Monthly Archives: February 2007

The Swimp3

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As the eight person contributes to the sponsorship fund for my Swimathon (I’m still only 28% of the way there, so please don’t be shy about contributing), now might be a good time to mention the Swimp3, an article about which Christopher Hampson kindly put my way. We were discussing this at new year – the boredom of the long distance swimmer, and why doesn’t someone invent an underwater mp3 player.

Personally, I wouldn’t want one, because music puts me off other activities rather than focusing my mind on them. If you want one, however, you most definitely need the Swimp3.

Rainmates and Coconut Scrapers revisited

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rain_small.jpgNot a lot of people leave comments on my site; in fact, hardly anyone. So I know that I must have hit on a topic of real concern to the public out there when I get more than two comments on the same thing. The only items to have drawn such attention are
a) Where can you buy a rainmate? and
b) How do you scrape a coconut?
As someone has just posted another comment to the coconut thread, I thought it might be a good opportunity to (belatedly) show the latest sighting of a rainmate-like hood. This was in Woolworth’s in Wimbledon, on Boxing Day 2006.

Meanwhile, more sightings of coconut scrapers are needed, so if you’ve seen one, please post details.

iDiot Pedestrians

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I’m delighted to see that NY State Senator Carl Kruger wants to fine pedestrians who walk headlong into traffic because they’re so immersed in the world of their mobile, iPod or Blackberry that they’ve forgotten what traffic is.

Cycling around Wandsworth over the last month, I’ve had more dangerous encounters with pedestrians than cars, and what Kruger describes is spot on – “iPod oblivion”. Far from standing at the kerbside looking right, then left, then right again as the drill used to go, they tend to face diagonally with their back to the traffic coming up behind them and just launch straight out into the road as if the whole world were a pedestrian precinct or a grassy meadow. I get so annoyed by these idiots, I’m tempted to just not swerve or brake, but let them feel the impact of 80 kilos of middle-aged bloke on a piece of fast-moving spiky metal. It annoys me twice as much because I’m a musician – how can you be alert to musical nuances if your ears are permanently attached to an aural drip which drowns out everything else, including sounds which are actually dangerous to you?

When Walkmans first started to proliferate in the 80s, a psychiatrist told me he thought the habit of living with headphones was a form of ‘self-inflicted autism’. The iPod thing is far worse, though I’m not sure why. But take it from me, if you walk around London streets with an iPod or mobile phone stuck like a digital cork in your ear, I reckon you’re an iDiot, a danger to yourself and to the people around you. Get a life, and get out of my way!

The Rite of Springing

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daffodil.jpgBy happy accident, I stumbled across a wonderful blog entry by Brendan McCarthy on the ritual of ballet class (Thoughts during a ballet class). This expresses eloquently precisely why I have found so much fulfilment from playing for class over the last 20 years. How refreshing to discover that someone so erudite is capable of saying “”I am pleased to surrender to my teachers (of whom more in later blogs), to the counts, to the music, to the shared sense of good work being done.”

If there was a secret to the wonderful atmosphere in the classes of John O’Brien, I believe it is because of his attitude which was ‘this thing [i.e. dance & music] is bigger than all of us’ – in other words, class is not a place for everyone to jostle for position or importance, but somewhere to join in the celebration of something bigger and greater. Those who claim that ballet classes are all ‘command style’ teaching and therefore automatically bad and un-PC, fail to understand the ritual nature of class, and that the great teachers surrender to the music and to the expectations of the art form as much as their students in a process which can be selfless and democratic. By contrast, those who congratulate themselves on being good ‘teachers’ in the conventional sense of the word, leave out one vital part of being a good ballet teacher, which is humbly to be part of the class themselves.

Excellent schmexcellent, Mr Brown

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universityinruins.jpg“Non-learners ‘may lose benefits'” is one of the most bizarre, frightening, Orwellian headlines I’ve read in a long time. How did the concept of ‘learning’, or indeed ‘benefits’ become so thuggishly appropriated and cheapened by a government department? The double-speak in this sentence is truly shocking. ‘Learning’ is now defined as turning up to a government approved institution to do time; not an opportunity, not a state of mind or an inclination of the spirit, not a passion, but a threat issued with menaces. And if you refuse to ‘learn’, and have state aid refused to you in your hour of need, this will be expressed as you ‘losing benefits’.

‘Education, education, education’ as a New Labour slogan was bad enough – what kind of advert is it for education when a privately educated lawyer cannot say more on the subject than to repeat the topic three times? But now there is a new horror from Gordon Brown – his priorities, so the BBC article says, will be “excellence, excellence, excellence.”

It’s a shame that Mr Brown appears not to have read Bill Readings’ book The University in Ruins; or perhaps he has, and he is hoping that we haven’t.

Today, all departments of the University can be urged to strive for excellence, since the general applicability of the notion is in direct relation to its emptiness. Thus, for instance, the Office of Research and University Graduate Studies at Indiana University at Bloomington explains that in its Summer Faculty Fellowship program “Excellence of the proposed scholarship is the major criterion employed in the evaluation procedure.” This statement is, of course, entirely meaningless, yet the assumption is that the invocation of excellence overcomes the problem of the question of value across disciplines, since excellence is the common denominator of good research in all fields. Even if this were so, it would mean that excellence could not be invoked as a “criterion,” because excellence is not a fixed standard of judgement but a qualifier whose meaning is fixed in relation to something else.[…] So to say that excellence is a criterion is to say absolutely nothing other than that the committee will not reveal the criteria used to judge applications.

Readings, B. (1996) The University in Ruins. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, pp 23-24.

The case is argued beautifully over 20 pages of prose like this, and at the end of it, it is very hard to take the word ‘excellence’ seriously again. If, as Readings argues, the term is meaningless in a context such as the one quoted above, how much more meaningless is it when it is just repeated by Gordon Brown with no context at all. And how much more frightening when a meaningless term is allied to a threat of withdrawing benefit.