Friday 30 November 2012


Mosaic tiles:

This platform seems to be getting longer the more tiles I lay.

Last night's dinner:

After a day, yesterday, of continuous melancholia, was greatly uplifted by a first-rate meal at Wee Lochan, a restaurant at the top of our road. I love moderately noisy and full eating places. This was one such, last night.

Chicken liver foi gras parfait

Hake on top of some stuff.

I'm not into desserts - my spouse's pear and other things

The Swedish pop singer, Robyn, has made some great videos.

Here are some images from them.

Thursday 29 November 2012


Adlestrop is a poem by Edward Thomas that I must have read at some time in the past but have little recollection of so doing.

It was referred to in the novel by Ian McEwan that I'm currently enjoying, "Sweet Tooth". The famous first line was quoted therein. The first line brings tears to my eyes. "Yes, I remember Adlestrop."

Who is he talking to? Himself, perhaps. What prompted him to say that or think it? How many years later is it?

And the evocation of England.


Yes, I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas

Almost makes me want to build an English model railway layout.

The station no longer exists but the name board lives on in the local bus shelter.

And some more tiles laid on platform 3.


Have felt sad all day; not for myself but for others. Especially, I've felt sad for young people who are lonely and want to find a partner and don't seem able to.

Therefore have not been listening to Hot Chip but reverted to Radio 3 iPlayer and have been listening to today's lunchtime concert from Vienna Konzerthaus.

A programme of Mozart, Prokofiev and Schumann.

Vienna Konzerthaus
Last night's dinner:

Spouse-made macaroni cheese sauce
Tango class:

Pretty unsuccessful last night:

a) I can't remember even the shortest sequence of steps.

b) I'm totally without assertiveness with my partners and it is the male's job to lead.

"You must be stronger, firmer in your moves, Tony, goes the cry. You have to make the lady do your will. And so on and so on."

But I'm scared that there will be a repeat of that hilarious incident in "Meet The Parents" where the Ben Stiller character is being urged on to make a good aggressive and ultra-competitive contribution to a family game of water polo (the family being his girlfriend's family which he is trying to impress and fit in with). Taking the bit between his teeth, and completely misunderstanding the situation, he rises out of the water and hammers the ball back over the net and breaks a girl's nose on the other team.

No praise forthcoming, "It's only a game, Fokker!"

Likewise I can hear the cry, "It's only a dance, Morris!" as I shove my partner to the ground and she lands with a clatter and lets out an outraged scream of shock, pain and disgust.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Why checkered platforms?

Hotel du Depart:

In an earlier blog I outlined my theory that if I packed lots of French imagery into my layout then the thing would look French. The twist was that I would not align any particular item of imagery with the object or setting that one usually associated with it.

So, I associate  checkered tablecloths with French brasseries/cafes but rather than have checkered tablecloths in little HO scale cafes on my layout, I would dissociate the checks from the cafe setting and associate them with the platforms.

By doing this there would be a certain tension in the eye of the beholder as he or she confronted the  imagery of checkeredness, which would conjure up Frenchness, BUT in the absence of the objects usually associated with checkeredness.

This tension, I believe, invigorates the total perception as the mind struggles to resolve the dissociated elements.

(Yes, it does sound like a load of crap.)

I was reminded of the Frenchness of things checkered when I looked again at this interior of an HO scale model of Hotel du Depart. Not mine; off the internet.

And, I added another 10 rows of tiles to my final platform.

Ceramics update:

Not much to report: continued to repair and tidy up the walls of the much vaunted building.

One decision was taken though and that was NOT to assemble the 4 walls before the firing but to fire them all flat and then assemble them. There was too much risk that trying to stand them up and join them together in a pre-fired and thus brittle state would lead to calamity.

Getting rid of uneven edges with a wet paint brush

A tidied up wall.

Then I put all the little clay stanchions back in position to keep the window frames intact during firing. What a palaver!

