123

Sorry spreadsheet fans, but this will not be about Lotus 123 – a tool which played such a major role in my early working life.  I still remember those heady days of the mid 80s with an original (monochrome) IBM PC: loading MS-DOS from 5.25″ floppies before I could load 123 from another floppy disk and then finally start work.  There was more time for contemplation of the human condition in those days, while you waited for stuff to happen…

No, this post will be about my latest, waltz-based obsession (a mere couple of centuries after a similar craze swept through Europe) – so should should have been reading the title with the stress on the 1 (an effect I was unable to accomplish with WordPress).

Until recently, I don’t think I have ever believed I am possessed of any particular musical ability.  I have recognised that I can, through diligent application, achieve a basic level of competence and occasional even move beyond ‘banging the f**king notes’ to achieving something almost musical.  These rare moments of ‘flow’ – in the words of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (a name which, for some reason, I struggle to remember) – have been particularly precious as a result.  This is broadly the same view I have on my skill with other languages: I don’t have any particular gift in this area, but am willing to put in some effort to try to slightly subvert the all-too-accurate stereotype of the Anglophone abroad.

However, recently I have began to accept that I may have some musical ability.  I think this blog has already laid the groundwork for the fact that I am not tone deaf and that, despite my protestations, I do have some rudimentary sense of rhythm (though a forthcoming post on dance will place an upper bound on that particular skill!).  This week has been more of shock to my long-established self-image.

As previously noted, I had piano lessons for a period in the mid 90s and I have the belief that at my peak I was a weak Grade 4 practical pianist with little or no theory.  Given my rather desultory approach to practice in the couple of decades which have allegedly passed since the mid 90s (for my money, the jury is firmly out on that much time have elapsed) I assumed my ability would have deteriorated.  It was a bit of a surprise when my new piano teacher suggested that in his opinion I was playing somewhere around the Grade 6 level: even more of a surprise given that, while my playing in front of an audience has definitely improved, he has not seen anything like the best of my abilities in action.  He seemed insistent and so acquired, on my behalf, the ABRSM Grade 6 Piano Exam Pieces book for 2017 and 2018.  I believe, on one metric, this is the most expensive book I own at just over 80p per page – however, it is worth every penny!

ABRSM6

I could almost be looking in a mirror!

My current obsession is piece B:2 the Valse Lente by Oskar Merikanto: a Finn I had never heard of until Wednesday.  It is such a divine piece of music, that while we are only on day 3 of my time with it and it is Grade 6, my playing of it brings tears of joy to my eyes (which frankly disrupts my ability to sight-read).  My right foot even seems to (somehow) naturally make use of the pedal: without the usual panic and mental collapse that adding the use of my foot (to the two hands already committed to the musical project) traditionally engenders. Some of the chords are so heart-achingly beautiful and the way the music moves so glorious that I am constantly amazed that I am allowed to play it.  Sometimes life delivers experiences literally beyond one’s wildest dreams: though this may be more of an indictment on the quality of my dreams (or ability to later recall them) than anything to do with the quality of my performance.

Also in the same book, with which I have had a brief dalliance, when I could tear myself away from the Valse Lente, is Cruella De Vil (from the Disney version of 101 Dalmations) which has the wonderful instruction that it should be played “with swagger”.  Swagger is a little way off, but I’m convinced it lies within my grasp!

There also continues to be progress with the guitar.  I have had to acquire a new tutor, as my old teacher has fled to the Midlands to pursue his musical dreams – which are more extensive than just being spared my ham-fisted attempts on the guitar (or so I like to imagine!).  Whilst attempting a little finger-picking pattern yesterday, we discovered that I could actually inject a little swing into my performance!  (I think we should subtitle this post ‘swagger and swing’).  I even showed a little promise on the subject of knowing when to change chord when accompanying a melody.

I have found myself wondering about this mid-life musical flowering and what might be its cause.  Malcolm Gladwell had made a reasonable living from the idea that 10,000 hours of practice at a skill will deliver mastery: though I vaguely recall this derives from an original study of rather a modest number of Japanese viola players and so may not generalise quite as far as its penetration of the popular zeitgeist would suggest.  I am thinking of writing my own book about the importance of letting any skill lie fallow for a good couple of decades as the key to mastery.  The importance of benign neglect and procrastination I think is under-recognised in today’s always-on, instant-gratification society!

