Saturday, 22 March 2008

Another Mancunian weekend (eee!) part 4

Monday, 28 January 2008

Monday was basically just the Day of Driving Home so I don't have a load of deep insight and fabulous description to offer you.


Dum de dum.


Ah yes:

After eating my delicious Chilled Cornflake Delight, and with just a few minutes' weeping contemplation of The Pub Next Door That Does Cooked Breakfasts At The Weekend (Only I Was Too Stupid To Go There) to give me pause, I was orf.

First stop was the Puffin's Burrow to say hello - and indeed goodbye - to my dear firstborn, the Kronprinzeßin.

After that it was just a question of lighting up the afterburners and pointing the megavan homeward, or towards its home in Greenford, anyway. En route I must just pause, though, to have the traditional moan about the utter dreadfulness of the nasty, narrow, dangerous A556 as part of the link between Manchester and all the motorway network to its south. How did this happen? Is it a joke? There are plenty of places where this is discussed, but, really ... it's 2008 and there's basically a whole motorway's worth of traffic going pretty much over people's front doorsteps. There do seem to be plans afoot to fix this situation, at long last, but if they have dates attached I have so far failed to find them: at the moment and for some years into the future it's really a bit aaargh.

It was a pretty uneventful drive. I don't think I stopped: the van was due back at Greenford at 2.00 and I didn't have much spare time.

I was a bit anxious about returning it as I'd found some subtle damage to the tail-lift and was worried I'd be blamed. I wasn't, but it was a useful reminder to check even the lift, and all its modes of operation, very carefully when the van goes out. Of course they're nice people and there wasn't a problem, but it did worry me a little that I might, by not checking thoroughly enough, have landed myself in a tricky position.

That done it was just a short(ish) hop back home (change at Holborn) to the delights of lunch, kip et al to bring to a close this busy but rather good weekend. Vans, Outings, Snacks-n-Telly™ rule OK. Indeed yes.

Another Mancunian weekend (eee!) part 3

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Sunday dawned, as they so often do. Wolfing down my Mad Astronaut Cryogenic Breakfast I leapt, light as thistledown hem hem, into the driving seat of my mighty rig, ten-four good buddy c'mon. Crob crob crob went the mighty twin chromed exhausts of the Hispano-Suiza 10-litre turbo diesel ... blah blah ... mighty rolling plains ... four-lane blacktop ... loneliness ... blah blah ... kangaroos (what?) ... blah blah drone drone drone. So, er yes, I drove ten minutes round the corner to go and see Bec. Vroom.

Today's principal objective was to have a jolly visit to the WWT place at Martin Mere. To this end we picked up Becca's friend Frankie, who lives in Owens Park. This was real Blast-From-t'Past™ stuff for me. While manoeuvring to pick up Frankie I went right round the Landcross Road / Furness Road block, something I possibly last did in about 1978 on the Honda 250 (of blessed memory). Just before or after some nasty young man stole it.

As for "manoeuvring to pick up Frankie", yes, that was interesting: the formerly straightforward, wide Wilmslow Road outside OP is now a mass of specialist lanes, little rinky-dinky parking bays surrounded by tasteful brickwork, and, er, stuff. So merely driving through it is now more like white-water canoeing, and stopping to pick someone up is out of the question: you might see them but they're behind nine rickshaw lanes and a little brick garden, and thus effectively in another dimension, so you turn into Landcross Road - while you still can.

And orf we went again. It's a fair drive up to Martin Mere, but not ludicrously so, and once there we were into serious goose-viewing in no time.

Martin Mere is very good. I only know one other WWT place, the one at Arundel about which I wrote a few months back. I'd like to see more of them, and especially the London one since it's nearer home and it seems crazy not to have visited it. I suppose it's inevitable that there'll be quite a bit in common, given the type of landscape in which they're most interested; and good level access goes hand in glove with this. There's also all the other visitor facilities, which are excellent: shop, caff and so on. I was less convinced by the binocular hire, as we ended up with two slightly ropey pairs - better than nothing, but not great. [You'll be pleased to hear that I've deleted, before I even wrote it, a discussion of this rivetting topic.]

There's one thing I hadn't completely understood about the WWT places, though it's perfectly obvious once you know: there's really two places in one. There's the wild bird reserve side, where you just get to see whatever flies in, and there's the captive bird side where you're seeing a collection of wildfowl from all over the place, but the birdie doesn't have the option of moving on when it's, er, sifted through enough mud or whatever it likes to do. It was really a bit dim of me not to suss this out before: but hey.

We spent the first part of our visit doing the regions-of-the-world themed collection thang. I was particularly taken with the flamingos. I mean, you can argue all you like that they're a bit of a cheap thrill, and rather brash and tarty compared with the subtle delights of the Lesser Grey Dabbling Whistler and its understated colour scheme. But, my word, flamingos do have pinkness, dash and verve.

As you may see from the Photographic Plate sewn in nearby, this lot weren't doing too much dashing or verving just then, but they were doing very well in the pinkosity department, and were well worth observing peacefully for a while, so we did.

I didn't exactly clock every single bird we saw. I honestly am interested, and do love going to these places, but I'm probably not, these days, going to go home reciting lists of species. (Longer discussion vapourized in pre-emptive strike.)

One thing that really did catch my eye was the Mad Prehistoric-Looking Scary Throat-Ripper Goose. This possibly has a real name too, but not that I can discover while on the 184 omnibus. (Ah yes: Black Spur-winged Goose.) While as far as I know lots of big birds are capable of delivering a bit of a nip, this is the one that needs extra wire and a safety warning, so it's perhaps implied that it's really a bit special. It wasn't actually doing that much while we were there, just sitting viewing people with a jaundiced-looking eye. It's not a pretty bird, so you really wouldn't want to try to pet it: not without body armour, a fencing mask, and very big gloves, anyway.

