Appliance of the week

Readers should be aware that this feature may not be delivered weekly (though weakly is always a strong possibility) and may never be seen again.

The GofaDM regular with time on their hands and a fully functioning hippocampus/amygdala combo will recall my horror at discovering the “artisan kettle”.  I have subsequently discovered that this abomination has been joined by an artisan toaster.  This latter would only be acceptable were it an actual artisan (preferably clothed in some sort of livery) wielding a tined implement and with ready access to fire (for the avoidance of doubt, this was not the case).

Worse has since followed.  I have now discovered a wifi kettle (no that is not a typo, this kettle can access the web).  Why would a kettle need access to the internet?  Why would you need to command or interrogate a water-boiling device from your smartphone?  I’ll admit my atelier is quite modest in size so that I can physically touch my kettle within 15 seconds of the desire arising – but even if I lived in a 400 bedroom mansion, how much would I gain by discovering that a distant kettle was empty?  Or if not empty, how much time would I save by commanding it to start boiling now – so that its contents will be ready (or already be cooling) by the time I arrive?  Perhaps it is to check up on the servants – you can confirm that they are making excessive use of the kettle (and so must be skiving) and dock their wages appropriately?  Truly, society has jumped the shark.

I suppose this is just the beginning of the “internet of things”, where your fridge can re-order stuff you don’t want or need (but had finally managed to use up).  Actually, I can see some benefit to an “intelligent” fridge: it could warn you about items that you have forgotten which languish at the back of a shelf or in the bottom of the crisper, or when you are at the supermarket you could query whether the flat leaf parsley is still viable or has already passed to the great Herb Garden in the sky.  Sadly, nothing I have read suggests that such a useful, web-enabled fridge is on the horizon.

Whilst talking about appliances, I feel I should also comment on the hand-dryer – that mainstay of hack, observational comedy.  These now seem to fall into two broad types: those with airflow like a cold-blooded asthmatic in the last stages of fatal emphysema and those which hurl air with such force that your hands look like they are pulling about 9g (or 9G, if you prefer) and which are great at moving water from your hands onto your clothing (something I can do without the aid of an appliance).  However, it is the brand names that amuse me.  In recent weeks I have used an Excel Dryer – perfect for those with a wet spreadsheet, but would I need a Powerpoint Dryer for an overly moist presentation? – and a World Dryer which was massively overselling its drying capabilities, frankly it struggled with my hands (which whilst large-ish, are still dwarfed by the world).  I await my first sight of a Danny Dryer with keen anticipation!

Snow day…

like show day.  Like snow day I know?

Today I awoke to see snow from my bedroom window and while I downed my breakfast porridge the skies poured forth their white, flaky bounty with some vigour.  “So what?”, I imagine those of you living at higher altitudes or latitudes shouting at your screens.  Well, I’ve been in Southampton for 18 months now and this is the first time I have seen snow – so my inner 8 year old was quite excited.  If I’m honest, it was pretty weak snow – only a few millimetres worth and it was more air than snow, a sort of snow mousse – but the weather has to be given some credit for trying.  It struggled to lay, though away from tarmac-covered surfaces it had a go – but by early afternoon it was all gone.  I feel that there is a metaphor for life somewhere in that last sentence, but I shall leave its extraction as an exercise for the reader.

The snow was accompanied by quite chilly conditions (for the jewel of the Solent that is, but obviously very toasty compared to 99+% of the universe).  It struck me that if these conditions continue much longer I may have to turn on the heating and eschew the shorts as I cycle to the gym – but not today, my legs once again did their best to make a little vitamin D in the weak winter sunlight.  In lieu of heating, I am currently cooking a raw (golden) beetroot – quite a slow and energy expensive process.  Perhaps foolishly, after cooking I shall allow it to cool (like a sort of vegetable storage heater) and then use it in a salad: nothing says salad like sub-zero temperatures and a mini-blizzard!

Lest readers are left with an image of the author as some sort of hard-as-nails, macho stereotype I can reveal that my other main task today has been sewing missing buttons back onto some shirts.  I wouldn’t want to suggest I’m about to take the world of tapestry by storm, but I am a somewhat competent seamstress (seamster?) in this very limited area.  I may not be quick or elegant, but buttons I have reattached tend to stay attached.  Oh yes ladies (and/or gents), I’m the complete package!

What would Emma do?

As you will discover, in due course, this sentence will be the only reference to the work of Jane Austen – so put Ms Woodhouse from your mind.

Back in January, I spent a long weekend in Cambridge – which does not indicate that it was dull, far from it!  Over this weekend, the teaching of music became a major theme which this post will probably explore (or that is the plan at this early stage).

