Monday, 28 March 2011

The "Harry" construction and why it's funny (if you're me)

Harry Introducers

KooEhHahThis blogological entity or emuārs is about the "Harry … -ers" construction, which is most familiar to me in its original form of "Harry Sliders" for a collection of slides - or indeed, more likely - a slideshow.

I said some time ago that I'd try to explain my use of this construction and, being possessed of a brain with impressively sieve-like properties (though less useful for draining pasta), immediately forgot. A kind friend reminded me that I said I'd do this, and I am happy to oblige. I only hope that after all this you think it's worth it … the mountains hath travailed and brought forth a mouse, an ting.

Harry Disclaimers

Before I really get going, a quick disclaimer. I know perfectly well that not everything I find funny seems so hysterically sidesplitting to much of the rest of society. Or perhaps all of it. I have lost track of the number of occasions on which the appalled expressions of those around me (frequently my children, yes, now you mention it) have alerted me, far too late, to the fact that whereas I thought I was, like, really flying, I was actually more, ah, in fact, er, crashing and burning. The controls are locked, we're in a deep deep nose-up stall, the escape hatch is jammed and in any case my parachute's on fire. Yikes. Chiz sa Molesworth. We're going in. Mayday mayday mayday. Launch the buoy. (Oops sorry wrong film but you get the picture.) Launch the boy. (Different film altogether, please don't distract me.)

Anyway yes, thank you, I do understand that it's not really that funny. I just like using it, it being in effect a blast from, and a mild reverence to, the past … and I suppose I am mildly addicted to it. It makes me vaguely smile, in a vaguely vague sort of way … however if you're already too irritated by all this you'd probably better go and do something more productive - your pools coupon for example - but do feel free to pop in later when Mr Thompson will serve tea and cakes by the Great Yew Hedge, weather permitting. You will be most welcome.

Harry Definers

You can add "Harry" before and "-ers" after many words. I am not sure of the rules and I seem to have mislaid the user manual, but I think it works better if you're describing an activity rather than a simple object. Thus "Harry Sliders" - the Urtext as far as I'm concerned - seems to me to be more likely to mean presenting or watching a slideshow than merely some slides, though it will extend to both. Similarly if I said, say. Harry Skaters it's probably more likely that I meant the act of going skating rather than a pair of skates. (Or any other fish. [Sorry.]) As I say I'm not really conversant with the full set of operating procedures for this construction, but I think you can apply it to a very wide range of concepts.

Harry Snaggers

Stretching the point a little my Bruvver and his Dear Wife Bless Her have pointed out that you'd run into severe problems with Harry Christophers, director of utterly superduper singing persons The Sixteen. Applying the rules strictly would of course render this talented gentleman as "Harry Harry Christophersers". This is why the rules must be rewritten, or perhaps even written, to exclude such silliness. I diskard it.

Harry Contextualizers

I think that it's meant to sound terribly upper-class, British, public-school, prep school, nannies and governesses, twittish, and so on, in a somewhat old-fashioned way. (Please be aware: if you are not familiar with the British usage, then "public school" may very well not mean, when you hear it, what it meant when I said it. Do please feel free to look it up and marvel at the rich vein of misunderstanding that we've created. In short, a BrE "public school" is very far from being public.) I'll come back to this context, which we may perhaps label "Braying Upper-class Ninnies" or BUNs, later.

Harry Explainers

As some of you know, I went to a slightly strange but interesting semi-posh school in Bristol. It was certainly not a (BrE) public school (my dears, the shame) but it was quite respectably founded under a charter from Queen Elizabeth - no, not the present one - and was a bluecoat school, and so on. I could, nay should, write rather a lot more about this place and how I ended up there, but not, you may be relieved to hear, on this occasion. I am leaving it unnamed not because I'm ashamed of it, but just to thwart lazy Googlers; this isn't a piece about the school. If you want to look it up then combining the name of the old dear who gave it its charter with the fact that such places were often, incongruously to modern ears, described as hospitals, would get you there before you can say Carr, Hartnell, Ramsey or Bird.

