Saturday, December 30, 2017

Little important things

Download Man Holding Pants Before Putting Them On Stock Image - Image: 18075661

I have recently become concerned with the act of putting my trousers on.

I am not, I hastily add, becoming an aficionado of public nudity, or even in these cool December days of baring my legs to the elements, no, it’s the simple act of dressing.  Or more precisely dressing in a public changing room.

In a marked difference to the more relaxed attitude of my fellow countrymen, the Catalans regard the floor of the changing room as virtually terminally toxic.  No part of the bare foot is allowed to touch the floor.  In a swimming pool, the wearing of flip-flops or some sort of slip on shoe is mandatory.  This means that those same flip-flops become the ‘safe’ area for the feet once you have taken off your socks.

That, in itself, is not a problem.  The problem for me is long trousers.  I (defiantly) wear shorts until at least the middle to late part of December and wear sandals virtually all year (much to Toni’s disgust) but, eventually, even I have to give in to the cold and pack my shorts away for another year.

The main part of the ‘problem’ for me is balancing on my flip-flops while taking the trousers off, and indeed, putting them on again.  I think that the positioning of the flip-flops is the essential part because on that placement depends the whole success of the balancing to get the leg in (or out) of the hole. 

Young man break dancing at night on urban painted walls background Stock Photo - 63355282
How easy it was to put my trousers on in the floor-freedom of my own home where the maintenance of equilibrium was not dependent on looking like a flat-footed ballerina!  No, the micro adjustments for weight distribution for trouser insertion on a free-use non-toxic domestic floor are easy as opposed to the foot-specific demands of a changing room.  In the changing room I feel like a crass neophyte ninja (wax on, wax off) unable to perch one-legged on a pole each time I insert a leg, usually failing and veering away from the safe-spot of the flip-flop and pressing the trouser mid-draw onto the poisoned floor.

I have even considered ‘giving in’ and sitting down to put the damn things on but, from my observations of my fellow changers, I am not quite in the age group that would make such an action anything other than an admission of failure.  So I am looking for other techniques and explanations.

Resultado de imagen de royalty free monty python footI have come to the conclusion that I am not straightening my foot enough to ensure its smooth progress down the leg of the trousers, so I will practice pretending to be ‘on point’ so that my foot will be more like a ferret down a drainpipe (though my trousers are nothing like so narrow!) rather than emulating the foot from the end of the introductory graphics of Monty Python’s Flying Circus!  I shall persevere!  I will succeed!  Wax on, wax off.

In my poetry I sometimes think that I am edging ever more closely to the poetry of the Azgoth of Kria, as described in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where, “four members of an audience died of internal haemorrhaging during a recitation by their poet master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem ‘Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning’.”  Not, I hope, because my poetry is overtaking the position of Azgoth poetry as the second worst in the world, but rather because I sometimes take the most ordinary things as subject matter for my work.

In one of my most recent poems I wrote about nakedness in public changing rooms, and in particular, one man’s bottom! 

You can judge the end result in: 

What started as a tongue in cheek piece of writing (unfortunate turn of phrase!) developed into something that, I think, repaid the work I put into it.  You, the reader, will have to be the judge of that!

The poems that you can read in are drafts.  I try and make them as ‘finished’ drafts as I can before I put them up, but they are very much work in progress.  The end result will be a book.  My next book, ‘The eloquence of broken things’ will (DV) be published in the New Year (which gives me some temporal scope) hopefully early in the new year, but I have learned to my cost never to be too jocose about the problems of publishing.

Tomorrow New Year's Eve and a visit to The Family in Terrassa with, hopefully, Toni's sister's delayed Christmas present.  We have to hope that Amazon will deliver on a Saturday!  We have faith!

Oh, by the way, if you have enjoyed or otherwise responded to this blog, please consider following it.  The button is at the top right of this blog and I would appreciate your clicking it!

Friday, December 29, 2017

I want what I want!

Was it in a film or in an American TV series that a frustrated father was berating his teenage daughter not only for the length of her telephone calls to her boyfriend but also because of the fact that they appeared not to speak to each other for long periods of time on the phone as well.  On being asked what she was doing she replied, “We were listening to each other’s breathing!”

