Thursday 28 August 2008

Note to Self

When listening to MP3 player at work, do not dance along to The Divine Comedy's National Express. It is so not flattering, particularly since nobody else can hear it.

- Pam (super dork)

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Accessibility versus Dumbing Down

Last night, we attended another Proms Concert, this one a celebration of the life of Vaughan Williams on the 50th anniversary of his death. (A really good concert, BTW. Listen if you get the chance.) During the second interval, I had a chat with a friend who works in one of the Orchestra Departments at the BBC. To protect her identity, I'll call her "Scully".

Scully said that one of the biggest concerns within her part of the BBC is that classical music is considered elitist. The implied assumption is that only rich people listen to classical music and, therefore, the money would be better spent on something that is popular "down in da 'hood". So the orchestras have to fight for their existence.

All the way home, I steamed in indignation. I'm still having problems putting my indignation into words. I think it boils down to this: this country is still class ridden, with the biggest snobs being those who make assumptions about others likes and tastes based on class. Consider the rubbish that was written about James Blunt when he first appeared on the music scene; the press were suprised that someone of his background (Harrow School, Sandhurst, the Guards) would be into pop music (the implication being that "posh people" don't do pop music. Absolute tosh!).

I think I've mentioned before that I passionately resent people making assumptions about me. Australia is basically classless - if its society is stratified, then it's Middle Class vs Rich, and the only differences are where you live, what you drive and how much money you take home. In British terms, the suburb I grew up in and the local high school (where I first learned the flute) are probably working class. Nobody had a lot of money but it didn't matter - we weren't limited by our "class". My dad worked in a factory; the first time I went to the theatre, it was organised by their social club (Oklahoma, I think, at Her Majesty's Theatre).

If the BBC snobs have their way and cut the orchestras, then it's people like me who will suffer. I got into classical music because I was exposed to it at school. As a result, I learned the flute and sang in the choir. Our education district ran an annual music camp, filled with kids from Springvale, Frankston, Dandenong and Doveton - not wealthy suburbs by any means. I think I was 17 before I went to my first "professional" classical concert, with paid musicians, and where I wasn't involved somehow in the music making.

One of the best things the BBC does RIGHT NOW is to make classical music accessible to everyone. You just have to turn on the radio or the TV (NB: about half the Proms are televised on either BBC2 or BBC4). The BBC orchestras spend a lot of time and money on out-reach programs. They support the Proms, where the cheapest tickets are £6 and all children get in for half price. There are special "Family Proms" events where everyone gets a chance to make music and meet the orchestra. I'm not sure what else the orchestras can do.

To me, the real question is this: when real music lessons aren't available at school, how do you recruit the next generation of listeners/musicians? (The very basic music syllabus for the National Curriculum doesn't include learning how to read music.) Also, how do you break down the snobbery that assumes that to play classical music means you have to be called Tristram, own half of Surrey and dislike pop music?

If I was God for the day, I'd change the school syllabus but until that happens, we need a different solution. I puzzled over this for several hours. Classical music has to be made "normal", in a country where the focus for the last thirty years has been dumbing things down. If the snobs at the BBC had their way, they'd have the orchestral musicians playing "garage" to kids when they tour schools instead of Vaughan Williams.

Finally, I came up with a solution for the BBC. Insert some classical musicians into their working-class, soap opera, Eastenders. Portray the musicians as real people, practising their instruments and drinking in the Old Vic. Have them lug a cello through the street market on their way to work, playing for a professional orchestra. Give them a mockney accent like the rest of the cast. Have the drinkers at the Old Vic go along to a concert to support their mate (and don't turn it into a stupid comedy moment). Make classical music normal in the East End.

What do you think?

- Pam (out of time but not out of words)

Final Olympic Report

So how did you all do?

Me? I ended up invalided out. I pulled a muscle in my back and spent the weekend in considerable pain. It was only a little niggle last Wednesday, after I attempted a particularly poor Pilates DVD, somewhere below the tip of the right shoulder blade. The aerobics I did on Friday aggravated it and by Saturday morning, I had pains all across my right flank (sort of where the oblique muscles are). DH covered me in ibuprofen gel but I really only got relief after I remembered the heat-packs my sister gave me one birthday.

Still, I think I deserve a bronze medal for all that.