At the said three-letter establishment I was taught by David Perkins, one of the most gifted teachers I've ever met. Dave is the reason I speak German. If he'd been a geography teacher I daresay I'd be good at or interested in geography right now; likewise physics or maths. But German was his thing and so it became, in a pale reflection of the master, one of my things too. Don't get me wrong - there were plenty of other very good teachers at that school, as well as a couple of geniuses (and, yes, the occasional dunderhead or two). It's just that JDP stood out head and shoulders (metaphorically if not in actual physical stature, aha) among the teaching staff for me. It's all a bit odd given his massive lifelong passion for the licensed barbarism called "rugby", an activity I put much effort into avoiding, but it somehow didn't matter that I was so much at odds with him over this other hugely important aspect of his life at, er, Koo Eh Hah. He was just an utterly fantastic German teacher.

With Dave there were quite a lot of running jokes, standard procedures and so on - little things that made his lessons a bit special and made you feel like you were part of a particular group, almost a gang, because you were a student of German. It was all part of his mystique, I guess, and hence part of his magic as a teacher.

Dave seemed to spend all or most of his holidays in German-speaking countries … I suppose memory may be making me exaggerate but that's how it looked to me back then. I know it sounds obvious but this is actually very inspiring to students - he's going out there and seeing and doing the stuff you talk about in lessons, and using, as a normal everyday activity, the language that might otherwise seem to you just to be an academic subject. So what, some of you are thinking, isn't that just what language teachers do? Well, maybe, but clearly not all of them. I was taught French for some years by a nice old chap, long since redeployed to that Great Classroom in the Sky, who I swear never once gave me the impression that there was anything to the language - a culture, or some people, perhaps - beyond the O-level exam. So it's fair enough to say that for me this aspect of JDP's involvement in German was terribly important and influential.

One happy outcome of this regular visiting of German-speaking countries was that Dave came back with many, many photographs of the places he'd seen. These were in the form of 35mm slides. (Note to young people: these are oh never mind.) We then had slide shows, usually in JDP's room, so that we could be shown the wonders of where he'd been. These made a deep impression on me and established Germany and its neighbours as places I wanted to visit for myself. (I can still remember very clearly the excitement of finally getting to see, for real, the originals of JDP's slides of Cologne Cathedral or the Goldenes Dachl or the Königsee - it felt like an absolute vindication, that, whatever it had taken to get there, it was all worth it.)

These fabulous slide shows were, of course, Harry Sliders and so, of course, the origin as far as I'm concerned of the phrase.

Harry Speculators

What this explains is where I got it (JDP) and why I like it (JDP) but doesn't really clarify anything else - why did he use it, where did he get it?

My guess is that it is or was a known usage rather than an invention of Dave's. I suppose that a bit of research might help me here, but I haven't done it - so sue me. Jabnaas. If you know anything about this usage that might help, please do drop me a line.

And why, pray, did Dave Perkins like this usage? Again, I can only speculate - I'm certainly not going to bother him with trivia like this! Dave was certainly not, himself, a Braying Upper-class Ninny (or BUN, do try to keep up). Interestingly, though I've characterized the school as semi-posh, quite a few of the staff really weren't posh, or weren't in many other ways quite what you'd expect. I'm thinking for example of David Lewis, a genius of an English teacher, who was clearly and openly sceptical about the whole posh-ed thing and indeed the claims of some of us to be not too posh, or not so posh, or at least not as posh as him over there … or something. (Ah, scholarship boys and their inverted snobbery … but that's another story.) Anyway, the excellent David, with his dangerously bolshie attitudes and tendency to lead us astray, eventually moved on and when last I heard was a priest in Liverpool: education's loss was undoubtedly his flock's massive gain.

But I digress. The point I'm trying to make is merely that, in contrast with what you might perhaps expect, some of the teaching staff had a healthy sort of cynicism about this semi-posh school and its semi-posh kids and were certainly not averse to a bit of gentle p*ss-taking at times.

