Saturday, 31 May 2008

We're in Banff!

Yup. Lottie and I are in Banff. It's very, very, very pretty.

More ... uh ... sometime - we are jetlagged and hungry, but very pleased to be here.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Oopsie-Beebs-a-blog™ - Flare's flair

From a BBC News story about the French trawlermen's blockade:

Mr Leach said a lighted flair had been thrown at him from the harbour wall.

You reckon?

Mmmm yeah I got those mean old travel insurance blues

Aargh! I have had a horrible horrible horrible time on the telephonic speaking apparatus and the Interwebs trying to sort out travel insurance.

Ever since I got ill this has, of course, been a pain. But I thought I had cracked it when for 2006-7's busy travel year I got a full-year policy - at fairly huge expense - from Axa. It was a bit of a pain because they had moved their medical vetting overseas thereby making some complicated stuff even more difficult to discuss, where formerly they'd used UK-based staff who actually knew what I was saying when I mumbled "antiphospholipid syndrome". Nevertheless I struggled through their screening process a few times, explaining every other word as I went, and got this annual policy and that was fine. 

So today, in a pre-travel flap about Banff, I went to renew this policy, and despite the mercy of it all being online now, was horrified to find that I could not. Why? Dunno. Snotty little message didn't put on its white coat and stethoscope and go into details but merely said "bog off".

Great. I am now in a flat spin. Axa's snotty "Bog Off Mate" page recommends Freedom, "Travel Insurers to the Already-Screwed" (yeah, I made that bit up, sue me.) I ring them, they are lovely, they and I have a first language in common, I can do business here I think. No they won't do me an annual policy (why not, dammit?), but they'll quote me for just the Canada trip. How much? They ring back after a decent gap (they probably do this to give heart patients time to check where the pills are) and say Three Hundred and Thirty Pounds! Voop! Red Alert!! Exploding Pants!!! Batten Down The Hatches!!!!

This is not good. I am not happy. I am starting to wonder how on earth I am meant to travel anywhere. Also just how confident the insurance companies are that I am going to drop dead or, more expensively, fall ill while away ... am I really that bad a risk? I'm as fit as a (rather portly) fiddle! I go orienteering!!

In desperation I try Saga. Motto: If You Have to Ask How Old, You're Too Young. (Yeah, I made that up too. Sue me some more.)  I am not sure if you have to have pipe in mouth and cardie and slippers on before you attempt it, but hey. I find this all somewhere between comical and humiliating but, hell, I can't travel without some kind of insurance and I am starting to get "a bit concerned". (Yes, that is code for something more extreme.) Saga's online system ("press the mouse button NOW dear, press it NOW. THE MOUSE BUTTON PET, JUST PRESS IT. No dear I don't know where Tiddles is, just press the MOUSE BUTTON") went through the same kind of thing, told me to bog off with regard to annual cover (of course, I was getting used to it by then) but quoted me a much-more acceptable price of around £170 for just the Canada trip. More or less weeping with gratitude I coughed up, prontissimo.

So, great, I have travel cover, I can go, it's a terrible price but it's cheaper than Freedom (there's a song title in there somewhere) and by now I don't care, I am so relieved. Phew.

Want to know the really annoying bit? After all that I went back and out of curiosity did what I should have done before on the Axa site, which is to ask it for a quote for just the Banff trip. Stupidly I had not done this - I was so shocked at them turning me down for the annual policy that I went off in a tizz. Twit. Guess what? Seventy quid! Same screening questions, same answers - seventy quid at Axa, a hundred more at Saga, another hundred and fifty at Freedom. Gah! Life was a lot easier and cheaper when I was the model of good heath (hem hem).

So, I'm stuck. I am paying out £100 more than I needed to, but I do have a policy, which is the main thing. I dare not try to change anything again now. I am very cheesed off. It appears that I will no longer be able to get annual policies, which is a massive drag. Why not?? Nothing has changed in my er er er glowing good health, but the algorithms must have been tweaked so I am no longer acceptable. B*st*rds. It's these little annoyances that just make you so ... so ... GAH!!!! I discard them. Chiz. I diskard them too, in fact.

Mr Thompson, the single malts if you please: I rather think that I will select, with your assistance, from the better end of the collection this evening. Thank you so much.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Gig-a-Blog™ (Gudrun Edwards and Sally Mays, St Anne & St Agnes)

Friday, 9 May 2008

Gudrun Edwards, violin; Sally Mays, piano: Mozart, Sonata in G major K301; Strauss, Sonata in Eb Major, Op. 18.