Ah!  Times of innocence and being connected to the network via a visible cable, which was never long enough to go very far from the connexion point!

When we first had a telephone it was a black Bakelite affair with a proper handset and a dial.  It also had a little pull out tray at the bottom for Important Numbers.  The lead always got impossibly convoluted and twisted, but it was great fun (well, I was very young) to let it dangle and untwist itself in a sort of mad twirl.  We also had a party line: this meant that sometimes you picked up the phone and somebody else was already speaking because the line was shared, then you had to put the phone down (you never listened, because you simply didn’t) and waited a while to try again.  In those dark days you were lucky to get a line (even shared) from the GPO and you had no choice of the design or colour of the phone.  So there.

Resultado de imagen de ford prefect 1950s
Just as we were privileged to have a phone, so also we were one of the few families in Dogfield Street in Cathays in Cardiff in the 1950s to have a car: KDU 966 - a second hand Ford Prefect complete with running boards and ill fitting windows.  I might also add before you get carried away by this tale of luxury, that we also had an outside loo and the bath was in the kitchen.  But as an only child I had a room of my own - though I’ve never really written like Virgina Woolf, in spite of this early advantage.  I might add, in case you are wondering, that the bath was normally covered by a hinged surface attached to the kitchen wall, with two little curved stumps to fit to the edge of the curled bath side and a tasteful curtain to hide the fact that there was a bath there at all.  This is where I would eat my breakfast and all meals that were not family meals.

The telephone was sited in the hallway and served not only my parents, but also my paternal grandparents who lived upstairs.  It was special and was not used on a daily basis.  It was there.  A thing.  Not something to be owned or regarded as an essential part of domestic life.

How times have changed!

I was encouraged to think about such things because, during my post swim cup of tea in my local leisure centre, I was sitting next to a table at which a young girl was obviously doing some school homework on a dreary looking A4 photocopied sheet.  Nothing remarkable about that, but she was doing the work with her mobile phone propped up against her sports bag and with one of her friends chatting away on a video call.  What made it remarkable was that the girl behaved as through her friend was literally opposite her, with whole minutes of work being done with no talk between the two of them apart from the odd casual remark.  It was extraordinary in being so ordinary.  I am not sure that I would be able to carry on the odd conversation with a mini-Lilliputian on a screen with the artless, everyday confidence (yes, I am, I am positive that I would not be able to) that the girl did.

My mind then spiralled away on tangents about concepts of ‘being alone’ and how difficult that is today; what the word ‘present’ actually means; what is ‘real’ contact?  And so on.

But where my mind ended up was with a failure of technology.

Resultado de imagen de pebble steel
Years ago I failed to resist yet another blandishment of Kickstarter and put my name down for a new type of watch called Pebble.  It was a smart watch and linked to your mobile phone was able to give you all sorts of notifications from your emails and other bits and pieces of social media.  Importantly for me it was waterproof AND had an ‘always on’ screen.  OK, it was in black and white, but it worked AND the battery life was exceptional.

When an improved ‘Steel’ version was available, I bought (confusingly) a gold steel watch which also was able to display things in a washed out colour.  It worked.

When the third iteration of this successful watch was posted on Kickstarter, with a larger screen, I enthusiastically supported its production.

And it didn’t happen.

Pebble or at least the people who made Pebble a reality were bought up by another smartwatch company and gradually the backup for the whole Pebble brand began to fray.

Pebble was a successful watch.  I have struggled to find its equal (at the price) especially with the ‘always-on’ and swimming proof aspects and feel frustrated - because it has not stopped my buying watches in the vain hope that I will find something to match it!

Resultado de imagen de zetime
My latest watch has actual hands, not virtual, which are operated through a tiny hole cut into the smart watch screen, so that there is an ‘always on’ element, but the smartwatch bits do not work as well as the Pebble did.

I have other watches in the pipeline, including one smart watch that doesn’t need batteries because it is recharged by heat from the body of the wearer!  That is in the future.  In the present, I have returned to my original Pebble.  Well, the second one.

And what a delight it is.  I can read its display without my glasses; it’s always on; it counts my swim lengths; it is back lit when I need it to be; it fits; some of the aps are still working; it’s light and easy on the wrist - and it’s not made any more?