Being more serious, I think having two instruments on the go (three if we count the recorder) may help as insights gained on one feed into the other.  Acquiring a little musical theory has also been helpful as it has provided a framework into which new knowledge can fit.  But, I suspect the sheer amount of time I have spent at gigs across a huge range of genres watching, listening to and even talking with musicians may have provided the largest fillip to my musical abilities.

The way things are going, there is a growing risk that 2017 may see me compelled to play an instrument in public in front of an audience that are not actively engaged in teaching me at the time!  I think a paying audience remains a long way off, so I shan’t be giving up the day job just yet…

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Board hubris

Robert Browning places the phrase that “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp” into the mouth of the Italian Renaissance Painter Andrea del Sarto.  Today, I have twice attempted to follow this indirect imperative from Victorian poetry: my primary go-to (or go-sub) resource for advice!

I have for some time possessed a copy of Hanan’s The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises, a book I clearly acquired under false pretenses as I have never exceeded a rather poor Grade 4 standard at the piano.  As part of an attempt to reduce procrastination in at least a few areas of my life, I have decided I had better start making some progress or my death may pre-date my becoming a virtuouso pianist.

Hanon

Soon(ish) this will rightfully be mine!

Prior to today, I had never moved beyond exercise 2.  However, over the weekend I had played exercises 1 and 2 twice, back-to-back on both days.  I won’t say that my performance was entirely error-free, nor that the playing proceeded in line with any constant metronome mark (well, not unless some gravitational waves of unprecedented magnitude passed through my flat) .  It certainly wasn’t achieved without a fair degree of pain from my hands and forearms – but it was achieved!  So, bolstered with this modest degree of “success”, this morning I turned the page to exercise 3.  This starts by telling me that I should be aiming to play exercises 3 to 5 without a break – and not just once, but three or four times.  Each of the exercises contains basically the same number of notes, so this is three-fold increase in the physical endeavour required: I fear there is a whole world of pain to come!

Still, I am determined (at the moment) and a one-off attempt at exercise 3 wasn’t too tricky: so there is hope.  Virtuosity may be within my grasp before whatever replaces the telegram arrives from who (or what) ever replaces the Queen.

In a further attempt to move my piano playing up a level (or, at a minimum, reduce its rate of descent) I am also trying to spend less time watching my fingers and more time looking at the music.  This has the advantage that when something goes wrong I know where I am, the downside is that my fingers don’t always go where I intend.  However, on balance it has worked much better than expected: my fingers generally seem to know more about playing the piano than any higher level executive function available in my brain.

Buoyed by the vaguely success-related feelings arising from moving on with Hanon, I decided to tackle some new exercises on my guitar.  Workouts 1 to 4 were going alright, so I tried workout 5.  This went very well, and hubris may have got the better of me.  In my o’erweening arrogance, I turned to workout 6.  This requires each of my first three fingers (index, middle and ring) to reside on adjacent frets.  My little finger starts on the fret next to its ring brother, but is then expected to move another fret closer to the body of the guitar whilst all its friends remain where they were.  This is clearly physically impossible for any, except (perhaps) a few freaks of nature!  Or I would think that if I hadn’t seen a large number of apparently normal people doing it.  Given these sightings were at gigs, my sample may have been somewhat self-selecting but I think I am forced to conclude that this sort of stretch is possible for a baseline human: just not (current) me.   Somehow, I have to discover the secret to cutting the apron-strings that tie my little finger to my ring finger – Hanon is helping them act independently, but a different sort of independence seems to be needed for the fretboard of my guitar.

Should I be seeking some sort of finger yoga or Pilates for my left hand?  For not only do I have to move my little finger into position once, but I then have to allow my other fingers to join it and then cruelly leave it divorced from its fellows once more – and then repeat this process multiple times.  Once again, I see pain on the horizon – and before then a lot of experimentation with my phalanges to try and achieve the position even once and with the other hand (and possible some gaffer tape) helping!  Still I like to think that what I lack in other personality traits, I make up for in bloody-mindedness so I shall keep going.  How could I not?  Hanging out with young musicians I know just how profitable a career in music can be!