  1. A very satisfying dialogue between violin and piano. Good balance, hurrah, thus proving that the lid position isn't all - it helps when the pianist plays in a proper partnership, positioning the pair for a pretty perfect performance.
  2. Lovely, contrasting sections - is this a rondo or something? Well is it? Why am I so hopeless at listening to music? Tsk!

An extremely pleasant sonata for a nice sunny lunchtime.


  1. Magnificent, massive, symphonic
  2. Ah, blessed simplicity, lovely lovely. Though of course there's more complexity just round the corner.
  3. The piano introduction here is just wonderful. Then off into a full-blown exhibition of Straussian splendour - with a nice tinkly quiet bit nearer the middle. Then it all gets going again and via all sorts of excitement we eventually arrive at a colossal symphonic ending.

A great recital from an excellent duo. Thank you very much.

Oh dear, hacked-off collie alert!

We've just been out for a walk in appalling weather - which was quite nice, in a slightly perverse way. (Coldfall Wood is not unattractive with lots of water around, and the playing fields were blissfully deserted.)

Daisy is now damp, smelly, fluffy, hungry (despite just having had a bowl of food) and patently at a loose end. She's been wandering up and down the kitchen yapping and fussing at me: I've failed to be entertaining enough for her and haven't been able to persuade her to come and sit with me, so I've given her a chew, a leathery thing probably made from some much-dried hideous abattoir remainder or other.

I'd forgotten that this does not really work, or not in the hoped-for sense of giving her something calming to do for a while: instead, it gives her a new manic mission, which is to bury it, presumably against some future need (which never really seems to get identified).

So now I have on my hands a tensed-up collie who has been dashing around the house (for neither of us wants her to go out again, as it took me the best part of ten minutes to dry her) looking for the perfect spot to conceal her new acquisition. In here she tried the corner by the back door for a bit, turning to glare at me from time to time (it's secret you see). She was also upstairs for a minute or two, causing who knows what disruption. (Update: it actually turns out that she was visiting Lottie, casing her bedroom as a possible hiding place, and generally giving her the evil eye.) Finally, while I was "not looking" she got up on the bench overlooking the back garden, at the other end of the table from me, and literally dug her way into a pile of newspapers and post until she'd made what she presumably saw as the perfect burial hole, and deposited her chew within.

She's now retreated up the corridor and is at least quieter, but is still watching me with a beady eye. If I were to dare to go to the other end of the table I know she would decide that I'd sussed out her cache, and with her security thus compromised I'd have triggered the whole search process all over again. So I am looking very innocent and disinterested and sitting very still for a while ... maybe she'll get bored watching me and doze off.

PS And anyway I honestly wasn't planning to steal it and eat it. It's just collie paranoia.

Thursday, 22 May 2008


Oh dear, I am going to have to stop this, it's too painful and it's getting like shooting fish in a barrel.

However, I have not stopped it yet, haha, so here's a quick one. Usual phishing email, requests to "please take 5-10 minutes out of your online experience and update your billing records" or they'll terminate your account, yadda yadda, nothing very new there, all pretty standard stuff. The moment of utter genius, however, comes when you look at who the email is from:

Notional Westminister Bank Plc

Oh, stop it, stop it, it's hurting. Come now. Is this supposed to be crime or comedy? Dearie, dearie, dearie me. 

Ah nostalgia ... I've never been closer, I've tried to understand ... Jack was born towards the end of the nineteenth century ...

The ever-excellent Diamond Geezer said something in his entirely wonderful blogological entity about pop music from 1983 which has set me off on a serious nostalgic reverie, not least because he mentioned one song I adored and another I actually played on.

This has got me onto a terrible great historical-nostalgic excursion about stuff I've done and what fun it has been. I'm now listening to GoodBooks and really wallowing in the whole thing. Is this healthy? Who cares, I have had a lot of fun over the years: why shouldn't I go back over it sometimes? As long as it does not frighten the horses, it is probably not actually illegal. It seems a pity that my next Poptastic Vogel Dominates The Charts moment is not due to take place till, ahem, 2032 according to advanced statistical analysis. Perhaps I should find something jolly to do with my time in the interim. Hmm?

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Nothing's naffer than NOF

Stuff of this quality cannot be improved on, so I present it, without further comment, for your delight:

Dear NatWest Bank customer,

We have implemented security measures consistent with our internal information security practices to help us keep your information secure. These measures include technical and procedural steps to protect your data from misuse, access or disclosure, loss, alteration or destruction.

One of these security measures is NOF (NatWest Online Form) to help us to keep your personal and banking data up to date.

You should complete NOF on a regular basis.