So, to cut an overlong story - er well, perhaps not short per se but maybe a nanometre or two less long - I think that "Harry Sliders" was JDP gently mocking us and our (and his!) rather comfortable setup there. It was gently amusing and affectionate, and a small but not wholly insignificant part of the JDP German-teaching setup. For some reason it has stuck.

Harry Summarizers

And that's pretty much the whole thing. I know it's turned into really more of a piece about a brilliant German teacher than it is about a silly little jokey usage, but there you go: that's the Harry Backgrounders. I still use it, as you have seen, and at work I still say “Harry Sliders” when we are doing slide shows, and have even done so in group emails announcing them. This meets with looks of mild bafflement but, hey, I am used to that anyway … 

Friday, 25 March 2011

LCD information screens, or is it garbage?

So here I boringly am having a boring wait for an outpatient clinic at the Whitt. Did I mention that it's boring? Ah yes, good, because it is.

Hurrah! The National Health service has provided a lovely big screen to provide information and stave off boredom. Ahem, yes indeed.

On the screen are lots of adverts. These cover a range of topics - some are straight NHS information, for example smoking and depression services, infection control in hospitals, welcome to this department, and so on. Others are just ads, but with I guess the intention that they're at least potentially relevant to people sitting here bored off their skulls (did I mention the boredom?) so there are dentists, hotels, estate agents and quite a few minicab firms.

The NHS stuff is mostly well-made and coherent. The commercial stuff is more variable - some of it's good, some is poorly designed and/or illiterate.

So far so good - it's mostly not a bad service, though I note that there really are are quite a lot of screens … if you were to watch it because you were looking for a particular piece of information, you might get to wait quite a long time for it to come round. I think this limits the usefulness if the service; indeed, if you can't use it easily to find out information then why is it there? Maybe it could just be pictures of flowers and bunnies instead, if its main function is really to be wallpaper? But them you couldn't charge businesses - other perhaps than flower suppliers and bunny breeders? - to put their ads up here. Hmmmm.

Here, though, is the real showstopper. Well it's two of them, really, but they are not unrelated.

There are two menu-like bands top and bottom of the screen. They are independent of the main screen content. The top one has, prominently, the time and date, and the lower one has a short scrolling message.

The message says:

"Welcome to the department. Watch this screen to see up to date waiting times."

This is an excellent idea - indeed if I were given the choice I'd prefer some information on waiting times to more minicab adverts. And you certainly see this message plenty, as it's the only item in its own little scrolling section so it repeats every 16s or so. Sadly it doesn't seem to have got past the "excellent idea" phase as the promised waiting times never actually appear. You can watch all their lovely ads as long as you like, but you don't see any waiting times. I could do with this as it's now 35 minutes after my appointment time and still not a squeak. So, without wishing to be horrible, I do feel that this part of the service is a complete failure, as it makes a promise on which it does not deliver.

The other problem is simple, amusing and really quite pathetic. Remember the top band with the date and time in? Well, the clock is half an hour slow. If it's now 1220 then the clock claims it's 1150. Like, connected, man. That says it all, really: once we've seen that we don't really need to know much more about how this service is used and valued, because it isn't. It is mostly a waste of space, a nice little earner wearing the stolen clothing of an information system. I diskard it.

Brass Banding comes to Muswell Hill

Yes, I know. The headline seems so improbable that it has to be some kind of spoof. What's the payoff, you're almost bound to ask. But please bear with me because I'm dead serious about this, and also very excited.

As an aside, I'm actually quite worried about even starting on this topic. It's a vast area for me and I'm not sure where this'll go: certainly it would, if I did it properly, require several other pieces of writing to try and make it all make something like sense. Given that I don't usually seem to have time to write this blog at all, I'm not sure quite where this leaves us, or rather where it leaves me. But ho, and hum, and ho hum, and we shall see.

(No, Colin, I shall not now be telling the ladies and gentlemen the "All In One Strand" joke, apposite though it may seem to you. And anyway, foolish boy, now you have made me give away the punch line and thus I could not tell it to this audience, even if I wished to, for the next five or so years.)

