Sunday 30 September 2012


Have this slightly mad idea for ballasting the track.

I'm going to track down - if you'll excuse the pun - some white ballast or at least very light gray and scatter it over the track.

But between the tracks I'm going to paint the ground gloss white. I think this will unite with the glossy ceramic buildings, especially the new one which is currently being constructed.

First coat is in matt white.

Currently listening to:

Deerhoof: Friend Opportunity

This band was formed in San Francisco in 1994 and this album was released in 2007.

A kind of mad off the wall guitar group with a female singer.

This cover was designed by the Scottish artist David Shrigley. He is now famous in that kind of Turner Prize world; especially for his black line drawing cartoons which do nothing for me.

Love his cover design for Deerhoof, though.


Last night's dinner:

Shoulder of lamb, parsnips and carrots.

Tango update:

Continuing to walk around the house, up and down the stairs and even up the street with my new Tango gait of knees brushing together and pointing the toe. So far have neither been arrested or had rotten fruit thrown at me, but it's early days yet.

Practice with wife went quite well last night now that she is taking much longer steps as she moves backwards. I think she finds it a boring dance and asked why I hadn't enrolled for a Cha Cha Cha class instead.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Music as Sui Generis

Back to worrying about ballasting:

Still not sure how to proceed with ballasting my track. Technically, I know how to do it (see earlier blogs). But I haven't come up with the right combination of colour and type of ballast (fine or medium grains).

On a whim, painted a streak of browny-gray emulsion between the tracks at RHS platforms.

Then scattered some fine grain, buff coloured, ballast between the sleepers.

Paint only applied.

Ballast scattered on top.
Not convinced by the result.

What I need to do is to set aside a week - yes, seven clear days - and do nothing but think this problem through. Otherwise, I'm going to end up with something second-rate.

Music as sui generis:

I have been wrestling with this problem, admittedly sporadically, for the best part of the last decade.

Is music a phenomenon in itself or can it be reduced to other types of human creativity?

I was reminded of this issue this morning when listening to Radio 3 and a review programme of the String quartets of Janacek.

One of the quartets expresses in musical form the tale of a love affair. The Radio 3 reviewer at one point made the comment that he felt a passage in the piece was being played in "too mocking a fashion". I take it that the passage concerned was  a melody that had already been played earlier in the composition and perhaps been intended to evoke, say, "undying devotion" but was now being played later in the piece and as the love affair was falling apart in a manner to suggest cynicism towards the concept of "undying devotion". Thus it was being played in a mocking fashion - perhaps by slurring the notes or playing them exaggeratedly slowly or in some other manner.

But is the musical value of the piece dependent on the listener being able to make these connections between the sounds being made by the instruments and the meaning purportedly being expressed through those sounds.

A more obvious example. Where a symphonic passage is meant to express a storm  and all the woodwind instruments and percussion are going mad; need one  know that a storm is being portrayed in order to appreciate the loudness of the passage. If a listener had never witnessed a storm eg a nomad in the desert, would they then take nothing from the experience?

Last night's dinner:

Surprisingly enjoyable.

A packet of noodles with left-over cold chicken chopped up on top of it.

Washed down by a pint of milk.

Currently listening to:

Eels: Blinking lights and other revelations.

Album cover.

Mark Oliver Everett

Friday 28 September 2012

Peugeot 203

Yesterday, my HO scale Jouef Peugeot 203 arrived.

Peugeot 203 on RHS
Thought it would be instructive to find some photos of the real thing.

An advert from 1959

For a farmer, perhaps.

Shooting Brake.

203 Decouvrable, 1951
Tango Practice:

This week we began the tango class with warm up exercises that I found difficult to do without wobbling all over the place. Basically, one stood on one leg and rotated the other leg through the air: rotating at the ankle, then the knee and then the hip.

This is a set of exercises that I can practise each day at home and thus (hopefully) build up a stronger physical base from which to do the dance itself.

I believe this to be the case because I find keeping my balance to be a real challenge when dancing. That's because one has one's legs close together and one performs each step very slowly.

The wrong and the right way to do the exercise.

AND, crucially, one should keep one's knees slightly bent throughout the whole dance and thus throughout the whole exercise.

A development of this exercise is walking, without a partner, around the hall very slowly, knees brushing against each other, and also knees slightly bent and each step being executed with a kind of sliding action where the toe and not the heel touches the floor first. I'm flat-footed so practice is clearly necessary in this case too.