Please complete NOF using the link below:

NatWest Online Form

NatWest Automated Mail Service. Please do not respond to this mail.

Well, quite. Noffity nof, and night night.


... Yeah, I changed the link. Sue me ...


Unfortunately my plan to operate an English Language Improvement Service for spammers and other needy souls has not yet got off the ground due to problems with the funding. (Apparently it's tied up in a bank account, that only you can access, following the tragic ... oh never mind.)

Anyway, in the meantime I wanted to share this one with you. It's the subject line of an email message I just received:

Locate Good and despicable Boxed Software for Windows or Apple Mac...

Good idea actually. Maybe as a sideline we could publish the Despicable Software Index - it could save people a lot of time.

My other current favourite concerns "NOF". My, how I enjoy those. My day feels incomplete without a NOF. I will collect an example for you next time I see it. Excellent stuff.

Monday, 19 May 2008

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

Trillium: Sarah Field, soprano saxophone; Giles Liddiard, trumpet; Richard Ward, trombone; Alex Kidston, tuba.

I'm so chuffed that Trillium are back at London's Premier Antidepressant Lunchtime-Gig Church™. I loved their last appearance at St Anne's a few years ago and it is great that they're here again now.

This was a truly amazing programme. Trillium have been having some kind of flirtation with the SPNM - I didn't catch the details, but the upshot is that they have a really amazing collection of new music with which to blow your socks off. In this concert we heard no fewer than six world premieres, all works dated 2007, alongside one positively elderly work from way back in 2003. That's very impressive by any standards: we need new music all the time and it's just terrific to have people making it their business to build repertoire.

Not, of course, that there's anything wrong with playing Gabrieli; we need that too. Just not on this gig, maybe!

One very interesting development concerns this group's USP at which I hinted earlier. It used to be quite a cool moment when one of the trumpet players put down her instrument and continued on impeccable soprano sax. I very clearly remember the impact this made on me when Trillium were last here. What has now changed is that Sarah Field no longer plays the trumpet in it, or as the programme note has it she has "decided to pursue the saxophone as her main solo instrument". Chiz.

So, yes, in a way I was a little disappointed by this change as it was rather exciting and bizarre to see someone playing both well. My own (very limited) experience suggests it's not straightforward, though when, last time, I spoke to Sarah about this she explained that she'd been doing it forever so it really wasn't a big deal to her.

On the other hand, that reaction of mine was perhaps largely to do with the novelty value of having the player swapping. From the point of view of the ensemble's development and repertoire you can see that, while there are plenty of brass quartets around, a three-brass-plus-sax lineup really does offer something quite unusual and different so it's probably a good move to make as the group matures.

Right, waffling done, on to the music, noting in passing that I'm probably the second worst person in London to write about new music: sorry.

Tim Benjamin: Chaconne Canon Cancrizans

This work was preceded by Sarah Field reading the crab-related (but of course) poem by which it was inspired.

Starts with long slow cup-muted chords opening out, then a melody emerges in fragments. Energy picks up with more nervous, pointed figures in the higher instruments. This continues with a steady transition to a busier, fuller state with more and more interplay between parts. Eventually it stops building, becomes calmer, the mutes are back, the original atmosphere returns. A gorgeous work, beautifully shaped, flawlessly performed.

Paul Seaman: Worm Sandwich

Beboppy swingy thing, rather fun. Busy. Interesting challenging crunchy chords and tight rhythm. Very crisp performance.

Eoin O'Keefe: Gameshow

Apparently the composer does Drum Corps writing. I don't know how (or if) that relates but this jolly, light, virtuosic piece was most enjoyable.

Luca Vanneschi: Echoi

- "ethereal" they say ... yup!

Started with lovely plaintive tuba then spreads - polyphonic texture but I'm not sure if it's a real canon or what.

New rhythmic drive: marchlike - then it fragments again. Nice "shimmering" sound between sax & trumpet, over big trombone solo. Interesting, good piece, I need another hearing. Have I mentioned that this lot can really play? This lot can really play!

Paul Seaman: In The Zone

Nice tuba solo at the start. Then busy stuff - riff-like lower bits underlying broader material from the upper voices. Clever, fun, hard. I'm not sure why but I like this better than Seaman's first piece.

Howard Haigh: Blow

Dance rhythms - lively, exciting. Then a more symphonic ending finishes it off in style.

Tom Armstrong: Damascene Prequel & Portrait (2003)

Based on (I think they said) a lute improvisation transcribed off an old recording. Or something.

Near the start I liked a very clever same-range thing, passing the melody at pitch between the three brass instruments. Interesting, thoughtful writing.

