Thursday, October 16, 2014

This Other Eden

The following isn't a review as such; rather some general thoughts about the piece. 

I went to This Other Eden on Tuesday night at the Mayfair Theatre in Dunedin, (same place that Grimhilda! was presented at in 2012). This is Anthony Ritchie's new opera, and what a marvellous piece it is. The music is complex and rich and full of detail, and yet is accessible at first hearing, accessible enough to make you feel you're getting to grips with it without straining your brain too much. It has wonderful emotion, and a frequent use of motifs, echoings, and all sorts of other musical mechanisms that make it available to your ear.

The libretto is by Michelanne Forster, and is derived from a play of the same name that she wrote eighteen years ago. The story focuses on Thomas Kendall, an early missionary to New Zealand (he was a contemporary of Samuel Marsden, who also appears in the opera). Kendall was the man who produced the first Maori/English dictionary. The story is in part told by his wife Jane, an unfortunate woman who had to take second place not only to the making of the dictionary and the machinations of the tough Maori chief, Hongi Hika, but later to the Maori common-law wife Kendall took. Jane is the emotional heart of the opera, and was played by Elizabeth Mandeno, who sang with such beauty and purity of tone that her mere singing moved you, quite apart from what was happening to the character.

Kendall was played by James Rodgers, who has a notable list of achievements as a singer, performing both in his native country of New Zealand and abroad. His strong tenor brought great strength to the part - a long and difficult one - though early in the performance he seemed to be momentarily struggling a little with his upper register. Thankfully this didn't cause any issues and for the rest of the evening he was in fine form. Kendall is presented as an ambiguous character, torn between his work and the missionary society's aims, his desire to understand the Maori people and his reluctance to provide them with muskets in order to learn more about them, and finally between the two women in his life.

Joel Amosa played Hongi Hika with great force of personality and a considerable physical presence. His singing was rich and strong; a formidable character altogether.

A number of years ago I was the musical director for a group called Opera Alive. This consisted of talented young singers from around the town; the group had originally been formed to give these singers experience in the theatre and in performance. It had already been running for three or four years when I took over at short notice because their musical director had to leave Dunedin (her husband had got a job in the North Island), and I was with them for five or six years after that, I think. The group changed from year to year: some stalwarts remained throughout most of the entire time I was involved, but others might only stay a year.

James Adams was one of those involved with Opera Alive; in Ritchie's opera he played Samuel Marsden, the strong-minded missionary who made a considerable impact on early NZ society. He doubled this role with that of King George IV. The King only appeared in one scene, the funniest in the opera both in terms of libretto and music. It was great to see James singing so powerfully and performing so well. He always had plenty of talent, of course, but it's still good to see his progress in his career. James has apparently moved back to Dunedin with his family. Hopefully he'll have the opportunity to carry on singing from his home base.

Matt Landreth played the smaller role of Richard Stockwell, a man who falls in love with Jane Kendall, and gets her pregnant while her husband is away. Stockwell was the Kendall family's servant, and his actions in the story are relatively true to history. Landreth brought considerable presence to the character, who could have been treated unsympathetically. Stockwell's relationship with Jane had truth about it, and though it brought them both grief, was perhaps more true in some ways that Kendall's own relationship with his wife. Certainly Kendall, in the story, treats her badly, and leaves her behind in New Zealand to fend for herself while he goes back to London for a year, much to her anger and sorrow.

The rest of the relatively young cast did well; vocally there were no weak areas, and the small chorus in particular contributed strongly to the piece.

The director, Jacqueline Coats, chose to use a raked stage, which to me always has potential for accidents. I remember years ago that when the NZ Opera Company toured the opera Il Trovatore, they performed it on a raked stage (from memory it was more raked than this one) and one of the chorus told me that they were afraid every night when they came racing onto it that one of them would fall and break something. Though there are advantages in this production with having a raked stage - people can stand above others, and there is the neat way in which people climb up onto it at the back - but it seems to me that it's hard on the performers, who spend a good deal of time climbing up and descending. Hard on the leg muscles, I'd think, and requiring that much extra caution in terms of keeping your balance. James Adams does a spectacular fall from the top to the bottom at one point, so it has advantages in that dramatic sense too!

