Thursday, 31 January 2008

Oopsie-Beebs-a-Blog™ (refute) (fixed)

I get unreasonably and unhealthily irate over the lazy misuse of words like "refute". The Beeb's own very fine Styleguide (275k PDF) says, on p. 72:

Refute has a particular meaning.To refute a
statement means to prove it wrong. So do not write
The Chancellor refuted opposition claims that he had
mishandled the economy
, because it is very unlikely
that he did so. Refute is not a synonym for deny,
disagree or contradict.

So while it is perhaps unfair to pick holes in particular stories, I couldn't help but feel the familiar surge of wrath at this story's use of it thus:

The ambulance service was accused of missing details about the victim but a spokesman refuted this and said getting to the scene quickly was the priority.

No, Beeb, the spokesman did not refute it. He denied it. To refute it he would have to provide proof that it is wrong, not just claim that it is. Did he prove it? I doubt it: he probably said "no, that's wrong". It's not the same thing.

Is this a minor and unimportant point? Maybe, yes. But if you don't defend the meaning of any words you will end up with a very strange language indeed. I do know that language changes and so on, yadda yadda yadda, I am always coming out with this chorus: but not all change is good, and this is, in the purest sense of the word, just ignorant. I honestly think the BBC, which I love, can and should do better, and it sometimes bothers me - even if it should not - how often you see bad writing on their News site.

PS: No, I have not gone mad and decided to seek dismissal by blogging in work time. I am on annual leave today. Ahem ... admittedly this is because I am having a voluntary work deadline crisis - the last ever of this sort I hope - so I shouldn't be doing this anyway right now. But at least they don't pay me and can't sack me ... and I am leaving in 71 days ... and I promise I will get on with it in a moment!

Update: it's now 1334 and they've already fixed it: it's now denied, not refuted. That was quick! Nice one Auntie.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

This is Bounds Gremlin

The LED display on the Tube seemed to have a hangover this morning:

This is Bounds Gree!!n
This is a Piccadill#!y Line service to Heat#!hrow Terminals 1, 2 an##d 3

On the other hand the next-station announcements all had the station name correct but with an added touch of drama thus:
The next station is!! Turnpike Lane
Gosh. I'm, like, woo.

Once you recognized the pattern it was less amusing:

This is Wood Green
This is Turnpike La!!ne
This is Manor House!!
This is Finsbury Pa!!rk
This is Arsenal
This is Holloway Ro!!ad
This is Caledonian !!Road
This is King's Cros!!s St. Pancras
- although it was funnier again when there was more text: in this regard King's Cross was particularly fine since it lists all the connections, which gave the Mad Punctuation Disorder an excellent opportunity to run amok. Had I tried to copy all of that one down I'd just be reaching Uxbridge about now.

Thursday, 24 January 2008


I've lost my lovely MP3 player and I am extremely annoyed - mainly with myself. It has made me disproportionately miserable in a way that has quite surprised me.
  • I had it up to about 21st December.
  • By the time I went back to work on 4th January I didn't know where it was any more.
  • It's absolutely unclear whether it's still in the house or if I really dropped it on the tube or left it on a car roof or something.
  • This was a somewhat chaotic period with lots of nonstandard things going on.
  • This whole saga is a complete drag and I am furious.
  • It's too nice to lose and I feel I cannot do without it. It was a birthday present from Deb with major advisory input from Lottie. It was perfect: indeed it was a real "flapping owl" of a gift.
  • I've ordered a new one. Bits have started turning up (remote, screen protectors etc) but not the player itself yet.
  • If the old one turns up Deb and I will have one each.
  • It's going to be a big drag setting up the new one, but we will get there in the end.

Lessons learned (if I only had a brain):
  • Act immediately you suspect it's missing: don't let it ride for days while you're vaguely thinking I wonder where it is, I hope it turns up, I need it next week.
  • Put a label on the back. I've had various things returned to me because of this simple measure.
  • Try to control the chaos!
Update (3rd February): the new one came and is now in and working. Huzzah! I had some pain with getting it synchronized: it turned out it was only one track that was sabotaging it, but that was one out of 4000 so identifying it was a bit of a drag - but doable. Interestingly, this faulty track caused Windows Media Player to crash gracelessly, which I thought was a bit poor. Even Creative's own software also crashed, which was even more surprising: ho hum. And, of course, some tracks that I paid good money for are now no longer mine, because I have copied them too many times and some bunch of business creeps wants more money. Gah! But I can restore these from backup audio CDs (duh) and anyway most of the device is back to where it was, and I am well pleased. I must try not to lose this one. For about half a day I seemed to have lost the new remote, though it was really only my faulty memory about where I'd put it "safely". But this did not make me feel good.

I wonder if the other one will ever turn up, or if it really has gone for good?

More Backlog-a-Blog™

Hello again. I am sorry that blogological enterprise round here has slowed down a bit recently. I have a deadline coming up - the last ever of this exact type; I have Other Stuff™ going on, plenty of it: I just don't at the moment have the time I need to finish and post things. But I will.

For the time being, I was wondering if by any chance you were just thinking "I do wish Vogel would post a photo of a rather lovely great big black bee on a passion flower in Laroque des Albères a couple of years ago"? If so, imagine, your luck is in, because I just happen to have sorted one out for you. I do hope you enjoy it.

Normal, if it could ever be termed that, service will be resumed as soon as possible. Thank you for your tolerance. And indeed for the loan of your garlic crusher and slippers.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Oopsie-Beebs (fixed)

I know it's childish of me but I just wanted to share these gems from two BBC News stories today. They may well be fixed by the time you look at them, so here are the all-important web-archive versions:

In Education, Call for ban on catchment areas contains this:

This means that pupils at failing schools will remain their for a considerable period of time, the report argued.

... and in the (often excellent) Magazine, in the story What happens to a 143-tonne plane wreck? we find, with delight, this rather wonderful statement:

After spending about $100m repairing the damage the aircraft returned to service.

(It's probably a Dangling Participle or something, and I really ought to look it up so I can at least be childish and snotty about it accurately ... but I feel an attack of jabnaas coming on ...)

It's not that I think anyone should be shot over this and I know they do eight billion pages a day and so on and so forth. I just think it's unfortunate, and occasionally funny, when they get it wrong. Is there an editor who decides what happens to a journalist's text before posting, or is that the same person, I wonder? Oh well, no harm done.

Instant Update: and two seconds - really - after posting that, I had this excellent response from the education editor - who therefore clearly does exist! - saying "two people worked on that. I've fired them both ;-)" which I must admit made me laugh immoderately. I do love the BBC.

Almost Instant Update: they fixed the other one too (but sadly did not send me another witty email). I do, still, seriously, love the Beeb. I can't imagine another organization of that size and importance being so responsive.

Dangling Update: Yep, a number of websites (including Ask Oxford) confirmed that the thing I mentioned in the 777 story is a Dangling Participle. It's a special case of the more general Dangling Modifier, but you knew that. I tried to write this update's first sentence as a deliberate example of one, but I couldn't get it right. It's harder than it looks!

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Pardon me for pointing it out but in actual fact he is, indeed, behind you. Or: Gig-a-Blog™ (Dick Whittington, Hackney Empire)

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

I have sworn a solemn oath not to do any silly pantomime jokes in this piece. And it is no use, Tamsin, you shouting out "oh no you haven't" like that: you will not get me started.

Right then: here's the background.

  • The Hackney Empire's MD (and composer) for this panto and quite a few before it is the rather eminent Steven Edis. He knows Lottie through Haringey music, because his kids have been through that splendid setup too.
  • Steve also knows Stephen Bentley-Klein, a gentleman who among many other talents plays both violin and trumpet, a not-entirely-common combination. As a consequence the panto - which runs on a very small band - is written for a violinist/trumpeter who swaps between the instruments.
  • Unlikely though it may seem, Steve B-K has a regular deputy: someone else who also doubles thus. However you clearly don't want too many eggs in too few baskets here and indeed the dep was unavailable for this winter's panto season of Dick Whittington at the Empire.
  • Hence the requirement for Lottie to step in and deputize for Steve B-K, she apparently being next on the list.
  • In fact it was more than just a touch of depping - Lottie did a total of (I think) ten shows which, while it's nowhere near half, must be a reasonably substantial chunk. Indeed, she was listed in the programme alongside Steve B-K which I thought was very civilized of them.

Naturally as proud parents we trooped along. (Aside: the online booking system was having a very bad night when I tried to book and I pretty much ended up throwing my teddy in the corner. In the end Deb got through on something called the "telephone".) And that's how we ended up sitting in the stalls, within worryingly close audience-participation range, on this particular Wednesday night. There were actually a fair few other family and friends there so Lottie was well supported.

I was thrilled to be back at the Hackney Empire. I was there in the 1980s when it reopened after a long period dark, and I was there again in the 1990s with the Grand Union Orchestra in If Music Could, so it was nice to be back for my scheduled visit for the 2000s. It's such a great place: I really ought to go there more often. You really ought to go there more often. It is an essential London experience.

