Friday, 28 November 2008

The Sound of Music - Almost!

Spot the Difference

Well, the piano van arrived with a new piano this morning, and I assembled it this afternoon. Even though I've never learned to play properly, I'd be really lost without a working instrument - it was awful when the other one stopped being useable.

Apart from the different colour, it's a similar model - the bottom of the range Yamaha imitation piano, only 6 or 7 years newer.

These things are a bit like cars. Even the basic models have better features over time. It feels different to play - whether this is just because the other one was getting old, I don't know, but it's more responsive and sounds better.

The "weight" of the keys varies across the keyboard, as it does on the real things, which will take some getting used to (when was the last time I played an acoustic piano, I wonder?). The sustain pedal responds a bit differently too, and I can actually notice the difference when I use the "soft" pedal, which I couldn't with the old one.

It's almost December, which means that I'll soon be getting out my book of Christmas carols. Maybe one year I'll actually be able to play them competently. Maybe sometime in the distant future real music will be heard on this instrument. Or maybe like the old one it'll have worn out long before then...

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Wordy Wednesday

Four Years On

I've been so busy this week that I only noticed part way through the day that it's four years since I moved out of what is now my ex-wife's house and into the flat where I currently live. Consequently, I had to go shopping after work to get a bottle of something sparkly by way of marking the occasion.

26/11/2004 was a Friday, and my ex and I spent the day moving my stuff by the carload. There is no lift here, so we had to take everything up the stairs. My stuff did not include a lot of furniture - no sofas or beds, and the bulkiest item was my electric piano.

I've had the piano for 6 or 7 years, but it has started to go wrong. Some of the keys are beginning to stick to the point where it has become unplayable. I could perhaps get it repaired, but repair costs would probably be a reasonably high percentage of the replacement price. So on Friday (hopefully) a new one will be arriving.

I'd like to have a "real" one, but I suspect my neighbours wouldn't, and an electric one is close enough in feel and sound. The new one will have a cherry wood finish, and should be a slightly better approximation, but otherwise will be similar to the one above.

I've got a busy weekend, so I'm not sure how much time I'll get to play it, but as I'm not a Country Music fan, I won't be playing songs about the old one. The first sounds that come out of it are likely to be Bach - probably the Aria to the Goldberg Variations.

At some point I'll work out how to record my efforts and post them up. I think it's just a matter of getting the right cable to connect up the computer. Don't worry, I'll only do it once so that you can marvel at the nice sound the instrument makes, and cry at how badly it's being played. I'm sure you're all looking forward to this.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Ταινίες της βδομάδας

Films of the Week

Pensioner Defeats Commies

After reading Chris' rave review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I spent £15 on the Special Edition. This is something I wouldn't normally do - I usually wait and buy DVDs at no more than £10. However, Chris was right, so I don't mind too much that he cost me £5 - the film was as silly and as fun as the others in the series. I still haven't found the masturbatory easter egg that he was talking about, but that's probably due to my lack of a Catholic education.

"Where did you get that hat,
Where did you get that hat?"

Man Kills Spider

Whilst I was in HMV getting the Indy film, I picked up a box set of classic 50's Sci-Fi. One of them was Tarantula, which I already have, but at £30 for seven films, it's still good value.

We watched The Incredible Shrinking Man. Scott Carey is on a boat with his wife, enjoying a bit of Sun, Sea and S... San Miguel, when the boat sails through a radioactive mist, which his body absorbs. It serves him right for being lazy and sending his wife below to get the beers. If he'd gone himself he'd have been okay.

Months later he is exposed to some pesticide which reacts badly with the radioactivity and makes him gradually get smaller and smaller. His wife must be less than satisfied by his ever decreasing size, but she does stay with him. Eventually he gets so small that the cat tries to eat him. This should serve as a warning to pet lovers everywhere.

He escapes into the cellar, but his wife, finding a bloody shred of clothing and a contented looking cat assumes the worst, puts the house up for sale and goes to stay with her in-laws.

Meanwhile Scott is managing to survive on stale cheese (kept in the cellar for mousetrap bait), but he has also found another deadly foe - a spider. It's a battle to the death, and human ingenuity wins out in the end.

"I always knew those needlework classes would come in handy some day"

The film was better than I thought it would be. The special effects are a little dated, but they did a pretty good job given the technology of the time. The designers must have had fun building giant sets.