This is where Capitalism let’s you down: something that does too much for too little money.  Pebble is almost the opposite of Apple and therefore it has been taken out.  Pebble still thrives in Geekdom, people are still writing programs and aps for the device and there is a ‘community’ of users - but I wanted more and would have supported future developments of the brand.  But to get the same I will now have to pay far, far more.  Yes, you can get smart watches for twenty quid and they have full colour screens and what not, but some aspect is always missing - usually the waterproof element or the always on. 

Technology giveth and Commercialism taketh away!

But my Pebble is on my wrist.  I count that as hi-tec recycling!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Pleasure and Pain of Festivity

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Existential crises do not come more profound that losing your phone.  Mine is, at the moment, officially lost.  I do not have it.  It is not with me.  I am bereft.

But I take comfort from the flapping around of PP in Catalonia.  After their disastrous showing in the forced elections in the country, forced by, wait for it, PP!  PP is desperately trying to find a way to deal with the fact that they had 11 seats and now they have four.  They no longer even have the representation to be regarded as a ‘Group’ in the Catalan parliament.  So they have sacked someone, I suppose that it must be someone in the National Parliament as they do not have much choice in the people in the Catalan version!  The person they ought to sack, or who ought to tender his resignation, is the lanky lying leader of the Catalan PP.  The last leader resigned for getting only 11 seats, so he should, really, fall on his sword – literally.  But that would leave them with only three.  So, problems.

It is something of the same problem that the Conservatives have in trying to find a native to be the Welsh Secretary out of their pathetic showings in Wales.  I fondly remember one election when we didn’t return one Conservative.  Not one.  We have even ended up with freaks like Redwood when they were really scraping the barrel, though Redwood did produce one memorable moment in his role when he attempted to sing the Welsh National Anthem.  His humiliation has been replayed more times than was strictly necessary, but anything to put down repulsive Conservatives such as he has got my vote.  And this piece of YouTube film gives you an idea of the horror:

However, the confusion and chaos of both the Conservative (“lower than vermin”) parties in Spain and the UK doesn’t really give very much pleasure because we are living in their created universe: Brexit, Article 155, Social Injustice and Corruption, not forgetting the trans-Atlantic 45!

So, anyway, I phoned my phone (as one does) and nothing.  I phoned the last place that I was in and asked Toni's sister to look around.  And nothing.

At this point, most people I know would be panicking and fretting about their very identity because so much of their lives centre on the mobile phone, but I use mine mostly for reading the The Guardian.  And I can read that on my computer, so perhaps I wasn't as phased as others might have been.

And, as phones do, it turned up, found on its side at the foot of my bed resting against the skirting board.

Phones at the TableWhich meant that I was able to enjoy my meal without the pitying looks of those phone fanatics who eat a meal with the phone placed as if it were part of the cutlery!

And we did have an excellent meal to accompany my Saint's Day presents - all of which were acceptable.  I now have two illustrated copies of Harry Potter, lavishly illustrated I should say in a large format book - in Spanish.  So I have an incentive to struggle my way through the stories like the English speaking muggle that I am!

And so back home to a very cold house, but my own bed too!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

MY Saint's Day!


    Not the first up today, as Carmen is already in her natural home: the kitchen.  But yesterday she was in a restaurant and so she had at least one day off!  At the moment she is cleaning the prawns and as well as trimming the legs and whiskers, she also takes out the eyes as she says she doesn’t like them looking at her.  I do not share her squeamishness, but I am going to say nothing to such a competent cook!

    In Spain, one’s name day is almost as important as a birthday and presents are to be expected – one of which I already know, as I am the one who bought it.  
    Solti: The Complete Chicago Recordings
    This is a boxed set of Solti’s complete oeuvre with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on CDs.  I know, I know, I have heard all the arguments for ditching my allegiance to such an outmoded form and turning to the dark side of Spottify (or possibly with one ‘t’?) for all my musical needs, but memory stops me. 