- Pam

Monday 25 August 2008

The unlucky sock

Remember the sock that I had to frog because it would fit an elephant instead of DH? Well, I've had more traumas with it. I was 2/3 of the way up the toe on Saturday when I noticed a hole about two inches below. Couldn't figure out how it was formed. For a few minutes, I debated whether to just run a thread around it/through it but it fell right where the edge of DH's foot would meet his shoe and would probably rub.

Reluctantly, carefully, I frogged it back, counting the rows below the toe decreases so that I could accurately return the sock to the same length. The hole was caused by an accidental yarn over, right where I'd moved from one dpn to the next. (To prevent a ladder, I always knit through the back of the loop in the first stitch, yarn over the needle instead of under, which makes a tight stitch that faces the right way. Somehow, I'd brought the yarn from the wrong side.)

I picked up the stitches and knitted frantically through yesterday's Olympic's closing ceremony. Since we had a Prom Concert last night, I was determined to have a new sock on my needles rather than run out of sock half way through the concert. At about 8pm (the concert was at 10), I grafted the toe. Big sigh of relief. "Great," I thought, "I'll just roll up a new skein of yarn and I'll be ready for tonight".

For some reason, at that point I compared the sock to it's pair. Yes, they were the same length and width. Good. But what was this? Uh, oh. Something didn't look right. In denial, I held them both up to show DH. Somehow, I'd managed to knit the toe sideways!

Thank God I hadn't woven in the end!

- Pam (frogged it back again, this morning. Third time lucky?)

Sunday 24 August 2008


It occurs to me that I haven't talked much about this year's Prom Concerts. We aren't going to as many as last year and have managed to miss two of the ones we were to attend, thanks to MIL's ulcer (all healed up now) and being far to knackered to drive into London for a 10pm concert (we listened to it instead on the radio).

Still, there are a few moments that have been blog-worthy, particularly the time when the man next to me asked if I always knitted at the Proms. "Yes," I said, wary that I might be about to get bollocked. "I saw you at the last concert we attended. We sat behind you. Did you enjoy the ...[insert forgotten composition here]...?". He then asked me about my sock, commenting "It isn't much bigger than last week!". OMG - I'm turning into one of the features of the Proms, the Knitting Lady!

Then there was the "Dead Cat" Prom, on Sunday 10th August. The program included two World Premiers:-
  • Sibelius Night Ride and Sunrise
  • Michael Berkeley Slow Dawn (World premier of this version)
  • Stuart MacRae Gaudete (BBC commission and world premier)
  • Elgar Enigma Variations (30 mins)
The Sibelius and the Berkeley were OK, not particularly memorable but not horrendous either. And the Elgar was a relief! ("Please Sir, play the Nimrod again!")

MacRae's Gaudete was music to slit your wrist by. There's no polite way to describe it. The soprano soloist sounded like a wounded cat mourning her lost territory. I can't blame the musicians - technically, it was a difficult piece and they acquitted themselves well. I'm not even sure I can blame the composer; his task was to take Ted Hughes' horribly depressing book of poems about death and turn it into classical music. Check out MacRae's programme notes.

Thank God for the Elgar. Helen had brought along her ?9-year old niece. If the concert had finished with Gaudete, the poor kid would have been left with nightmares.

The other memorable Prom was this Friday night's:-
  • Mahler Symphony No.5
  • Stockhausen Punkte (1952/1962/1993)
  • Schubert Ständchen, D921 orch. David Matthews
  • Bei dir allein, D866/2 orch. Manfred Trojahn
  • Nacht und Träume, D827 orch. Colin Matthews
  • Das Lied im Grünen, D917 orch. Detlev Glanert
  • Beethoven Overture 'Leonore' No.3
If you get the chance, do listen* to the Mahler! I know it's 74 minutes long, but it was beautiful. And it's not a minute too long - you are left wanting more. Mahler would have made a good film composer. There is a funny story about the fourth movement: in the fifties, it was used as the theme for a movie. One of the studio execs was so impressed, he ordered the producer to use "that Mahler guy" again!

The Stockhausen, on the other hand... Skip it. It is 27 minutes of discord, based on his theory of pointillism. I can't fault the musicians - it is a very difficult piece to play and, as far as I can tell, they did a good job. But it is a discordant mess without any themes on which to hang your musical hat.