USAF Cook Alien Vegetable

The Thing From Another World is a story about an alien invasion. Scientists at an American research base in Alaska see what appears to be a new type of aircraft crash landing in the ice. They are worried it might be an enemy invasion, and since it doesn't seem to be Canadian, decide that it's probably Soviet. The United States Air Force is sent to investigate.

They quickly realise that the craft is round, which means it's a UFO. I'm not sure about their logic - after all, humans have been making circular objects for thousands of years, including flying objects such as frisbees. Nevertheless, it turns out that they are correct.

They end up digging out and defrosting an alien, and discover that it is actually an intelligent humanoid vegetable which feeds on blood. The vegetable bit means that to reproduce it simply has to plant and "water" some seeds (with blood). It also means that bullets make holes but do no actual damage.

"How many kinds of deadly creatures grow,
In an Alien country garden?"

It's a good film, and they made a wise decision only to show you the alien at the end. However, even for the 1950s, the alien is a disappointment. Why is it wearing boots and clothes? Maybe it was trying to disguise itself as a human?

I can recommend all three of these. They're great adventures, and the car chase in "Indy" is truly breathtaking. You wouldn't find anything like those special effects in 50's Sci Fi films, but the best film makers of that era were careful and used what effects they had sparingly, which means that although there are a few moments where something is obviously fake (travelling mattes are no match for CGI), most of the time you'll be more interested in the story.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

In Space, No-One Can Hear You Scream...

We really do just about live in the Space-Age. Human beings are no longer restricted to living on this planet. At any one time, there are always at least two people on the International Space Centre. Okay, it's not that far away, but it does apparently count.

You'd think that going out there for a six month tour would be a great opportunity to get away from everything that might be bugging you - family, friends, the daily commute, not to mention those other evils that plague humanity, such as telesales (even Bangalore doesn't have direct dial to space yet) and spiders.

After all, there's no way a spider would get into space, right? And no-one would be stupid enough to take some with them, and then lose one? It seems that NASA have done exactly that. Oops.

Is there no escape from the evil buggers? I can't help feeling that they are really in control, and that they somehow duped people into taking them on board by pretending to weave psychadelic webs in zero gravity. The reason that we, or at least some of us, are so terrified of them is that somewhere hidden in us all is one of those race memories. Remembering a time when they ruled the world.

Maybe they're now trying to conquer the Universe...

Friday, 21 November 2008

Wordy Wednesday - In My Dreams

I know, I know, it's Friday, but I had this post programmed to go off on Wednesday. Only I picked the wrong Wednesday...

I'm going to tell you about a couple of my dreams.

I'm not talking about the kind of dreams that I'm saving for when I find a brass lamp containing a genie:

1. Becoming massively rich without even buying a lottery ticket.

2. An idyllic and idle life in a Greek-speaking part of the Mediterranean, with Aimilia Kenevezou tending to my needs (assuming she can cook).
My favourite food (afelia)

3. Being able to play the piano as well as Les Dawson.

4. Writing a blog post that everyone else finds as hilarious as I did.

I know you only get three wishes, so I'll have to forgo one of these, but I'm still trying to choose between 3 and 4.

Anyway, I don't mean those kind of dreams. I'm thinking of weird dreams. The sort of thing that Kat was talking about last week.

I have these every so often. They are generally not very exciting, and they'll only get included in the film of my life if ends up being directed by someone like Bergman or Fellini.

The only distinguishing feature that they tend to share is weird geography. I'll be in one place, walk through a door or down a corridor, and be somewhere totally different.

The other week I dreamt that I was in one of the coastal towns in Cyprus. Larnaca, I think. I walked into a large hall where a conference was just about to start. Someone told me that I'd better sit down while I could still get a seat. And sure enough, moments later hoards of people arrived, most of whom were forced to stand. To listen to the conference of... metallurgists.

A conference about titanium

Now, I don't know any metallurgists, and I knew absolutely nothing about metallurgy. I didn't pick up any useful information from the conference either, because I woke up before it actually began. If I'd stayed asleep, I could have become an expert, except of course that you only remember the dreams that end half-way through. It's so unfair.

The day before Kat's post, oddly enough, I had some more weird dreams. Sadly, I forgot all but one. This involved a bus ride. The bus was a little odd, though. There were several seats in front of the driver, and when I walked to the rear of the bus, and to the right, there were seats and tables arranged a little bit like a cafe or pub, and it was more like a large room than a bus. The carpet and seat coverings were wine-red, and there were a lot of passengers, mainly old people.