It was a wonderful show. One of their policies is that they get proper panto experts, the pros, rather than doing that horrible cheesy thing of just using whoever just won some dreadful TV show or something. This policy reaches its magnificent peak in the Dame, Clive Rowe, whose indescribable brilliance defeats the feeble scribblings of this blog: you simply have to see him. He's really quite something; and the hats, my dears, the hats. Oh yes. It seems invidious to mention Clive when I'm not doing the whole cast in detail but let me just briefly say:

  1. You can't not mention Clive. He is a force of nature, an elemental being, not just some quite big bloke in a very big dress and mindboggling hats (though he is indeed that too);
  2. The rest of the cast were extremely strong. There literally was no weak link on stage - everyone sang, danced, acted, and were heroic or glamorous or evil or naive or magical or maritime or pretty or witty or feline or ratlike or simian or merpersonoidal in full measure, and really belted it out in a most satisfactory way.

Production, technicals etc were excellent and it all ran smoothly. There's a great piece of set, a sailing ship which gets shoved around a bit and has a rather excellent, Polly-Pockets-like interior. Oh, and a giant ape, the mode of whose operation gets you guessing a bit.

Edis is a very clever composer. The music is just right in so many ways, and he chucks in lots of quotes so that most people, I guess, will recognize something they like.

The band were great. Well, you knew I was going to say that, but they were. It's just a five-piece but it makes a proper pit orchestra contribution and has other doublings which add versatility: sax and keyboards, guitar and bass guitar. Steve directs and plays keyboards and the drummer drums and it's all very fine. And of course I was immensely proud of Lottie who played well and looked infinitely cool and professional. Most of the paid work I did early in my, er, "career" (aha) was in pit orchestras so I felt quite sentimental about this. (This isn't to say that it's the first time I've seen a von Neustadt kid doing well in the band for a show, of course: but I do think it probably is the first time I've seen one operating there as a professional trumpet [inter alia] player. Which was quite cool.)

And now I'd better try to slow down before this gets overlong: I'm not going to attempt to explain the whole plot or whatever. (Believe me, you wouldn't want me to.) Suffice it to say that the show had all the proper elements, that it was executed with consummate skill, and that it absolutely brought the house down. I was hoarse with laughing, shouting and singing and believe me I was a model of restraint compared to some of my fellow-audienceers.

One thing that I rather appreciated about this show was how it celebrated its neighbourhood and culture: London and Hackney in particular, ethnic diversity: all clearly on the agenda. I liked this. In the 80s when I came to the re-opening it was because I was an arts officer at Islington Council and this kind of thing was pretty much our stock-in-trade but I was delighted to hear it still emphasized right up here in the cynical, hard-bitten 2000s where I sometimes feel that people have lost the plot a little: but I must not preach.

In passing let me add that it wasn't just proud parents and that night's audience who thought the show was great. Others included Time Out, The Times and Sunday Times, Hackney Gazette and others - for more see the Empire's complete list assuming the page is still there.

Lottie very much enjoyed her time at the panto and when she'd finished it was clear that she suffered a little from the post-show blues that we all get - well those of us with hearts do - when this very intense time is over and you're back to being a civilian.

So just imagine how chuffed Lottie was when Steve B-K texted her, asking her to do one more performance - the very last of 2007 in fact, the matinee on New Year's Eve. And as if by magic, seemingly within minutes of her joyously texting him back (yes please lovely jubbly etc) Lottie started to get really quite unwell with all this dreadful cough/cold/flu business. As it progressed this took up and pretty much trashed the rest of Lottie's Christmas vacation, required a couple of trips to the doctor, acquired the tag "bronchitis", and so on. Not at all good.

So then you have a potentially awkward situation if you've agreed to dep but then are ill: and in the specific case of the job requiring such an unusual doubling you may be in real trouble. Possibilities were discussed, including Deb and me going in or Lottie doing the violin and me the trumpet. None of this filled me with delight as I'd seen the part and the complexity of the swapping and cueing and I felt it would be difficult to go in cold and do a really good job. I should add that this was all speculative and hadn't yet been discussed with either of the Steves, but I certainly agreed with Lottie's feeling that it was better to have something up your sleeve, rather than just have the dep turn round and say, "sorry, can't play" and leave everyone else with a problem.

To my huge relief, Lottie deemed herself well enough to do the show and Deb and I were off the hook. Phew. She drugged herself up to the eyeballs and somehow got through it (a small medal is being cast) and a couple more friends went along to see it. All very nice, and well done Lot (and thanks!)

Just before we stop I should mention that I was interested to learn that "pantomime", in the sense of this type of Christmas/New Year show, is not universally understood. Apparently it is largely a British and Commonwealth usage and doesn't work like this in the USA, where you're more likely to be (mis)understood as meaning, er, mime. This is or was covered well by the Wikipedia article on pantomime, so if you do not know what I'm attempting to describe I do recommend that you have a look and that we both hope that the article has not been ruined by Year 10 since I saw it.

So, the joys of Dames and Boys and shouting "he's be'ind yer" and hissing the awful wicked villain are seemingly not widely known in the USA. They're missing out: it was a wonderful evening.

PS Have I mentioned the hats?

PPS The public domain photo of the Empire is by Fin Fahey, thanks.

PPPS The show photo and text logo are lifted from the Empire website by kind permission, thanks.

PPPPS The hats were pretty amazing.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

IP Address.09 – a week at Ingestre Pavilion: Part the Ninth and Last

Friday, 31 August 2007

A new study, Porticology, is recommended as an aristocratic pastime; we have a Bit Of A Grumble (though its Heart is in the Right Place); we discuss Access, though not to Excess, and Ha-Has, though not amusingly. We are Nice about a Housekeeper and a Foodiepub. Finally, we return to the Clamour of the City Streets.

Yes, it's time to go home (cue music, cue Andy and Teddy). Just the usual sorting out and packing and a last look round, really, so this presents me with an opportunity to mention a couple of other things that I've not yet fitted in. All somewhat random but hey.

The Housekeeper: Anne Andrews is, as mentioned elsewhere, a star. I think I'm right in saying that she's been with the Pavilion (or maybe the Pavilion has been with her) since it was "new" in 1990. She clearly cares and knows a great deal about the place. It's kept in great shape and she presides over the widest-ranging and best-organized collection of information that I've ever seen in a Landmark. To discover more about this area you should visit Anne's local history and information site which is full of good things.

Harry Moaners: I've said in detail how excellent and clever I think the building is. I don't want to detract from this but in honesty I should also mention some other things that struck us about the place, some slight reservations. This is all very much imho and jabnaas of course.

  • The house feels slightly uneasy in its surroundings. It's quite a dark spot, somewhat hemmed in by trees. Of course it's nice that there's the openness of the ride in front, organized to show off the best view of the portico; this is a broad grassy swathe through the wood, around 150m long, down to where it meets a pretty, sheepy field, or rather parkland. Then the back garden is very pleasant, especially when it's sunny: a nice lawn with lovely banks. Nevertheless the close, dense covering of mostly uninteresting trees gives a slightly Twin Peaks feel to its surroundings.

  • There's an officially permitted walk in the wood for Landmarkers. Down the ride, turn right into the wood. There you'll find trees blazed with white paint: follow them till you're back on the track near the Pavilion. Turn right again. You're back. It's probably six hundred metres including the ride and track. Now it's a perfectly pleasant enough little stroll, sure, but it's not exactly the keys to the countryside. I'm not sure if it's pheasants, forestry or what that's of such importance here but it's certainly not you. And why should it be, you ask? Well, no good reason really, as long as your attitude to the outdoors is more about ownership than stewardship and you're not concerned with opportunities for a bit of education and/or PR.

  • The above may be unfair. The wood's owners may feel that they've made a huge concession and the Landmark may feel that this walk is the best they could negotiate: in either case I apologize but I have to say that it feels like a grudging welcome at best. Please feel free to comment.

  • You can also walk almost three hundred metres along the track past the house, still in the wood, to the edge of a field. You can't go in the field, though, so once you've admired the view and the ha-ha (see below) you just retrace your steps.

  • The lack of walks from the Pavilion itself does add somewhat to the slight feeling of being hemmed in. Any walk, even the most local, starts with the same process of walking back along where you drove to get in. It all feels like you're a bit out on a limb.

  • This is all somewhat reinforced by the footpaths map displayed in the Pavilion. It's not really a map of where you can go: more a list of what is proscribed. You tend to look at it a minute or two then say "oh: welcome to Ingestre," in a rather small voice.

  • Somewhere in the Pavilion's extensive documentation it mentions that it took two years or something to (unsuccessfully?) negotiate wayleaves for services to reach the house. I may well be misquoting or muddling the detail (jabnaas) but it was along those lines. My Dad used to do wayleaves for the behemoth now called BT and although I know he encountered some rather tricky people (for some reason the village of Priddy comes to mind) I don't think he ever had one that went on this long. It's probably wrong to over-interpret but knowing this certainly doesn't do anything (for me) in reinforcing the idea of the Landmark being welcomed here - or not back then in the late 80s anyway.

  • In the log book someone says (in effect) "don't let Granny, little Tamsin, or Rover wander round to the front of the Pavilion unless you wish to risk having them frisbeed." I may be paraphrasing a touch but the basic idea is correct: the official traffic seems to almost make a point of not slowing down as it passes the house. Obviously it's in a hurry to get on with its duties in estate/farm management, forestry, pheasant plucking or whatever but I'd have thought it appropriate to ease off a touch here. There's no public traffic - the road is private from way back, so, fortunately, not that many vehicles use it. That's also why you need the Landmark Wooden Toblerone which I mentioned in the IP1 blogalogablog (Ben).

  • There's actually a slight dip in the track in front of the building, which dip I think was created to help get the Pavilion's front view, with its three lovely steps, back to how it was intended. It seems almost a matter of honour that this too is taken at full speed. Clangitty bonk crash.