To me, the Stockhausen is an example of what went wrong with 20th Century music. Somewhere in the middle of century, composers (and critics) turned their backs on melody - it was uncool and old-fashioned. Critics still do it: film theme-music and musicals are sneered at for being "populist", as if only unpopular music can be considered any good. The more obscure, the better as far as they are concerned. I'm sure the Dead Cat music got full marks from the critics.

We've heard three new pieces this year, the two above and Jason Yarde's Rhythm and Other Fascinations. Only the Yarde was memorable for the right reasons: he focused on melody and rhythm. Whilst you can hear his jazz influences, he's composed something new and fresh. I bet he was slated by the critics. If you get the chance, keep an ear out for it.

Tonight, we're going to another late night concert: Bach's cello suites 1, 2, and 3. I'll let you know if it is blog-worthy.

- Pam

* You have until Friday 29th August to listen to the concert via the BBC's "Listen Again" service. It's in 3 downloads. Skip part two to miss the Stockhausen.

Friday 22 August 2008

Going for Bronze

Have you been glued to the Olympics, like me? Every morning, instead of my usual "BBC Breakfast" program, I've been watching the BBC's live coverage of the summer Olympics in Beijing. Throughout the day, at work, we've been checking the BBC's website for updates; "Have we won another medal yet?" is a common refrain from whomever has spent the last hour in a meeting. 7pm is the highlights program - another must watch.

Given my dual-country-status as an Aussie who has spent half her life in Britain, I'm particularly amused by the rivalry that has developed on the British side, where the Brits are happy but only because they have more gold medals than the Aussies. Throughout the last two weeks it's been "We've almost caught up with the Australians," "We're level on Gold medals," "The Aussies are ahead," etc. And this isn't just my husband teasing me; it's happening on the BBC, too. The current status:-

Gold 18
Silver 13
Bronze 11
Total = 42
Ranking 3rd


Gold 11
Silver 14
Bronze 16
Total = 41
Ranking 6th
I'm not bitter. Honest. When you consider that Australia's population is less than 1/10th that of the United States and about 1/5 that of Great Britain or France or Germany, coming 6th in the Olympics is a huge achievement. Especially when I remember the dark days of the Montreal Olympics, where we won one (1) single Silver medal and four (4) Bronze.*

For the Australian nation, coming home from Montreal with FIVE medals and no gold medals was a huge shock to the system, a real ego blow. There is a huge part of our national identity tied up in sport. We're a small nation at the empty end of the planet; not much sphere of influence there. Sport is one way of getting our collective voice heard in the big wide world. Virtually all our national heroes are sporting heroes (understandable when your recorded history only goes back some 200-odd years). Montreal was a turning point. It lead to the founding of the Australian Institute of Sport and the subsequent professionalising of much of Australia's sporting infrastructure. And 32 years later, I'm enjoying watching the results.

Ahem... Pamela. Stop avoiding the Question. How is your Olympics challenge?

OK, a confession. I've been avoiding blogging because I haven't been very successful at my challenge. I've been trying to figure out a way to put a positive spin on all this, but I'm failing. I'm not worthy of a gold medal. Or a silver. But I reckon my case for a bronze is still valid.

Over the last 15 days, there have been six when I didn't exercise/perform the challenge. I lost last weekend to a migraine (which finally wore off completely on Monday) and three days to laziness. By my reckoning, the migraine took me from gold (perfect score) to silver. It was beyond my control.

As long as I continue to exercise until the closing ceremony on Sunday, I think I still deserve the bronze. Yes, laziness reared it's ugly head, but I have managed to beat it back into it's corner during the majority of the days of the Challenge. And that is what an Olympic Challenge is all about really - picking a goal and fighting your way past the demons until you succeed.

- Pam (Come on Aussies Come on!!!)

*That's actually more than I remembered. I only remembered the Bronze in the swimming, and was checking out the name of the swimmer** on the Australian Olympic Committee website when I found the real tally.

**His name was Stephen Holland, a.k.a. "Super Fish".

Sunday 10 August 2008

Exercise Olympics: Days 1, 2 and 3 Report

(Well, maybe I'm cheating a little reporting Day 3 before it's finished but this will be my only blog-time today.)