Tecwyn Evans, the very well-known NZ conductor (he was raised in Dunedin) was in charge of the orchestra of ten players, and how wonderfully they played! As far as I know they're mostly local musicians, but the level of playing was excellent. I noted that Ralph Miller played the trumpet part (a considerable one with some degree of virtuosity, and requiring a great deal of clarity). I've known Ralph on and off for a number of years because he's been involved with various brass bands around town as a cornet player. I've played for him in the past, and last year he did a couple of beautiful solos at a concert where I was the accompanist.

And while I'm dropping names, Linda Brewster, a friend from a very long way back, was doing her first job for Dunedin Opera, as Stage Manager. Plainly she did a very good job, because everything worked like tickety boo. And finally Ryan Walker is listed as 'Audio Visual Technician.' He happened to doing a similar job (though with a less fancy title) on Hamp

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Digital pianos

Back in 2012 we bought a Casio digital piano.  It was worth getting not just for the production of Grimhilda! during which it was used as the rehearsal piano, and later the piano in the pit, but also because I've kept it set up next to my computer, and use it in the winter time for singers and instrumentalists who come here for practices. It's warmer in the winter in this room than in the lounge where the grand piano lives.

I suppose the digital piano we bought is already out of date by several editions, though it's hard to know when these various instruments were produced (without doing a great deal of searching online). I think the Casio PX-130 is probably a later model, but who would know just by going by the numbering system. It's not easy to tell. This model looks more solid in terms of its structure - our one is basically a keyboard that sits on top of a trestle, and surprisingly isn't attached to the trestle in any way except by gravity. (Once it slipped when I was putting it on the trestle because the screw holding the trestle wasn't secure, and there was a moment when it looked as though the whole keyboard was going to dash itself in pieces on the floor. As it was one of the top notes caught on my hand and came loose, to my horror. However it turned out it was a matter of moments to fit it comfortably back where it belonged.)

The PX-130 also has a stand, but the the base and the keyboard fit together all of a piece. You can detach the keyboard part from the base, and apparently it's light enough to shift around. It weighs 25 lbs, being an American keyboard. My keyboard, even though it came in two parts, was quite heavy. I know this for a fact because I had to hump it out of the car and into the rehearsal rooms on innumerable occasions: there were about thirty steps involved in the process. (By steps I mean ones in a stairway, not steps you take.)

Reading about the PX-130 makes me think it's probably a better digital piano than the one I've got; certainly the advertising gives that impression. However I don't think there'll be any new pianos in this house in the near future. We have other things (not necessarily more important things) to spend our money on.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I do quite a bit of transcribing of music using the computer programme, Sibelius. Transcriptions from printed copies or manuscripts are usually made so they can be transposed into another key. Sibelius, overall, makes the job very easy. I wish I'd had the programme when I was young and was first writing music, but of course at that stage there were no computers, let alone programmes like Sibelius. I often dreamed then of having a typewriter which you could use to print music, but the idea remained a pipe dream.

Anyway, the job of transcribing is generally pretty straightforward, except when you come across a piece of music that is so heavily marked by the composer with instructions as to how to sing or play the piece that you wonder whether he was having a bit of a fit on the day he wrote it.

A case in point is the piece I'm doing at the moment, Nocturne, by Michael Head, from a series of four songs under the general title of The Rim of the Moon. I really enjoy Head's music: it's a delight to play and the vocal lines are usually top notch, lying well for the singers.