It was just before this Scary Goose of Death that we met Becca's friend Stephen and his partner Catherine. As perhaps implied earlier (you were paying attention, Tamsin?) there was a secondary objective to this mission. We needed to return a Baroque viola bow to Stephen, who is Becca's LBO desk partner. He lives somewhere up that way, but further I think, and had very kindly offered to come and meet us at Martin Mere. So we spent the rest of the visit with them, which was great as they're very nice.

From there we went back to the cafe . It was pretty busy - goodness knows what it must get like in August - but we managed to get a table, brave the rather slow queue, and acquire some nice food.

This pleasant break was followed by a trek out to the "wilder" side of the reserve to visit a hide or two. We stayed for quite a while in one where it was thought we had a chance of seeing a kingfisher. Becca and I, however, have a bit of a history with our attempts to observe this bird, and sure enough the Martin Mere ones had heard we were coming, and arranged to spend the day visiting friends.

Talking of friends, Stephen is a serious birdwatcher/photographer type, and was carrying an impressive collection of, er, things with lenses. He very kindly spent ages setting up a humongous great scope thing so Becca could have a go. We still saw no kingfishers - now there's a surprise - but there were plenty of other birds coming and going and, especially, a vast flock of greyish/pinkish geese who were very impressive when moving en masse. I had a look through Stephen's scope too and found it pretty amazing, with much higher magnification than I'm used to with binoculars. I also found it a bit hard to use at first, but I'm sure you'd get used to it pretty quickly.

That was pretty much it for Martin Mere and it was starting to feel a bit chilly and end-of-day-ish, so we said our farewells and leapt back in the megavan.

Back in Manchester we went round to Becca's house for another visit. This time, after a long and energetic day, the idea of getting us all in pretty much defeated us, so instead I brought Figaro, the baby of the trio, out to the van to see Bec.

This was great but I'm never doing it again without a proper container: I thought I'd be OK with him in a very deep cardboard box I'd found. Haha, not so OK at all. The "deep" bit is irrelevant if you apply claws to cardboard, and then all you've got is a strangely unstable object which is mostly oddly light but contains a somewhat annoyed cat at its top end: its centre of gravity is actually, er, over there somewhere. You might then think ah diddums ickle sweet thing, he'll never push his way out, but believe me it was like he was being propelled by a hydraulic ram, and it was touch and go whether I could get him to the van without disaster. Don't do this at home kids. Ickle'n'sweet: yes perhaps, but also strong'n'fiercely-persistent. I think I aged about three years in the twenty-metre walk to the van. The annoying thing is that there was a proper travel basket thingy in the house somewhere: I was just too thick to find it. Doh, Vogel, and indeed Duh.

Having said all that it was very gratifying to get the said puss out to the van and set him free in its er er Cavernous Interior™. Figaro is a nice little chap, and lively and curious with it, so he did all the right things in terms of exploring the van, being affectionate to persons found therein, observing the world outside, and generally being über-cute.

Getting him back inside the house was a bit of a re-enactment of the same trauma, but I was better prepared this time and kept the lid clamped shut, and the whole box clamped to my body, with a sort of octopus-death-grip. We made it and I only aged a month or two this time. But NB: never again without the proper travel box!

Pausing only to drop Frankie at OP (and once again, no doubt, to bore both young persons rigid with another attack of Late 70s Oral History Project, drone drone) I zoomed back to the Sparrow's Chirp. (Crob crob, twin exhausts, see p. 47.) There I dropped Becca so that we could both enjoy a brief Collapse-n-Recover™ period before the evening's jollity. I can't speak for Becca but I can assure you that for me a quick kip was more than a luxury. The manual chair she was then using was really only easily pushable by an incredibly strong person about four feet tall, and we didn't have one with us so I'd had an immensely entertaining day delivering a force A at an angle R to components G and H.

An hour later I set off back to the Parrot's Perch but found myself drawn mysteriously off course by a strange power known as "Chip Shop" before recovering control and continuing on to Becca. While buying chips I made an interesting mistake: on the menu it said "salt and pepper chips" and dozily I didn't really wonder what it meant. Yes Colin you may say duh. I was maybe thinking of "salt and vinegar" or maybe just that these were chips with salt and pepper - you know, the ground stuff. Well, no, Vogel: live and learn. Indeed, wake up and sniff the, er, condiments. These were chips with more than a sprinkling of actual peppers, presumably as in chilli peppers though this is hardly my specialist area of expertise. It wasn't exactly a sauce, just a very strong presence of lots of tiny bits. The overall effect was somewhere close to shocking on the scale of hot'n'spiciness. We did, it must be said, get through most of the bag but to be honest it was pretty close to A Bit Much for me: while it wasn't actually unpleasant I wouldn't be in a huge hurry to repeat the experience. It was interesting to have done it once, though.

I wonder how widespread this dish is? I don't think I've seen it on offer down south: so is it specifically northern, or Mancunian, or M40-only, or what? Or am I just out of touch, as usual?

The other thing that was rather interesting about these chips was their effect on one of the nurses, a nice young guy from Pakistan. He came in to see Becca on some professional mission, but stopped in the doorway, doing a classic double-take. Apparently the aroma of the chips was giving him real flashbacks to home: it was rather sweet, actually.

So, with our evening's telly and gossip thus spiced-up, it was eventually time to set off back to my luxurious home-from-home at the Oldham Travelodge. (Crob.) Zzzzz.

Another Mancunian weekend (eee!) part 2

Saturday, 26 January 2008

On the Saturday I started with the hotel's aforementioned cold breakfast box, still in its Quite Fun Really phase. (To save you asking, Day 2 of this breakfast is known as Hmm I'm Less Delighted About This Than I Was, and, once the novelty has really quite thoroughly worn off, Day 3 is Help Help It's Destroying My Soul Aargh Avaunt Avaunt. Oddly, no record exists of anyone eating it for four or more days though scientists speculate that after a few weeks you might be zapped to the far side of the Strange Cold Breakfast Box Event Horizon, returning to Earth as an orbiting Star Baby accompanied by two flavours of Strauss and a dash of Ligeti. Those scientists, eh? Cuh. Tsk.