  • I think I got a friendly smile or wave from one of the local drivers once or twice, but in general I didn't really Feel The Love all that much.

  • I'm in danger of going too far, I know, with my townie leftie resentment and my not overly empathic approach to anything that seems to me to walk or quack even vaguely like a Tory landowner, and I should probably stop before I make an even bigger *rse of myself. Again, do please feel free to comment and especially if it's your land.

  • And yes Tamsin I really do understand that if they put me in charge it would be all warm and cuddly and caring, and then bankrupt in a year because I don't got What It Takes and I don't got the Rural Smarts. I just wouldn't mind feeling a touch more accepted and welcomed, is all. We're always being told how we dreadful townies don't understand the countryside: if so, what a missed opportunity this was to educate us with something a bit more subtle than "Private - Keep Out".

  • And that's enough bleating. I'm not saying I hated the place and I'm not saying that if you've booked a holiday there (hello Matt) you should at once cancel it and go to Butlins instead. Very far from it. Let's get it straight that I really really loved Ingestre Pavilion: if I didn't I wouldn't have bothered writing in such detail about its good points as well as what I see as its few limitations. Remember this is just my view and Your Mileage May, as they say, Vary. Indeed it probably will. As I keep pointing out, perhaps ad nauseam, this is Just A Blog, Not An Authoritative Source. If you were to let my comments put you off a holiday here, you'd be missing my point. Please go there and experience it for yourself!

    So, what else?

    Porticology: It's an essential part of the Ingestre Pavilion experience that you feel what it's like being in the portico. Don't just use it as a big porch and zip through it in three seconds en route for the front door - how often do you get glorious architecture like this to play with? Weather permitting, take your coffee and your crossword out and enjoy just being there. I think on one occasion I took a chair out for a few minutes and on another I just sat on the steps: very pleasant if it's warm. Indeed this portico-sitting is best accomplished when it's both warm and sunny, so check your time: it faces roughly northeast and doesn't get that much sun, or didn't when we were there in late August. But the feeling of being out there, just enjoying the pillars, arch and plasterwork, the symmetry, the light and shade, the view down the ride, is not something to miss. Ham it up. Be Lord Ingestre or Sir Norman d'Ingestre or Major General Montague Ingestre or the Rt Revd Archie Ingestre or whoever. Survey your domain. Admire from afar, down the ride, the parkland of your ancestral home; feel the weight of your heritage; Live your Portico Moment! Yeah baby.

    Disability access is an interesting question at Ingestre Pavilion. You'll see it mentioned in the first of the IP blogs: basically, while it is not a fully accessible building, it represented a pretty good, very workable compromise for us and we had a fine old time there. The Landmark Trust is, however, looking at its access at the moment. They must, I guess, be aware that it's so close to being more fully accessible; and of course it is actually a property that might cope with more change, having after all mostly been built around 1990! Imagine having responsibility for this issue at, say, the Egyptian House or the Wardrobe? No thanks! But here at least you can see that there's some chance of progress. It must still be exceedingly difficult, and I presume (and fervently hope) that there'll always be some things that are sacrosanct: for example I wince to think of anything permanently affecting the appearance of the steps and front. But their architects' ingenuity is writ large all over this building and I suspect that it will ride to the rescue again.

    I was very pleased that Anne Andrews encouraged Becca to write something about access at the Pavilion. Whilst I have no doubt that the Trust will have experts and consultants and rules and regs, there's a lot of value in recent, direct, personal experience. So I hope that whatever they decide will have been assisted in its development by Becca's views.

    Ha-has. Ah yes, I meant to mention these. There's one in front of the Pavilion, some way down the ride: indeed it makes "ride" a particular misnomer as you really wouldn't want to risk riding anything much down it. For some reason I can't quite bring myself to call it an avenue, though, so ride it is until I find or am told a better term. (Ah yes, it is arguably a vista - thank you Lottie.) Anyway there it is and very pretty too. It's not functional these days: actually I found it hard to see how it had ever worked since nothing connects to its ends. Nowadays you can just walk round, but at one time it must have either gone further or been linked to some other barrier. (Unless of course it was never functional, only ornamental? Seems a little unlikely.)

    The other ha-ha is rather more straightforward and comprehensible, largely because it is still doing its job of keeping the cattle in the field. This is the bit you get to see if you walk the 300m that I mentioned, along the track after the Pavilion. I strongly recommend you do this as it's a pleasant and picturesque spot, with a sort of bridge over the ha-ha's ditch, and nice old trees, and so on. All that the ha-ha protects now is some not-all-that-interesting woodland like that which borders the Pavilion, but one assumes that originally it was separating something more like gardens or parkland: its current role could really be performed - though less elegantly - by a fence. Whatever the original intention, it's a pleasant place to stand and speculate.

    Architectural relics: while prowling round the Pavilion on our last morning I remembered to look for something mentioned in the documentation, which is, upstairs in the old part, the blocked doorways which would have led into the previous building. They didn't fit the new layout so they're just a reminder now, but it's nice to see them.

    More pub food: I've already mentioned The Bear Inn at Alderwasley, where we had an excellent dinner after the delights of Chatsworth. Earlier in the week we'd had a different but also very pleasant evening at the Holly Bush Inn in Salt, a pretty village, much closer to the Pavilion. This seems to be a larger and slicker operation than The Bear but still does a good job and was welcoming, helpful and all that stuff. They were busy, we didn't have a reservation but did have a wheelchair, but after a short wait - eased by the time-passing magic they call "Beer" - we were seated in a cosy corner. The food was excellent but - and I know it seems like a crazy complaint - there was almost too much of it. Although I am not exactly the world's most restrained eater, I would honestly have been happier with maybe 3/4 of the portion I actually got. Sure, I know you don't have to eat it all - except that in some ways, perhaps embedded in your upbringing a bit, you do. I find it non-straightforward, at least.

    Having said that, it was all very pleasant, service was good, and I enjoyed it. Definitely a superior, local, nosh-up destination for hungry Pavilionistas.

    Meanwhile, back on Friday morning, we're packed and about to go. Anne and her husband turn up and we have a pleasant chat, then it's Start Engines and we're away. One of us is back home in Manchester pretty sharpish; the London party takes a while longer, and eventually Katerina is safely delivered to Finchley-Ost. Thank you everyone - the Landmark, Anne, Becca, and the people who commissioned and built this bizarre, fascinating edifice - for a fine and quirky holiday.

    Sunday, 13 January 2008

    O-a-blog™ (DFOK, Darnley Estate, Compass Sport Cup SE)

    Well (continuing from yesterday's blogological entity) I did indeed make it. It was a bit of a trek, out along the North Circular then the A13 then across (rather magnificently) the QEII Bridge and eventually down the A2 a bit till it nearly becomes the M2; but, as it turned out, well worth the journey.

    I had had nice and encouraging email from a nice entry-sort-out person who advised me to get there early to grab an EOD (entry on the day) slot, as there were around ten left for most courses - so I did. I actually got the first available EOD time for Blue, which was 10.31: quite cool given that first starts were at 10.30. I was there embarrassingly early so I kicked my heels trying to look like a queue while the DFOK people were setting up. I felt a twit but the queuing did have the desired effect.

    Having said that, I then nearly messed this bit up: I knew that they were using two starts, called Blue and White, and that White was twenty minutes from the car park and Blue was just five. My subconscious had decided that as I was doing a Blue course I must be going from the Blue start, so I took my time, and phoned Deb for a nice chat, and so on ... yep you guessed it: the start names were "upside down" compared to the course lengths, so the long courses went from White and the short from Blue. Duh, Vogel, silly man. I must add, though, that I am not sure that it's a great idea to use colours, like course names, for the starts, and I would have thought that, even if you did, it would make more sense if they were lined up so that White and Blue courses, and the ones similar to them, would be at the appropriately-named starts. But even better would be calling them North and South or Apple and Pear or Duck and Teal - really pretty much anything else, I'd have thought.

    So having suddenly understood all this and realized that I was not quite ready to go and it was past 10.11 and I needed to be gone minutes ago, I went off in a tearing hurry for the two kilometre trek to the White start. 2K! That's longer than some courses I've done! Naturally, I was nearly dead before I got there. I ran much of the way and kept passing alarming signs saying "1000m to go: 10 minutes" and so on. And it doesn't help that my elderly, clockwork, much-loved watch is not actually ruthlessly accurate to the last nanosecond, so there's no real guarantee that the 10.31 for which I am aiming is the same 10.31 as other people know about. So of course I was in total sweaty-panic meltdown, something I do quite well. A nice starter person reassured me that I was OK to start anyway (I'd missed 10.31 by a short sneeze) and tried to encourage me to calm down and get my breath back, a kind approach though if she'd known that it would have really taken an armchair and a large Scotch she may have thought better of the project.

    And so away I went. It may have been the rushed start but to cut a long story short I made AN UNBELIEVABLE HORLICKS of the first control, taking over 14 minutes to find it - some kind of personal worst ever, indeed probably a galactic worst ever come to think of it. I cannot think when I was last so panic-stricken, frustrated and angry on a run. I note that someone claiming to be me wrote this:

    " – when it’s all going wrong I do sometimes have to make a conscious effort to fight off a depressed and defeatist attitude that can try to flood in but, you know what, I have always been glad, ten minutes later, that I managed to fight it off."