The rest of the class seem fascinated with my project and keep coming up to me with excellent ideas for decorating the building with features eg windows, window frames, balustrades, shop windows, balconies. I hope I don't offend anyone by not choosing theirs.

A Gift:

The lady whose terracotta tiles I so admired and wish to adapt to make a background townscape for the layout presented me with one of them as a gift. My wife and I really love it.


Last night's dinner:

Mushroom omelet
Prix Choc:

This is a classic track by Etienne de Crecy from Super Discount 1 which is permanently set to play in my car CD player at the moment. For some reason I have 3 re-mixes of it - all excellent.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Ceramics class tonight

10 more centimetres of mosaic

I don't seem to be making such good speed with this final platform. I'm beginning to suspect that while I'm away at work each day, my wife unpicks a few rows: so 10 steps forwards and four backwards.

Current position

Another angle

Everyone agrees:

Going back out again at night, even for a so-called leisure activity, is a daunting prospect and one waits for the phone call cancelling the event.

At least, tonight, I feel that the tasks ahead of me are finite, definable and manageable.

1) assemble the 4 walls of the building ready for the kiln.

What I'm aiming at.

A wall

2) Continue to experiment with scraping out designs on terracotta tiles as a possible backdrop to the layout.

One tile

Rough sketches of what I have in mind.

Last night's dinner:

Tin of M & S chicken curry and rice - washed down with pint of milk.

 Currently listening to:

'Hot Chip's fifth album is a multi-coloured riot of electro, funk and pop – and possibly their best yet. Produced by the band themselves, it's designed for the dancefloor yet never feels short of gigantic pop melodies. Explaining the joyous approach, Joe Goddard said: "I want to listen to records like Never Too Much by Luther Vandross. I don't want to listen to a band caught up in their hang-ups and problems. That's just not interesting to me."

The Guardian's Michael Hann recently spoke to the band and concluded that Hot Chip "look and sound increasingly like one of the great British pop groups".
On the evidence of In Our Heads, we agree. Do you? Have a listen using the widget above and let us know your thoughts in the comment section below …'

Copied and pasted this from a feature in the Guardian.

Monday 26 November 2012

My spouse makes an interesting point.

10 more rows of tiles to platform 3.

Trusty set square to keep things straight.

Elisabeth Leonskaja:

I have to say, this woman does not seem 67 years old. For over two hours she pumelled that piano in front of a pretty full Glasgow City Halls.

The stage before the concert began.

She made lots of mistakes but her playing was fearsome and it was probably one of the best solo piano recitals I have attended.

But, I was still slightly bored and yet again concluded that I prefer to listen to chamber music at home from an MP3 player or from CD or from Radio 3.

My spouse made an interesting point. She said that perhaps I liked to listen to this music on my own. That it was so intimate one needed to interact with it one-to-one.

I think that may well be true.

Some music you want to hear as part of an audience eg symphonies, concertoes and all forms of pop/rock music. In fact, listening to those works in a half-filled hall is very depressing.

Last night's dinner:

Spouse's spouse's: plaice, artichokes and black pudding.

Spouse's: trout and baked potato.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Gary Player, Edmund de Waal and the Tango

Platform 3 - another 10 rows of tiles.

Tango frustrations:

I'm approaching my self-enforced aim to learn the Tango with a massive burden on my back.

Namely, I believe that natural aptitude plays a huge part in being able to learn any dance and I believe that I have no such aptitude.

But, the opposite view abounds everywhere one looks.  For example, one Tango website begins with this quotation:

"You must work very hard to become a natural golfer."  Gary Player 

One of my regular squash partners has 'modern dance' as a hobby. He came to it late in life and says it took him several years to  acquire any kind of success in it. He believes that everything in dance is learned and that the trick is to practise, practise, practise until things become second nature. He didn't use the phrase 'second nature', instead he talked of building up muscle memory.

The guest on today's Desert Island Discs was the potter and writer Edmund de Waal. Despite my attendance at a ceramics evening class, I have no special interest in pottery or potters. But De Waal did make some interesting points.