I zoomed over to see Becca and eventually we got going. Our first port of call was, er, "Rowland Avenue", a place that had been mooted for her to move to pending the fettling of her house situation. We had a look around and met some staff and residents. A detailed discussion of this place is way beyond the scope of this blog but suffice it to say that, while the people we met were very nice indeed, the place was pretty unsuitable and it was clearly going to be better for Becca to attempt to stay at the current nursing home. This was, however, a far from wasted trip since it had plenty of potential effects in the areas of showing willing, ticking boxes etc, in Becca's discussions with the local authority. There is a colossal difference between saying "I don't like the sound of Rowland Avenue" and "I didn't like Rowland Avenue and aha, yes, since you ask, I was there on Saturday morning having the tour and drinking coffee with its charming residents and staff so ner." Haha, social services, high ground taken and held, I think you'll find.

Quitting the delights of the pseudonymous Rowland Avenue we zipped light as a feather round to Becca's house. We managed to get her in (gnah! wagghh! ungghh!!) but, goodness me, I wouldn't want to do that too often. Can you say Privatized Hernia Repair Clinic? Quite so. To put it another way, I've recently been reading, in Anthony Beevor's Berlin book, how Red Army troops, on entering that city, would sometimes progress through terraced buildings sideways, rather than using the more conventional but sniper-risky route along the street outside. This was facilitated by the use of a Panzerfaust whose previous owners had effectively renounced their title to it. I had better say little more on this topic except to point out that, if I'd had one, I would of course have delayed pulling the trigger for long enough to check that the cats were out of the living room.

Anyway, access ishoos apart, we had a very nice visit to Bec's house and the pussy cats were touchingly pleased to see her. We footled around there for quite a while then went and had (rather late) lunch at Solomon Grundy's, one of Becca's two favourite Withington lunch venues. I can see why as it has nice food, lovely staff, and is pretty accessible, though you could improve its front door access amazingly much with an amazingly small quantity of sand and cement and a nice shiny trowel. Nevertheless this was a very fine lunch whose memory I shall cherish.

That was pretty much it for Saturday's gadding about. We went back to the nursing home, hereinafter perhaps the Eagle's Eyrie as that's not its name, dropped Bec, did restorative two-site kipping, and met later for Snacks-n-Telly™, the leisure activity de choix for the sophisticated Norf London family. When I left for the hotel Becca very kindly lent me her slinky dinky new megaportable DVD player, a most appealing bit of kit, and the DVD of Bridge to Teribithea. Vogel's Film Jury™ is still out on this one but I think it was a bit of a disappointment, though maybe it would've got a fairer hearing had I been less exhausted when watching it. I might give it another go before risking bankrupting the distributors with my cruel criticisms. And so; bed; clunk; zzzzz.

Another Mancunian weekend (eee!) part 1

Friday, 25 January 2008

The Kronprinzeßin von und zu Neustadt-usw is still exiled to a nursing home - albeit a very nice one - while tiny Swiss-trained elves construct a new house for her out of the finest milk chocolate. Or something: certainly it's taking long enough.

This was the weekend of our nephew Sam's bar mitzvah and, all other things being as per, the whole family would expect to turn out, in its entire mobhanded splendour, in order to cheer him on from the touchline. Er, or whatever. I was originally planning to mount another spectacular expedition to rescue Becca for a couple of days so she could come, but halfway through planning it I suddenly had a rare attack of sanity and realized that I couldn't sustain that amount of effort so soon after Christmas.

Although it would've been very nice to have Bec at the bar mitzvah it simply didn't add up. You'll be relieved to hear that I'm not planning to present the whole thing line-by-line but, for example, I still haven't identified an accessible van hirer in Manchester so this project would've required me to drive London - Manchester - London - Manchester - London in not so many days. I do love driving these larger vehicles but there's a limit to what is safe and sensible for "routine" (sic) trips. And so on.

So I decided that it really wasn't on: but the other side of that coin was that it was perhaps a bit mean to leave Becca languishing alone up there in the City of Much Raining while the rest of us were having a family jolly in London.

The solution was for me to skip the bar mitzvah - sending all possible love and support of course - and go and have a weekend with Becca instead. This still involved hiring a van, so we could get out and about a bit, but I'd only have to do one return trip, not two: and so on.


  • I picked up the van at two o'clock on the Friday from the ever-lovely AVH.
  • Note to self: picking up a hired vehicle always takes longer than you think, and then a bit more.
  • It was a nice van. Not quite as nice as the last one, but also very shiny and new. It was, again, a VW Transporter, but drove just a touch more roughly than the Christmas one. The interior layout was subtly different - to Becca's advantage, in fact - and the wheelchair tie-downs were different too. Specifically, they were slightly more difficult and time-consuming to use; but did as good a job in most respects, and a better job with regard to providing a seat-belt for Becca. I found it quite odd that they haven't just standardized on one system: but hey.
  • Once more it was (a bit naughtily) empty of diesel.
  • I had a somewhat troubling trip to fill it up: it's a long story, but having a huge lorry nearly reverse into me was a particular low point. Eek!
  • So it was probably closer to three before I was really moving.
  • Up to Manchester without too much trouble, though it got a bit busy later on.
  • The M6 Toll costs nine pounds in the van! I am writing a song about this.

It was a bit disconcerting trying, first time round, to find my hotel, the Oldham Travelodge, as it's in a bit of a hinterland of motorways and warehouses. Not horrendous though, and easy enough once you knew. However despite it looking navigationally odd once or twice the GPS got me there without serious trouble.

Note: GPS receivers like to lock onto a road and convince themselves that you're on it. Setups with too many close and/or parallel roads can be confusing, so you're often worried which roads it thinks you're on: complex motorway junctions in confined spaces are a prime source for this.