Without me

This post will enter dangerous new territory to consider a world without the author.  The whole ethos of this blog is structured around the centrality of the author to his own little world and the implicit assumption that this view is shared by a wider demographic.  The unexpected number (i.e. the fact it exceeds zero) of visitors to my digital domain has only worked to reinforce my opinion that my life, ramblings and bad jokes are far more important than could be justified by a more reasonable, objective measure.  The last post (not the Bb bugle call, but the post whose production directly preceded this one when viewed from the light-cone of the author) has proved alarmingly popular: though I would explain this by reference to its sharing be a young(er) person, rather than by ascribing any particular merit to it.

I cannot be alone, among those who have accepted that they are not (and would not wish to be) immortal, in wondering how the world (and indeed, the wider multi-verse) will muddle along without my presence.  I strongly suspect it will be fine (or at least largely unaffected for good or ill – fine might be overstating matters given recent current affairs) when the long awaited decree absolute in the divorce between me and my mortal coil is finally granted.  I have worked hard to ensure (OK, have wandered through life in such a way) that any ripples that I make in the pond of existence have minimal amplitude and soon dissipate.  The odd pub, cake shop and cultural venue may notice a brief dip in income but I like to imagine that they will survive my demise.  Though, frankly, once I’ve paid by obols to Charon and taken my terminal boat trip, you’re on your own folks!  My responsibilities (and insomnia) will be at an end!

Obviously, as part of my departure I shall be establishing a series of amusing (hopefully, flaming) hoops for those who wish to inherit my billions (currency to be confirmed) to jump through.  I fully intend for my will and funeral to be as far from plain vanilla as I can legally accomplish: is a tontine still possible?  I want them to be discussed for years to come as simultaneously a high and low watermark in the art of dying.  I want Hollywood to be fighting over the 18 certificate movie rights!  I want outrage in the Daily Mail and the Socialist Worker!  Actually, I’m making this sound rather good: I may have to fake my own death just to enjoy my funeral and the reading of my will.  I knew there was a good reason for moving closer to the sea!

You may wonder why GofdDM has suddenly taken a turn to the macabre or morbid. Others may, long ago, have decided that beneath the shallow veneer of self-obsessed whimsy it is darkness all the way down.  I couldn’t possibly comment on this theory, but am quite pleased that you might imagine that anything at all lies below intellectual shallows displayed in this forum.  However, there have been a couple of recent events which have made me realise that elements of my life continue without me.  Also, the previous post considered my position if a huge proportion of humanity were to be wiped out, so it only seemed fair to consider the position of the rest of humanity if it should (contrary to all natural justice) be that me that bites the bullet!

earth without me

The earth without me – spot the difference!

A much earlier post established that one of my nicknames appeared to by living an existence independent of me – and I like to imagine that this has continued.  However, this was merely a world 2 object (to mis-use the work of Karl Popper) and recent events relate to world 1 objects.

Of late, the National Blood Service has started to send me texts identifying where my blood goes after it has been donated.  To be honest, I’d prefer a postcard – but I will admit that their budget is probably better spend on their core business of blood collection and distribution.  When I say where it goes, they don’t send me the name, address and vital statistics of the recipient, merely the hospital where it was returned to a human host (or, depending on your point of view, first introduced to a human host).  Donation 92 went to Frimley Park – I place the rest of me has never visited – and donation 93 to Stafford (which I have visited but once).  It has been good to see that once it has left its fleshy prison (something which it seems increasingly keen to do given the rapidity with which my lie-down is overtaken by lemon squash and biscuits), my blood is getting out and about and exploring the country.  If only it retained some psychic link to its original home, I could deal with the challenge of too many gigs to attend and only one body to do the attending.  Equally, were it to be given to an EU national (something I would encourage, it would be nice to think a small part of me is living in Paris or Barcelona), could I reverse-inherit an EU passport?  Would any of the new host’s skills somehow rub off on me?  I fear I may have jumped the Lamarkian shark here and will stop before my scientific credentials are completed destroyed.