    Well, yes, jolly good, but I'd say this was pretty close to the edge, in real danger of entering the non-fighting-it-off zone. If I'd sat down on a tree stump I don't think I'd have got up off it to go orienteering again, but just to give up and go home. Seriously. Real Slough of Despond stuff.

    The annoying thing is that it is as if I forgot everything I ever knew about orienteering and maps and was just back to a totally unskilled, unthinking approach. Certainly, that panic-stricken pre-start period did not help, but I am quite disappointed in myself that I let it get so out of hand and let the self-pity nearly win. Once I get started it is powerful stuff: I'm too fat and old, I am no good at this, I am no good at anything, what do I think I am doing out here, I look like a fool, I should give up and go home, I should never do this sport again ... and so on. Not, in fact, a brilliantly good thing to have going on in your head. Do you remember in The NeverEnding Story, when Artax (the only horse that I know of named [almost] after a ceiling finish) "lets the sadness get to him" and sinks into the swamp? I imagine my kids still have nightmares about it - I know I pretty much do. Like that.

    The silly thing is that I could and should have stopped and done almost anything and it would have been better than the aimless and depressed wandering that I actually did. For example I could very easily have got back to the path or even right back to the start and tried again, used different features, counted steps more carefully, and so on. (I think the initial problem may have been that I badly miscounted - 100m instead or 200 or something - and this put me in a clearing that seemed right but was actually far too early.) There was a line feature in front of the control that I might well have found, and that would quite likely have nailed it. I cannot offhand remember what the symbol means - I thought "a bit like a Twix" was close - but I am sure it would have been findable and then helpful. And so on.

    Anyway, I eventually stumbled upon the control, partly through pure luck and partly through a tiny bit of proper thinking - some of which was navigation and some was where other orienteers seemed to be coming and going, though the latter approach is not that safe, especially as there was another control quite close by which I had already found and checked and established it was no help to me. The real Control 1 seemed a long way further out and north of my line compared to where I had thought, but it was a great relief to find it anyway.

    Sadly I wasn't too bright in my approach to the next control either. (This is also on the map fragment at the top.) It was just after a fence junction where fences either side of me gradually came in, like a funnel, and met. The one close on my left (to the east) was just a boundary between the wood and the (out of bounds) fields beyond. The more distant (western) one on my right was an internal boundary within the wood, and had a path running up it - indeed it was the same path where the Start kite was, and the same one to which I should have relocated when Control 1 went all pear-shaped on me. Foolishly, I felt that I would be faster staying off the path and going straight up the eastern fence, whereas with 20/20 hindsight I can say that it would have been much, much faster to go quite directly out to the path at the western fence and run up that. This is so even though it would have been a roundabout route - the speed of progress once on the path would have overridden the directness of the other route. It is a foolish misconception - and I must remember this another time - that a linear feature is necessarily good to make fast progress along. Fences are not necessarily clear to the sides and neither are streams, in fact ditto earth banks and the like. They can be, sure, but there's no guarantee. So I set off up this fence confidently enough, taking insufficient notice of the darkening green on the map, and found myself really fighting my way through bracken, brambles, fallen logs and goodness knows what else, while only a short distance away other runners were blasting cheerfully up the path at full speed. Another silly error, but I was amused that two other runners made their own silly error and followed me through - they must have really been wishing they'd ignored me! This control took me over six minutes, which is around double the mean. So these first two controls took me over twenty minutes, where fast people were doing them in less than five and most people took around seven or eight: not a great start.

    After that things started to look up a bit and I felt like I knew what I was doing a bit more. The initial panic had subsided and I had acknowledged that I was going to be well down the list, maybe last, so I thought I might as well just get on and enjoy it and try to be accurate.

    It was a nice area. Parts of it were very very muddy - some places that on the map were shown as "rough open" were actually more "mudarama" because they had been cleared, or prepped for forestry, or something, so machines had been in and it was more like a ploughed field. Very very heavy going but quite an interesting challenge to try and make some progress. On the other hand, plenty of the rest of it was great - an interesting mix of parkland, woods and a really strange/interesting wet area that I'll come back to.

    At one point in the park bit I found myself running near a big temple thing which was under restoration. As the course unfolded I saw more and more follies and other interesting odds and ends. It turns out that there's a heritage trust which looks after that side of Cobham Hall, the country house (now a school) through whose estate part of the course went. One thing that really caught my eye was the Pump House, a gorgeous building down by a lake. From its information board it appears that it was rescued in a Landmark-Trust-ish manner from the very brink of utter dereliction - walls really very ruined and so on - and now it looks splendid, so well done them. Oh and just before that I had passed another one, "Repton's Seat", which looked very inviting for a breather - but I resisted and kept going.

    Some time after this I crossed back into Shorne Wood Country Park, where the course had started - or rather, the 2K shuffle to the White start had. When I say "crossed back" I mean that this course was seriously bisected, having the A2 and HS1 (the new Channel Tunnel high speed railway line) running together right through the middle, separating Cobham Hall and its park from the country park itself. This is I think why they had the long walk to the White start - the unusual layout of the area has required some ingenuity to get good courses, though I would certainly say that they managed very well.

    Back in the country park it was very odd and very interesting. Much of it is ex-claypits, and you can really tell - it's glutinous, mossy, very bumpy and wet and generally odd. There are hummocks and hillocks and little pools and paths and interesting corners everywhere. One control was on a little mini-hilltop and it was really quite hairy up there - very slippery with bright green moss everywhere, and the "path" becoming quite dodgy from so many feet. I think it's almost the first time in orienteering that I've though, golly, I could actually fall off here. Then the next control was straight ahead over the top of this little hill and down a very steep slippery clay slope to a pretty pondside place and I wondered if it was actually too dangerous to go that way, but it was OK in the end and actually rather fun. The navigation in this part was quite intricate - not really very hard but certainly interesting and unusual.

    Why was I doing Blue, you ask, when I more usually do Green? Well this was a "proper" event with club entries and things, and although I had neglectfully not entered through the club, I vaguely felt it was the right thing in some ill-defined way to enter in the class that I should for a club entry, and all entrants in the 45+ age bracket were supposed to do Blue, and that's me. I mean I could have done Green and no-one would really have known or cared but I would have felt like I was wimping out a little. Or something. And, comfortingly, I had a nice email from the club captain saying I had done the right thing in entering the correct class and that it could even help under certain circumstances: this is not because of the brilliance of my orienteering, I hasten to add, but just to do with occupying places and the way the tables work. I think this, the CompassSport Cup, is the first proper named event I've been in, even though it was a regional heat rather than the final. What a step in my magnificent career.

    The results are out now (I'm writing this last bit on Wednesday) and HH were beaten into second place by David's club, Southdowns - I think this happens quite a lot! Sadly my personal score will not have had a huge impact, though fortunately it cannot harm the club's place either. In the What If event I did a bit better having been very efficient about Controls 1 and 2, but in the real world those two took quite a toll and I didn't quite scrape into the top 90% of all competitive starters this time, though I was not last! I do most seriously need to learn and apply the lessons of those first two controls.

    Buskaid Soweto String Project

    I'm just watching an excellent BBC4 documentary about this incredible project. I sort-of know about it - it is run by Deb's friend Rosemary Nalden; we've had people from the project working on Stringwise; Haringey musicians (including Deb, Becca and Lottie) visited the project on the Haringey SA tour in 2000; and so on.

    It's incredibly moving. The work they do is fantastic, unbelievable, life-enhancing. If by any chance you happen to be reading this and are a millionaire or captain of industry or something, I would be most obliged if you would please arrange to send them a big bucket of money. Or several. Thank you so much.

    If you know me (or even if you do not but are filthy rich and/or interested) and you want to see this programme, just yell. I have it on my gadget.

    Saturday, 12 January 2008

    O-a-blog™ (SN, Ash South)

    I was reflecting on the fact that 2008 is my fifth year of orienteering (though still my zeroth year of being any good at it, but hey).

    I agonized over whether to go today - it seemed hard to fit in - but my word I am really pleased that I did. This was a local Southern Navigators event at Ash, down near Aldershot in Surrey. As you can see from the map this is a wooded area with army firing ranges next to it. The red flags were flying and there was indeed shooting going on, but not enough to spoil things. It's a lovely area with lots of interesting valleys and stuff. And it was yet another lovely sunny morning - very difficult to imagine a nicer day or place.

    I did a course they called Light Blue. Not one I have encountered before but the only harder-than-Orange courses they had were Light Green and Light Blue. They reckoned their Light Blue was something like Green, indeed I am not quite sure why it wasn't. I orienteered quite well, but slowly. I hope I am not last but, as I have said before, the whole point is that even if it turns out I was, it will not detract even a touch from the enjoyment I've already had. This is one of the big features, for me, of this extraordinary sport.

    When I say I did quite well - for example, I made one stupid navigational error of the Route Choice Oops variety. I took what looked like a sensible short route but forget about those little brown wiggly lines - contours I think they call them. Silly Vogel. So I went down a seriously steep descent into a pretty valley, along the bottom of the said valley for a hundred metres, then up out of its other side up another fairly nightmare climb. With just a few nanoseconds' thought I could have got to the same place going round the top end of the same valley with no change in level and maybe just a few metres further, arriving (almost) fresh as a daisy and minutes earlier. Oh well. (6 to 7 on the top map extract.)

