Monthly Archives: January 2010

Give your money to charity, not Sainsburys

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Misleading? Courgette pricing in Sainsburys

It often strikes me that a good way to collect money for charity would be to stand outside Starbucks or Caffè Nero and invite people to donate the £2 or so that they were going to spend on a latte on people and causes that needed that £2 much more than you really need a coffee and a sit-down. However, I like my Caffè Nero, and I can’t get holier-than-thou over it.

So I’ve come up with a better idea: buy your courgettes loose from Sainsburys, and give the money you save  to anyone you like, except Mr & Mrs Sainsbury. Confused? Look at the picture above which was taken on Thursday morning at Sainsburys in Tooting. On the left, a 500g pack of courgettes costs £1.78. On the right, a kilo of courgettes (loose) costs £1.84.  So 500g of courgettes from the loose box would cost you 92p – which is 96p less than buying them in a packet.  That’s nearly a whole pound you’re giving to Sainsburys which you could put towards coffee, or charity – you decide.

I had to stare at those signs for two minutes before I could work out what was going on, and then had to photograph them to be sure I  hadn’t made a mistake.  Two signs, four figures, two font sizes, and four means of comparison: on the left, the big number is price per pack, with the price per kilo printed in a size and position that is appropriate for cats with 20/20 vision. On the right, the big price is price per kilo, with the cat-friendly font dedicated to price per pound. So in fact, you’ve got four things to compare, and the two vital comparators (price per kilo) are not displayed at the same hierarchic level.  If you don’t or can’t read the small print, you might think that the ones on the left are cheaper – after all, it’s £1.78 compared to £1.84.  The price for not doing the maths is to pay £3.56 per kilo for a courgette as opposed to £1.84, or nearly double.

Latte anyone?

Update, December 5th 2012

I regularly check to see if this kind of misleading pricing is still going on. The last time I looked, packaged courgettes were about 20p cheaper than the loose ones (let’s say it’s about £1.64 for packaged, £1.84 for loose). But here’s the deal: the packaged ones are huge, fat, overgrown courgettes that are like small marrows. There are approximately 2 in bag, and they weigh 1kg. I couldn’t quite see the advantage to Sainsburys of this pricing, until I took my (loose) courgettes to the checkout: even at the more expensive price per kilo, enough courgettes for 2 people cost 76p.  So the trick here is just to make you buy more, so that even if the per-kilo price is cheaper, you spend more, and probably throw half of them away. I would – they were manky looking courgettes.

Golf, music, vinyl

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Golf's Greatest Hits. Pure gold, no doubt.

Skimming through an article on masculinities, sports and popular music, I had to read one sentence four times before I could believe my eyes. Yes, there really is an album called Golfs Greatest Hits (punctuation evidently wasn’t one of them), and a label (Teed Off) dedicated to, er, Golf Music.

Please don’t buy this for me, even as a joke. The idea of golf is bad enough, but the idea of a compilation of music for people who think golf is a good idea takes several biscuits.

This isn’t as weird as it gets though, not just yet. For that you have to look at The Worst Album Covers Ever Created. There are so many wonderful abominations here, I don’t know where to start recommending. Other sites may have more, but this guy knows how to pick the best of the worst.

And if you fancy making your own cod vinyl record label (78rpm, 45rpm or LP), there’s a site where you can do it online and get the results straight back as jpg.  Hours of endless procrastinatory fun and more at the Vinyl Record Generator.

The fiction of a ‘music industry’

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It’s always bugged me that you see the term ‘music industry’ referred to in the press (usually by a representative of it) as if it were a single phenomenon.  If you work in music, you’re acutely aware of the fact that it is a complex, unruly, changeable mess of organizations, activities, markets, opportunities and legal strictures.  But to read some of the stuff that’s aimed at would-be musicians, you’d think that there’s only one route into music, being a singer-songwriter, making a hit album and living off royalties.

So I was pleased to come across Rethinking the music industry in Popular Music that says all this and more much better than I can.  The authors argue that we should talk rather of ‘music industries’ and show how organizations with partisan interests often seem to present themselves as if they represented a single (but in reality, non-existent) industry.

Taruskin on ballet music

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Taruskin, Volume 4

One of the excitements of this year is being able to afford a volume of The Oxford History of Western Music. I snapped it up in Blackwells the other day, when I noticed that there was an entire chapter devoted to ballet music. I always glance through the index of music history books to see whether ballet gets a mention at all, or whether, as usually happens, it gets either erased altogether, or is treated like not much more than a bit of sellotape annoyingly stuck to the great big walking boot of serious music.

Knowing that Taruskin is one of the few people in the serious music world to admit that ballet happened at all in Western culture, and that he’s written at length about Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky’s ballet music, I was hopeful.

And indeed, there it is in chapter three, under a heading ‘A MISSING GENRE’,

“It is time to confess to a scandalous omission. An entire genre, with a history extending back as far as the sixteenth century, has been virtually missing from this account of Western art music, and it is high time to redress the neglect.” (Richard Taruskin, The Oxford History of Western Music, p. 131)

There are still big gaps, and a tendency to discuss the big names more than the people who kept the whole enterprise running (imagine a history of 20th century music that mentioned  Andrew Lloyd Webber only in passing, before moving on to a meaty interpretation of West Side Story), but it’s a darned good start.

