Thing 2: Magic Mike

You can have a professional recording studio in your laptop.

Actually, you can have a software version of the kind of luxury studio that would have cost millions 20 years ago. You can have compressors, EQs and reverb on every drum. De-essers, chorusing and saturation on each backing singer. For a few dozen pounds or dollars or euros, you can have a replica of an effects box that you heard on a hundred top 40 hits...but which only exists in ten studios because they only made ten of them.

So why do almost all the tracks made in bedrooms still sound crap? Well, two reasons. One, it's one thing to have great bits of kit - it's quite another to know how to use it to make great bits of music.

And two...some hardware can't be reincarnated as software. Like microphones. There's a reason why producers still spend absurd amounts of cash on a vibrating membrane in a metal cage with a fluffy coat. There's a reason there's so much voodoo and bullshit about how this brand of mic has a mysterious magical extra ingredient that the other one doesn't.

Even if they do all the recording onto a hard drive using Cubase or Sonar or Reason, any sounds that come from the real world have to go through a microphone, and all the clever software in the world can only do so much to compensate for a lousy signal.

High noise floor, low top end, 50Hz hum, hiss and crackle - all things which turn a vocal performance into a fuzzy mess. And not the funky kind of fuzzy rock'n'roll mess either.

This is my microphone.

Actually, I've got a dozen or so, but this is the one I use.

Yes, it's from a broken headset, and it's superglued onto the remains of a different broken headset.

And this is the mic from a second one, superglued onto another broken frame.

And this is Mark II of the first one, superglued onto...yes, a third one. If you see what I mean.

You see, some years ago I wandered into a computer shop on the off-chance they might have a decent microphone. What they had were big, hugely padded headsets for GBP10.

They refused to fit, they hurt my ears, they were too quiet, they were made of plastic with somewhat lower tensile strength than the cardboard packaging, and they fell apart in a month.

So I got another one, because the little microphone was bizarrely brilliant. The second headset didn't even last a week.

Some years later, I had a box of old headsets with rubbishy microphones, and a pair of good but rather silly-looking mics with no headsets. And a pair of scissors, and a tube of glue.

The result is either the Lovecraftian abomination of the audio consumer world, or the surprising alternative to spending a few hundred pounds that I don't have.

Thing 1: Pinky Piggy

Welcome to my new mini-series on "Things". In which I show you seven of my "Things", largely as an excuse to tell the stories behind them.

Today, my latest mascot.

My parents own a holiday bungalow. The idea was that they buy the home, rent it out, and live on the proceeds in their retirement. The reality needs constant maintenence and gets booked only a few weeks a year - which pays just enough to cover the maintenence.

The rest of the time, we've got a place to relax, eat, sleep, look at the scenery, watch TV, browse the internet and bicker. Yes, we can do all these things at home, on bigger TVs, with faster net connections and more comfortable beds, but...

...but well, there's two kinds of holidays. There's the kind where you do things you'd never do at home - rock climbing, swimming with dolphins, trawling the red light district etc. And there's the kind where you do what you'd do anyway, but away from the stress of it all. Escaping to a simpler, calmer world. I think this is meant to be the second kind.

Oh, it is pretty quiet and relaxing, because the bungalow is in a large estate of identical bungalows, all equally vacant most of the year.

It was built on a part of the coast which, according to experts paid to tell business people what they want to hear, wasn't slowly crumbling into the sea. So we get to sit on the porch, watching the cliff edge get imperceptibly closer as it, um, crumbles into the sea.

Last month, we took a car full of frozen food and excitable dogs to our retreat, with the plan to get hungry by walking the dogs, get sleepy by eating the food, and get rested by sleeping off both...before driving back for more food and more sleep. This is the English version of a day out.

So, with dogs muddied from their walk, and the nice new carpet muddied from the dogs, we started to cook the hamburgers. Then all the electricity shut off. We found the junction box, confirmed that some kind of safety cutoff had engaged...and disengaged it.

We started the hamburgers again. All the electricity shut off. Yes, there was definitely something wrong about the cooker. So we microwaved the burgers and phoned the letting agent.

Who agreed that yes, the cooker with the non-working timer, non-working mysterious unmarked dials, and badly working grill...probably wasn't working properly. And needed replacing.

So yesterday we again took the two hour journey to our three-star place of escape from the cares of the world, stopping off to manhandle a "new" second-hand cooker into the back of the car, manhandled it out again and into the bungalow, manhandled the old one into the car, and drove to the site of recycleing/disposal to manhandle it into the big steel box marked "Metal Appliances".

Whoever the man was, he was well handled that day.

But there, next to the "Metal Appliances" notice, adorable stuffed toy pig.

Mascot to the men who worked there, but they were happy to let me have it - and the pig (hur hur) - provided I promised to "feed him well".

Which I the dogs, who have been merrily fighting over their new toy ever since.

Tomorrow, another Thing.

Introspective Behavior, Please

To see yourself as others see you.

Or...through a glass darkly. their odd little sidelines from other projects shall you know them.

(Click to view the inside of my mind at full size)