaxed songs (never two in a row), and include music of various genres, like rock, punk, country, pop, folk, Indian movie music, Latin rhythms and electronic dance music that needs to be played loudly, i.e. songs selected in order to keep me alert.

For a listening travel mix (i.e. for when I’m not driving and don’t need to keep myself awake) I try to choose a mix of music that I want to listen to more closely, interspersed with old favourites.

Sweet…or not

I collect photos of personalised license plates. Many Icelandic license plates use English words and numbers representing words, as Icelandic doesn’t offer many such opportunities for punning. This one is of the straightforward type:

licence plate

The Wham!-Duran Duran feud

The most common and noticeable graffiti in Iceland in the early to mid eighties was scribblings by teenagers declaring their allegiance to one of two musical groups: Wham! or Duran Duran. Almost every bus stop shelter sported the names of both groups in various colours, sizes, bad handwriting and multiple crossings-out. It was the era of teased mullets and pink legwarmers, huge shoulder pads and Miami Vice, Fame, Footloose and Flashdance (not to mention the first Terminator movie), and the blossoming of the music video.

If you belonged to a Wham! clique you risked expulsion if you so much as suggested that Duran Duran were anything other than the Spawn of Satan, and vice versa. Being a musical omnivore, I liked both. I thought Wham! were cute and I liked to dance to their music, while Duran Duran were cool and I liked to listen to them. Liking both and refusing to say which I liked better was heresy to both factions and didn’t earn me any friends. You were allowed to like other groups, like Culture Club, Adam and the Ants, Kajagoogoo, Spandau Ballet and even Kiss, whichever clique you belonged to, but you had to say you were a Wham! fan or a Duran Duran fan before you would be fully accepted.

Time has now showed which group had more staying power: Duran Duran is still playing while Wham! had a brief life span from 1981 to 1986, and I only hear 2 of their songs on the radio now and then: Wake me up before you go go, and in the Christmas season, Last Christmas; while I regularly hear a number of Duran Duran songs from the same time period, like Girls on film, Planet earth, Hungry like the wolf, Rio and Save a prayer. Duran Duran’s music also seems to have aged better, while Wham! music is usually played as an example of 80s pop and included on nostalgic party albums.

Even now, when people discover you were a teenager in the eighties, one of the things they will ask you is whether you were a Wham! fan or a Duran Duran fan. If it’s Duran Duran, you’re cool, if it was Wham! they look at you with pity and change the subject.

Why I love the Eurovision song contest

People who decry the Eurovision song contest seem to do so for 2 main reasons:
a) they think it’s an exhibition of the most mediocre in popular music, and
b) it’s too mainstream for their taste.

This is exactly why I love it, in all its kitschy, campy, pretentious, ostentatious, colourful and glittering glory. Generally, the contest is a matter of choosing the best of a bunch of bad songs, although the contest has also produced such classics as “Nel blu, dipinto di blu” (Volare) and ABBA’s “Waterloo”.

To enjoy it, you don’t really need to like the music, but only to have a keen enjoyment of camp and kitsch. What’s not to love about a competition that is a beauty contest, drag fashion show and song contest rolled into one?

Leda and the Swan

Leda was taking her usual walk on the beach. Times were hard in Sparta, the crops had been smaller than usual because it hadn’t rained enough, and even the royal family and their servants were feeling the pangs of hunger. Her husband, king Tyndareus, was even considering sending raiding parties to the neighbouring states to steal food. Prayers to Zeus, ruler of the gods, and to Demeter, goddess of crops, had not been successful.
“If only Zeus would send us some food,” she thought. “Right now, I would gladly yield my body up to anyone who would feed my family.”

Suddenly she noticed a big white bird out on the water. “Why, that’s a swan,” she thought to herself, “and it’s a big one. How beautiful!” The graceful white bird approached her and seemed quite friendly and tame, even putting its head in her lap when she sat down to rest. When it tried to clamber into her lap, Leda said “whoa there, big fella!” and tried to gently push the bird off her lap, but it persisted and Leda found herself in a struggle as the bird’s strong feet tore at her skirts and its wings beat against her arms.