Nocturne is a bit different. It's more dramatic in style than most of Head's work (though he settles down into his usual mode late in the piece). Consequently he's marked it very heavily, even with some contradictory markings. In one place the pianist is supposed to increase in volume when there's not actually anything to play. In another the tempo is marked both a tempo (go back to the original tempo) as well as Poco piu mosso (go a little faster). It's not actually possible to do that, as I'm sure Mr Head knew. Perhaps an editor got hold of the music and overwhelmed it with markings according to some reasoning we're no longer party to.

Half the notes in the vocal line and in the piano part are given stress marks. If you obeyed every one you'd never get to the end of the piece. And if there aren't stress marks there are accents, the sort that indicate you should give the note more weight than usual. There's a molto rit when the piece has barely started, and a poco rit only two bars after the a tempo. The singer, at one point, is expected to both return to a tempo and sing con moto simultaneously, which is rather like coming back to your normal walking pace while trying to go faster.

The first half or more of the piece is in a kind of recitativo style (that's indicated as well). So there is some excuse for giving the singer an indication of where to move forward and where to pull back. But most singers would do these things instinctively, and the excess of markings merely get in the way. IMHO.

It's like getting a play script from the director in which he's gone through and marked how you should stress each word, speak each phrase, where you should breathe, how loud you should be here and soft there. The lines of the original script would be buried beneath all of these markings.

Transcribing Mr Head's song would be fine except that as the transcriber I'm supposed to make sure I include all these extra details. I'm greatly tempted to leave them out, though of course that would mean not doing the job properly. It's very possible I'll miss one or two, even after a thorough proof-reading. But I'll grit my teeth and do my best.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Mumbersons ˗ and the Blood Secret

I'm pleased to say that my co-writer on Grimhilda! has come in to help with the last stages of the book about the Mumbersons - the 'sequel' (of sorts) to the earlier book. Currently the title is The Mumbersons ˗ and the Blood Secret. 

She read it through a couple of weeks ago, or so, and said, Wonderful. Love it. That's very encouraging. And then of course the work started, rejigging lines, cutting phrases, sentences, paragraphs, adding in things that were missing, and tightening up the plot so that awkward persons (like herself) don't come along and say, But why.....?

Someone will always come along and ask, But why?even when you think you've covered all the bases, but you have to live with that. One of our aims is to see that these kind of people are in the minority!

The story's two main characters - Billy and Olivia - have been friends for a short while before the story starts, and together find themselves having to deal more than one curious thing involving Billy's blood, and why someone should want to have some of it. The connection with Grimhilda! becomes evident at the end of the first chapter, and increases as time goes on. More than this I'm not prepared to reveal just yet! 

I'm aiming to have it ready before Christmas 2014, and hopefully it will encourage people to go back and read Grimhilda! if they haven't already done so. 

Saturday, October 04, 2014

National Shakespeare Schools Production

Last night we went to see the three mini-Shakespeare plays presented by the SGCNZ: the National Shakespeare Schools Production for 2014. Over forty senior school pupils from around the country came together for only a week and have had workshops and various trainings, as well as managing to put on, between them, three cut-down versions of Shakespearean plays. Cut down to about 40 minutes each, so still quite substantial. And these pieces were rehearsed only in the mornings of the week the young people were together, which makes the high level of performance and direction all the more astonishing.

We went to see the three productions put on two or three years ago, and one of those, Hamlet, was very compelling. But the other two didn't quite take off as well. This year all three are top-notch, full of wonderful actors, and so well directed that even people who find Shakespeare not easy to take would be enthralled.

Henry V was the first of the three, with Henry himself being played variously by seven different actors, boys and girls. The continual swirl of the action, the large groupings coming and going and the sheer enthusiasm made this a great start to the evening. My only disappointment was that the delightful scene between the French princess and Henry was missing. But it was probably too long to include, and would have been less effective cut down. In spite of that, this was a clearly directed piece that gave the young actors plenty of scope for drama, emotion and action.