Lovely melodies and fascinating interplay between the instruments

Surprising faster interludes and even more surprising rhythmic clapping. Calm epilogue-ish thing. A nice, varied piece.

And that's about it. What a fantastic, novel, refreshing concert. This is a great ensemble who not only get their music across through excellent performances, but are also good at talking to their audience, an important skill not vouchsafed to all. I say well done Trillium and come back soon!


Finally, at the concert a friend told me a wonderful and very exciting piece of news, about which it might be rather indiscreet to blog just now, but watch this space.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Be careful what you wish for ...

The concert about which I was worrying has been cancelled.

I now feel a bit of a louse about this, having sort-of almost wished for that, but in a rather selfish way that was to do with my difficulties as a player and not really thinking too much about the broader picture.

The lovely Nick M broke the news to us last night once we'd sat down to rehearse, though due to poor security (show me a musical or theatrical setup that does not leak like a sieve) a rumour was already circulating.  Apparently - and this blog is not really the place to go into detail - there had been severe marketing problems at the charity for whom we were doing it, and appallingly few tickets had been sold, and really there was no option but to pull it. Poor Nick was pretty upset. He's gone to much trouble over this, we were doing, frankly, a massive favour to the charity (whom you'll notice I have not named) and they just didn't deliver on the marketing. Gah! How can you do that? This wasn't just some gig, it was the launch of a major fundraising campaign for a seriously important facility at a very well-known London institution. And they'd sold ten tickets and no-one, it seems, had done anything they'd promised to do on the charity/institutional side - whereas on the artistic and venue side all was in place. Odd, and a bit upsetting. Doesn't fill you with confidence in the rest of their efforts, really.

So ... an odd evening. Actually it then, strangely, became quite nice: once the bad news was delivered and had sunk in a bit, we played through everything, including doing Walton's Henry V arrangement with a very fine and theatrical narrator. I am not sure if I was pleased, or sad, or what, to note that I got through the West Side Story piccolo trumpet part moderately well. Did it become easier once I knew the concert was off? Hmmmm.

Nick then took us all off to the pub, which was nice.

I hope we'll manage to resurrect the concert some other time, maybe in a context where we can get an audience. If we do, and I must remember this resolution, then I'm not playing the picc part in the Bernstein and big trumpets elsewhere. I'll get properly into practice and try to do a decent job, but not alongside a load of Bb stuff as well - it's just too much for a player of my particular, er, characteristics to cope with.

Oh well. You live and learn - or something.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Bother! ... er ... Goodoh!

The SS A&A lunchtime concert will just have started but I am eating sarnies at my desk, bother bother bother. I have too much to do by a factor of roughly 9.7381 allowing for inflation and the price of lard.

Also I have to go to this evening's rehearsal (gibber tweetle) via Phil Parker's and buy a piccolo trumpet mute to replace the one that is lost, where lost is a specialist term meaning almost certainly somewhere in the house but not findable without demolishing several rooms. Gah! So to go to Parker's I have to leave early and to leave early I have to not look like a twit who disappears for three hours over lunchtime and comes back smelling of beer, so I am sat here trying to be productive - apart from these five lunchblogular minutes of course.

On the other hand I am most certainly going to be at Monday's concert, it being the very fine Trillium Quartet. I absolutely loved their last gig there, some years ago, and am very much looking forward to hearing them again. They have a rather good USP about which I shall write when/if I get a moment or three. But, believe me, it is going to be a good 'un, and I just love hearing brass in that venue! Amazingly, I had already had to shift my regular Manchester visit to Tuesday for another reason, so I get to hear Trillium as a (massive) bonus to my day.

An odd mistake

Background: I'm in a bit of a state of trumpetistic anxiety. Salomon Brass conducted by the lovely Nick M is doing a gig next Wednesday night and the remaining rehearsals are tonight and Monday. In a fit of totally idiot hubris I agreed to do the piccolo trumpet part in Eric Crees's arrangement of West Side Story. I am sure that this part caused no problems to the LSO Brass hero for whom it was written - Nigel Gomm perhaps? - but it is giving me the screaming abdabs. Why did I say I would play it? No idea. Idiot. Oh, and we're doing other stuff too and I have to play the big trumpet in that and will basically just be sitting there weeping quietly and trying to avoid using up any lip since my chances of getting through the Bernstein unscathed, even if it were the only work, are close to zilch.