The Travelodge was OK: that is, I was very comfortable there and it's very reasonably priced. The only disappointment is the breakfast situation - there isn't one, and I had their rather chilly takeaway breakfast box each morning. It's quite nice stuff but gets a bit depressing by the third day. Apparently the pub next door does proper cooked breakfast at the weekend and I rather wished I'd sussed this out rather than lazily sticking with the box. I'll know, another time.

Having dropped stuff off at the hotel I went over to see Becca. It's only about ten minutes over to the nursing home and quite a fun and varied drive: a lot of it is quite fast suburban dual carriageway then it suddenly becomes piddly little back streets - indeed I missed the turning off the big road on this first try because I couldn't believe that the GPS really wanted me to turn so soon, so sharply and into such a tiny street. Ah, Vogel, have faith - it was quite inconvenient having to wrest the honking great van around in a grid of even piddlier little streets to get reality back into line with the GPS's view of things. I think I was down to an inch spare either side at one point: it makes you breathe in a bit, especially when it is someone else's lovely shiny van.

Of course after this one silliness, and a moment on the way back of mild confusion about "where's the turn?" (answer: just after the Robin Hood pub), I had the route off pat. Having been back and forth along it about 900 times over the weekend I reckon I could now have a fair attempt at doing it blindfolded.

I haven't mentioned this short journey's crowning glory: a wonderful humpbacked bridge in a flight of locks on the Rochdale Canal at Poplar Street. The Rochdale is special. You can read about it elsewhere but when I was in Manchester as a student it was mostly derelict: its beautiful rural bits (Todmorden, Hebden Bridge) were still in water but the urban parts, other than a short linking section, were in a sorry state and had largely been filled in, leaving only a couple of inches of water. The canal's restoration to navigability has been a huge success story, one that I'd thought would never happen.

Anyway, this particular bridge had been flattened during the closure and so had had to be rebuilt to permit navigation. It was probably a lot easier for drivers while the canal was closed - it's now narrow, steep and has single-file traffic over its blind hump, so is controlled by traffic lights. It's all rather wonderful, basically. I wish I had a photo to show you but it was not an easy place to stop. Ah well, webbity website.

From there it's just a short hop round a couple more corners to the nursing home. Once I got there we had a very pleasantly lazy evening of chat and telly and takeaway, possibly including catching up on Torchwood on DVD, I seem to recall. I found a nice Chinese restaurant a mile or two off, partly with the help of the GPS, and we got what seemed like a reasonable quantity of food - which naturally means there was enough for about six people. Oops. Oh well. A very nice way to spend the time.

Back at the hotel my worries about the van's safety were allayed somewhat by my being able to park it right outside my window - then and pretty much every time. I wouldn't always regard "excellent view of the car-park" as something over which to get all celebratory. However, this was really a very pretty new van, and they check them very carefully on return, and I had a nasty feeling I might have signed up to some level of excess in the insurance which I might greatly regret if everything went a bit pear-shaped.

And so to bed. Ah look Tamsin, a thoughtful person has purchased a tiny bottle of some form of whisky. Yes yes, a nightcap would indeed be convivial.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

The Rest is Noise

Yesterday I added to this blog a little list of Links-I-Like and one of those links is to Alex Ross's fantastic music blog The Rest is Noise. So imagine my surprise on finding a huge and very complimentary article about Ross, the blog, and the book of the same name in today's Guardian. I feel terribly pleased that Alan Rusbridger and I agree on this! :)

I think I am pretty much going to have to have the book and the CD which accompanies it. These are likely to be too good to not own, I feel ...

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Gig-a-Blog™ (Elona Laurie and Christina McMaster, St Anne & St Agnes)

Friday, 14 March 2008

Elona Laurie, violin; Christina McMaster, piano; Franck: Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, Ravel: bits and bobs. 

Franck: I'd done my homework a bit for this gig, having "downloaded" and even listened to a phonographic recording of the Franck. Sure, it's not exactly a full study-retreat but it is certainly better than the woeful state of ignorance from which I usually approach music like this.


Fantastic slow movement.

Last movement: one of Deb's students is doing this at present and I seem to know it rather better than I thought! Lovely performance from today's artists.


Ondine: beautiful, flowing (aha)

Tzigane: flash, clever. To me this music is somewhat less appealing than the Franck. Have I got Ravel-intolerance?

A very nice recital, and I'm sorry my notes are so rubbish.

Gig-a-Blog™ (Anete Graudina and Aya Kawabata, St Anne & St Agnes)

Monday, 10 March 2008

Anete Graudina, violin, and Aya Kawabata, piano.

Easy, unforced elegance and fluidity of this classy partnership.

Mozart Sonata in Bb K454

Lovely warm Largo introduction. Allegro poised, clear ... clarity helps you to see the structures.

Andante utterly gorgeous.

Allegretto : light, bouncy. Builds in intensity towards exciting ending.

Mozart Serenade no. 7 in D K250, transcr. Kreisler: Anete explains regarding the age of this piece and the Viennese weather! Flashy showpiece, quite fun. Ah nice slow melody in middle, jolly good. Largely fluff really: I guess that the problem, to the largely untutored ear like mine, is that it sounds more like Kreisler than Mozart.

Kreisler La Gitana: Slow opening, next a dance-like bit. Next theme very Radio 2ish. Flashy ending.

Kreisler Praeludium and Allegro (in the style of Pugnani)

That fantastic theme all in crotchets. Very nice throughout .Then... Allegro - theme + vars? I'm really not sure. And who's Pugnani??

Encore: Schumann - Dreaming.

Anete very movingly explains about the music and the link she feels through it with her old teacher.

2nd encore - Piazzolla - very nice, and an opportunity to get in a quick promo for their 11th April concert near Paddington which will feature lots more of Piazzolla.

A terrific recital.

