I drove to the supermarket this morning for a few bits and bobs because we have a friend coming around for dinner tonight. The weather reminds me of April, large white clouds move stately past in the strong wind against a backdrop of blue sky and bursts of sunshine; will it rain later? I am reminded that my daughter had been in the car last time I drove it because Radio Tay is on the radio. I can be quite tolerant of the current pop music, but I do find this song annoying. The tolerance comes from remember my own teenage years and my love of the music from that era from which I have struggled to move on. It was an era of the last gasps of glam rock, punk, disco before moving into the New Romantics and Ska. An era of catchy rifts, powerful singers, drum machines, synthesizers and samplers. Electrical circuits moved from analogue to digital and music exploded.

Time and fashion moves on of course, but my heart is firmly entrenched in electronica. Which is perhaps why this particular song irritates me. It has a really easy to remember catchy phrase that I know is going to get stuck in my head, which wouldn’t be so bad if I could make out the words so it will be left on mind repeat with the tune, rhythm, and a sense of words play at infinitum. What I find said though is that the voice is all vocoded to sound robotic. In my youth the vocoder was mainly used to correct pitch for those pop stars that couldn’t actually sing in tune. Then it was used for occasional ornamentation. Nowadays, it seems to be a standard main addition to vocals on certain genres. I know this person can sing without one, the bridge section uses the standard voice for contrast. I have always loved a strong clear flexible voice in a song, but rarely do I hear one now.  I suppose I rarely sing along to pop music either, grumpy old man that I am.

I was talking to my other daughter last night and I also felt sad for her. She is approaching the end of her university career, in her final year and taking her last exams starting within a month. Where has that time gone? Perhaps I wasn’t feeling sad for her though, but sad for myself. I miss those days. I miss the freedom and space. I miss my little south facing, ground floor room. I miss Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings of archery, particularly when it was outside. I miss the volleyball practice and college games (was that the only time I actually played in a team?). I miss the mince meat and baked bean curry that could last all week, topped up with random bits of vegetables. Freezing cold milk (literally, it could have ice in it because the fridge didn’t work very well), sugar and cornflakes for breakfast and lunch because I loved it. Walking to the supermarket with a rucksack and returning under the weight of a week’s shopping, rucksack full and carry bags in each hand. Meeting friends in the college bars, going to discos (did we still call them that?) and dancing until the music stopped then hanging out in people’s rooms drinking, chatting and laughing until somehow it seem time to go to bed. Doing two washes in a fortnight, one of lights and one of darks and when I couldn’t be bothered to use a washing machine, I hand washed everything (the windows got a heavy dose of condensation). I miss friends I would just pop in on for a coffee when I felt I needed some company, of sitting listening to our latest hi-fi additions (CDs weren’t long out) and discovering classical music.

It wasn’t all great though. The start of my university course was when I contemplated suicide, where I felt so lonely and isolated. There were times of depression, struggling with certain courses and trying to stay awake during lectures. During a quantum mechanics project I was doing, I distinctly remember being told I could not divide by a constant in the equation which just blew my mind, what are you on about? It is just a constant! No, it was the Planck constant, something so small that dividing by it caused the equation to “explode” a notion difficult to get my head around. I remember seeing the sadness in other people and wanting to support them, when now all I saw was a reflection of the sadness in me. I remember wanting to be loved and to love, but being rejected after I managed to gather the courage to say something. I remember being fallen in love with and not being able to return the compliment (though perhaps I could have tried to). I remember a relationship crumbling and treating my friend cruelly because I no longer felt anything for her at all. I remember going on a double-blind date set up by John with a couple of music students and not comprehending why they didn’t know how to dance. And I remember it all suddenly coming to an end and not being able to understand how something so important and life giving could crumble so easily. And so I headed back to my parental home, not knowing what to do with myself.

A year later, I was back at a different university. So many similar experiences crammed into a single year but this time I was able to continue in that environment, continuing to work in the interface to industry for a good few more years. I wish I had been mentally strong enough to do a PhD and make my life there, it would have suited me in so many ways, but I don’t think I was self-sufficient enough to do it. Nowadays though I would look for support structures to make that possible, yes a PhD is your own work but with the right people around me I think I could have pushed the boundaries a bit in General Relativity (the option from my first degree) or computer graphics (the option from my second). I wonder what I would do now? Something in the line of Asperger’s perhaps, oh dear, I can hear the siren calling. I wonder if I could get music in there too?

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