I kept walking, until I had done a full circuit of the bus. Other things happened. People got on and off, and someone had some kind of package. Ot was very bulky - I think it might have been furniture, and there was a discussion with the driver about whether it should be thrown off the bus whilst it was moving. I think in the end it was. I hope that whatever it was didn't hit a passer-by - I wouldn't like to end up getting sued.

These are only what I remember - I bet the other ones I don't know about are far more exciting...

I'm away this week, but I'll catch up on all your blogs in a few days time.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Several Round Tuits Later

I'm not very good with those round tuit things. I never seem to get any. I have lots of good intentions, but I never seem to follow them up. It's taken 25 years for me to get round to learning Greek, which has been number one on my todo list for all that time.

I'm not entirely sure about the other things on that list, since it'll take at least another round tuit before I actually make one. However, you can get some idea of what it might contain by looking at unread books on my shelves:

  • Italian in Three Months (Hugo Publishing). I bought this in 1992, which is quite a lot of three months ago. Greek's going to take me a lifetime, so I suspect that the Language of Love will remain forever a mystery to me.
  • On The Good Life, Cicero (Penguin Classics). When I got this in 1989 I had actually read Hugo's Latin in Three Months, and was starting to look at Cicero.
  • Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott. I've read the first couple of pages of this about 3 or 4 times in the last 20 years. So I know all about the difference between Anglo-Saxon and Norman names for animals.
  • Garbage Land - On the Secret Trail of Trash, Elizabeth Royle. Bought at Baltimore airport, presumably because my bags didn't weigh enough. I never manage to read much on planes. One day it will become part of that trash trail, probably still unopened.
  • The Maya, Michael D Coe. The Maya are interesting. They left behind writings which have been solved like crossword puzzles by scholars, and they had an amazing culture, including horrible sarcificial ceremonies and stuff. Which is probably about as much as I'll ever know about them.
  • Arctic Dreams - Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape, Barry Lopez. I think I'd been listening to Glenn Gould's old Canadian radio documentaries about the solitude of Northern Canada when I came across this in a second hand bookshop. I did start it, and it's very poetic and fascinating. I should have left it in that shop for someone who might have appreciated it.
  • Step By Step Esperanto, Montagu C Butler. 1989 (I bought a lot of books that year, it seems). What was I thinking? A quick flip through this book will convince you what a sad waste of time Esperanto was. Mr Butler explains that English speakers find it difficult to learn other languages because our vowel sounds are so rubbish, and that Esperanto is the answer to all modern ills. He has little verses slagging off English. What they've got to do with learning a soulless language that no-one uses, I don't know:
We speak of a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.
You may find a lone mouse, or a whole nest of mice,
But the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Whey shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
When I speak of a foot and you show me two feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
We speak of a brother, and also of brethren,
But though we say mother we NEVER say methren!
  • Τα Πρωτοβρόχια μου [My First Rainfalls], Sofoklis H Andreadis (Published in Manchester). This is one of those books that an author has paid to have printed (nowadays you'd just start a blog), and I got it in Manchester when I was a student there. I bought it because it was in Greek, but it is a book of this guy's poetry. I can't get into poetry. This is another one I should feel guilty about - someone has been through with a biro and corrected various printing errors. A labour of love languishing on my shelf.
That lot should keep me busy, for at least another 10 lifetimes. If any of you feel like learning Esperanto, or reading some trash journalism, you're welcome to borrow these, as long as you return them before I need them.

Friday, 14 November 2008


Don't worry. The title isn't meant to describe this blog, which I hope is kept clean and reasonably hygenic. However, Anndi is under the weather with the lergy, Bee's computer has a nasty dose of something, and now Tracy is worried about hers.

I suspect that we could all do with cheering up in these times of plague and pestilence. So my musical offering this weekend comes from Tom Lehrer, and is a song that he used to perform in the 50s, but didn't record because it was considered a bit risque at the time.

There'll be a proper post in the next day or so, but in the meantime, try not catch anything (else)...

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Word Wednesday

The Swedish Chief

I'm currently reading "The Fifth Woman", by Henning Mankell. It's a Swedish crime novel about Inspector Kurt Wallander and his team, who are trying to catch a serial killer. I don't know too much about Sweden, except that it's cold, but I always imagine everything to be clean, with pine self-assembly furniture in light, airy houses.