Gig-a-Blog™ (Garard McDonald and Martin Knizia, St Anne & St Agnes)

Friday, 7 March 2008

Garard McDonald, recorder and oboe; Martin Knizia, harpsichord. Bach Trio Sonatas Series (I): Bach's organ trio sonatas arranged for various instruments.

1. Bach, Sonata V, after BWV 529. Written in C but transposed up a 4th for this lineup (I think they said).

Allegro: Light and tinkly. McDonald is a monster recorder player. He's one of those musicians who, seemingly without effort, plays faster than I can think. Marvellous, very fluid.

Largo: Lithe, graceful, slinky performance of this satisfyingly sinuous melody.

Allegro: Fast, exciting, jolly.

2. Buxtehude, Partita on "Auf meinen lieben Gott"

My notes start to fall apart here quite badly.

[Unidentified movement] Beautiful, quite restrained

[Unidentified movement] Very slow. Time to think.

Gigue: Short and sweet

3. Bach, Sonata III, after BWV 527. Dm original key. Still in it. Why did I write this down? Oh well.

Chat from the performers - arrangements & borrowings: the answering of 'What if" questions. How well the music fits into the new arrangement.

Andante: Makes a rather good oboe sonata!

Adagio e dolce: Song-like, quite declamatory start. Lovely broad melody

Vivace: Agile, precise, really delightful.

A great gig with some really fine playing ... and that's all he wrote!

Gig-a-Blog™ (Anam Cara, St Anne & St Agnes)

Friday, 29 February 2008

A very fine vocal trio specializing in a-capella-ness, improvisation and music from an interesting range of places. I bought their CD. Good good.

Highlights included, but were not limited to:

  • Hullamackadoo - lively, exciting nice driving rhythm, interesting harmony
  • A Georgian tune, I might find the name - or not. Spacious, hovering, long distances. Long notes, little movement, fantastic. Incredible control, quietness.
  • Accentuate the Positive: Very good. They actually swing. Oh yes.
  • That Cat song, you know - good solos.
  • Another Georgian piece: Hymn-like. Again a spacious feel. Long phrases. Rather wonderful.

... and plenty of other good things besides.

This lot know what they're about, do a great show, and interact well with their audience. Oh and 66.6% of them are music therapists which makes them extra-Good Eggs.


I've got a few gig writeups which have been languishing unfinished on the PDA for some time. They are in a bit of a state and I was in two minds whether to just chuck them out, on the grounds of too much time having elapsed, or keep them. The latter is what I decided to do in the hope that they may have interesting moments despite being a bit scruffy, substandard and incomplete in many ways. So please accept a general apology for the next few of these, and off we go ...

Up to date - phew!

For the first time in goodness knows how long, the news thingy I edit is up to date. A story came in last night about an event on Monday and I posted it immediately. I can't tell you what a relief it is to be on top of this: it is now just 23 days until I hand it over and it has been troubling me greatly that I want to leave it in good shape for my successors and that I have not been sure whether I can manage that.

When I came to the job in 2003 it had already been vacant for a while, and not that much of a handover took place. No blame attaches here: it's just one of those things. Additionally, a new web page format had come in during the interregnum and I had to convert the pages to that before I could even start - which was an interesting "in at the deep end" experience. I am determined that the people who take this over will get it as a going concern and will understand exactly what they need to do.

At the moment, with stories up to date, the day-to-day maintenance should not be too demanding. Sure, some new stories will trickle in but with luck I can keep current on them. A few stories are stalled: their status in my database varies from "new" through "live but quiet" to "dormant, maybe dead"! But they are all marked with the important "BITC" for "Ball in Their Court", which is just fine. They may start moving again if their submitters get a new burst of energy, or may not: it is up to them, and I am not chasing work right now. In addition, one part-cooked story is in a bit of a mess and needs rescuing. But this is all quite doable without serious risk of a nervous breakdown.

So, with the routine stuff pretty much under control I can now turn my mind to writing some notes and procedures for my successors. I am trying to be clear that all I am describing is how I do it at present: I am making no claim that this is the right way to do it, or that they should mimic it, or anything. As long as I have helped them to understand the process and how things flow, by seeing the steps that I take, then it doesn't trouble me at all how they then choose to do it. I just want to know that I have done what I can to reveal the stages that must be done to get the stories onto the web and (in most cases) into print. They can then take as much or as little as they like from what I do and approach it however suits them.

So, I think I am in for a busy few weeks. There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel and I suddenly feel very much more hopeful about this than I have been doing. Sooner or later I will revisit those blog entries about what I was planning to do with my life, inside and outside the Guild, once I have some time back. Of course those pages are in some ways perhaps a bit of a joke, but they are also terribly important to me and remind me that one day I will actually feel, I hope, a bit different when I come home from work and look at my email.

Don't get me wrong. I have really really loved doing the news editing job. It has benefited me in countless ways and I have friendships from it that will last very much longer than my byline on a page. It's just that it's time to move on a little, and to think about rebuilding bits of my life into a slightly different shape, and I am looking forward to that. I am not yet demob-happy, but in a week or three I just may be!

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Vogel is nice about a Virgin business again - thousands treated for shock

I got back to the gym today for the first time in a few days. (If things are tricky in any way it is often my daily swim which suffers first. This is why I do not yet weigh 11st 4 you see. Hem hem yes.)

I was delighted to see that at last they have done something about locker security, replacing all the metal parts in every locker with something which seems very much more solid, serious and difficult to fool. I applaud this move greatly. Because the particular one I had noticed and moaned about - locker 287 since you ask - is now just as splendidly secure as all the others, it is probably time to forgive and forget. In a perfect world, I still feel, a bit of courtesy and competence in dealing with my comments would have been quite nice, but since my objective has been met I should probably send the cavalry back to barracks now. This is surprisingly reasonable of me since one version of the von Neustadt family motto, although it does mention burying the hatchet, rather spoils the effect when it specifies where.

So I say well done Virgin Active for fixing this issue in what seems to be a very thorough and professional way. Rich, I love you man. Woo. (I shall have to stop this before it gets quite embarrassing.)