Where shall I start, then? A person of my acquaintance frequently complains, rather unkindly if not wholly inaccurately, that I use too many words - that is, more than they would like - when trying to explain things. (I note that they've never solicited my opinion of their powers of self-expression. A pity.) So let me see if I can use a few less, and, er, Cut To The Chase, or something. Yes indeed.

Well then. Some points.
  • The last time I played in a proper, real, formally-constituted brass band, we still lived in Yorkshire, and the United Kingdom did not yet have decimal coinage. (No, Tamsin, we shall not discuss the 50p piece right now. Jabnaas. Nidbaabeth. But yes, they were interesting times.) Never again since then. Plenty of brass ensembles and what have you, but never an actual real brass band per se. 
  • I have at times in the past had an odd/bad attitude to brass bands and their players. Big area, won't fit in this bullet point … another time. I am in awe of their technical ability, but I also fear them, or have done so, and have at times disliked some of what they do. I have, I think/hope, grown out of this stupidity a bit over the last, say, 20 years.
  • It's also a horribly complex North/South culture thing for me. This too requires its own piece of at least 80,000 words but this, too, is getting shunted off into a siding for now. If you want more on this right away then I'd strongly recommend Stuart Maconie's Pies and Prejudice - if you were to read that you'd at least see a bit of where - wait for it wait for it - I'm coming from, aha.
  • The death of Maurice M made me think about brass bands and orchestral players more than somewhat. Compiling a monster tribute to the late great man for the, er, trumpet club for which I sometimes write brought it home even more so. Again this needs its own piece, and how, but suffice it to say that as well as a labour of love it was an epic undertaking and a bit of an eye-opener at times. It certainly caused me to think about brass bands a little more carefully than I perhaps have done in the past.
  • The even more recent death of Jimmy W, ridiculously and unfairly early at the age of 59 … well, you can probably imagine. (Large digression edited out for now.) It was Not A Good Day. More brass band thoughts. It's not coincidence, you know.
  • Over the decades since I stopped trying to be a serious trumpet player (though you could of course question whether I'd ever really started) I've often worried, or at least blethered on about, the problem of needing to do more playing, and particularly regular playing, to keep my lip in and various other things at least ticking over rather than just actually seizing up. Doing Salomon and Haydn is great but they both work in shortish, intense bursts; in between times, with nothing specific to aim for and no regular commitment, it's sometimes been, ahem, a touch challenging trying to live up to the claim that I play the Accursed Bugle at all.
  • I've in the past wished out loud that I had some regular, say weekly, playing to do. Kind friends have even mentioned a brass band or two, but it's always been impossible to imagine committing to the travel as they've been a fair distance off. So the out-loud wish, over the years, has mutated and become more specific - what I'd really like, please, is a regular weekly brass ensemble or band or whatever, but just round the corner from my house. Oh, and its fixed weekly time would have to somehow, miraculously, be when I could usually make it but without wrecking my family life, my existing playing commitments, my orienteering, our desire to get out for a decent walk sometimes … well, you get the picture. Not an easy set of criteria to meet.
  • As an aside, I did even consider trying to set something up myself. I was a little inspired by the success of a family brass ensemble a year or two back, and of something I did at Lottie's school, but I think it would have been a pretty tall order for someone of my undoubted inabilities and it's probably just as well for the safety of innocent ears that this idea never bore fruit.
So we return to the present. I want regular playing; I'm odd/nuts/nostalgic/sad about brass bands; I wish someone would start one in the church hall round the corner; and so on.

Well, I am here to tell you, dear reader, that I have had my bluff well and truly called. Well and truly. For someone is doing just that - they're starting up a brass band, two minutes' walk from my front door ... Wednesday nights; first rehearsal 15th June, 7.30pm: I shall be there. Oh yes indeedy.

As you may have gathered this is a very, very, very big deal to me. For an opportunity like this just to drop into my lap - it's incredible.

Obviously there's many a slip, and all that. It's not really what I'm saying about it now - in a gibberingly overexcited state - that's the test - it's what I'll be saying about it in a year.