    At another control I overshot a fair bit, which was silly - I had been counting paces but must have just got a bit confused, and foolishly I did not use other cues which would have double-checked the pace-counting. I then backtracked to the control and found it gone - that is, it has been nicked. Rather annoying, and difficult to see the point - was it vandalism-for-fun, vandalism-to-make-a-point, theft in the hope of profit (do they sell a lot of these down the pub?) or what? Bizarre, and rather sad.

    Update: Southern Navigators had three controls stolen that day - they lost a total of £200+ worth of equipment. As I say: bizarre.

    On the other hand I was pleased that when the same route choice thing happened again I had wised up sufficiently to find a nice easy route along the contour rather than diving miles down and up again.

    There was one control (13) that I found very hard - I got all mixed up coming out of 12 and although I thought I had a strategy it fell apart quite fast under pressure, leaving me quite disorientated. There was a fiddly little network of paths and I found it very hard to see where I was in it. I did then think of an approach which I felt sort of might work, and I ended up, well, not quite where I thought I should be, but in a recognizable and recoverable-from place (the open bit SE of 3) , and thus got it back together, in a way that I found quite pleasing given how clueless I often am in these sticky corners.

    Tomorrow I may be going on some slightly more serious-sounding event in Kent. I should have registered for it ages ago but have been a bit out of things. It is possible that I will be able to EOD (enter on the day) if I get there early enough. Let's see if I make it.

    Coffee note: I left in such a flap this morning that I had no time to make a flask of coffee, chiz. Afterwards I was gasping for one. I had already noted with some interest that I was driving along near the Basingstoke Canal so when I saw a sign to the Canal Authority's Visitor Centre I followed it hoping to find coffee there. No luck, in fact no luck two ways - it is open weekdays only in winter, plus the Tea Room is currently shut anyway! Oh well. It does, however, look a good place to drop in some time, and the little canal corner it occupies, accompanied by the railway, is very attractive. I drove on, but soon after that I followed a sign to The Quayside. This is a watersports place on an old gravel pit and has a very pleasant bar/restaurant/thing, so I had my coffee looking out over this lovely lake with birdies and what have you. Eleven out of ten.

    Results note: I wasn't actually expecting to come first in this one so I find it quite acceptable that I came in the, er, top 90% of my course. Ahem. Yes.

    Friday, 11 January 2008

    Gig-a-Blog™ (LSSO/Armstrong, Barbican)

    Tuesday, 8 January 2008

    London Schools Symphony Orchestra, Sir Richard Armstrong, conductor; Stephen Stirling, horn: Janáček, Jealousy; Strauss, Horn Concerto No 1; Dvořák, Symphony No 6.

    What a fabulous concert by the LSSO at the Barbican. Now yes OK I have a daughter in this orchestra (and two previously in it) so of course I am biased as h*ll. But let's just pretend for a moment that I do have any sort of integrity at all, and that I am trying to be no less fair to them than to anyone else about whom I write. And to be honest(ish) with you I do think I am quite a stern critic of youth orchestras and I do get cross when they do a ropey job - because it's letting the young people down if you do it badly, apart from anything else.

    Having said all that, this was a really most impressive concert. I am ashamed to say that I did not know the Janáček but it really blew me away - I thought they did a great job on it, making a real ear-catching kickoff for this concert.

    The Strauss was just sensational. Stirling - well, he's just a dream of a player, producing a truly exciting performance. And what is nice is that he takes risks - you could, of course, do a very very safe careful performance of this quite dangerous piece and it would be as boring as anything. Where it's needed Stirling charges straight at it, goes fast round the corners, leaves the braking till late, and so on. It is quite stunning. And I must mention the incredibly good balance in the first movement where they just didn't let it get loud and turn it into a huge noisy wallow - Stirling kept the volume tastefully and sensibly down and Armstrong and the orchestra stayed under him, accompanying beautifully and giving the whole thing a wonderfully light effect.

    The Dvořák was superb - edgy in all the right places and beautiful and lyrical in others and - well, just generally rather good actually. I know this symphony a teeny bit but it was great to hear it given such a convincing performance. Well done LSSO.

    It's not just me by the way. The Independent gave it a very good write-up, while having a slightly naughty sideswipe at NYO. All good clean fun.

    Another yay and woo: the Iarlles Loötës storms Cambridge

    It's always a matter of great shame to the von Neustadt family when our children have any form of academic success, as we would far rather that the most studying they did was "Cannon Trajectories, A Geometrical Approach", or perhaps "Infantry-Swathe-Cutting 101", at one of our better military schools.

    However some children are clearly not really cut out to wear the Pickelhaube and so it is with Lottie who has been expressing an ambition, for many years, to become a secondary school music teacher. Personally I have little time for this disgraceful leftist profession but I must say I do admire their courage: faced with the choice between charging at a massed formation of blood-crazed Cossacks and trying to explain minims and crotchets to Year Seven on a Friday afternoon in February I would always call for my sabre and horse, feeling this the less hazardous option.

    To cut a long story short, Lottie got an offer from Cambridge yesterday, to do her PGCE there for 2008-9. This is fabulously excellent news and also a great release of tension: the outcome of this AND Marfs's Grade 8 have for some weeks been pretty much neck-and-neck in the Vogel's Blood Pressure Stakes and I really cannot express the delight I feel, not only in these fantastic outcomes but in not having to worry about them any more. Also, it's perhaps not been the easiest of times at Schloss Neustadt recently so a couple of good news items were more than welcome. As you know I don't really do deeply personal blogging (unless I think it might make you laugh, of course) so 'nuff said.

    I am very very chuffed and excited about Lot and the PG. She had thought that the interview day went well and of course you never really know how seriously to take a perception like that: it may just be that they are skilled interviewers who have the gift of finding out what they want to know without making the candidate feel bad. But no, this was the real deal and she felt it went well because it did, dammit, and there is great delight at home over this.

    So I shall just say WOOOOOOO WOOOOOOOO WOOOOOOOOOOO WOOOOOOOOOOOO WOOOOOOO WOOOOOO WOOOOOOOOO WOOOOOOOOO WOOOO well done Lottie, in the modest and restrained manner you have come to expect from me.

    Note: I promise to get back soon to normal blogging about trains, trivia, rants about customer service and other crucial stuff. But just for now, this is all enormously cheering.

    Tuesday, 8 January 2008


    Don't you just hate blog entries where snotty middle class parents witter on about how talented their kids are? Yeah, me too, I detest those vile people. Fortunately the von Neustadt family has always worn its (considerable) talents lightly and has never felt the need to celebrate some trivial achievement with anything much more than the torching of a few peasant cottages and the roasting of several dozen oxen, preferably someone else's. (Indeed the two celebratory methodologies may at times have been related, but I digress.)

    As a result of my quality upbringing and that aristocratic detachment which marks out the officer classes and especially the better cavalry regiments, then, I shall just casually drop into this blogological entity the fact that the Infanta Marfs just rang me to say that


    Yay woooooo woooooooo woooooooooooooooo woooooooooooooo woo go Marfs!!!!



    W- ahem yes indeed. Thank you for your attention: you may now go back to work. Mr Thompson, serve the tea if you please.

    PS Woooo!

    PPS With regard (woo) to this pleasing outcome I shall also respectfully remove my hat in the presence of Vicky, cello teacher (and possessor of saintly tolerance) extraordinaire, and Anna, accompanist (or "collaborative pianist"?) and emergency aural tests genius by appointment to the daughters of the aristocracy. I'm like nuff respeck ladeez yay woo.

    Update: I should probably point out that, as you know, I've only been running this blog for eight months or whatever. Had I been running it for a few years, there would of course have been similarly calm announcements concerning similar, ah, decorations granted, to at least two of my large fleet of other daughters, by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. An Ting. Just thought I should say that before I get slapped around by some indignant young musician. Ahem. Yes.

    Notes from a train journey: Euston-Piccadilly

    Friday, 21 December 2007

    North · Circular · Road - I know this place but not from this angle! The train crosses high up above the "new" road bit which was massively rebuilt maybe 10 or 15 years ago. That's just by where the canal also crosses. The very large dip was famously flooded, to greater than car-depth, some years back when a water main burst. (Oops, checked the 1999 news story - it was up to 25ft [7.6m] deep in places!)

    Tilting spectacularly through Berkhamsted. You don't all that often notice the tilt very much but when you have a good reference close by, it's quite something. View of the castle - looks great. Must visit one day. At Berkhamsted I always think of my Jordanian friend Munir and his English Family Christmas there.

    Big flock of swans in field near river. Really big.

    Just N of Macclesfield - a nice-looking place with car park, wooded hill - maybe a site of a fort, castle etc? Or maybe just an interesting hill. Right by the line. Findable? Looks nice for a walk. Or orienteering.

    Macclesfield makes me think of David, and his friend Stephen Robertson who moved there from Guisborough. David went to visit him there once and from his travellers' tales it became for me the most exotic and desirable place on Earth.

    If I had the GPS I could mark where interesting places are then look them up. (Quite nerdy.)

    I could also plan the Near-Shugborough Viewing for maximum efficiency. (Quite nerdy.)

    Backward progress on the train's LED information display - it claims that we're going to Euston. I do hope not.

    Quite suddenly, frosty fields, beautiful sun, winter scene. Wow, stunning. Looks like a calendar page or OS wallpaper.

    Where is Stockport's soul? I don't mean this horribly. Travelling through it by train I get no sense of anything other than the station and a sort of hinterland of big out-of-town type shops. When I used to ride through on the bike it was just an interruption on the A6. Where can you stand and say, ah yes, I am here, look, there's the Town Hall, parish church, cinema, bookshop? ... I assume that it is there, but I have not seen it.