I am (tomorrow) going off to the Cambridge Folk Festival.  This will be my first, real multi-day festival which is likely to involve a field and mud: though I do feel a muddy field makes a more appropriate substrate for folk music than it does for grime or emo (to name but two).  Wish me luck, I may need it!  I am not camping, but staying in the relative luxury of student halls – and if it all gets too much for me, I can easily retreat into the city and its own cultural delights.  So, I like to think this is very much a halfway house to full festival-going and an approach commensurate with the dignity of a man of my advanced years (though clearly not to me, I have largely outlived both my dignity and my shame by this point.  They have very much played the same sacrificial role in my life that a painting did in that of Dorian Gray).

While I am away, my guitar will be gigging without me.  Interestingly, it has never gigged with me – though today I did use a capo for the first time (and my capo is very fine, a real capo di tutti capi) and learned to bend.  Nevertheless, I am far from ready to take to the stage – unless you wish to clear a venue – so I am leaving it the hands of a far more capable performer.  I feel that it is good for my instrument to get some proper gig experience in -well before its owner.  It’s probably best if we don’t both have first gig nerves at the same time – and I’m pretty sure I can internalise enough stress for the both of us.

So, even while I’m very much alive (or am I?) my possessions and even my very substance are already learning to live without me.  I suspect there is an important lesson here about our own unimportance – even in our own home and as its sole resident.  But I shall leave that for my readers to draw, I’m having fun here in the shallows!

Disobedient digits

I have heard, or perhaps read, that if you cannot see your feet and a third party touches one of your toes, you will struggle to correctly identify the toe being poked.  I think most people are fine with the big toe, but thereafter are only accurate to ±1 toe.

I can believe this of toes, they are a long way from the seat of power (especially for we taller folk) and are mostly imprisoned against their will in shoes or sneakers.  Rarely are they allowed to operate independently of their fellows.  Such small acts of rebellion against central authority are only to be expected.

Fingers, on the other hand (and indeed the first hand) are molly-coddled their whole lives.  Only being gaoled in gloves or mittens to protect them from being nipped at by Jack Frost.  They have been given individual names and roles and are often invited to star in their own right.  As an occasional, if very bad, pianist my fingers have been given a lot of responsibility.  Indeed, often when seated at the old joanna, they seem to know where to go even when management hasn’t got the foggiest idea and is in a state of panic while the notes seem to dance across the staves.  I’ll admit that the ring finger can be a little shy, and doesn’t like to go anywhere without at least one of its two companions for company but, in general, I thought I could trust my fingers to follow basic instructions.

However, my attempts to master the guitar have made all to clear the limitations on my control of my own hands, especially the left one.  Even when I am staring right at them, the fingers of left hand still fail to follow even basic instructions.  When moving from G to D, I want to pivot on my ring finger: it, alone among its colleagues must not move and yet more than half the time it wanders off across the neck on some unknown mission of its own.  When playing scales (oh yes, I am teacher’s pet), I want all my fingers to stay close to the strings and yet they wander off like children on a school trip: worse actually, as they do so even when directly supervised.

I am far from convinced that I possess free will, but am increasingly sure that my fingers do.

Still, despite this mutiny by my own phalanges, I am making slow progress with the guitar.  At a gig last Sunday, while watching Jonny Phillips play I could recognise several chords and even more standard chord shapes.  Some of these, given a decent run-up, I can actually play: though there can be quite a long wait between chords (and a fair few extraneous sounds produced): it would be as well to bring a book to any gig at which I’m performing.  I can even speak somewhat knowledgeably about inversions and root notes, having been shamed into re-reading The AB Guide to Music Theory Part I following my stumbling attempts to identify broken chords at a lesson.  I think my guitar teacher now finds my attempts to create new chords from first principles (one note and string at a time, while visualising a piano) somewhat amusing and I strongly suspect I am his only student obsessive enough to try this.

Later at the same gig, there came a distant ray of hope.  The frankly amazing Marty O’Reilly made reference to ten years of his youth (mis-)spent in a shed with his guitar, smoking pot (him, not the guitar) as the source of his condign mastery of the instrument.  I don’t have a shed and am not entirely sure psychoactive substances will be a help – let’s face it, I already fear that my fingers are out to get me – but I’m only two months in to the process, so there remains the very real possibility for improvement by some point in my sixties.  In the meantime I thoroughly recommend going to see Jonny and Marty – the latter came perilously close to bringing a tear to my eye (something which music almost never does) – and imagine that one day (probably roughly cotemporaneous with the heat death of the universe) I might sound like that!