Love's Labour's Lost came next. Pared down to its bare essentials it still managed to make the most of the comedy and retain some delightful scenes. The actors got hold of the comedy style with gusto and wonderful energy, the boys in particular making the most of every movement. It was good, in fact, to see young actors in this play, which focuses on the immaturity of young people (especially young men) when they fall in love, and how a 'gap year,' as it were, might well be more effective in making love stronger for the long haul.

In this play, for the most part, the boys played the boys' parts and the girls played girls, except for girls who played the delightful constable and the pompous Boyet and academic Holofernes. But whoever was playing whoever, there was such energy (for instance when the boys realise each of them has fallen in love and kept it secret, or when they're in disguise as Russians) and sense of comedy that the whole thing was utterly enjoyable and showed how Shakespeare, even when he throws long-winded words around like a whirlwind (long words are a theme in this play), is still amusing and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. (Even in the midst of Hamlet he lets Claudius mix up Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, something that audiences have done since the play first began; this was retained in the middle of all the seriousness of the rest of the play.)

Hamlet was played by two different actors (as he was in the previous version). This gave both actors time to refresh and bring renewed energy to this intense role. And were they intense! Sean Young and William Lu were equal to each other in strength and commanded the stage. There were some wonderful moments when they somehow swapped without your noticing, particularly at the grave scene where Ophelia (beautifully played by Rachel McLean) lies dead. At other times it was as if one actor handed over the role to the other. Beautifully done.

But the other actors in this piece were uniformly good: arrogant Claudius (Peter Thomson), emotionally-torn Gertrude (Maya Wyatt), pompous Polonius (Daniel Botha) and angst-ridden Laertes (Calum Hughes), to name just a few. The direction was full of invention (though my wife and I never quite figured out what people on the scaffolding were doing), including Polonius hiding himself inside his hoodie by having it on backwards when he was supposed to be behind the arras. And the fight scene with long duelling swords was as terrifying as you're likely to get. How they managed to get this rehearsed in the time allotted is beyond me.

What a climax this play has: not only the fight scene going on in front of the stage but Gertrude drinking the poison while her husband is trying to entice Hamlet to do so, deaths at the back, deaths at the front. It's a nightmare to put together and yet how wonderfully it works.

The performance is on again tonight, at 7.30 at Otago Boys High School's auditorium. Cash sales only at the door. Take the opportunity and see the wealth of talent there is around this country.

17.10.14 I'm pleased to see all those I mentioned here have been chosen to go on the trip to the Globe in London next year. And several of the main actors in Love's Labour's Lost have also been chosen to go. Excellent.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The uncompassionate poet and mother

Another extract from Margaret Forster's biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Wilson was her personal maid for many years, from just before she was married. She took on the arduous task of maintaining the household in Florence, but also in other places on their travels, taught herself Italian from a book, and spent a great deal of time babysitting the Brownings' only son (known as 'Pen.') In spite of this, when she finally asked for a rise in her meagre pay after many years, the Brownings (who were not badly off) rejected her request. In this extract, some years later, she had fallen in love with the household cook, whose sleeping accommodation was even smaller than Wilson's - and Wilson's private room was smaller than Robert Browning's dressing room. Forster's irritation with the selfishness of the Brownings often shows through in the book, not only in this passage.

Wilson and the cook, Ferdinando, had had intercourse sometime prior to the events described here, resulting in Wilson becoming pregnant. By this time the two servants were married (a crisis in itself for the Brownings) and all four were in London for a few months.