Friday, I thought "Well, I've committed myself in public, I'd better get up and do something". My choice: Move More by Weight Watchers. This was the first time I'd had it out of the case. After listening to the introduction, I pushed the furniture back, dialled up an aerobic session and settled down to follow as best I could.

I don't know about you, but I buy exercise DVDs to "inspire me". To prove to myself that this time I am going to work out. This time will be different - see, I've got a shiny new DVD to prove it! And I'm determined to make it happen this time. Only, this time becomes last time and nothing changes.

Move More was a pleasant surprise. The designers have put a lot of thought into what their audience needs and wants: firstly, by designing a routine that changes each time you switch it on, and secondly, by noticing that none of us live in an exercise studio. This is a workout that can be done in a six foot square of cleared space. Also, it was easy to follow. OK, I'm not the most coordinated person, nor do I have much balance, so if I can follow a DVD on the first time through then it must be good.

The final thing to note is that the DVD doesn't contain one exercise style of workout - it contains three. You can chose a stretch and relax type workout, a tone and muscle building type workout or an aerobic workout. (These are my descriptions - WW calls them something else.) And you can choose the duration too, from 5 to 30 minutes.

For Day 2, last night, I did a stretch and relax workout. It was late, I was tired and self-conscious because DH was in the room. Once again, the workout was easy to follow, mainly floor work (so no "need to balance on one leg" stuff, yay!).

This morning's choice is going to be The Firm's Slim Solutions Yoga Workout, just as soon as I've had my second cup of coffee. So that's three days down, 14 to go.

- Pam

PS: I'd like to welcome those who've signed up so far: Nandy (hi sis!) and Fluff.

Friday 8 August 2008

The Exercise Olympics

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." The Olympic Creed


Blame the Yarn Harlot. It's all her fault for introducing me to the concept of taking on an Olympic Challenge whilst the real Olympics are on. In 2006, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee created the Knitting Olympics to run concurrently with the Winter Olympic Games. The concept was to take on an achievable knitting challenge - something that would stretch the participants but would still be do-able within the constraints of their skill levels and other commitments.

In a moment of inspiration/madness (delete as appropriate) yesterday, I decided that I would set my own Olympic Challenge for the duration of the Beijing Olympic Games. Only, this time, instead of it being knitting (any excuse), I'd make it based on exercise - the bane of my existence.

I am very aware that I don't get enough exercise. I've become more and more of a slug as the years have gone on. Oh, I've dabbled in yoga, own several pairs of dumbells (and am not afraid to use them), and I can still walk for miles, but I'm no way close to being fit. Or even to achieving the recommended daily minimum for aerobic exercise. It just doesn't happen. And I've made more New Years Resolutions to correct this than I can count.

So, for the duration of the Olympics - from today, 8th August until Sunday 24th August inclusive - I hereby vow publicly to achieve the following Olympic Challenge:
I, PipneyJane, will exercise for a minimum of 15 minutes every day during the Olympics, such exercise to be defined as a continuous activity or series of activities as directed by either an instructor or by an exercise video/DVD.
Anyone care to join me?

- Pam

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Current obsession

When it comes to sport, I am pretty much a true-to-type, die-in-the-wool, stereotypical Australian. Sport is our national religion. It is the one thing that unites all the disparate peoples and cultures that make up Australia. We have four codes of Football (Australian Rules, Rugby Union, Rugby League and Soccer), Cricket, athletics, rowing, sailing (even people who've never been on a boat in their lives follow the progress of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race), golf, surfing, cycling, horse racing (the Melbourne Cup is the only horse race in the world that has it's own public holiday), tennis, etc, etc. And in all of the sports I've listed, we're world class. When Australia takes a sport seriously, look out the rest of the world; we won't stop until we're champions.

It's summer, so I'm obsessing about Cricket. In particular, the international matches between England vs. New Zealand at the start of the summer, and England vs. South Africa now. If I could, I'd listen to every ball of every game. Sadly, I work in a radio black spot (last year, I purchased a DAB radio just to get Test Match Special but there is no reception here), and the IT Department have blocked radio via the internet.