Monday, 17 March 2008

Good Things II - the update

  • Splendid visit to Becca who was in fine fettle ...
  • ...and has a truly excellent new haircut. Apparently, as the world gropes its way towards an appropriate descriptive vocabulary for the shiny new barnet in question, the terms hedgehog and bog brush have both been bandied around. I am here, boys and girls, to tell you that it's actually more like slightly surprised baby duck. It's very nice, anyway.
  • Also very nice was seeing Bec independently mobile in her snazzy new power chair. Zzzzip she goes. This is the first time for months that I've seen this and believe me it has a major effect on morale. Yes my morale Tamsin, do try to keep up, dear. Plus, to be honest, the Kronprinzeßin looks a whole lot better without a fat sweaty old Dad pushing her along: it kind of lowered the tone a bit, you know.
  • We went down in the garden, which will one day be beautiful, and there met two very nice, though noisy, boxers. (Yes, Colin, the type of dog. No, you may not do Frank Bruno some more. Foolish boy.)
  • I have always had a major soft spot for boxers since the days of poor, tragic Tantus, about whom I may write one day. Good doggie. (Flobbery-chops!) Good doggie.
  • This was a nice visit. Last time (about which I have not yet written and indeed might not), although we accomplished quite a lot it was all a bit stressy. Productive, yes, nice, no. This visit, in contrast, was a very low-stress affair: a Good Thing, then.
  • I've started to suss out the bus service there a tiny bit and now feel slightly less of a whinging pathetic southern nancyboy. I still had a Bit Of A Moment on the way back to Piccadilly and wondered if Mr Thompson would perhaps come out in the Bentley to get me if I rang him up and cried on the phone. However an omnibus then came and I soon felt All Better, thank you for asking.
  • Now I am sitting in one of Mr Branson's comfier chairs and a charming Bransonette has just brought me "Baked rigatoni pasta with cheese sauce (served with focaccia bread)" and her colleague has furnished me with about a pint of "Collezione Marchesini, Cabernet del Veneto". It's fair to say that the mellowing effect of all this has been most welcome.
  • Due to an absolutely wizard wheeze on Mr Branson's webitty website, I now feel even less guilty about travelling back First Class (not that I was exactly convulsed with guilt to start with, but hey). This is because I can get my outward ticket for an amazing nine quid in some e-ticketing pilot scheme thingy with its own little subsite for Euston-Piccadilly journeys only. It can't possibly stay at this price if it picks up too much custom from the main site, but I'm making hay while the sun shines.
  • I promise that normal service (being horrid about certain Virgin products) will resume as soon as possible, but for the moment I'm, like, Rich, I love you, man.
  • Just picking up from the previous Emuārs entry and thus popping back for a moment to this morning, my Wretched Young Persons' Portable Phonographic Device then followed up its earlier rather distinguished performance with the unimpeachably brilliant Niklas Eklund doing the slow movement of the Michael Haydn Trumpet Concerto, which is just fantastically fantastic and yes I really do mean Michael and not his older brother Joseph, in case you were wondering, and even if you weren't.
  • And then, wonder of wonders, just as I was hitting Piccadilly it "randomly" selected the most fabulous bass aria, "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein" from the St Matthew Passion. In other words the "randomness" is just a front: as is now obvious, the PDA scrutinizes what I've written, attempts to analyse my mood, then uses a secret wireless link to discuss with the MP3 player what it should next play for me. Very clever but they can't fool me. (I do appreciate the kindness, though, thanks guys.)
  • On the way home I've wrested back control of my listening and have, er, greatly (aha) enjoyed Byrd's Great Service.
  • I must say, though, that at one point, when the Great Service was over and we were into three bonus anthems kindly added on by a generous record company, I very nearly accidentally spat out a whole mouthful of "Collezione Marchesini, Cabernet del Veneto", right over the inoffensive-looking chap opposite.
  • What caused this potentially messy near-choking episode during Sing Joyfully Unto God was the unshakeable conviction that the choir had just - with admirably clear diction, this is the Tallis Scholars after all - had just sung the words "Blow the Trumpet in the Nude". Several times. Yes I know I know. Nevertheless, despite numerous re-hearings, that is still what they seem to be advocating. Perhaps I should check. Other factors apart, I seem to recall that, despite his success and high office, Byrd had plenty of reason to watch his back. So I can't really imagine him letting his mates down the pub talk him into this even if it seemed like a really good laugh.

That's about it really. Tube, bus, home: another Monday, another Manchester visit. Huzzah!

Good Things

  • I am on a nice fast train to Manchester to see Becca.
  • I have coffee, fruit cake and a Twix (yeah, I know, these latter two are technically Bad Things but it's complex, and for the purposes of this Emuārs Entity they have honorary Good Thing status. OK?)
  • I have this little computer, upon which I very much like to write.
  • I have my dearly-beloved Wretched Young Persons' Portable Phonographic Device, and it just (randomly) played me Spem in Alium and now we have an incidental music track from Wings of Desire and between those two, believe me, I am somewhere beyond happiness.
  • In any case I am still abuzz with some inexplicable, bizarre, nameless religio-musical ecstasy having heard the St Matthew Passion live for (don't laugh) the first time in my life last night. More of this elsewhere, possibly, when I get a moment or perhaps more than a moment.
  • It's nice countryside outside and I keep seeing lovely canal places.

Things, generally speaking, could be worse.

Friday, 14 March 2008


Dear Customer,

Halifax Internet Banking, is here by announcing the New Security Upgrade. We've upgraded our new SSL servers to serve our customers for a better and secure banking service,against any fraudulent activities. Due to this recent upgrade, you are requested to update your account information by following the reference below.


Halifax Online Banking

I suppose one should be grateful for this standard of writing really. Despite the best efforts of some of our major companies (Hi Mr Branson!) actual communications from real companies tend to be at least slightly more literate than this.