Wilson, unable by the end of August to hide her condition any longer, told Elizabeth she was expecting a baby in a few weeks' time. Elizabeth was appalled. She wrote to Henrietta [her married sister] on September 6th that she was not only 'shocked' but 'pained.' Clearly, the baby had been conceived in the Casa Guidi [the Brownings' longstanding rented accommodation in Florence] by the unmarried couple. She does not appear, for all her acknowledged recognition of the power of sexual attraction, to have thought back to the living accommodation in Casa Guidi, to that room of Wilson's next to the even smaller one where Ferdinando slept. The proximity for two people in love was irresistible.
As usual, it was not only the immorality which shocked Elizabeth, that admirer of George Sand [infamously known for her many lovers], but the deceit. She hated to think Wilson had not confided in her. She had never given Wilson the least cause to be sure of her sympathy and tolerance in such a situation but she was angry that she had not been naturally trusted. But at least her affection for, and gratitude to, Wilson was sufficient to make her try hard in this crisis to 'think chiefly of her many excellent qualities and of what she has done for me...' as she put it to Henrietta.
Quite what she was prepared to do for Wilson in this hour of her need was not at first clear. Obviously, Wilson would have to go somewhere to have her baby: she certainly could not give birth in her employers' lodgings. It was arranged that she would go to her sister's who lived in East retford (her mother had died two years before). Equally obviously, Elizabeth would need a new maid: managing on her own during Wilson's annual two week holiday was one thing, managing for six months another.
But these were trivial decisions compared to the underlying major one: would Wilson come back after the birth of her baby? Could she come back? Could she bring her baby with her? The Brownings' answer to that last question dictated all else: No, Wilson could not take her baby back to Casa Guidi. The apartment was too small, they could not afford another mouth to feed and Wilson would be unable to perform her duties properly. So they gave Wilson a choice: either she remained in their service, leaving her baby with her sister, or she left their service and kept her child. Where her husband Ferdinando fitted into this choice was for Wilson to work out. If she stayed in England, she lost him, unless he could miraculously find employment and support her and her child; and if she went back to Italy, she kept him but lost her child. She left for East Retford with no illusions, still undecided.
Nobody had offered her the only truly compassionate alternative: to keep both husband and baby, return with them to Italy, board the baby out nearby and continue working. Victorian employers though such magnanimity absurd. Elizabeth was a creature of her time in sharing what they saw as an entirely justifiable viewpoint: her peers would not have expected her to behave in any other way. But the author of Aurora Leigh [ie, Elizabeth], so concerned with the plight of poor working women, so close to a servant who had proved her loyalty over and over again at considerable personal risk, cannot be judged by conventional standards. Elizabeth failed Wilson as Wilson had never failed her. To take Wilson and her baby back to Italy would have been impractical, inconvenient, unreasonably charitable - but it would have not been impossible for people as resourceful and courageous as the Brownings.  [pages 302/3]

The saga continues some pages later. Another maid went back to Italy with them for an interim period, until they returned to London again. 

There was one farewell Elizabeth was thankful not to have to make: Wilson was coming with them. She had at last made her 'choice'.  A year alone with a baby in East Retford had most effectively decided her. (In fact, she had made her decision within two months of the Brownings' departure for Paris the year before and had told them so but they had said they considered they were bound to her replacement, Harriet, until they returned to London.)
After the return from the Isle of Wight and Somerset, Wilson had her baby Oreste brought down from East Retford for a final leave-taking before committing him to her sister's care. Elizabeth described him as 'a pretty, interesting baby...with great black Italian eyes.' His parents proposed sending part of their wages back to East Retford each month to support him until they could be reunited. When that would be, or how it would come about, nobody was optimistic enough to speculate.
Nowhere in Elizabeth's correspondence at the time did she express any compassion for Wilson's agony. The mother who adored her own child and had been overwhelmed by the violence of maternal feeling, and the poet who was about to publish a poem full of the tenderness of women for children, and a defence of the exploited working-class girl [Aurora Leigh], both seemed untouched by her own maid's anguish. This was a severely practical matter. Nobody had exploited Wilson, nobody had forced her into marriage or motherhood. She was a servant, she had married, she had had a baby: the rules of the game were laid down and Elizabeth abided by them.
But it is not, strictly speaking, true that she was obliged to do so. It was not even true that no Victorian family could take in a servant's baby. Josephine Butler, soon to be famous for the campaign she led against the Contagious Diseases Acts, wife of an Oxford don, had already done so: she took in an unmarried girl who had been seduced by a Balliol man and had borne his child. There are enough isolated examples of that kind of courage, that sort of deliberate flouting of social convention, to suggest that Elizabeth could have taken Wilson's baby home with them if she had really wanted to, if her compassion had been large enough. [pages 315/6]

