Saturday, January 21, 2012

A key decision when shopping for a piano

Not what I bought, but maybe one day...
Having survived the first few weeks back of the New Year after a relaxing, enjoyable and pleasingly economical Christmas it seemed appropriate to head into London and reward myself for working for three weeks in a row by making a purchase on the trusty credit card.

The object of my desire was a keyboard – a piano keyboard, not a computer keyboard – in order to help continue with my efforts at home over Christmas at trying to learn the infernal instrument some eight years after I gave up lessons while living at home.

My brother being a bit of a whiz on the old Joanna meant I had free tuition for several days and many aspects of the instrument that had always confused me before – what’s different about the black keys (answer: nothing), how do you make minor chords (answer: invert the 4/3 finger pattern for major chords to 3/4 (simple right?)) – I thought I should give the thing another shot.

So I wandered into Denmark Street – the music shop district of London – and this left me facing a bewildering array of choices at all manner of price points and styles. Some with light up keys, some with terrible tinny soundings keys, some with stands, some without, and prices from £50 to £300 for “beginner” models.

In the end I went for…nothing, as I was so overcome with choice I didn’t know what to do and thought I should check with my hermano (that’s Spanish for brother, I don’t know why I know that I studied French for four years) to see what he thought.

His answer: have my old keyboard. Ah, well, that’s an idea that should have crossed my mind when I was at home, but didn’t. Still, never look a gift-horse in the mouth, especially one that can play the piano – imagine that, a piano-playing horse.

So, now I am the proud owner of a second-hand keyboard and can happily tinkle away learning tunes such as Mary Had a Little Lamb and other nursery rhyme classics. What?

Still, at least my credit card survived a hit: well it did until I ended up splashing out on a new blazer instead for about the same price. It was in the sales, though, so was a bargain really…

Friday, January 13, 2012

Grammar schools and crying

I watched a fascinating little documentary on BBC4 last night about the grammar school setup that existed in the UK after the war and the benefits, and limitations, it offered to those who went and those that didn't.

While it was great hearing tales of inspiration from both those that passed the dreaded 11+ and those that didn't what was most interesting was seeing those that had gone to grammar school recalling with such fondness - and indeed tears on some occasions - the teachers that had inspired and encouraged them throughout those formative years.

In some ways it was a telling example that it's not always where you go or what you know but who's there and who you know that dictates where you end up.

I had a great history teacher at secondary school which inspired me to go on to study the subject at university, whereas my geography teacher...well, let's just say when I heard on the grapevine that he was, eventually, sacked I wasn't that surprised and only wished it had come sooner so I wasn't stuck with him for four years of boredom.

But then what would your school days be without a few crushing regrets?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Weekend Waterloo trains

Most days the train from Wimbledon (which I like to pronounce Whim-bley-don) to Waterloo is nothing but a commute.

An early-morning jamboree of tish-tish headphones, pushing-people and Metro readers, all weekday morning indicators, while the evening is much the same, although you may see the odd loosened tie.

However, take the train on the weekend, and rolling up to Waterloo takes on a completly different air: it's relaxed, almost like you're going on holiday such is the change in atmosphere from the weekday. Where normally the train is taking you to offices, computer screens and sandwiches eaten Al Desko, the weekend train holds the promise of the theatre, friends, galleries and other fun.

It's almost enough to make you forget the prices went up again and twice in the first four days back the trains were affected by various delays.