Momma didn’t raise no fool

Despite the title, this will be about the author – though, as will become clear, any lack of foolishness only applies to a very limited arena.

When I was a wee lad, of only some 5 or 6 summers, my parents sent me to have piano lessons with one Mrs Heath – who at the time seemed an unbelievably elderly crone and I now hope was not in her forties (I’m fairly sure she was actually old).  This did not take and I swiftly gave up the piano for many years.

In the mid 1990s, I returned to the piano having watched the film Groundhog Day and been inspired by Bill Murray’s fictional progress with the instrument.  I took regular lessons and even practiced between them on somewhat regular basis.  I have some reason to believe that I reached the dizzy heights of a poor Grade 4 (without any theory) at this time.  However, I then moved and a 200+ mile commute for piano lessons seemed impractical.  It was clearly time to find a new piano teacher!

At this stage, some time passed.  A mere two decades or so seem to have elapsed.  In this hiatus between teachers, I will admit that my application to regular practice has been less than exemplary and I would have to further own that my skills have at best stagnated – and, if I’m honest, deteriorated.   However, I think even my harshest critic would struggle to claim that, like a fool, I had rushed into selecting a new master to take me as his disciple.

As those unfortunate enough to have befriended me on Facebook – or, worse, had my friendship thrust upon them – will know, this past Tuesday I finally had my first piano lesson of the bright new/only mildly tarnished millennium. Many lessons were learned!  Some of which I will share with you gentle readers…

To avoid annoying the neighbours (and more publicly embarrassing myself) with the relative poor and repetitive nature of my piano practice, I have for many years listened to my piano playing only through headphones.  The instrument sounds rather different when its vibrations are allowed to interact with a whole room before hitting my ears.  I say this not to excuse my performance, merely as an interesting side note.

It has also been many years since I have had an audience for my piano playing.  It would appear that, much like events in the quantum domain, my piano playing is affected by the presence of an observer.  Were I to know the precise location of any finger, I would have absolutely no idea as to which note it should have been playing and vice versa: curse you Heisenberg!  There was also a small issue of my left-hand, in particular, coming down with a nasty case of the hippy hippy shake – to the extent that my teacher inquired whether this was a pre-existing condition.  Luckily, that evening I bumped into a friend who is also learning the piano later in life and who suffers from exactly the same symptoms – in her case, her teacher thought she had Parkinson’s – so I am not alone.  I do not have this problem with the guitar – perhaps because from the start I have played it to a small audience (my guitar teacher) – so I have some hope that I can recover from this nasty attack of shy competence.

Despite the prolonged car crash – as I perceived it – that characterised my performance during my first lesson, my teacher was surprisingly positive about my skills.  I think at one stage he accused me of demonstrating some musicality – or at the very least following the marked phrasing and dynamics.  This may, of course, by a cunning teacher’s trick to boost a pupil’s self-worth and if so, it has worked like a charm.

It was, frankly, amazing how much I learned in the course of this first 21st century lesson.  A lot of bad, or at best marginal behaviour, can become ingrained over two decades.  As can a worrying degree of blindness: I discovered the importance of the note D to a piece I have been playing – on and off – for 22 years.  Suddenly, the chords make so much more sense – rather than just being random jumps of the left-hand across the keyboard.  In recent blog-related news Hanon is out!  My route to the world of the virtuous pianist will not involve his sixty exercises – yay!  In their place come interesting new scale-based exercise that my fingers are itching to get to grips with (gratification has been delayed by travelling for work and the absence of a practice piano for guests at the Premier Inn).  I even have a couple of pieces to prepare for my next lesson: an actual, externally-set objective!  In bad news for my neighbours, I have decided to start practicing without headphones.  I feel this ups the ante for my concentration and may help with the audience issue: summary eviction will be small price to pay!

So, let’s raise a toast to old dogs revisiting old tricks and then (whisper it quietly) learning new ones!

Red Letter Day

Today, for the author at least, is a Red Letter Day.  Some might think tomorrow would have been more appropriate, after all that is the day that local jazz fusion band Red Letter release their first single, but I am only willing to go so far to make my life (and this blog) fit neatly into some broader narrative.

I moved to my current, modestly proportioned (OK, let’s be honest and say small) flat in Southampton a little over 3.5 years ago.  At that time, I hired a storage unit for 8 weeks to facilitate the donwisizing process of the move from a reasonably-sized two bedroom house with loft and garden.  Today, a mere 160 weeks later I have finally emptied that same storage unit.

This is not a great advertisement for my project management skills, having overrun the time budget by a factor of 20 and the financial budget by an even larger multiplier.  I believe that the costs of storing my junk exceeded its value many months ago – and given that I have needed to access almost none of it in 42+ months, I clearly had little (or no) need for most of it.

A serious attempt to empty the unit started last year, and I was making good progress – or that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  However, then came injury to my right foot and “the limp” and progress came to a halt as the process of transferring the unit’s contents to pastures new was wholly reliant on my ability to carry it (on foot) to its new home.  You will probably be entirely uninterested to know (given that no-one has asked) that whilst not fully restored, my right foot is much better and it can now perform most of its historic roles without bringing pain to its owner.