There is something of a 'happy ending'.  After leaving the Brownings' service, Wilson eventually set up a boarding house in Florence, where she looked after the painter, Walter Savage Landor, among others. He had stayed with the Brownings in Florence some time before, after his wife left him. Wilson's son, Oreste, joined her at the boarding house when he was seven. (He had a younger brother by then, as well.)  Later, she abruptly left Italy and returned to England, setting up another boarding house there, but this venture failed. She returned to Italy, destitute except for ten pounds a year Robert Browning had allowed her for old times' sake. When the Browning's son, 'Pen', brought the Plazzo Rezzonico, he remembered the old servant and took her in. She lived with him there, then went to Asolo with him, where she died in 1902. Her husband Ferdinando seems to have parted company with her in the late 1870s, but turned up later and was also taken in by Pen. Plainly the son had more compassion than either of his parents. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Piece de resistance

When I was acting recently in the play, Hamp, I used an old book of poems by Robert Browning as my character's 'prayer book.' (I played a military padre.) I looked at the poems in odd moments during rehearsals: they were laid out in two columns per page, dense and in smallish print, and there were pages and pages of them. Perhaps a couple of hundred pages. Some of them were Browning's long dramatic poems which I think were intended for stage performance.

I'm not sure whether it was as a result of this that I looked a bit further into the poems written by Browning's wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Like her husband's poems, these seemed to me to have a kind of dated air about them, though some of them are still highly regarded.

Recently my son alerted me to the book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, and I read it - very quickly, because it has one basic point and that's repeated in a variety of ways. But essentially it's about the need for artists to overcome the resistance to doing creative work; procrastination is a great bugbear for many artistic workers, and can excused on the grounds of 'writer's block' or other pseudonyms.

Shortly after this I began reading Margaret Forster's excellent and detailed biography of Elizabeth Barrett. It's long and there have been times I've been tempted to give up on it, but it's so well written that it's quite hard to put it down. Barrett suffered ill-health during much of her youth and early womanhood; possibly it was a major bronchial issue that was never properly dealt with. She traded on it to a degree, making herself something of a recluse in her own household, and excusing herself from going out because she was too 'frail' to exercise (the frailty was encouraged by her doctors, regrettably). It became a bit of a vicious circle, aided by her own father overdoing his concerns for her, and allowing her to keep herself from other people.

But Barrett also used this time to establish herself as a poet, and to learn, and to communicate (mostly by letter) with other writers. She published some poetry and made a small name for herself. This style of life continued well into her thirties and then her life changed substantially. By this time her mother had died suddenly and at least two of her brothers had also died, and her father's personality had become increasingly possessive of his remaining children. He refused to allow any of them to marry - though in due course some managed to.

Elizabeth began a correspondence with Robert Browning, and began to meet him secretly at her home when her father was out. (Browning never met his father-in-law man face-to-face, amazingly.) In due course they made plans to be married, secretly, and after the marriage fled the country, going to Italy, where the climate was much more congenial to Elizabeth's health.

At this point, things on the poetry front became most odd. Here were two major poets living together with plenty of time on their hands in a country where they knew very few people, and where they had little in the way of domestic duties to contend with, yet they spent the first decade or more of their marriage barely writing a word of poetry! It seems extraordinary; they made excuses about one thing or another putting them off from working, and at times did make efforts to work, but very little was produced.