Right Thoughts, Right Words, …

Fans of Franz Ferdinand, the populat beat combo rather than the assassinated Austrian Archduke, will know the ellipsis covers Right Action – the relevance of which may become somewhat less occluded as the text of this post unfurls.

I am now almost two months into my career as a guitarist.  OK, career may be over-playing my hand (and current level of mastery) so let’s just say “since I started learning to play” instead.  It is proving enormous fun and the fingers on my left hand are callousing up nicely and I seem to be growing use to the loss of feeling (or at least I seem to be dropping stuff less often).  Occasionally, brief snatches of something which might almost pass for music are emerging from my guitar: though these are soon smothered beneath a cacophany of notes (or approximations thereto) that even the most extreme proponents of atonal music would have rejected at an early stage of composition.  Maybe it is time to start the Third Vienna School – and, to the surprise of many, do it in Southampton.

As I slowly come to grips with my latest self-improvement project (it remains unclear who or what I may be improving myself for), I am discovering the very wide range of jargon that surrounds the guitar: jargon which seems to have been plundered, indiscriminately from many walks of life without any thought to an over-arching theme.

We might start with the size of the instrument.  Some guitars are dreadnoughts, but there is no battleship, cruiser or minesweeper.  No, as guitars grow smaller they are named after model railway gauges and so an OO and O make an appearance (though on the wron gorder, size-wise).  There is no N-gauge, but smaller guitars are named for the parlour in a nod to historic reception rooms.  Somewhere in this strange pantheon there also lies the jumbo and the OM (though how the stalwarts of La Ligue came to be associated with the instrument is anyone’s guess).

The fingers of the left hand are numbered, though for the guitarist the thumb doesn’t count, so the numbers are one smaller than for the pianist.  The finger of the right hand (where the thumb does count, but the little finger is discarded) are labelled using the first letter of the Spanish name for the digit in question.  And why not?

The parts of the instrument are also named in an eccentric manner, ripe for double-entendres (even without venturing into the sound hole).  The neck and body seem sensible enough, but the bridge holds the saddle and between the neck and head lies the nut.  For the avoidance of doubt, neither saddle nor nut look anything like any of the real world objects for which they might be named. The top string is, in normal (gravitional potential enery based) parlance at the bottom and vice versa: though this does make sense if one considers the pitch rather than position (or stands on one’s head).  The clearance of the strings over the fingerboard (which lies atop the neck) and frets is called “the action”.  My ancient instrument has a very high action.  This means that when attempting to hold the strings down near the nut (required for all my current playing), a prodigious amount of force is necessary: the whites of my knuckles have rarely been on such public display!  This has been wearing out my hand and shredding my finger tips: it has also rendered barre chords (where the index finger holds all the strings down at the same time) a distant dream.

To attempt to resolve this issue, and lower its action, I have undertaken surgery on my guitar – and in particular on its nut.  This was necessary as my guitar lacks an adjustable truss rod – the metal spine (or cervical portion thereof) that runs through the neck.  There were a number of possibilities for modifying the nut, but lacking a specialist set of nut files (yes these really do exist, and they are not cheap) I removed the nut all together and sanded a few millimetres of its substance from its bottom.  I can tell you that the unit is question was surprisingly soft and this took but a moment.  As you might imagine, given the ever-present nature of my inner child, I found this all terribly amusing.  The nut has now been reinstalled and the guitar is almost ready to go.  The only complication arising from the surgery was that the top string snapped at the bridge end (not, for the avoidance of doubt, in South Wales).  So, I now need to extend the surgery to cover re-stringing.  In theory this should be straightforward: I have mastered removal of the bridge pin but have not yet plucked (pun fully intended) up the courage to attempt the re-stringing as the instructions seem surprisingly complicated.  Maybe later today I shall screw my courage to the sticking place and see how it goes.