Later that day, a dazed, bruised and dirty Leda staggered up to the gates of the palace, her hair matted, her clothes torn and a big smile on her flushed face. There were feathers in her hair and blood stains on the front of her dress and on her hands. She leaned against the palace gate and beckoned to one of the guards.
“Come, Leandros, take this to the kitchen and have it cooked. Tonight at least we will not go hungry. Just look at that big, plump swan the gods sent us!”

Copyright by Anonyma.
If you want to copy this short short story, you can contact me through the comments feature.

A speculation on what might have happened if Leda had been in basic survival mode when Zeus visited her as a swan.

Tune in my head last night

As I sat and watched the first of the two semi-finals for the Eurovision song contest, a song from last year popped into my mind and played there for the rest of the evening. It wasn’t even the 2007 winning song, but the Belarus entry “Work your magic” which I hadn’t heard or thought of since the 2007 contest was broadcast. I suppose it says something about the quality of the night’s songs.

More on earworms

I consider myself to be lucky that I do not have a personal “demon tune” (as one journalist calls earworms) that haunts me, but just like most others (at least according to the research quoted in the above linked article) tunes sometimes do get stuck in my head. This can go on for hours, sometimes days. Fortunately it is usually a new song each time.

What annoys me most about earworms is that I never remember the whole song, only part of it, usually from the refrain, most often a single line.

I recall an earworm infestation from my school days, where my whole class, about 15 people, and the teacher as well, got the same tune so firmly imbedded in our brains that we ended up singing it in harmony. Everyone had been listening to the same radio station (easy back in those days when there were only 2 channels that played popular music) before going to school, when on came Dusty Springfield, singing You don’t have to say you love me.

My 3 most pesky earworms are (in no particular order):
Aserejé – Los Ketchup
Macarena (Bayside Boys remix) – Los del Rio
Livin’ la Vida Loca – Ricky Martin

Tune I can’t get out of my head today

Otherwise known as an earworm or repetune, according to

Heartbeat by Buddy Holly. At least it’s a song I like. Funny thing is, I haven’t listened to it for weeks. I just read the title last night and this morning the first line started playing in a loop in my brain as soon as I woke up. The worst part is that I don’t have the line correct, at least not according to the many sites that offer lyrics for the song. My brain insists on inserting skip for miss.

Found clothing #1

When the snow started lifting I started noticing items of clothing lying around in gutters, puddles and sometimes in the middle of parking lots or on traffic islands. Mostly, they were single gloves and lonely mittens, but occasionally I would see other items, like t-shirts, socks and even underpants. I decided to photographically chronicle the stuff I found – which of course means that the number of sightings immediately dropped. I did get a few, and here is the first:

Lost boxer shorts

Found boxer shorts.

I spotted those in such a place that they must have been discarded there rather than blown off a clothesline, namely on a riverbank inside an outdoor recreation area in the city.

In case you were wondering, I leave what I find where I find it, unless there is a trash can nearby where I can deposit it.

Mixtape nostalgia

I am old enough to remember the era of the cassette tape and vinyl record, a time when CDs were unknown and the most mobile you could hope to get with pre-recorded music was by lugging around a portable cassette player. If you wanted to share the music, you brought a boombox – the bigger, the better – or if you just wanted to listen by yourself, you could use a walkman. During that era, the mixtape was invented and perfected. At its most casual, the personal mixtape was a willy-nilly compilation of favourite music recorded off the radio and records, and at its most disciplined it was a personalised showcase of musical preferences, used to express feelings, create moods or make statements.

I started making mixtapes when I was 11, and as a matter of fact I still have the first one I ever made. It is a motley collection of songs recorded directly from the radio with no thought as to how they fit together, but before long I discovered the joy of putting them carefully together. I started making more thought-out mixtapes after I discovered that my parents’ record collection actually contained some music I liked, particularly Beatles and Kinks albums and compilation albums of popular rock and pop music from the sixties. As my own record collection grew I was able to make even more varied mixtapes, and sometimes I would borrow albums from my friends to record songs I liked. When I got a dual tape deck cassette recorder with synchronised copying ability I was in hog heaven, being finally able to make mixtapes using my extensive collection of music recorded from the radio.