This walking exercise reminded me of that old test for drunkenness that one used to see in TV cop programmes - walking in a straight line. As I say, I was wobbling all over the place.

Again, I'll be practising this at home this week.

Tango fact:

One always dances around the hall in an anti-clockwise direction.

Last night's dinner:

Spaghetti bolognaise with far too much mince.

Currently listening to:

"A Man Called E" by Eels.

Eels being basically one person, Mark Oliver Everett.

Thursday 27 September 2012

HO Scale Jouef Peugeot 203

The latest addition to my collection of little plastic HO scale cars arrived from France today, courtesy of eBay - Jouef Peugeot 203.

The box was huge compared with the contents and stuffed with French newspaper for protection.

And bubble wrap

Then a little box filled with tissue.

And finally a little car is hatched.

A little beauty.
Jesus Christ Superstar:

This musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber is doing the rounds again in arena form. Along with "Hair" it is the only post-1960s musical that I like.

I saw it in New York off Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in 1971. It was one of the most spectacular theatre experiences I've ever had. I still remember the chap who played King Herod stomping campishly across the stage in these giant platform sandals. Really revolutionary interpretation of the part of Herod.

Had a quick trawl of the web for photos of that performance and came up with a couple.

Barry Dennen who played Pilate


But, what I'm listening to at the moment and indeed have been looking forwards to playing all day is:


Tango update:
Really enjoyed last night's class although in the warm-up I did clout a woman quite hard (and loudly) on the shoulder.
Still the worse in the class but feel I am improving. (Hope her shoulder is.)
Will practise with my wife for 10 minutes this evening.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Architectural Clay

The architectural clay has arrived at the college and so at last night's class I was able to start on my Boulevard Haussmann style building.

The clay is very soft and heavy and thus difficult to lift off the board when manoeuvring it about.

The plan was that I should spend the evening rolling out the 4 walls of the building: 3 large slabs and 1 narrow slab.

I say "slabs" but they were only about half a centimetre thick, so really they were large tiles.

The point was that it took me two hours to roll them out with the rolling pin. And I got a nasty blister for my trouble.

What I'm aiming at.

Cloth underneath or the clay sticks to the board.

Should be big enough for one wall.

The 4 walls rolled out.
Finally, each cloth was folded over its wall, and the 4 walls stacked on top of each other and stored in one of the "damp cupboards". This will allow the clay to dry out a degree so that next week the tiles are stiffer and can be worked upon. At present they are too wet and soft.

Anyway, the donkey work is over.

Tango class tonight:

Didn't manage any practice this past week. Hope the rest of the class haven't charged ahead too much in the mean time.


Last night and this afternoon I listened to Barenboim play Beethoven's last 3 piano sonatas. Not only do I not get sick of them through repeated playing, I find them more satisfying to listen to.

Tuesday 25 September 2012


Never been terribly sure what Cinzano, or indeed a vermouth, is. In the 60s it was a brand that signified French sophistication.

Must look up 'vermouth': will do it now:

Vermouth is basically grape juice fortified with a strong alcohol and flavoured with herbs of various kinds.

Cinzano turns out to be Italian. But there is a strong French connection.

In Paris in 1912, Cinzano was the first product to be advertised with a neon sign.

Anyway, took delivery yesterday of an HO scale Peugeot 403 Cinzano van.

Post script to Poitiers:

Yesterday, while waiting outside the hotel for my taxi to take me to the airport - cost 10 euros, by the way - I was hailed from across the street by the  couple I'd spoken to in the restaurant the evening before. They crossed over and treated me like a long lost relative. Clearly the Parkinson's disease had not diminished the husband's appetite because they were going back to the same place for lunch.

Beethoven's Emperor Concerto:

Caught the last two movements of this concerto on Radio 3 as I drove home from work today. The slow movement is very beautiful.

Ceramics class tonight: will it be more clay model cars or will the material have been delivered to allow me to start work on my new building?

Monday 24 September 2012

Final night in Poitiers

Last night's dinner:

Sunday evening is not a good time to find an open restaurant in France. However, the bistrot directly across from the hotel was open. I was worried that the menu would be limited and that I would be rushed out so that the staff could get home early - quite the reverse. The menu was intact with extras on a blackboard and it was full with diners and new ones being welcomed until I left at approx 9.30pm.

As soon as I entered the place I knew that the evening would be a success.