Browning had never had a real job in his life - his parents had subsidised him at home in London; Barrett, of course, being a woman in a well-to-do family, had never been required to work either. She had almost no domestic skills (Browning wasn't much better) and relied almost entirely on a long-suffering personal maid (who eventually also became the nanny to the Brownings' one and only child) to look after their every need. Their life-style was funded by some ongoing payments Elizabeth received in relation to a ship an uncle owned, and small amounts from their books, and an annual sum paid to them by a friend.

There was every opportunity to produce great poetry during this time, and yet both of them fell into the trap that Pressfield talks about. They put off the work continually, in spite of having no excuses for not working. Even when their one and only child came along, they were still molly-coddled in terms of actually looking after the child's physical needs: first a wet-nurse suckled the boy until he was well into his second year, and the maid, Wilson, basically cared for him in the day-to-day. Worse, Elizabeth was excessively indulgent of the boy, and even Robert regarded her mothering of him as most peculiar.

The moral of the story? If you have talent, don't waste it by procrastinating. You only have so long on this planet. Make the most of what you've given and use it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ditch the bookmarks!

Dorothy L Sayers, from a short essay entitled A Note on Creative Reading (from the back of a book called Begin Here, which was published during the Second World War and deals with economics and Germany and politics and a good deal more). 

Which reminds me: please burn all your book-markers - even the pretty one Aunt Mabel sent you last Christmas (or at least put that one away and only bring it out when she comes to call.) You cannot possibly be so bird-witted as to be unable to discover which page you got to by looking at it.
If the author mentions some other book in terms which make it seem important, whether he approves or refutes it, don't take his word for it: get the other book and read it, and judge for yourself. If he refers to something, or uses a word, which you don't understand, get a dictionary or work of reference and look it up. (Don't write and ask the author to explain; he is not required to be an Encyclopaedia, and you will only give him a poor idea of your industry and intelligence.) Especially, examine the sources of what he writes; to read Mr Somebody's critical valuation of Milton's prose or his examination of the economic effects of the Peace-Treaty is quite valueless if you have never read any Milton and do not know what the Peace-Treaty actually said.

How times have changed, you might say. I don't at all agree with her view of bookmarks because I'm plainly bird-witted enough to need them to find my place. It must speak volumes about my lack of attention to what I'm reading (!)
As for asking the author to explain: these days authors are all too ready to explain, and enjoy discussions with their readers. Or so we're led to believe. It's one of the joys and perils of the Internet. You can drop an author an email or even a tweet without blinking. And mostly they will reply...quickly. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sometimes the post just decides - for better or worse - to go its own sweet way

'Bye now,' says a friend, and I'm reminded that this expression sounds exactly the same as buy now, something that stores and online sites encourage you to do all the time. As if this might be your last opportunity ever to grab the bargain (which is often something you don't want or need).

It may be the last chance you'll have, of might be dead of a heart attack before you get out of the store, or before you've finished closing off the tab on the browser. But that aside, there usually isn't the great imperative to get on and buy the thing now that the store would like you to think.

It's like those ads you see on TV which tell you that there's only ten minutes in which you can purchase a particular item. If you actually do ring up, you find there's a queue, and you hold on for fifteen minutes and find that the supposed ten minutes in which you were to buy the thing have gone, and yet, amazingly, the item is still well and truly available.

None of this has anything to do with percussion instruments. You're going to ask how I made that leap. Well, this is a postmodern blog, after all, and leaps which lack connection are commonplace here, as they should be. I've just been reading Terry Eagleton's How to Read Literature, and he informs us in there that postmodern writing is full of sudden shifts and disconnections. So accept that fact that I've made a sudden shift and disconnected, and you'll be all right again. You might have to go and get yourself a small sedative, but don't worry about that. You'll have noticed that now I've shifted from postmodernism to stream of consciousness anyway, and perhaps it's well and truly time to bring this post to a close.

If such a thing is possible in postmodern writing. Closure isn't what it's all about there. And how can there be an end to a stream of consciousness?