Will it be a good band? Will I be any good at it? Will people show up? Will they want me? Will I be anything like reliable enough, given the cloud of other commitments in which I operate? How does a brass band fit into the cruel, cynical, latte-sipping, Guardian-reading, film-discussing er er milieu of Muesli Hill? (Oh hang on, scratch that last one - I've just realized I don't give a monkey's about all that,)

More on this - probably more than you'd ever want to read - another time. For now, we have already reclaimed the rather nice Smith-Watkins cornet - Lottie's cornet, ackshly - from our beloved nephew; I'd quite like to find my real mouthpiece for it (long story) and I prolly ought to, you know, learn to, er, play it a bit … watch this space. But if I don't get round to mentioning it again, please think of me on the evening of June 15th, when surely my world will be changing a little.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Waterloo in the rush hour

Indeed, yes, the title says it all really. I am at Waterloo in the rush hour, but I am not rushing. For reasons not discussed here I haven't been at work today, but I have a Salomon rehearsal this evening. I'd usually be rushing in in a Sweaty Panic from the office … but not this evening.

For once in my wretched disorganized life I actually left home in good time, so I've arrived here feeling quite calm and benign. A quick visit to a Cafe Nero in the station and I'm lattéed up and happy, and I can sit outside the (rather gorgeous) church and just be, amid all the rush, an observer but not a participant.

This is a horrible and also rather wonderful area. Horrible because, mainly, of the mass of people charging around by car, bike, bus, taxi, train: the station itself is rather impressive but doesn't seem to have quite enough entrances, or they're in the wrong place, or something. It all seems - when you are not yourself part of it - crazily busy. The station is also strange and a little difficult to understand because, like so many others, it has a slightly weird and complex history, the legacy of rail's piecemeal and sometimes seemingly random development in central London … or, rather, just outside it, which is rather the point I guess.

The station is of course named after a certain battle, sure. But what's a little more interesting to me is our rehearsal venue right opposite, the church of St John the Evangelist. This too commemorates Wellington's victory: it is thus a Waterloo Church of (natch) the early C19 and a sister to the lovely St George's, Brandon Hill in Bristol - a place which I know rather well and of which I'm very fond. So, while I usually prefer my churches medieaval, I find the impressively neoclassical St John's a very appealing place, and a very fine thing indeed to sit and contemplate.

Inside, it is rather glorious and beautifully peaceful, or at least it will be until we start work on Saint-Saens, Poulenc and Faure (pattern here, anyone?) But for now I'm very content to just sit outside and admire it, and this streaming busy area around its calm corner, and enjoy my coffee.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Back where I should be

Ah, bliss. Here's the recipe:
  1. Fabulous beautiful sunny day
  2. Suddenly ran out of patience with my job
  3. Hopped on a Borisbike clunk whizz whirr etc
  4. Now sitting in my absolute favourite lunch-o-matic concert venue anywhere on the planet - mug of coffee in hand - waiting for GSMD Post-Diploma Baroque Studies Class concert to brew up.
What could be nicer?

Sunday, 20 March 2011


I probably ought to worry about things a bit less.

This blog

Sometimes I go off into a little reverie about this blog, and how much I like writing it, and how nice it is when people comment on it, and so on.

Then I think about all the pieces I'd like to write, and those that I've got half-finished, or more-than-half-finished, and how great they will (/might) be one day. I get quite into them, figuring out particular angles and turns of phrase that I think will please you, or at least me. At times I have so many ideas that it's as if there's almost too much choice, except that that's fine because there's really no such thing as "too much choice" - it's just a load more opportunities fizzing around, which is great.

So I have this little conversation with myself about the whole thing, and my writing, and maybe a photo or two, and how - perhaps, if I'm very lucky - I'll have written something that, when I go back and reread it weeks, months or years later, I might actually enjoy it, or even go, "gosh, this is actually OK you know".

And then the bus reaches my stop, or the tube train rushes into my station or whatever, and I snap out of it: I'm back.

And I haven't written a bloody word.