    B of the Bang - Manchester - distant view but impressed that I can see it at all. It's huge!! I've still got Thomas's book on Norman castles - I wonder if he wants it back?

    And here we are.

    (On way back - leaving Manchester - fireworks; very pretty.

    Home soon.)

    Gig-a-Blog™ (Laura Isaacson and Masa Tayama, St Anne & St Agnes)

    Laura Isaacson, cello; Masa Tayama, piano: Schumann, Fantasiestücke; Shostakovitch, Sonata in D minor.

    Gorgeous playing from this precise, well-matched, well-balanced duo. The Schumann was of course lovely - beautiful singing lines, exciting explosive moments - but the Shosters was positively electrifying. This was an incredibly committed, intense performance which somehow made you feel as if they were taking real risks, really throwing themselves at it, but without any loss of accuracy. I loved it all but in particular I was very taken with the end of the first movement and with the slow movement which was seriously moving and beautiful.

    I see that Laura Isaacson started with Wendy Max so I say woo yeah go Wendy.

    A really stunning recital to start off the year (season, term, semester?) and hats off to Tayama and Isaacson both for a job more than well done.

    Also, come to think of it, very handy to start the year off with a good 'un when you're asking Music Soc members to renew, as it somehow helps facilitate the smooth passage of my money into their coffers. Not, of course, that I mean to imply that such a worldly thought would ever have occurred to the gentle innocent folk in charge there hem hem indeed no.

    Monday, 7 January 2008

    Orienteering: yay, woo, etc... or, to put it another way: O-a-blog™ (HH, Nomansland Common; MV, Epsom and Ashtead Commons)

    I was getting worried that I had de facto given up orienteering. I managed one event in September (LOK's rather fun Ally Pally event [should be in a frame, sorry] - just a little park-O yet irresistible because so close to home) but since then I have not been once. Work, health, the news job, family, music, stress etc have all somehow overcome my (usually quite strong) desire to go orienteering and with each event I missed I felt more concerned that it was getting harder to go back.

    (Note to self: actually this last idea - 'harder to go back' - is dangerous b*ll*cks and you know it. Kindly recall this the next time the issue comes up. Thank you.)

    Finally, though, I have fought back through the er er maelstrom of er er stuff and, greatly encouraged by my family (bless 'em), have done not one but two events this weekend. I am very, very pleased indeed. I am also wrecked and can hardly walk today but ho hum.

    Naturally my performances were not good. I came quite near last (but not last!) in a short-green-ish sprint at the Happy Herts event on Saturday at Nomansland Common. Let's face it, something with a word like "sprint" in it is never really going to be my strong suit and I am currently amazingly fat and unfit even by my standards. However it was so good to be orienteering again, and the place is nice and it was a very pleasant sunny morning so I had a great time. It's a quite small area and the navigation needed was precise, even fiddly, and a good turn of speed would have been useful but hey. I even went to the social afterwards and had mince pies and so on. I felt a bit fish-out-of-water as most people were in family groups or long-established friendship groups, and I am a bit abnormally socialized for a situation like that, but some of the people there are really very nice and considerate and went out their way to include me in conversation. I take my hat off especially to Graham P who is either preternaturally nice, or ditto well-brought-up, or both, and who chatted happily to me for ages as if oblivious of the fact that I am a boring and ignorant old person, especially where orienteering is concerned.

    Yesterday was a very nice Mole Valley event at Epsom and Ashtead Commons. I did Green, which is what I often aim for nowadays, and had a wonderful time. It was very muddy in places and very brambly in others but it was an absolutely upliftingly beautiful crisp cold sunny morning in a gorgeous location. Much of the course was in semi-open ground with bracken and occasional trees, mostly deciduous or (worryingly) dead so there was a fantastic green/brown/silver thing going on with a stunning blue sky overhead. I almost wished I had a camera, though I would not really want to slow myself down any more! I made some devastatingly stupid route choices and lumbered round on a lot less than full throttle, but came not too far down the bottom third out of sixty so I do not feel disgraced. One or two controls were really hard to find (note to self or to people looking at it on RouteGadget - 6 in particular) in a way that made me wonder if it was quite kosher but I know so little about procedure that I would not like to hazard a guess. I note, in fact, that I did find even the worrying ones, by dint of very careful navigation (and some luck), so maybe I shouldn't be griping as I've proved it works! Certainly one or two were a notch harder than usual, though, I would say. But I take my hat off to MVOC for the great course, organization etc - all really very good indeed.

    It was quite a trek to get down there but I was really delighted that I had made it. It was a great pleasure to be out in such a nice place with such classically fabulous English winter weather and I am very pleased that I did not miss it. I now need to resolve to keep this (and indeed me) going.

    Update: I searched on terms like "Ashtead Epsom common dead trees" and it appears that I should not be concerned, but rather celebrating the biodiversity it brings. There's lots of interesting stuff online about the management of this area. I still do not (perhaps just because I haven't yet found the right document) understand why I was seeing so many dead trees - it seemed disproportionate compared with what you see elsewhere - but nowhere that I have seen are people talking about it as a problem so I assume that it's normal and that it's my expectations that are skewed. (It wouldn't be the first time.)

    Update 2: oops the bracken is bad, it turns out, and I am not supposed to like it. It limits biodiversity and shades out other species. Or maybe it shades out other species and limits biodiversity. Or something. (Jabnaas.) I wish I had known that while I was enjoying charging around in it yesterday. Bad bracken, bad bad Vogel. Tsk.

    Update 3: I was a bit miffed yesterday when another competitor, wearing a shirt which to me very clearly implied that she should have known better, told me the location of a control which I was approaching - number 7 on the map to which I linked earlier. This was a nice control, on a little hill by a path triangle, and I was maybe about 10m away from it when she came blasting out of it at impressive speed (she is, as they say, fit). I'd seen her on the way in and at other controls and knew she was good and probably right, and in any case I knew where I was going. I stood aside to let her through the gap we were approaching from opposite sides and as she went through she said "it's round to your left". I assume that this was meant kindly, in thanks for getting out of her way, and I certainly wouldn't have wanted to say anything negative to her, but to be honest with you I wish she'd left it or just smiled at me. I had, after all, managed the rest of the course and even the half kilometre or so into that control from its predecessor, so it's not like I was necessarily in desperate and immediate need of help. No doubt I do look like a clueless old twit when orienteering, but even so. The whole point, or a very large part of it as it seems to me, is to find these things yourself, and the buzz you get when you do so is considerable. Having someone else help you when you're hopelessly lost and a beginner is perhaps one thing, though really I still think my pride (such little as it is) would require me to try to sort it out for myself; but to be told when you are almost on top of the control just seems a little silly. Like I say I am sure it was meant nicely and at worst was thoughtless (in a fairly pure and non-pejorative sense), but I'd still rather find it, yea unto the last metre of confusion and bramble scratches and tripping over and what have you. I am not furious nor deeply offended over this, just slightly engrumped and a touch bemused. Hmmm.

    Update 4: let's end on a more positive note. Last night I got out my Orienteering Box - where I somewhat-OCD-ishly (or is it OCAD-ishly? - arf! - falls off chair laughing at own very bad joke) keep all my maps and results. I updated the three events I've done during this "orienteering year" which I suppose is (or feels to me) roughly coterminous with the academic year. This means that each map is marked with the date (it's not always on the map or obvious) the course I did (ditto, ish) and where I came (my place out of n starters). I have also attached the printout you get at the event (with your individual timings and maybe where you were placed at the time of printing), plus the control descriptions if they aren't on the map. The fact is that I deeply love doing this. I now have a collection going right back to that first Southdowns 3-in-1 event in (I think) 2003: it's reasonably complete: in fact to be truthful I am pretty sure it is complete; I just didn't want to sound that nerdy. It's in chronological order, newest on top, so as you burrow down you are going back in time through my orienteering, ah, career. I just sit there sometimes and browse through them, reminiscing about good or bad runs or lovely places, tricky controls, maybe even things that went well. From looking at the map I even just sometimes sit and remember stuff like how it was finding the place at all, were David or Mum or kids or other family there, or how wet I got, or did Daisy come, or whether I had coffee with me or was there a cafe, or what. I'm reconstructing the whole thing like a little personalized documentary film for an audience of one. Is this very very sad? Tell you what, I don't really mind if it is: I just love it anyway. It's like a treasure box. Large grin. Vogel out.

    Wednesday, 2 January 2008


    Friday, 21 December 2007

    A supplementary note from Euston Station.

    Ouch. Aargh! My Wretched Young Persons' Portable Phonographic Device is on Random Pleyel. It was turned up quite loud as I was in a bit of a run of gentle classical and other quite calm music. Imagine then the, er, electrifying effect of Herbert Grönemeyer suddenly announcing, with great clarity and at truly excessive volume, the next song at some stadium concert somewhere. It was essentially as if he was actually there in the café and had snuck up very quietly right behind me during some nice Renaissance polyphony, then suddenly shouted "Land Unter!" directly at the back of my head from a distance of 20cm. Sheesh. I think I may have actually gone "Gah!" like a Dilbert character, executed a quite acceptable vertical takeoff, and hovered for a moment or two, in a twinkly cloud of croissant crumbs, before crashing back down to table height. Herbie. Mensch! Don't do that!

    La Cage aux Folios

    Friday, 21 December 2007

    Euston Station has a sort of Depressed Café Area (DCA), though I am sure they have some nice corporate-approved name for it like Food Court. It is still, however, a DCA no matter what you call it.