Given the last couple of weeks have been relatively dry (bar the occasional shower of sleet), I have been slowly emptying out room 3535 (the site of my secret shame).  A small proportion of its contents have been allowed into the flat, rather more have gone to the charity shop and the balance are on their way to landfill or recycling.  Given Southampton’s less than stellar recycling performance, I fear much of the rubbish will be making a small contribution to a new range of hills for Hampshire.  Still, in the dystopian future, which can only be months away now, landfill sites will provide valuable resources for the few, remaining humans as they scavenge a meagre existince from the ruined land.  Some local strong man (or woman or LGBTQA-equivalent) will be able to provide for their people from my once expensively-housed discards.

Just before noon today, the last items left storage and I signed out of the storage facility for the last time.  What a liberating experience!  The storage monkey is finally off my back!  I will be £146.16 per month better off from now on (I had to fact-check this sentence and was horrified to discover just how much the storage has been costing me, even more than I thought!).

Let this be a lesson to you all of the terrible cost of procrastination and the dangers of leaving your problems out of sight (if a mere 5 minutes walk away).  My life will in future operate on a strict one-in-one-out policy when it comes to possessions (though I will probably operate a batch process to minimise the admin).  Actually, it will need to be slightly more sophisticated than a mere count  (a duke?), the volume of the one(s) coming in and the one(s) going out will need to be balanced.  I must never again by tempted by the convenience of a loft, or worse yet garage or other outhouse.

I think that I will implement a new plan that by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil, my remains – including all my worldly goods – should fit into the one box of a little more than 6 feet in length.  In that way, those that come after me will not have a huge disposal task, but can instead treat all my junk as slightly exotic grave goods and inhume them with the rotting physical shell of their owner.  I recognise that there could be some timing issues with this plan, but I’ve spent much of my working life predicting the future which means I am quietly confident about estimating my own best before date (yes, I am aware that it could be behind me).

Creeps in this petty pace

Procrastination is, as is widely known, the thief of time.  Somehow, despite this fact, it remains at large to commit new and blatant acts of temporal larceny: I must admit I am beginning to suspect some degree of corruption at the heart of the authorities charged with its apprehension, I suspect they have been bribed with stolen hours.

The word comes to us from Latin – suggesting the thief has been operating for millenia – and their word for tomorrow.  However, it comes to my mind as a result of the many delays to work commencing on my latest essay for the Open University.  This, which is to cover ideas about the transmission of medical knowledge from the Islamic world to Europe, was supposed to have appeared in its dreadful first draft form the weekend before last, but did not.  I would claim that this was not the result of procrastination but because the day job consumed much of my time and mental resource.  Under interrogation, I would also have to admit that the Cambridge Comedy and Summer Musical Festivals (and my attendance thereat) were also involved.  I somehow allowed that week to slip through my fingers in broadly the same way, but by the Friday night I was all out of excuses and planned to set to work.  Somehow nothing happened once more.  Why you ask?  Let’s just say Danny Boyle has a lot to answer for! (I toyed with “for which to answer”, but that seemed a little stilted, even for GofaDM).

From previous posts, you may have detected my slight lack of enthusiasm for all things Olympic – but I felt some sort of duty to at least glance at the Opening Ceremony as it had garnered so much coverage in the media (so much, that even I had been unable to avoid it).  OMG! As I believe the young people say, which I believe celebrated the British synth-pop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Gloaming (who later, of course, found fame as OMD).  What an incredible piece of theatre – though one can only wonder what the rest of the world might have made if it, as it was really rather British (perhaps there were handouts for foreign broadcasters).  I was hooked – and my essay remained unwritten – until well after my normal bedtime.  I even stuck around to watch quite a lot of the athletes parading round the stadium – how nice to see so many people smiling – and was particularly impressed by the Czechs in their very natty wellies and matching brollies, they at least had noticed the rather moist weather we’ve been enjoying (and which does seem to have returned).  Apparently, the ceremony cost £27 million and peaked at 27 million viewers in the UK – and I, for one, do not begrudge them my pound.  One of the best quid I’ve ever spent!

Last Sunday, tomorrow (and tomorrow and tomorrow) finally arrived and my excuses were at an  end, so I was forced to knuckle-down and generate a first draft of the essay (you see, it was pro-crastination, not am-crastination).  For some reason, this has proved by far the most difficult essay to draft: it took all day to place my ideas and arguments into some sort of vaguely logical and coherent order.  Once the back was broken, this Friday I managed to hack it into better shape and rein in my verbosity comply with the word limit, though, as usual, consuming almost all of the permitted +10%.  Oh yes, when writing essays I quite literally give it 110%!  Yesterday, it was finally submitted and a great weight was lifted – some of it is even quite well written (I think, or at least hope), though it is somewhat turgid elsewhere I fear.

By yesterday afternoon I was feeling quite good about myself and then WordPress notified me of a new post from James Devine, the man who I now think of as my nemesis.  While I was pfaffing around and writing one essay, he managed to build a muon detector.  I am going to have to up my game quite substantially if I’m planning to compete.

Perhaps appropriately for a post about procrastination, this entry in the GofaDM canon was mostly drafted a week ago.   I seem to have been temporizing to an extraordinary degree since then – though I might blame the need to write for both work and the OU for having exhausted my writing muscles.  Still, pleasing to have the link back to Macbeth (the last time I studied the Arts) and particularly appropriate as this same soliloquy brings us the wonderful words “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing”: which could stand as the mission statement for GofaDM.