At the same time I can't help but feel slightly sorry for the tragic fraudsters and their stumbling use of English. I wonder if there's an opening in the market for an "Improve Your Criminal Scheme's Language Skills" correspondence course, or similar. You know, those ads that say "are you ashamed of like your grammer and stuff?" Of course you'd have to be a wee bit careful about what forms of payment you'd accept, but I am sure a way round could be found. The sky's the limit for the keen language entrepreneur!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Nauseating twee rubbish makes me eat my elbows in rage

Why oh why (I've always wanted to type that) do people add nauseating twee rubbish to photo sequences and stuff before they send them winging their way round the Interwebnet? Just send me the bl**dy pictures if you must but please don't add some moralising or advisory cack to it or I may have to come round and throw up in your front garden. (Only joking, Colin.) (Or am I? muahahaha arrrgh blurrgghhh oops sorry.)

Example - please have a look at a rather amazing sequence of photos. To save my thrusting a whole email message at you, here's a nice clean web version, presented by the ever-useful and brilliant

Unusually for "stuff" doing the rounds these appear to be real, not some sad fake: better and better. I really enjoyed seeing this in the email I was sent ... almost to the end ... so why oh why (yeah!) did some WAZZOCK have to add this tripe to the bottom of the message before sending it out to 39 million people?

There is a moral to this story you know; this old bear made a wrong move and found he was hanging by his nails. Somehow he was able to pull himself up onto the ledge where he saw he was in a very bad, impossible situation and what did he do? Yep, he took a nap and sure enough the situation took care of itself while he was asleep. The moral is, that when confronted with a bad situation, sometimes the best solution is to take a nap . . .

Ohhh nausea, tweeness, yukkk, death just claim me now .... Please, surely it is legal for me to identify the author of these words and go and pour cold custard down their trousers till they beg for mercy? What sort of person writes stuff like this? What is the point? Do they think they are the only person on the planet who can see a metaphor? Or that this is such a richly original insight that I will actually put a tutu and a tiara on and run round shrieking for joy because I couldn't have thought that up on my own? And did the friend who sent me it - who I think does vaguely know me and has done for more than twenty years - think I'd go, "wow, yeah, excellent advice about the nap, thanks mate"?

I am ... just ... entirely ... gah!

There is a moral to this story you know; this old bear is fed up with emailed cack. Send me the link, or just send me the photos, or send me nothing at all, but don't send me twee bl**dy rubbish telling me to take a nap. The moral is, that when confronted with a bad email, sometimes the best solution is to identify the author and puke in their garden.

Oh (but please see update below) and I would love Snopes a lot more for publishing that "straight" version of the story had they not also committed this horrible dangling participle howler:

After securing a net under the bridge the bear was tranquilized...

Really? Really? Very very clever bear that. And please don't try to do a gag about the dangling and the bear - you know it is bad for us both and that no benefit will come of it to your house or mine. Just say no.

Before anyone writes to point out how old hat this all is, and how there is too much of it and how I will go mad (read: even madder) if I think I need to blog about every instance of it that annoys me, yes yes fine I know thank you Tamsin. Just this one and it can serve for all the others. OK? Thank you, over, and (as they wrongly say) out.

Update: I owe Snopes an apology. I'm an idiot. They were quoting the original text of the example they'd collected, so the dangling participle was not their error, but that of the original author. Quite rightly for a sort of virtual museum they do not amend original texts, just display them. Sorry Snopes, my silly mistake.

Update 2: Yes, I'm slightly less angry now than last night. :)

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Oopsie-Beebs-a-Blog™ (The Walls Have Eyes II)

Update to the previous post: a Helpful Young Person™ has kindly sent in the excellent illustration which now graces this page. Arf!! Thanks Lot!

Oopsie-Beebs-a-Blog™ (The Walls Have Eyes)

Is is just me, or is this story title inadvertently funny?

Rare bird seen by power station

Erm. Oh fine, maybe it's just me then. But I am delighted to hear that the Great Bustard is doing well.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Blog Service Update

  • Thank you for visiting this blog.
  • We apologize for the delay in posting anything interesting.
  • Your readership is important to us. You are held in a queue ... blah blah blah

OK so it's not a very sustainable metaphor, sorry. But my point is just that I am up to my eyes in other stuff at the moment, and the blog is suffering a bit.

Since it's essentially just a self-indulgence - aren't they all? - then it's difficult to prioritize it that highly when too much is going on elsewhere. I mean it's not that I don't like the blog (usually), in fact sometimes I actually quite love it, in a weird way, but it might just need to take a bit of a back seat for a while. In particular, as discussed ad nauseam elsewhere, in 32 days, on 11th April, I leave the news editing job, and before then I have much work to do to hand it over in good nick. And this is just looking at the sitting-at-computer stuff, before I even think about family, work, playing etc etc, all of which have had their moments lately.

As I've said before, the blog is mostly written on the train to and from work, though some of the editing and the actual posting require me to be sitting at a "proper" computer. Even the writing time on the train is currently being eroded as there's competition for that, up to 16th March, a subject to which I may come back. Or not.

So the bottom line is that I'm sorry if the blog is a bit feeble at the moment but I have lots of nice things on which I am still working, albeit patchily, and more will be posted sooner or later, probably later. Till then thank you for your indulgence.

As apology for the bloguselessness, and just in case you were wondering, yes Tamsin I do have a photo of a nice-looking, happy man surrounded by a blur of sparrows in Paris a year and a half ago. This is a commercial setup in that the sparrow specialist gives the punter food - and thus a skein of sparrows - then takes their photo with their own camera, in return for financial reward. But it was still a nice thing to see and I imagine that the nice and happy-looking man was pleased with his photo, which was taken from much more in front than mine. It's not such a good photograph technically, but for reasons I cannot fully articulate I really love it: it makes me smile to look at it.