All too much for this time of the day, especially when you've been up since 5.30 am and busy ever since.

Still remembering after all these years

I've been talking a bit about memorising again in this blog, and have started to work my way back through the pieces - Scripture extracts and poems - that I've learnt over the years. After working over the last year on the huge Psalm 119 with its 176 verses (around about 360 lines; some verses have three lines as opposed to two) and its repetitions that vary marginally but can be confusing to keep in the right place, everything else seems a piece of cake.

It's been intriguing to come back to the pieces I'd memorised in the past - which I've revised more than a couple of times over the years - and find that they're mostly intact. I've now caught up with nine of them, and only one has proved hard to get back into. The others have mostly picked themselves up again during a half an hour's walk with the dog. Which has surprised me. I thought I might be starting almost from scratch, but in fact, the memory has kept hold of these lines over the years, parked them somewhere in the archives, went off and found them now that I need them again, and after a bit of dusting off and polishing, has brought them back into the main store.

As I say, only one has proved hard to get to grips with. Some of the lines were intact, but others took some real relearning. This was another Psalm, as it happens. Number 37, which, like Psalm 119, has quite a bit of repetition built into it. Furthermore, it doesn't flow logically from one thing to another. It's as if the writer decided he has a theme and he has to hammer it home, revolving around and around it until he's satisfied that he's covered all his bases. The fact that to the reader it seems like he's gone into a bit of overkill is another matter.

Another Psalm (139) came back much more easily, and there was a reason for this. Like 37, it has a focus and comes at it from all sorts of angles. But I'd first learned this psalm by adding a tune (of sorts) to it, and between the remembering of the tune and the revising of the words, it came back to me within the proverbial half-hour dog-walk.

All this is encouraging because I'm due to hit the big 70 next year (all things being equal, and God willing) and I'm heading into that time of life when things can go wrong with the body and the mind - if they haven't already. I could still get dementia/Alzheimer's (two blood relations, an aunt and an uncle, have had it) so I'm not assuming that doing all this memory work will necessarily stave off trouble with the brain. No one really knows, although we keep on saying that keeping the brain active and creative is supposed to help.

But apart from whatever might happen in the future, what this ability to remember stuff is saying is that the brain never stops enjoying working. The idea that our brains kind of go into old age mode after a while is a nonsense; it seems that they're much more likely to keep functioning even when the body is having problems if we encourage them. (By the way, I note that a recent movie is using the other piece of nonsense about us only ever using ten percent of our brains as its tagline. That bit of twaddle was discredited decades ago.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Do it properly!

You'll have all heard the acronym, LED, because it's everywhere these days, on TVs, tablets, you name it. But the acronym HID was unfamiliar to me, because I don't have much to do with cars in terms of doing anything more than driving them. I've never been someone who's accessorized his vehicle, so the car we have is the car we got. No frills have been attached. 

Anyway, HID stands for 'high-intensity discharge' in relation to lamps and headlights, and no doubt various other things that lighten up your particular world. Wikipedia tells me that these lights function by means of an electric arc between tungsten electrodes housed inside a translucent or transparent fused quartz or fused alumina arc tube. There you go. You're much wiser now. (I'm still having to check out what the various words mean that go to make up the explanation.)

The place many people will come across these lights are on cars - I suspect they're those ones that dazzle you as meet them face-to-face, or headlight-to-headlight, on the road. They're no doubt useful, but not when they're blinding the drivers of oncoming traffic. 

And it's wise, I understand, to use proper HID headlight instructions when you're installing them - if you're the sort of person who does this kind of at-home installation. (I've already told you I'm not.) The manufacturers are not liable for you putting them in backwards, sideways or any other way that isn't appropriate, or wiring up the wrongs bits of wire and setting your car on fire. So you've been warned. Do it properly, or else get a professional.

Today's bit of useful advice from me.