The Wallander books give this impression too. Everyone is very friendly (apart from the murderer and some vigilantes), the trains run on time, and the police don't attempt to rough up suspects during interrogation. Nor is there any corruption, or undue pressure from politicians, unlike in the excellent Greek "Inspector Haritos" series.

Anyway, I'm 4/5ths of the way through it, so hopefully soon they'll catch the killer and stop the carnage, and peace and tranquility can once again return to the town of Ystad. Until the next book, of course.

Film Review

Talking about Swedish things, I finally managed to watch the whole of Ingmar Bergman's film "The Passion of Anna". It's in Swedish, but luckily there were Greek subtitles on the DVD. I've attempted this several times (in fact, I think I mentioned trying to watch it once before), but always manage to fall asleep, or lose the will to live, about half way through.

The plot, such as it is, is about a reclusive chap who's wife gave up and left him some years previously. His neighbours, who live so far away that he's never met them before, are an architect with a love of photography and his wife, who spends a night with our hero. The next thing you know (or did I fall asleep and miss a bit?), he's shacked up with Anna, who was staying with his neigbours while she recovered from a road accident that killed her child and husband. Then she leaves him. The end.

There aren't many laughs in this, and there are another three DVDs in the box set. I only got it because it was on special offer in HMV. One of them is apparently full of explicit sado-masochistic sex. I'll attempt to provide reviews, if I manage to watch any of them.

Brian's Verdict: Like the characters, drink copious quantities of whisky throughout. Keep the razor blades locked away.

The Matrix on Windows

And finally. I thought this was hilarious and very well done.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


We haven't had any maths for a while, so I thought it was time. Don't worry, this one's simple and involves money, something which I'm sure is dear to all our hearts.

Supposing you had some coins. Whilst you were thinking what to spend them on you might amuse yourself by arranging them into a geometrical shape. Such as the kind of triangular arrangement that you see on a pool or snooker table:

If the coins can be arranged like this, then we say that it is a triangle number. For example, 10 coins could be arranged in a triangle because 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 is 10. But 8, 9 or 11 coins couldn't be.

Having still not decided what to buy, you could arrange them into a square:

9 coins could be arranged in a 3 x 3 square, but if you tried with 10 coins, it wouldn't work.

Now supposing that you had one coin for every year you'd been alive, and that you were able to arrange them like I did into both a triangle and a square. Then you'd be exactly the same age as Bee, since only one number is both a triangle and a square. I'm sure Bee is neither.

Happy Birthday

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Letter to Obama

Dear Mr Obama,

I am writing to congratulate you on your election success, and to give you some advice. I appreciate that you are very busy hunting for a hypo-allergenic puppy, but once you have solved this difficult and important problem, I have a couple of other ones that you might like to consider.

I also appreciate that you have loads of advisers, but I suspect that you could use some impartial advice from a non-American. After all, what you do in the coming years will influence the whole world. What's more, you don't need to pay me.

I think it's great that you're going to get your wars finished, but it's important that you give your military something to do - if they get bored they'll probably start messing around, and with all those dangerous weapons and other kit, this isn't a good idea.

The only solution is to start another war, this time against the global menace of arachnids. These creatures are everywhere, spreading terror and leaving messy webs all over the place. I'm sure that with all the billions you spend on military equipment, you can find some weapon that will be able to wipe them out.

With the army busy for the next 8 years or so, your next priority should be looking at America's contribution to the Information Age. Technology has advanced so far that society needs to catch up.

I am sorry to say that some of your citizens are not spending as much time as they need to on their blogs. Sometimes days or even weeks go by without them posting. The main problem is lack of support from their employers. Legislation is needed to ensure that every worker is provided with internet access and sufficient time to write their daily blog post, as well as to comment on at least one foriegn blog.

Finally, I'd like you to turn your attention to America's role in the global provision of food. It would make a huge difference to your country's reputation and standing if the quality of your beefburgers was higher. Changing the definition of "meat" to exclude bits steamed off carcusses would be a good first step. And while you're at it, could you do something about the fries served by American fast food establishments? Such as making them edible?

I hope that the above will give you something to keep yourself occupied with in the Oval Office, whilst the puppy is asleep, at least.