Making a mixtape – and by “mixtape” I actually mean any media unit of mixed music, be it a cassette tape, a CD or an iTunes/iPod playlist – is like being in the kitchen developing a new dish. You have to give some thought as to which ingredients meld well and which ones will enhance each other, and in which proportions they should be mixed to get the desired result. Just like with recipes, some mixtapes are a satisfying whole, others may be too sweet, too sour, too bitter, etc., and some are just impossible in every way.

I used to put a lot of thought into my mixtapes. As I was usually making them for myself, they generally were more about creating a mood than expressing feelings or making statements. I never expressed interest in a guy by making him a mixtape, nor did I ever give one to someone I was breaking up with. On the rare occasion I shared a tape with someone it was usually a party mix.

When I got my driver’s licence, I started making mixtapes with road music – songs that were chosen to keep me entertained and awake on longer drives, and I still do that, only now the tapes have been replaced with playlists on my mp3 player. I still occasionally listen to my old driving mixtapes, which is easy because my car has a tape deck.

Although the days when it took anything from hours to days to make a good mixtape are gone, it doesn’t mean a mixCD or mixlist can’t be a labour of love, and by ‘love’ I don’t necessarily mean love for the intended recipient, but for the process itself:

You start by getting an idea for a mix. It may be a theme (e.g. a break-up mix or a food song mix), to aid you to do something (e.g. a meditation or workout mix), or you may decide to make a mix focusing on a specific song or artist (e.g. a song and the songs it makes you think of, or covers of Beatles songs). Then you sit down to choose the music. These days you generally turn on the computer and open up your music library, while earlier you would have sat down in front of the sound equipment and surrounded yourself with CDs or vinyl albums. Being able to burn dozens of mp3 encoded songs onto a CD or make a playlist that is only limited by the storage capacity of your computer or mp3 player takes some of the fun out of making a mixtape, so I generally limit myself to a playlist equivalent to the number of .waw files I can get onto one CD, or approximately 74 minutes of music, which is a good length for a listening session. However, if I have a long drive coming up, I make a playlist slightly longer than the drive is supposed to take.

Then comes the fun part: the selection. I generally only have a sketchy idea of which songs I am going to include in the mix, so I may take an hour or more to listen to parts of songs to get a feel for how they go together. In the era of the cassette it took a lot of time to remove the albums/CDs out of the sleeves/cases and get them started and find the desired songs, and sometimes you had to go back and erase a song or a number of songs from the tape, but playlists have eliminated that part of the process and to tell the truth, I can’t say I miss it much. Listening and choosing is still an integral part of the process of making a good mix, and while it sometimes takes me days to create a playlist, it is good to know that I could do it in minutes.

The final step in making a cassette mixtape was to write in the songs on the box insert, or if you were artistically inclined, to make some artwork for the insert and write in the songs. Now I design jewel case inserts or decorations that can be printed directly onto the disc, but if I am making a playlist, the process of course ends with the final song. I do miss the artwork part.

I have two boxes full of audio cassettes in storage, about 80% of which are mixtapes. Some of the music I have grown out of, but some of it can send me on a trip back to the eighties and early nineties. I would like to digitize some of the mixes, but with the sound quality of the oldest tapes I’m not sure it would be a good idea, at least not without some sophisticated sound clean-up software. Perhaps I will just see if I can replicate some of my favourites as playlists and burn them onto CDs.

Five songs about travelling that make me want to travel

On the Road Again – the Willie Nelson version. It’s got a rhythm and a carefree happiness in it that is irresistible. A near perfect expression of the joy of travelling.

Goin’ up the Country – Canned Heat. There is an urgency in this one that I like.

Traveling Light – I like the version by Cliff Richard, but I have heard quite a wonderful country version that I like as well. A good song about the freedom of being on the road without a big load of luggage.

Don’t Fence Me In – I like the Bing Crosby & Andrews Sisters version. Another slow travelling song that is also about freedom. Has a wonderful clip-clop rhythm that suits the lyrics perfectly.

Marrakesh Express – Crosby, Stills & Nash. Specifically, it makes me want to go to Morocco.