Firstly, he emphasized the tactile satisfaction integral to pottery and said that 'touch' was almost a taboo conversational subject in Western cultures; that there was no developed vocabulary for talking about such an important part of being human. He compared the West with other cultures where 'touch' was a routine topic of conversation - or so he claimed.

Clearly, 'touch' has a relevance to the Tango. I'll mull that point over in case there lurks within it some explanation of my difficulty (and embarrassment) in learning to dance.

His second point relates to the issue of 'practice makes perfect'. In pottery one does the same thing over and over, again and again. Whether it be yet another session on the potter's wheel or yet another simple action with the hand to shape or smooth the clay, pottery is a highly repetitive business.

But he extols that repetition. Each repetition of even the most simple action is in fact unique. Every time one performs it one has the opportunity to improve it, to adapt it subtly to a new project. Furthermore, since one is investing oneself in every action then, as one grows as a person, one is inevitably investing something different in that action.

This is a different slant on the nature of practice.

It offers one a different attitude. Instead of seeing practice as 'something that one must do' and  patting oneself on the back after a gruelling practice session and consoling oneself with the thought that eventually one will master whatever it is that one is practising; de Waal seems to be saying that one should treat each repetition as a special event in itself.

So, when I approach a 20 minute session of pacing/mincing/prancing/stumbling up and down the hallway I should not demean these steps as inferior executions of the Tango walk which one day in the future will lead to superior executions.

Instead, I should esteem each of these practice steps.

Last night's dinner:

Pizza with olives, artichokes and anchovies.

Washed down with a Bordeaux from Wine Society.

Schubert's Final Piano Sonatas
Off to Glasgow City Halls later this afternoon to hear the Russian pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja (b 1945) play these beautiful, melancholic and dare I say it, profound, sonatas.
Not sure why I am dragging my spouse to this since I had more or less made up my mind a year ago that piano sonatas do not lend themselves to live performance in the way that a symphony does; one is as well listening to them on CD at home.
Anyway, we're going.


Saturday 24 November 2012

Tango perplexities

Platform 3 continues:

Trade Unions and Music:

Listened to a fascinating documentary on Radio 3 this morning from Budapest. The city's symphony orchestra had invited Radio 3 to sit in on rehearsals and recordings.

It was fascinating for all sorts of reasons but one incident stood out for me. The sound recording engineer, who seemed to be American and had worked with orchestras all over the world, was asked what made working with this orchestra special.

"No unions," he replied immediately.

Where there were unions, everything was geared to stopping for lunch breaks, tea breaks, only working so many hours during the day etc.  It was frustrating, he said when after hours of working to get the various balances right between strings and woodwind, solo instruments and conductor etc etc, a metaphorical whistle was blown and everyone downed instruments and one had to start all over again after lunch.

In Budapest, everyone was motivated to reach perfection no matter how long it took to reach it.

Now, there is the opposite argument to be put here re workers' rights etc.

But it wasn't that issue of rights which I found fascinating.

I was also reminded of tales from the world of rock music where bands would famously start recording or rehearsing at 11 o'clock at night and keep at it till they dropped with exhaustion perhaps mid-afternoon the following day. Perhaps one can explain that difference by pointing out that rock stars are not employees unlike orchestra members.

Does being an employee take away the passion for playing one's instrument?

That's not what fascinated me either.

What fascinated me was why this state of affairs existed in Hungary, a member of the EU. Was it a hangover from the Communist or rather Soviet past?  That question was not asked.

Last night's dinner:

Steak pie and boiled potatoes washed down with milk.

How to Tango:

My character leaves me frustrated when experts in any field do not agree over the fundamentals. I've found this in all sorts of pursuit from medicine to tennis coaching to laying track for a model railway.

And now for Tango too.

One of the fundamental building blocks of Tango is 'walking correctly'.

Perplexity 1 - heel or toe.

I find walking in a Tango fashion very difficult, very unnatural.

All I know is that my life-long habit of clattering my heels down heavily with each step is wrong.