Having obtained the right action for my guitar, all I now need to deal with is the unexpected degree of previously unused flexibility required by my left hand and the fact that when playing my eyes need to simultaneously monitor the actions of my left and right hands and read the music.  Having only two eyes, that tend to track together, this is proving a challenge which is so far being resolved by memorising the music and moving my head from side-to-side as though watching a very small tennis match.  I’m hoping that better proprioception will come in time, as watching better guitarists they seem capable of playing while their hands go entirely unobserved.  Mine cannot, at this early stage, by trusted unsupervised: frankly, they seem to need to be micro-managed.  To be honest, I think something went very wrong at the recruitment stage – heads will roll in HR!

Determination

This blog may have given the impression that I am some vague sort of cove who just drifts through life like snow in a stiff breeze.  Yes, my attempts to empty a small storage unit may be close to reaching 3.5 years (though some progress has recently been made).  OK, I may have taken 6 months to fix my bookshelves to the wall to enable them to carry the books from the aforementioned storage unit without the risk of their owner being crushed beneath his library (though, what a way to go!).  I’ll admit it took more than 21 years to organise a guitar lesson.  However, occasionally my cup of motiviation is filled to overflowing with dedication and purpose.

This last week has seen two examples of my commitment to a project going well beyond the point of sanity or common sense.

The first relates to my guitar.  In an attempt to make up for the rather dilatory start to my life as a guitarist, I have been practising regularly.  If I’m at home, I normally manage to put in a few minutes of practise every day.  Only a very few minutes each time  (around five) as the fingertips on my left hand can only take so much punishment.  In an attempt to toughen them up, after Christmas I moved to practising twice a day: morning and afternoon.  This is having the desired effect and my fingertips are hardening and the dead skin is starting to peel as the necessary callouses form.

The upshot of this process was that at my guitar lesson last week, I was able to spend a much larger portion of the hour actually playing the instrument and much less time talking about it.  This was wonderful and there were very brief sonic glimpses of something Spanish or Latin American emerging from the instrument (though they are still swamped by the dross).  I even managed to produce an F successfully for the first time!  This may not sound like much, but my index finger has to hold down two strings (on the first fret) at the same time.  Previously the squidginess of my finger had rendered this impossible.  It’s always nice to make a break through while your teacher is watching. In fact, guitar-playing is becoming much less of a white-knuckle experience all round and I no longer give the impression that I am trying to throttle the life out of my guitar.

This may have led me to get a little carried away, so by the end of the lesson the tops of fingers 1, 2 and 3 were completely shredded.  My attempt to practise the following day had to be aborted very quickly and I needed another two days of rest (while I was over the Irish Sea) before I next braved the guitar: even typing on a laptop keyboard was somewhat of a challenge.  Still, today my fingers were up to a full session on the strings and producing an F is almost second nature.

My other main physical project is on the bar: an attempt to master the muscle-up.  Yesterday, I was attempting the tricky transition from being under the bar to being over it and pushing myself up.  This is starting to go really quite well and I can gain a lot more height over the bar with relative ease (still aided by a thickish rubber band), though synchronising the switch of hand position and the movement from pulling to pushing up is more tricky: but I did manage it a few times.  Again, my determination rather overwhelmed any sense and after twenty minutes or so attempting the maneouvre I noticed my right hand seemed a little damp.  On closer examination I discovered it was bleeding (from an unknown source) and it had a sizeable blood blister where my little finger joins onto the hand.  My left hand had another two blood blisters: also where the fingers join onto the palm.  The left hand blisters are already mostly healed, but the right hand one is still pretty impressive looking and rather painful.  It would seem my life of desk-jockey, clean-fingernailed ease has not prepared my hands for this sort of high-pressured, frictional punishment.  Still, no can doubt that I am committed to this project.

I think the problem in both cases is that (a) I don’t like to be defeated (or so it would seem) and (b) it feels so good when the thing actually works.  I also suspect my brain is quite good at ignoring pain signals from the rest of my body when I’m concentrating and it’s only when I stop (or am forced to) that it deigns to notice the damage inflicted.