Kim has "County" membership of Surrey Cricket Club. In June, we treated ourselves to a Girls Day Out - a One Day International at the Oval. It was a day that started with the threat of rain and became hot and sunny, so I went prepared for anything: hiking slacks that convert to shorts (similar to these), strappy top, cardigan, waxed Barbour jacket… We packed a picnic, knitted a bit, drank champagne, sobered up on Pimms, and had a really good day out.

Anyway, ever since the match, I've been pondering County Cricket Club membership and whether it is worth applying for "County" membership to Surrey. It would entitle me to free entry at all County games and priority booking of tickets for all Internationals. Whilst £150/year isn't expensive to watch one of my favourite sports, it isn't cheap if I don't use it. The Oval is at least an hour and a half away by public transport but their secondary ground at Guildford isn't too difficult to drive to (a lot of miles, though, and then there is parking to consider).

The enticing alternative, of course, is Middlesex County Cricket Club, who at least play some matches locally to our home. And, of course, their main home ground is LORDS the Headquarters of Cricket. The benefits are the same as for Surrey, but up until about half an hour ago, it had never even occurred to me that Middlesex membership might be a possibility. In my mind, I'd been confusing them with the famous "MCC" or Marylebone Cricket Club, with whom Middlesex share Lords. The MCC was never a possibility - it has a twenty year waiting list and then only if you get proposed and seconded by at least 4 existing members. (If you are a billionaire who donates £mega-millions, I'm sure they'll find a way to squeeze you in sooner.) Middlesex, on the other hand, is do-able at £133 plus joining fee.

Decisions, decisions.

However, the question still remains: if I became a club member, would I use it? I want it, but even if it only cost £20, if I don't use it then it won't be worth it. For now, I'll put it on my "wish list" and maybe save up for it via the Sanity Fund. That'll give me a couple of months to review the idea before I have to commit myself (I have to join before October - my BIL wants tickets to next year's Lords' test match between England and Australia).

[ sigh ]

- Pam (I wants it NOW!)

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Did they cover all the bases?

Whilst I was getting my hair cut on Saturday, I caught a glimpse of an article in the Daily Mirror, "Credit Card Family Forced to Live in a Vauxhall Astra".

A desperate family have been forced to live in their car after having their home repossessed.

Four-months pregnant Laura Whitney, 28, partner Richard Webster, 32, Jessica, seven, and Jack, two, have spent two weeks in their V-reg* Vauxhall Vectra. The couple could no longer pay their £62,500 mortgage, which has a 10.9 per cent interest rate, because their lender increased payments from £373 a month to £553.

Whilst I feel very sorry for the couple involved, the article is depressingly short of details. Apart from consulting the Citizen's Advice Bureau, what steps did they take to save their house? There are so many unanswered questions - maybe all those years of hanging around the Motley Fool have made me think differently, but if I'd done the interview these are the things I'd want to know and share with my readers:-
  1. What was their budget pre-reposession?
  2. And what about income? The article states that his income is £1,000 net a month. She will get child benefit (non-means-tested) of £130+ a month. The father of her first child should also be paying some form of child maintenance (unless, of course, the Child Support Agency is failing at it's job again).
  3. Did they make partial mortgage payments? Did they neglect other bills and prioritise the mortgage? Or did they leave the mortgage and pay the rest?
  4. Why isn't Laura working? "Richard works for Royal Mail and I will be happy to work again" is a pretty strong indication that she has been jobless for some time. What steps did she take to find a job before the house was repossessed?
  5. Do they have other debts? How will they pay those off? Did they prioritise those over the house?
  6. Did they claim all the relevant tax credits?
Basically, I'd want to know that they'd done everything possible to save their house before it was repossessed.

As it is written, the story just doesn't smell right. This is the UK, where there is a safety net (it's not perfect, but they'd qualify for a lot of assistance that is unavailable in other countries). They get free medical care; free prescriptions for the children and for Laura whilst she's pregnant/until the baby is a year old; ditto free dental care. The seven year old probably qualifies for free school lunches. They'd still have to pay council tax, utilities and telephone bills - no subsidies there.

Unfortunately, this couple won't be the last to have their home repossessed. By failing to answer the above questions, the Mirror missed the chance to subtly educate it's readers by providing sufficient information to help another family to save their home.

- Pam

* "V" registration cars were first registered in 1999.