    Efforts to brighten it up and make it look cool have enjoyed, er, partial success. The decades-worth of DCA-ness is encoded into the walls, which breathe it back out over the grim-faced traveller, making his oh-so-2008 skinny mochafrappalattecino taste like the ghost of 1970s Nescafé clots in cold milk, cruelly Frankensteined into quasi-life with the steamer. Pssssssst (gnah! wagghh! ungghh!!) etc.

    I was going to start this piece with "7.03am isn't a good time to be sitting in the café at Euston" and then I thought, "bl**dy idiot, when exactly is a good time to be sitting in the café at Euston?" Answer came there none. Some ideas just aren't worth pursuing. (Indeed, most of my ideas aren't worth pursuing, but that's another [non-]story.) And anyway, I am not sure that anyone has really written anything worthwhile about Euston since the blessed and brilliant Cassandra, and I don't have a strong feeling that my choice of opening sentence is about to change that. Ho, hum, and indeed ho hum.

    Anyway, so here I am with my coffee and strikingly unFrench croissant, gazing dispritedly round the DCA and wondering what magic salve or herbal ointment might ward off an incoming depression. Then I see it - books! Lots of books! This is marvellous - what it is, is that the café is divided into a number of zones, perhaps to try to differentiate between the different food concessions or perhaps at the random choice of some design wonk. Who knows/cares? The important bit, you see, is the nature of the ah interzonal barrier: a quite pretty, lightish-wood fence-like thing supported between panels by little square "towers" which are panelled up to maybe a metre then finished off with a shelf at the top. This shelf has opposite pairs of sides solid and open so that in one direction you can see through.

    And when you do look into or through this little shelf, this exquisite lovely little hidey-hole on top, what do you see? Books! Hurrah!! Lots and lots of books!

    Reader, imagine my delight. A moment ago I was in a bit of a depressing dump of a caff: now I'm in a library! For a short while (but blissful) I am quite transported by the imaginative and enlightened approach. Sure there must be problems with theft, but presumably it's copable with: maybe they're buying in old stock cheap, or something. Whatever.

    You see, it's not even that I'm desperate for something to read: it's the matter of principle, the statement about the value of books and reading, the way they've chosen to communicate all this. That's what thrills me.

    You know where this is going, don't you? You've sussed it, right?

    The books are locked in there.







    Oh great. They're locked in. All of them. The shelves aren't really shelves, they are cages or prisons. Those books must have done something pretty bad because it doesn't look like they're getting out any time soon. You and me, sister, brother, we aren't going to be reading those books at 7.03 this morning nor any other morning. Nor at 8.03 or 9.03 nor some other time. Nor in the afternoon, nor the evening, nor the night, nor the strange nameless times that only stations and airports can access.

    So, what were these books doing there? Difficult to say really. A book not for reading is a sad, enigmatic thing, its existence tenuous, its usefulness in terrible doubt. These book-shaped space-fillers are:

    • Less useful than wallpaper
    • Less useful than paper hankies
    • Less useful than toilet paper
    • Less useful than an origami crane
    • Less useful than a paper aeroplane.

    All the above, it seems to me, have some integrity of purpose whereas these display-only non-book bookoids have none. Once you realize what you're seeing, the best bit of the display is the few places where a shelf is left empty: you have a clear view right through because no books are there, indeed no anything at all is there. At last, an honest proposition: you can't read from this shelf, because there's no books here: an indisputable truth.

    What a lousy, miserable apology for a design.

    You see, it's not even that I'm desperate for something to read: it's the matter of principle, the statement about the value of books and reading, the way they've chosen to communicate all this. That's what chills me.

    Lucky Vogel grabs a weekend in Paris: III

    Sunday, 25 November 2007

    I checked out early: the hotel's timings are actually amazingly generous but I wouldn't be back later anyway, so thank you and goodbye.

    After breakfast we all went off to the Oratoire du Louvre, the venue for this afternoon's concert at 4.00. We dumped stuff there - including my bag - and crossed the road to visit the Louvre itself. As its name implies, the church is pretty much as close to the Louvre as you can get without actually being inside it. The organist there is a splendid, elderly lady who's an old friend of Ibrahim's family and has thus known Ibrahim since he was tiny.

    Having reached the impressive courtyards inside the Louvre we paused for group photos before going to see the galleries. I've never been before and was completely knocked out, both by the art and by the grandeur of its surroundings. I saw so many paintings that I feel I know quite well, and so many that I felt I should.

    I also loved the pyramids: it's hard to believe that they were once contentious when they now seem to be pretty much viewed as a design classic in their own right, and an almost-integral, and certainly important, part of the experience of seeing the whole Louvre. They do work exceedingly well, and you can only guess at how it would be there now, with these swarms of visitors, had they adopted some less imaginative solution.

    I was a bit shocked at the rudeness of the ticket sales man, who shooed Ibrahim away from where he was standing by the counter, ever-conscientious, ready to help any of the group with language or money. Ibrahim, bless 'im, just laughed it off as an example of French bureaucratic behaviour at its finest, which was noble of him but I really did wonder how the guy could flip out and be so threatened by such a small thing. I suspect he didn't get his croissant nicely curved or his beans thoroughly ground that morning. Or maybe he's just a miserable espece de whatever. Tsk.

    Like a zillion other people I also felt I should go and see the Mona Lisa. I'm glad that I've seen it: I even quite liked it, I think, but it wasn't, in general, a great experience. Let me try to share it with you a little:

    Although FLASH!! they have FLASH!! clearly stated FLASH!! policies (no flash anywhere FLASH!! , no photography FLASH!! in the galleries FLASH!! FLASH!! of the most important paintings FLASH!! ), the useless, demoralized-looking FLASH!! FLASH!! FLASH!! staff in the FLASH!! room with the FLASH!! FLASH!! FLASH!! FLASH!! Mona FLASH!! FLASH!! Lisa were doing nothing, but nothing FLASH!! FLASH!! to enforce policy, so FLASH!! FLASH!! a complete FLASH!! free-for-all FLASH!! FLASH!! was taking place. Pressing down on FLASH!! the barrier, a massive, FLASH!! FLASH!! near-hysterical FLASH!! crush of FLASH!! FLASH!! FLASH!! people was busily FLASH!! engaged upon taking photos FLASH!! FLASH!! of itself, FLASH!! with the FLASH!! FLASH!! Mona FLASH!! Lisa in the background. FLASH!! FLASH!! FLASH!! FLASH!! Rugger scrum. FLASH!! Cattle market. FLASH!! FLASH!! Oh dear.

    I hope, with all due respect, that you found that paragraph quite irritating to read. Now multiply that irritation by some number or other - I don't know, 6, 37 maybe, or 5442, who knows? - and you're starting to see what a profoundly dreadful experience this was. We're all there for the same reason or variants thereof, I assume, but the way in which many of the visitors seem to want (need?) to enjoy it is guaranteed to interfere, perhaps fatally, with my enjoyment of it. I like to think that I'm a nice democratic, open-minded sort of chap (considering my aristocratic background) but there's really something terribly wrong here. It was like the morning after the revolution: the state is overthrown, the palaces and galleries forcibly opened to the will of the people: here, you may do as you please. You couldn't get any more democratic without giving out chinagraph pencils and letting people scribble moustaches and funny messages on her armoured glass. I cannot even imagine how I'd try to fix it, but I do know that the Louvre, in letting this painting become so thorough a victim of her own success, is failing horribly in its duty. On that morning they were simply bowing to a form of bullying: please tell me that something better than this is possible.

    Right, gripe over. That was a few gruesome minutes' worth and yet I was there for hours, and we must not let the tail wag the dog: I loved every other square metre of the Louvre and now I've seen the Mona Lisa once, I won't be needing to hurry back, not under the current arrangements anyway.

    Even in that same room, all you need to do is turn through 180° and there's the Wedding Feast at Cana, massive and wonderful, being looked at by maybe a tenth of the people in there.

    Similar joys were round every corner: some humongous epics on massive scale, some little pieces meant for a drawing room. When I suddenly saw Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa for the first time I actually had to sit down – no kidding - I was so shocked by the size and impact. I previously knew it as a colour plate in A History of the World in 10½ Chapters where I was much taken with Julian Barnes’s account of it, but to see it erupt from a little paperback-sized thing into the effortless domination of an entire wall: that was really something else. And the thing is, the Louvre just goes on and on: I can't imagine how many visits it would take for me to feel I'd got even slightly to grips with this place.

    After some time I really didn't feel I could walk any further or see any more paintings so, leaving the Mortensons to press on, I took a break in a very pleasant café on a landing, with nice views inside the Louvre and down galleries, and outside it, over to the west so you can see the Tuilleries gardens and other delights. Refreshed by all this I set off again for the last forty-five minutes before the rendezvous, going down through fantastic displays of Etruscan pottery, till I eventually hit the "medieval Louvre" which I'd seen intriguingly signposted. I only had time for the quickest of looks but it confirmed that I wanted to see more.

    The whole group met back in the courtyard and walked along past the church and the metro to find lunch in a pleasant café (Massena I think) which seemed to specialize in the croque monsieur and its myriad variants. Mine, a "Super Croque Madame au Pain de Campagne”, was very nice. The waiter was also quite nice, right up to the moment when Ibrahim made sure that we knew the price of the drinks, at which point the waiter suddenly became a lot less cheerful. Strangely, these prices were not clearly visible in the menu or anywhere you could see from the table - it's almost as if they wanted you to accidentally order a coke that costs double the price of your meal! Surely not. Ah well.