Actually, this isn’t the first time I’ve found myself to be bleeding recently.  Not even the second – which was a couple of weeks back when I mounted the bike rather ineptly and scraped my leg on the rear mud-guard.  I thought nothing of it at the time and cycled off to my appointment.  On arrival, I was asked if I knew my leg was covered in blood: to which my answer was, “No”.  A few weeks earlier, I had just given blood (deliberately) and was tucking into my celebratory lemon squash and chocoloate biscuit (or several) when I noticed my arm was wet.  My first thought was that there must be a drip from the ceiling, but after a while I moved my attention away from my book and macaroon and noticed that I was coagulating rather slower than normal and that my arm and (white) top were covered in blood (mine).  This was quickly rectified by the NBT staff, to be honest I think the flow has staunched itself, but it did make me wonder if, were I suitably distracted, I could bleed-out without noticing.  After three such incidents now, I am beginning to suspect that the answer is “Yes”.

So, if you spot the author out-and-about and notice he is bleeding, please let him know as he probably won’t have noticed.

The race is not to the swift

The alternative title (or one of them) was uncomfortably numb.  Isn’t that always the case? The tricky choice between Ecclesiastes and Pink Floyd.

I like to think I am leading the tortoise to become over-confident and fall into the same trap that befell the hare.  Others might say that I have turned procrastination into a lifestyle.  Nevertheless, I do (usually) get there eventually.

For example, in a post from the archive (Lucky Numbers for any completists) I mentioned having seen a young pianist called Julien Cohen and suggested I would pay to hear him play.  Well, back in October I made good on this threat!  He was once again playing in Cambridge and I snuck away from the world of work for a brief interlude to hear him perform at West Road.  My faith in the chap was amply rewarded and while I was in Cambridge I also managed to take in a chunk of the Film Festival.  Paying one’s blog-based pseudo-debts seems to lead to good things (although I’ll admit I’m extrapolating from an anecdotal sample of one, which is not good form).

Equally in this blog I have made pie-crust promises to make greater use of my car and cease its long-running neglect.  On this front I did rather less well, so earlier in the year I passed the car on to a better home where it receives regular exercise.  No longer does it languish a kilometre away with its battery slowly draining, but is now kept within easy spitting distance of its owner’s home (though I trust she is not spitting at it).  I realise this does sound rather like the stories people tell children that a much loved pet has “gone to live on a farm”, but this really did happen – I am not just trying to spare your feelings.

However, the longest running unfinished business in my life (if we ignore the whole lack of a partner or offspring thing) was the guitar.  I was bought an acoustic guitar by a grateful team back in 1995: I think they were pleased to have worked with me rather than that this would imminently no longer be the case (and I’d like to keep that illusion, if you don’t mind).  The guitar is now old enough to be served liquor in any bar in the US of A and so it was becoming embarrassing that I still couldn’t play it.  I decided to do something about it and leapt into action.

Time passed…

More time passed…

And then, after a period of mere months (shorter than calendar months), this very morn I had my first guitar lesson!  OK, not technically my first, Mr Owen (my then English teacher) did provide some tuition back in the late 1970s, before he “went to Gravesend” (not a euphemism).  However, I think we can safely assume that any knowledge imparted at that time has been well and truly lost beyond any hope of recall (though I am willing to munch my way through a madeleine, or several, if people think it would help).

I gave my guitar teacher a somewhat vague brief of some long term goals from my tuition: basically Jake Thackeray, Bach harpsichord transcriptions or Latin American classical guitar.  Neverthless he was not put-off and so I spent the latter part of this morning learning the basic chords and finger picking for Lah-di-Dah.  I am also having to come to grips with tablature which I’m pretty sure did not trouble my pre-teen head back in the seventies.  Still, I think an auspicious start was made: I may even have the merest morsel of natural talent.

The primary takeaway from this morning’s lesson, though, was that the finger tips on my left hand now exist in a weird superposition (I’m assuming classical rather than quantum) of numbness and exquisite pain.  They are going to have toughen up in the coming days if I am to fit in some practise before my next lesson and practoce is needed.  The next lesson has been booked a mere handful of days hence: self-discipline is all well and good but it does work better with a looming external examination.

Surely, tt can only be a matter of time – and mastery of the Yorkshire accent – before I can start my new career as Southampton’s premier Jake Thackeray tribute act.  I’m assuming “Fake Thackeray” has already been taken so I shall spend some of the time while I wait for feeling to return to my distal phalanges coming up with a name for the act.

On again! On again!