Oh dear - weather-o-blog™

I'm just starting to wish that I had stayed in bed this morning.

It's raining quite a lot: if it rains much more then part of my office ceiling is possibly going to collapse. It already looks wet, bulgy and heavy, and more rain is apparently on the way. The last time this happened it made a horrendous mess when it did eventually fall in. It doesn't seem to be fixable (this building is about eighteen years old: draw your own conclusions.) Fortunately it is a modular system so we are talking about individual large plaster tiles, rather than the entire ceiling, coming in. Were it the latter, I would not be sitting here right now.

I've cleared the top of the cupboard underneath the wet place, swathed it in plastic and put my bin in pride of place to catch the drips. Things are a bit damp but not actually wringing wet. Yet.

I am sure that what is going on here pales into insignificance compared to the horrors that will emerge round other parts of the country, and I am profoundly grateful that our house, at the moment anyway, still has a roof. But it's not actually that nice sitting here listening to the water dripping in and waiting for the crunch, thud, and other sounds of that ilk.

D'you know, I think I may turn my music up a bit.

Update: later this afternoon the worst ceiling tile did indeed fall in, making a rather wet porridgelike mess but hurting no-one. A nice man from Estates cleared it up while I "helped" (read: flapped ineffectually). The leak has been temporarily fixed and my ceiling has been temporarily repaired - he took yet more dodgy wet tiles down -  if it rains a lot more, things may once again become interesting ...

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Vogel sues yoghurt manufacturer

Important note: Estate agents, narrowboat designers, Mitsubishi salespeople and trumpet and camera manufacturers please form an orderly (but expectant) queue. You will all get your turn and there will be plenty to go round.

I have decided to identify and sue the unspeakable b*st*rds who some time during, I don't know, the 70s or 80s or some other ridiculous decade, brought out this TV jingle:

We're the Yogga
The Yogga
The Yogga Kids
Got our pictures
On the lids

This bl**dy awful drivel is permanently occupying space in my brain that should be used for telephone numbers, what I am supposed to be doing next, the name of some nice person that I've known for ten years but who is temporarily just a friendly face, German noun genders, and so on. I did not invite this horrible doggerel in but now it has taken up residence behind some kind of mental wardrobe and pops up at inconvenient times and stops me knowing the number of that useful bus that (eventually) goes to Brent Cross.

I mean, this appalling tripe is not even as good as its brain-squatting space-sharer, the Muppets doing Muh Nuh Muh Nuh which at least makes me laugh: thank you Viv Goldberg, for that bit is all your fault. (Actually, the solos from the guy in the green top sound just like me trying to improvise - maybe that's where I acquired my "style"?)

Someone has to pay for this outrage. Join me in my class action. The Yogga Kids will suffer for what they have done to me, to society. It must be worth millions.

PS No Tamsin, it is not even a very good song, that is correct. The Yogga Kids is not listed in the better dictionaries of music, nor in Barlow and Morgenstern's fine work of melodic indexing. Neither Bach nor Schubert would be very likely to weep with envy at the sheer beauty of its lines.

PPS Please do NOT ask me to sing you this if you do not already know it. I fear that it has the power, virus-like, to install itself in your brain and continue to try to propagate from there. Look what it's done to me. Don't let it ruin your life too!

PPS Ob-yoghurt comment: I never tried this product but I can tell you quite confidently, extrapolating from the ad campaign, that it was utterly disgusting and probably full of aspartame or whatever repulsive equivalent they had in them t'days eee aye.

Update: posting this has made it much much worse. Now I get this horrid horrid horrid song on the brain every time I look at my own blog. Gak! What a great idea that was...

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Just doing my job ma'am

[I am blogging, briefly, in work time. Sue me.]

A lovely colleague, no names no packdrill, just brought me in an enormous caramel macchiato from Starbucks. She does this from time to time. She does it to say thank you: indeed she did this for all the other computer staff this morning. We are, literally, just doing our job and have, literally, done nothing to deserve this kindness. We're doing what they pay us for. Some people really are just nice. Thank you.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

omg my mom joined facebook!!

No, she didn't (and anyway she is not my Mom): that is the title of a New York Times piece which was published long ago but, disconnectoidal old thing that I am, I didn't know about until now. The original article is billed as:

In her Cyberfamilias column today in Thursday Styles, Michelle Slatalla writes about how she joined Facebook, the social networking site that recently expanded its membership beyond students, to keep up with her daughter. The teenager viewed it as super creepy.

- and the comments are quite interesting (given my general reservations about web comments which are probably best summed up as "I could run this site"). There seems to be quite a sharp divide over whether it's creepy or normal, whether it's some sort of embarrassing "trying to be down wid da kidz" or just using a facility which, seemingly, is there for all to use.

As far as I recall, my children have usually encouraged me to get into stuff like Facebook and blogging and have not, I hope, generally found it creepy, though I certainly did not do it "to keep up with my daughter" - that bit is perhaps a bit more creepy than the general question would seem to be. On the other hand, one daughter has set it so I can't see her Facebook wall, presumably because either she does think it's creepy for me to see it, or else she didn't like my very occasionally commenting on something. I don't really mind this, in fact I think it's not unreasonable, though I do admire her technical prowess - I was considering doing the same to her, in retaliation, but couldn't see how to, dammit! Seems to not be enough options with regard to networks and friends. Doh.

I can't really figure it out. I think maybe being on Facebook is less creepy than following them round to some BBS or other trying to work out who they are. At least it is open and fairly transparent, what you're up to. On the other hand, people stalking people is fundamentally a bit creepy. So it depends, perhaps, on motivation. On the other other hand people do it for a variety of reasons, including concern for the welfare of their offspring. That doesn't make it right. (Or wrong.) On the other other other hand, the net is a public place and the illusion of security and anonymity is not to be taken too seriously. Hmmm. It's a complex messy subject. Too many other hands.

What do you think? Is parents-on-Facebook creepy? Should I ban my Mum from ever joining it??