I wasn't seeking to be treated like royalty but, frankly, I was as was everyone else there. No problem about being a lone diner and in fact a young woman was dining alone at the table next to me.

Some pictures:

The lady to the right had tattoos across her neck and shoulder!!

Kir cassis while browsing menu.

Went for a pichet of house Rose again.

Stupendous foie gras and chutney.

Star of the evening - see below.

Creme brulee
The star of the evening was the main course which was slices of local lamb (shoulder). There is a tradition in France (in my experience) of a main dish being more or less 90% meat and the vegetable accompaniments  negligible. I really like that arrangement. In the above case: two small carrots and a tomato and just a smidgen of mashed potato underneath the meat.

The evening was surprisingly convivial and I talked a lot to both the young woman to my left (who I think might have had MS because she left on crutches and did an amazing act using the crutches to get her jacket from the coat stand and then put it on - it was like cirque du soleil. And to an elderly couple to my right - all in my very, very slow French. There was a fairly loud Northern English couple in the restaurant further up to my left - perfectly amiable, with none of that loud English arrogance one hears of, though I've never seen.

Anyway, I felt at first that the elderly French couple were displaying disapproving glances towards the English pair. Therefore, I was slightly amused when the French woman let out a short shriek. Her husband had knocked over his glass of red wine whose contents went all over his wife's plate and surrounding table cloth. So much for French sophistication - or so I thought.

As I say, I talked much to this couple as the evening went on. It turned out that they lived in La Rochelle and had come to Poitiers for the husband's hospital appointment the following day. He suffered from incipient Parkinson's disease - hence the accident with the wine glass.

An excellent evening altogether.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Sightseeing - an utter waste of time.

Last night's meal:

After a wonderful day in la Rochelle, had an utterly pointless meal at the much vaunted Alain Buiton restaurant.

It's much vaunted on the internet and prior to leaving Scotland I had asked the hotel in Poitiers to reserve me a table there. God knows why because, unlike last night's excellent establishment, it was empty from the off and only another three people had arrived by the time of my leaving at half past nine - and this a Saturday night!

It wasn't excessively expensive and indeed they undercharged me by 3 euros. They were also very pleasant and attentive for the whole evening. But the food was banal.

Empty on a Saturday night must mean something.

Kir - my now favoured aperative

Hellish starter of cuboidal spring roll and cottage cheese inside ham shell.

Perfectly acceptable cod.

Tedious Rose wine in CRACKED dispenser repaired with sellotape!

Boring creme brulee.

I found the place to be pretentious and third rate. A joyless evening is how I would sum it up.
This morning:

Church this morning at Notre Dame. Beautiful and vibrant service but only after I'd had my usual cafe au lait with pain aux raisins at a cafe on the square.

Going there, a French woman stopped me and asked  the way to the nearest boulangerie. I directed her to my little cafe on the square which also sells bread. A French man intervened and said that in fact the boulangerie was in the opposite direction. I didn't care two hoots since I knew where I was going and didn't want them to nip in before me and get the last of the pain aux raisins.

Three minutes later at the cafe while standing at the counter waiting for my coffee to be made, I turned around and there behind me were the French male and French female bread hunters.

Le pain aux raisins.

Le cafe on the square.

This morning's Mass begins.

An imposing Romanesque church.

On a whim, decided to go to Paris for the afternoon - a 90 minute journey by TGV. Superb journey there, sweeping across the beautiful French countryside.

The colossal subterranean terminus of Montparnasse

But when I got to Paris, I really didn't want to be there. What was the point? Next to the station was the brown and bronze skycraper, "Tour de Montparnasse", which offered amazing 360 degree panoramique views of Paris. Cost 13 euros and one ascended the 56 floors in 38 seconds.

Here are some photographs I took from the top with my phone camera.

The tower itself.

I was glad to get back on the train and hugely enjoyed the journey back to Poitiers - just staring at the passing countryside.

"Adrift in Soho" by Colin Wilson

Continuing to read this gripping semi-autobiographical novel about 1950s London. Some excellent and humorously put observations in it.

Basically, the hero has come down to London from the Midlands to seek his intellectual fortune. He falls in with a bohemian crowd of wasters, actors, writers, tramps and exponents of the occult; all living in various middens or squats as we would now call them. At first he is pretty sceptical about the philosophical tosh he is being served up, but then he meets a particularly articulate drop-out.

"He began to explain at length to me the philosophy of freedom. For the first time, I realised that it was really a kind of vision, and not just an excuse for doing nothing."