Anyway, it is all a horrible mistake which I will greatly regret and I am far too unfit and out of practice to do this but I am trying (too little too late, PPPPPP, yes I know I know I know), and I came in early to play a bit this morning, using the seminar room because it sounds nice and is less deafening than my office. It was early enough that I hope/believe I won't have disturbed anyone.

In a bit of a flap I got the instruments out, warmed up a bit, played a minute or two on the Bb then changed to the picc. I remember I had had both mouthpieces in my pockets to warm them up. I played through West Side Story as far as possible, marvelling at how I can't really even read it accurately, which really is a bit depressing. Man, I have got some work to do this weekend. But the playing was something else - I really had to work very hard (yes I know, but I mean harder than that) to get round the high notes and it all felt like a big big effort.

After bashing through that for a while (yeah, sounds very artistic and sensitive, I know - have you actually met me?) I decided I'd had enough and should look at some of the Bb stuff. Starting on that, I discovered that I could no longer play this size of trumpet at all and that my mouthpiece had shrunk to submicroscopic size so that even getting my no-doubt bruised and swelling lips (you've heard of the No-Method Pressure, right?) anywhere into contact was a bit of a challenge.

BING! or perhaps BONG! or maybe the rather more ominous OOONNNNNGGGGARRROOOOOROOOROO! (with optional phase effects). Comprehension dawned. I'd accidentally swapped mouthpieces and had just done WSS on my rather large symphonic-type mouthpiece. Remind me, did I say some of the high notes were a bit difficult? IDIOT!!!! And then of course I was trying to play the big-trumpet stuff on my picc mouthpiece, which essentially consists of a very very shallow indentation in an otherwise flat piece of metal, with somewhere in its middle an aperture which can only be detected with ultrasound scanning.

Leaving aside the fact that I am an imbecile and dreadful trumpet player, and that I really, really, really, really need to sort my technique out, I am not sure whether I should be:

  1. appalled that I did such a stupid thing and did not even notice it;
  2. pleased with myself that I actually got through the picc part on a mouthpiece that is wildly inappropriate for me;
  3. some mixture of the above;
  4. something else.

Answers on a postcard please...

I'd like to say "Onwards and upwards" but the mere thought makes my lips ache. Nice cup of tea please.

Barts Rag

It's Rag Week apparently. This had not previously come to my attention but round at the tube station, very early, I met a pleasant gaggle of our students dressed up in scrubs and with stethoscopes - I am not sure but I think they may have been trying to make it clear that they are medical students, perhaps? As I showered money (with the desperation of a man who has none) into their collecting buckets I enquired which charities they're supporting. British Heart Foundation, came the reply, HEMS, and Help the Aged. Blimey - pretty much the full set, viewed from my position as a 50-year-old bloke with high BP and a history of Close Encounter With Celestial Percussion Ensemble! Marvellous.

If only they could add a few other charities - depression, debt counselling, piccolo trumpet anxiety (usually medically termed "impotensa top-noteis" or "squeakis nil adequensis"), OCD regarding travel, sudden rages regarding Richard Branson (GAH!) - I mean, they'd have the whole middle-aged trumpet-player market completely covered. You what? Oh never mind.

Anyway, they were nice young people, doing a nice thing, and I wish them a good and fruitful day. I had forgotten how much I (usually) like students and that it's a bit sad that we don't see many over here.

Monday, 5 May 2008

At last ...

... it would seem that I have found my spiritual home.

Yes, it is a real sign and no, I don't know its origin, nor whether it really means Grove of the Lovely Alder Trees by the Picturesque Waterfall in Welsh, or anything else much, other than that it made me laugh. Which, sure, shows that I am very sad and silly - but you knew that already, so, I'm like, hey, whatever.

It is from a recent and very fine visit to Cardiff (indeed, here it is on a map) about which I will write properly when I am all better. Or something. For now, picking out silly photos that make me laugh is about all I can manage...

This blog ...

... is comin' like a Ghost Blog.

Sorry, I have loads of stuff I want to write, loads of half-written stuff to finish off and post. I just don't at present have any of the Magic Copingness which is required to get any of it done right now. Watch this space.

Oopsie-Beebs-a-blog™ - Police protest over budget caps

I love this BBC News headline. It cannot, surely, be accidental and even though one version of it went up on 1st April it is nevertheless a real story: so I think it's some sub-editor 'avin' a larf. I just love the scene it conjures up: "Sir, the lads won't go out without proper headgear - we can't use this cheap rubbish". Of course the article spoils the illusion pretty quickly in its first paragraph:
Police in Surrey have refused to approve their annual plan and targets over fears the government will put a limit on their budget.
Pity, I was enjoying it. Thank you, oh anonymous sub, for a quick chortle.