Why we need Stonewall

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Out from Stonewall, FIT, a movie for schools to help combat homophobic bullying.  And from me, a related rant.

To help with an essay on gender, music & ballet, a friend helpfully passed on a link to a short  film called Boys in Ballet.  I couldn’t have wished for anything better.  My favourite part (from a gender & music point of view) is the fact that when they show boys dancing, they erase whatever music was really going on, and overlay it with an upbeat soft-rock soundtrack, so that those grand pirouettes are accompanied by electric guitar and drums, the most masculine-gendered of instruments you can think of.  So it’s all right – ballet isn’t about dancing to music (feminine) – especially not the piano (even more feminine – there’s a glimpse of a pianist, but we quickly move away). No, it’s about jumping and turning like an athlete, while the music inside says urban, masculine, heroic.

The message of the film seems to be: it’s OK for to do ballet, because it’s strong, it’s not feminine, it’s definitely not girly. And look, here’s the proof: there’s a big Russian teacher saying ‘strrrong’ a lot. The Russians had an empire, Stalin, a communist regime and a nuclear threat, and they beat up Peter Tatchell  so they must be butch. Good old-fashioned masculinity like Mother Russia used to make.

There’s a lot about how much boys have to jump. Well of course they do, they have to jump so that they don’t look like girls.  It’s good for boys to train together, because then they can compete against each other – and that’s not girly either. And what a wholesome lot they are too: as the small ads say, no fats, no fems. I notice they didn’t give the story to a pretty male reporter, however.

Looking at the guys here, there’s no doubt how hard they’re working: every muscle in their body is straining to look not-gay, but still balletic. Muscular, but not like a squaddie. And then there’s the business of denigrating women, girls and femininity with a caring, manly smile.  No wonder they have to train so hard.  I borrowed that thought from an article by  Mark Simpson titled “Walk like a man”:

“For men, the whole point of walking is not actually to get anywhere, but to demonstrate that they never for a moment forget the deadly seriousness of what they are doing.

This is why new recruits have to spend so much time square-bashing. In being taught how to walk like men instead of boys, recruits are taught how to move like they mean business – that’s to say, how to look like they have rather fewer joints than females and pansies”

Mark Simpson, “Walk Like a Man” from Sex Terror, p.47). For more Mark Simpson, see his blog.

This film – and so many other bits of popular journalism like it – misses the point.  The problem here is misogyny and homophobia,  and a tendency (as Virginia Taylor said in her wonderful 1999  paper  “Respect, Antipathy and Tenderness: Why do girls “Go to ballet”?”) for wider society to regard ‘girly’ as a pejorative term, while ‘boyish’ isn’t. Making men’s dancing more ‘masculine’, as closeted Ted Shawn tried to do (with the result  that it looks like modern day gay porn), is surely veiled misogyny and homophobia, even if the homo that you’re phobic about is yourself.

It’s not just about sex. Stonewall recently published a guide for teachers on homophobic language in the wake of the whole ‘calling something a bit gay’s only a bit of harmless fun, isn’t it?’ debate.  Teachers themselves reported that pupils most affected by homophobic language are the following, in descending order:

  • pupils who are thought to be lesbian, gay or bisexual
  • boys for behaving / acting ‘like girls’
  • pupils who are openly lesbian, gay or bisexual
  • boys who don’t play sports
  • boys who are academic
  • girls for behaving / acting ‘like boys’
  • girls who do play sports
  • pupils whose parents / carers are gay
  • pupils who have gay friends or family

From Stonewall’s  Challenging Homophobic Language, p.5

Yes, we need Stonewall. And strangely enough, I think ballet companies need to address the issue as much as Premier League football, for the sake of their straight dancers as much as the gay ones.

Chout-ed and booted

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Another cautionary tale for choreographers: Alexey Miroshnichenko’s new (kind of )work for NYCB The Lady with the Little Dog is onto its second score (this time around, by Rodion Shchedrin) since the Prokofiev estate refused Miroshnichenko permission to make cuts to Prokofiev’s score of  Chout (The Buffoon). The choreographer had planned his piece around the score, but was denied permission only weeks before the show was due to open last January. A surprisingly humourless affair for a ballet called Buffoon. Enter Rodion Shchedrin who allowed Miroshnichenko to make cuts to his own score.  So they postoned the premiere a year, and on it goes tomorrow with the new score: The full story from the New York Times

I just wish there was only one story like this – but I’m beginning to collect them.

What Grove didn’t tell you…

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What a treat: from the Electronic Musical Review, the entire, unexpurgated text of Philip Brett & Elizabeth Wood’s Lesbian and Gay Music that was edited down to just 2500 words by the editors at the New Grove dictionary of music, with probably the most interesting bits being first to the scalpel.This is also the final chapter in Woods & Brett’s Queering the Pitch 2nd edition, so good value for money.  It’s in here that I found the priceless bit about Tchaikovsky & Saint-Saëns doing a pas de deux together in my last post.

When Tchaikovsky danced with Saint-Saëns

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And I don’t mean figuratively, either. Apparently, in 1875, Tchaikovsky (aged 35) and Saint-Saëns (aged 40) who had a ‘natural talent’ for ballet as well as liking it, got up on the stage of the Moscow Conservatoire, accompanied by Nikolai Rubenstein at the piano, and performed a pas de deux of Galatea and Pygmalion. Well I never.

From the 2006 edition of Queering the Pitch