Yours Hopefully,

I'm sure I shouldn't need to say this, but none of the above is meant as a political statement, or a serious comment on matters such as war, starvation and blogging. It's just meant to be silly.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bonfire Night Picture 2008

Wordy Wednesday: Us and the US

I'm not a great fan of Ricky Gervais, creator of "The Office", but I enjoyed reading about his appearance on the Letterman show, and his top ten stupid things that Americans say to Brits. At number three was one of Dan's favourites, "What do you mean lets go and smoke a fag?". Whilst number 9 was "Do you know the Queen?"

There's been quite a lot of coverage of America on the news recently. Apparently there was some kind of election there. On the Aimilia Hour, they showed some interviews where they asked Americans why elections were held on a Tuesday. Most of them didn't know. The reason is so that people travelling by horse and cart can spend all day Monday getting there and Wednesday getting home without missing church on Sunday, and whatever TV shows are on Thursdays. 100 million people voted yesterday. That's a lot of horses. The roads must be covered in shit.

Here we always have elections on Thursdays. No one appears to know why this is, and the practice only started in the 1930s. People in the UK tend to walk to polling stations rather than go by horse, but that doesn't usually take 3 days, so I bet that it's something really boring like being able to set up the polls and count the votes all on weekdays so they don't have to pay anyone weekend overtime rates.

One American who probably left his horse at home yesterday and went to vote in something a little more modern was Ken Imhoff, who spent 17 years building a Lamborghini in his basement, because he couldn't afford to buy one, and then had to pay someone to come with a digger and dig a hole in his house so he could get the car out. I wonder at what point during those 17 years he realised that he had a problem?

The lounge in my third floor flat is probably just about big enough to build a car in, although I suspect the landlord might have something to say about that, not to mention getting the car out, so I'm trying to think of something I could build instead. An airplane would probably be too large. Perhaps a jet pack or some kind of helicopter? I'll keep thinking, but if you have any ideas, please let me know.

Saturday, 1 November 2008


Last weekend you were treated to some music that was supposed to expemplify naffness, but I was surprised by how many of you admitted to liking the Smurfs. Oh well. This weekend, slightly later than planned due to a last-minute change in my arrangements with Helena, I'm going to move to the opposite extreme.

For me at least. I suspect that most of you will prefer the Smurfs, in which case please feel free to read and play last week's post again, just as long as you leave a totally irrelevant comment on this one.

Richard Tauber was born in Austria in 1891. He was the illegitimate son of an actor and actress, and he became one of the most famous tenors of all time. He sang in operas as well as in the lighter Viennese Operettas. Franz Lehar, who is famous for composing the Merry Widow, ended up writing a string of successful operettas featuring Tauber as the main romantic lead.

I was born 22 years after he died, and I find it strange to imagine him as a romantic lead. I expect you had to be there. He was overweight, limped, wore a monacle and apparently wasn't much of an actor. Nevertheless, he charmed both opera and operetta audiences, as well as starring in films.

The reason that he limped (and possibly the reason for his bulk) was because he was struck down in his 20s with crippling arthritis. Doctors said that his singing career was over, but he ignored them and carried on anyway. He was in constant pain for the rest of his life.

If this wasn't bad enough, he was forced to flee Germany (where he was working) in 1933 after being roughed up by some Nazis (he was Jewish). Once Austria was taken over in 1938 his citizenship was revoked, making him stateless. He ended up getting British nationality, where he lived until he died of lung cancer in 1948, at the age of 56.

He generally performed for a flat fee rather than royalties, and was apparently very generous with his money (when he had it), throwing parties for his friends and buying extravagant gifts for women (he particularly liked redheads). He was always on the road performing, never owned a house, and died in poverty.

Richard Tauber was not a great singer considering all he suffered in his life, he was one of the greatest full stop. I'm not a great fan of Viennese operetta, or sentimental 20's and 30's love songs, but I'd listen to him singing "ten green bottles" or Garage Rap, if necessary.

Fortunately he left behind a large number of recordings, and even more fortunately none of them were of "Ten Green Bottles", or Garage Rap. He was a lyric tenor, which means that he was very good singing Mozart and German lieder, which require a lighter voice than Pavarotti or Caruso.

Here is my all-time favourite recording, made in 1939, of "Il mio tesoro", from Mozart's Don Giovanni, which comes out very well in this YouTube video, even if the pictures of someone's hi-fi system aren't hugely exciting.