The theme started with a viewing of the film Whiplash, in which the music tuition is very fierce indeed.  By comparison with the trainee drummer portrayed, my commitment to anything in life would scarcely even be considered half-hearted – despite what I may have thought was serious application on my part.  I have also been spared any teacher even remotely so psychotic – which may perhaps explain my dilettantism, but for which I am suitably grateful,  I’m sure real drummers and jazz aficionados will find much to criticise in the film and others will object to the lack of female characters and rather limited characterisation, but the film is very powerful and gripping and I’d recommend it despite its (no doubt) numerous shortcomings.

At the end of the weekend, I saw Murray Perahia giving a masterclass with the Doric String Quartet.  In contrast with Angela Hewitt last year, Murray is not a natural teacher and much went completely over my head – but there were still some nuggets of interest which I might try and use in my own musical life.

In between these lessons for others, I tried to fit in a singing lesson for myself.  The observant reader may object that this coincided with the time of “the cough” and they would be right – however, the cough seemed to be somewhat in abeyance so I thought it was worth a try.  My voice was not at its best and the cough not as quiescent as hoped.  Under such circumstances finding pitch is quite a challenge as notes tend to be produced much lower down the octave than expected, my breath control (poor at the best of times) was completely shot and even having found a note I had great difficulty maintaining it.  Notes towards the top of my range were particularly problematic.  My performance was not unlike a teenager’s, with the pitch breaking up and down uncontrollably (so my voice, mental age and self-image were in alignment for once).  To help me obtain the best from my damaged voice, my teacher referred me to the advice of Emma Kirkby – famous soprano – as to how to manage under these circumstances.  It seems natural (to me at least) to be somewhat tentative when singing with a cough (or similar), but this makes things worse.  By maintaining good airflow over the old vocal chords, I found that production of the desired note stabilised and my voice sounded pretty good – though I did then run out of air much too soon.  Now, I had been told this many times before, but this was the first time I actually “learned” the lesson – it was instantly obvious the difference that having proper airflow made to my singing.  Today, was the first time I had tried singing since and, old dogs being hard of learning when it comes to new tricks, I started off somewhat tentatively – this is also partly to avoid frightening the neighbours or any nearby cetaceans (well I am a bass living near the coast).  This did not go so well, so I remembered Emma’s advice and went for it (airflow-wise) and my voice worked very nicely thank you.

All I need to do now is sort out my breathing – a skill which, despite having almost reached 49 (not out), still rather eludes me on an all too frequent basis.  That same weekend in Cambridge, the soprano soloist at the Deutsches Requiem was (a) very close to me and (b) wearing a dress that was tight around the lower trunk which made it very clear that she was breathing from the diaphragm (or even below) – rather than (as I do) noisily snatching breaths from the area of the pecs.  My lower trunk is rather too rigid – which is great for the gentleman gymnast and the six-pack, but not so good for proper breathing.  Somehow I need to learn to relax “down there” – something I do automatically when laughing, but can’t do on command.  If only there were more (or indeed any) middle-aged singer-gymnasts I could turn to for advice or inspiration…  Now, what would Emma do?

Bouncing back

After the traumatic events of last Tuesday, and your author coming worryingly close to taking a short river trip with a chap called Karen (or is it Sharon?), I feel sure that many a votive candle has been lit by worried GofaDM readers.  Well, let me put your fears to rest my lovelies – following Tuesday’s wake-up call, my immune system seems to have finally stirred itself from its slumbers and put up a more spirited defence of my health.

From that very Tuesday night, I managed to start obtaining a decent night’s sleep – and last night I even did so without resort to a night nurse (a shot of the lurid green fluid, rather than the ministrations of an SRN).  The cough also seems to be on its way out (at last) and so yestere’en, for the first time since the “incident”, I reintroduced my mouth to some cox and manage to enjoy that sweet, white flesh without choking.  Yay!

My return towards rude, good health also means that I am no longer feeling sneezy, grumpy or sleepy (to continue the conceit of myself as the Snow White de nos jours)  – or no more so than usual.  My prince (charming or otherwise) remains maddeningly absent and I am starting to wonder if the Brothers Grimm are a less reliable source than hoped.  It seems that I may have to continue with gainful employment, rather than living off a minor share of the Civil List riches.

Oddly, during the height of my illness, this blog seems to have become unexpectedly popular in Germany.  I’m not sure if this helps to reinforce or to refute the stereotype held in these Isles that Germans are deficient in respect of their sense of humour.  In my own experience, this stereotype tends to be put about by the Germans themselves, but whilst they seem quite convincing at first they aren’t able to maintain the facade for long if exposed to a determined interlocutor.  Or perhaps I just tend to wear people down?