    It by now being twoish it was also rehearsalish, so the KSU group went back to the church and I went back to the Louvre, the ticket being, splendidly, of the use-all-day variety. This time I started with French painting, which was wonderful. I did get slightly bored with heroic hussars. What I didn't get at all bored with is those wonderful paintings of moments from Classical or Biblical stories with tiny figures set in magnificent, vast city- or harbour- or whatever-scapes. I wish I knew enough to describe this better. Years ago Muswell Hill School did a project based on a painting of the Queen of Sheba arriving ... er, somewhere or other. It was that sort of thing, an incredibly detailed painting of the harbour and ships and everything. Like that. I could look at this stuff all day: in fact I nearly did.

    My next stop was the English paintings room. It didn't take too long. There were quite remarkably few of them, none on a very large scale, and what there was hung in the shade of the massive French paintings which completely dominated the upper parts of the walls. The lighting was oddly unhelpful and the whole room felt like a bit of an afterthought. I wondered which if any of the following might be true or applicable:

    • They think our paintings are rubbish;
    • Our paintings are rubbish;
    • Napoleon never invaded Britain, hence missing out on some great art-plundering opportunities;
    • There's some complex art-management or cultural or financial or diplomatic reason which I am probably too dim to grasp, and/or
    • There's a gentleman's agreement between the Louvre and the London galleries and museums, and there's a similar shortage of French art in London;
    • They just hate us!

    Having said all that I really rather loved the very sweet Sand Quarries on Hampstead Heath by John Linell. OK it's partly because I know the place - indeed, I've orienteered there! - but even so it was rather gorgeous. I was also rather taken with John Martin’s Pandemonium, a highly dramatic rivers-of-lava job, illustrating a bit of Paradise Lost, which looks straight out of the climactic moments of the latest Christmas blockbuster. I do realize that comparing paintings to film, with little knowledge of either, probably brands me as the biggest philistine on the planet. Oh well, if the cap fits, an ting. In any case I bet all those famous nineteenth century painters liked the cinema too. Ahem. Yeah!

    Having spent some time in the beautiful, airy galleries on the upper floors of the eastern part of the Louvre, I decided it was time to head back down to the basement levels and properly explore the Medieval Louvre.

    This is truly amazing. It's as if you popped down to the cellar in, say, Somerset House, and found half of Windsor Castle down there. Just after you leave, heading east, the main entrance hall under the big pyramid, there's a rather good exhibition about the Louvre's history which shows you, in a succession of beautifully detailed models (first thought: "d*mn! Where are my Dinky cars?") how the site developed. In particular, you can see the medieval castle which formerly occupied the central part of the site. It's a proper French/Scottish looking castle with slopey sides, turrets and other castle-ish features: real damsel-rescuing stuff. (There's a huge model of just this castle - looking most impressive - at the entrance to the Medieval Louvre bit.)

    What seems to have happened is that when they built the newer Louvre they only demolished the old castle down to ground level: everything below was just left. So now it's all been dug out and exquisitely sorted out and presented, you get to wander along ditches between these towering medieval walls. It's all massive and the size of the void you're in is incredible: the ceiling, presumably around current ground level, is way over your head.

    Initially you get to walk along what would've been some sort of exterior ditch or moat, but then you rather thrillingly plunge into a modern tunnel through the masonry, and when you emerge you're in the moat right round the keep itself. You go maybe 235° round it before leaving through another exit. It's wonderfully done with walkways and lighting, and feels like a really exciting experience. It doesn't take much imagination to feel the castle still there, rising into the darkness and through the courtyard above you.

    Once you've left there's a bit more historical display and some kind of nice medieval undercroft, which peters out a bit as it meets (I guess) the foundations of the present Louvre. Then you're quite suddenly back to the twenty-first century, or at least the eighteenth, and that's your Medieval Louvre visit done. A really fantastic place to see. Just amazing that on top of it is this unbelievable world treasure-house of beauty and then the old castle still lurking there underground. If there's a French equivalent of King Arthur it is perhaps here that you'd expect to find him and his knights sleeping till they're next needed.

    Enough romance, mon vieux, and on with the show!

    As already noted, the concert venue wasn't exactly a major trek from the Louvre so I was over there in two shakes of a lamb's tail. Well alright, several shakes of the tatty manky tail of a somewhat muttonoidal old ram with a bit of a case of the staggers. But you get the general idea, right?

    The concert was great. One highlight was Ibrahim's new piece Klezmarab for solo trumpet (Ibrahim), violin (Kristin) and trumpet ensemble. This fine piece does exactly what it says on the tin and is thoroughly enjoyable with it. Ibrahim's USP is that as well as being a highly accomplished classical player (check the CV!) he does interesting Arabic folk/jazz sounds on a specially-adapted trumpet, this having four valves. This fourth valve (do stop me if I'm boring you) does quarter-tones, which you need if you are going to play authentic Arabic scales: so there you go. Basically he's pretty wonderful, is the point, and so was his piece.

    There was also a good Fanfare for St Edmundsbury, a piece I especially love, and some excellent Hammerschmidt, and the concert ended with Cityscapes, an interesting and rather gorgeous piece by Erik Morales, who I think Gary said was a student of his, many years ago.

    In between all these moments trompettistiques was an excellent choir. I fell slightly out of love with them while they were doing works with the organ, because they had to go up behind us into the organ loft high in the west end, and this led to a bit of a loss of communications between choir and audience. But when they were down in front of us, singing unaccompanied - just fantastic! As I write this I don't have the programme with me, but if I find it I'll back-fill some more details of this most splendid gig.

    Afterwards we crossed the road and went upstairs in what I think was some kind of parish hall/house/epis for a very nice, friendly reception with drinks and nibbles. Marie-Louise Girod-Parrot, the splendid, elderly organist, made a very nice speech in which her affection and high regard for Ibrahim were movingly evident. I met Ibrahim's mum and stepdad here and thought them very nice indeed.

    Once the reception had run its course people were setting off to go and eat - in Montmartre again I think - so I left with them but got off at Gare du Nord, where I'm now writing this. It was sad to say goodbye to this extremely nice group of people. The metro was pretty crowded - even by London standards - so it was also quite difficult to say goodbye!

    Why did I like the KSU group so much? Difficult to say exactly, but, for a kick-off, any friend of Gary's is a friend of mine, and this lot were a pretty good group who clearly value Gary highly, which is right and proper. I also liked the composition of the group as it felt like a bit of a family, with a couple of extras besides the trumpet students: I'm a touch hazy on the details but I think I'm right to say that one student was travelling with his girlfriend, nay fiancée, and that another had brought along her mum (or mom if you insist) and sister. These were all, students and family alike, thoroughly nice people: and of course it was brilliant to see all the Mortensons again. Finally, I guess I liked them because they were so kindly inclusive to me, so I really felt part of the group and not just some visiting twit from London.

    Gare du Nord is the usual drag. I love this station because it's the gateway to Paris for us, but I do not at all love it for itself, as a place to be.

    There's a slightly annoying conflict that feeds into the age-old debate about checking in earlier or later. If you stay "out" you have more choice of cafés and stuff but you're also pretty much in the casual-theft-capital of Europe, surrounded by skilled professionals keen to demonstrate, in a nicely understated way, their prowess. (Remember Jeremy Jackman's bag? Voosh! Gorn.) If you "go through" then I imagine you're a bit safer from the luggage-lifters but then it really is as boring as h*ll and there aren't enough seats.

    Amusingly enough I did stop at the nice-looking balcony café and try for a cup of tea before checking in, but the waitress said "I'll be back" then vanished for ever, having perhaps joined a circus or the Foreign Legion. I hope she is very happy.

    So I gave up on that part of the plan and checked in, which was all very quick and painless, but - at the risk of repeating myself, there aren't enough seats. Not enough. No way nohow. Like, insufficient, man. Funny that: given that they control the time of check-in, they must know the exact number of seats required but they have failed to provide them. No doubt they'd claim shortage of space but funnily enough they had plenty of space for a load of duty-free shops. So people - lots of them - are sitting around on the floor and it all looks a bit airport-ish and resigned. Very very poor show for a railway setup which is otherwise so cool and businesslike, and quite unnecessary.

    Anyway after a while the train before mine left and suddenly there was room to sit: one reluctant and unrousing cheer. But I was swiftly degrouched once we were - er - entrained(?) and a pleasant waitorial person brought me a small bottle of something rather nice and rouge. Things really looked up rapidly from this point on and the rest of the journey was relaxing and generally rather lovely. Oh and delicious too (remember I'm in Upper-Middle Class - or whatever). Nowadays it seems amazingly fast: the only chunk of journey which seems even remotely significant is that from Paris to the tunnel in, what, 80 minutes or something. Then it's 20 minutes through the tunnel, then once you're on the English side it seems that you're practically in London - I think it's another 40 minutes or something but the time just flies by. All really very impressive.

    By a neat coincidence Deb was arriving at Euston just twenty minutes after my train reached St Pancras, as she'd been visiting Becca in the Manchester Royal Infirmary as I mentioned in the Friday blogological occurrence. So we met and got a cab home, which was quite civilized. And, with the cruel reality of Monday morning coming up fast in the rear-view mirror, that was the end of my busy and rather excellent couple of days swanning around in Paris.