    I can still remember the cost of the LPs and the first CDs of people like Solti at prices that I could never afford.  It was only with the advent of the bargain LPs that my classical music library grew. 
    Datei:Heliodor Logo 003.svgResultado de imagen de mfp logoI am eternally grateful to Music for Pleasure, Heliodor, Marble Arch, Classics for Pleasure and one or two other more obscure labels that allowed me to spend 9/11 (nine shillings and eleven pence, under 50p!) to start off my collection.  Admittedly the prices soon rose to 10/- (ten shillings) then up to 12/6 and so on following inflation, but even I could afford one or two a month.

    These labels gave me introductions to Nielsen, Mahler, Sibelius other than the Karelia Suite, Hindemith, 

    music from the Middle Ages and other odds and sods that have become part of my musical vocabulary.  I found that the great thing about being interested in Classical Music as opposed to Pop was that every shop record sale, no matter how meagre, would yield something of interest.  Let’s face it, if you like The Greats in Classical Music then there is a substantial back-catalogue to get to know, and therefore always a justification to buy.  Which I did!

    So, the opportunity to buy quality music for just over a euro a disc is not something that I can resist and anyway I tend to listen to the music in the car where the CDs are more convenient than anything else.  For Christmas I had two CD cases to contain the discs so that they can be kept in the dashboard compartment and then I go through the music fairly religiously disc by disc – though full operas I tend to listen to at home.  Though I do make an exception with car/opera if I am trying to get to know one of the operas in the Liceu season.  The amount that I pay for my seat gives me the incentive to do a little preparatory work for the ones that I do not know so maximize my investment, so to speak!

    Nowadays with the ‘bargain’ CD boxes, the individual discs sometimes have the artwork of the original LPs, so, for someone like myself there is an added pleasure is actually recognizing some of the covers that were well out of financial reach when I was first flicking through the music years ago!

    Much of the music will be familiar to me, some of it very familiar, but when was the last time that I actually heard it?  I am sometimes shocked by my reactions on hearing some insanely popular piece of music and realizing that I haven’t actually heard a performance of it in years.  For me the real pleasure is relaxing (if that is the word) into the detail of remembered orchestration and also sensing some of the associations of time and place of hearings. 

    For example, my first hearing of The Manfred Symphony by Tchaikovsky was in the Swansea Music Festival in the Brangwyn Hall and being almost startled out of my seat by the entry of the organ that for me (in those days when I had the raw material for it) was literally hair raising.  Every consequent performance and recording has been compared with that first experience and found to be lacking!

    Sometimes the experience can be less than ideal.  For example I got to know the Concierto de Aranjuez from a cfp LP where the soloist sounded as though he was actually inside the microphone, one soft pluck of a single string on the guitar was able to drown out the orchestra.  Imagine my disappointment on a student trip to Paris and a live performance where, from the lowly seat (i.e. very high and at the back) that I could afford, I could see the guitarist strumming away but all I could hear was the orchestra!

    I am reminded of an amateur performance of The Country Wife by Wycherley, a text I was teaching to an A Level group in Cardiff, where the performance was so dire that, in spite of knowing the text pretty well, I couldn’t follow what was happening on stage.  Restoration ‘comedy’ is arguably something that amateurs should not attempt, but even so they managed to make my own language unintelligible and strange!  In the same way I have heard professional orchestras mangle music where sometimes it is physically painful to listen.  With the ease of access to the best in the world not only in terms of performance, but also in terms of editing, it is hardly surprising that some local orchestras suffer by comparison!

    But Solti is a safe pair of hands, and I can be persuaded by a different interpretation of some music I know well, if it is sincerely compelling.  Tempi are the clearest point of divergence for listeners, and departures from what individual feel is the ‘norm’ for pieces of their favourite music can be unbearable.  For me there is one Sibelius symphony conducted by Karajan that makes my skin crawl because of its all-encompassing wrongness.  Even then my inability or disinclination to throw things away meant that I merely added a “DO NOT LISTEN!” sticker to the front of the LP and put it back in its place!

    I will have to wait until after lunch to get my hands of what arrived in my house a week ago and, just like the books, I am still amazed at my restraint and ripping off the packaging and getting into them.

    But resist I did, and I am sure that I will enjoy my present more as it comes with added deferred gratification!