So, landing on the balls of the feet or just sliding one's feet along the floor is not natural to me and no matter how much I practise the correct gait on my own, I revert to my natural ignorant way of walking when with a partner.

So today as I walked back from morning Mass I looked closely at the footfall of passing male pedestrians. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM LANDED HEEL FIRST WHEN THEY WALKED.

So, I'm not unique in having that as my default walking style.


Then I looked at a really well laid out Tango website and they started with the fundamental building block of the Tango walk and re-iterated that one lands on the ball of the foot.

Perplexity 2 - straight or bent leg.

Also, this website stated as crucial that one always keeps the non-stepping leg absolutely straight whereas I'd been told that one always keeps a slight bend in the leg.

Perplexity 3 - pushing off with backfoot or not

One point that everyone seems to agree about (and perhaps I should cling to this) is that the male propels the Tango partnership  by thrusting forwards with his upper torso.

One school of thought states that one generates this forward momentum by pushing off with one's backfoot; that's achieved by raising the heel of one's back foot.

But other schools of thought make no mention of this raising of the back foot and instead claim that the secret of forward propulsion is to allow one's body to be constantly in a tipped-forward position and then imagine that an invisible hand on the upper back is shoving one forwards.


Friday 23 November 2012

Amazing Grace

Platform 3 begins:

What's still left to do.

Laid some of the purple edging tiles.
Amazing Grace:

I have a love/hate relationship with this hymn. On the one hand, I find it schmaltzy and populist and am heartily sick of it having heard it so many times.

On the other hand, you sometimes hear an attractive  new rendition eg once I heard some kind of unaccompanied Scottish Island choir wailing it and found that most engaging.

Yesterday, at morning Mass, Amazing Grace was the hymn of the day, so to speak. Inwardly, I groaned, but was then struck by one of the lines in the hymn book.

Amazing Grace
John Newton (1725-1807)
Stanza 6 anon.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.


 How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

That's the line that caught my attention. For, I have always believed. I can remember no time when I had even the slightest doubt about my belief in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Does that mean, therefore, that I have always been aware of that Grace?

The answer is that I am not sure what is meant by Grace. I find that my belief is precious in itself. I don't seem to need an extra ingredient called Grace.

Will have to dwell on this distinction between Belief and Grace.

A good starting point might be to look a little more closely at the words which hitherto I've not paid any attention to!!!!

Last night's dinner:

Spouse's: lemon sole and potatoes

Spouse's spouse's: plaice, black pudding and cous cous.

Cesar Franck's Piano Quintet:

As I emerged from the Clyde Tunnel today, Radio 3 reception kicked in and I found myself joining the broadcast of a fantastic piano and string ensemble piece. But what was it? I'd heard it before: was it Brahms? No, too jerky. Was it Mendelssohn? No, too 20th Century? Was it Shostakovich? No, none of his signature melodies and other devices were in evidence. Was it Prokofiev? I was pretty sure it was but then it became too lyrically melodic.

I was in agony. Would the piece finish before I arrived at the office and allow me to hear the announcement of it's composer? It finished as I was parking the car at my destination.

Cesar Franck's Piano Quintet.

The version I have.

Must play it more often; a really excellent piece, full of inventiveness and melody.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Never reading books

Finished tiling platform 2: one to go.

The hole in the centre of the platform is for an eventual lampost - see earlier blog.

Not reading novels:

Me: "I don't know if you're much of a reader, Alec, but I came across this amusing quotation in an Evelyn Waugh novel the other day."

Esteemed colleague (not actually called 'Alec'): "Never read a book in my life, Tony. I wait till they get to celluloid."

This response never ceases to surprise me. But, actually, it occurs frequently. It amazes me how many highly intelligent, articulate and dare I say it, wise folk never read fiction.

My father was a case in point. I don't think he read a novel in his life. Yet, he was all those things: intelligent, articulate and wise and more so. My mother was different, she read poetry.

I read a hell of a lot (albeit slowly). I feel miserable if I don't have a novel at the ready - in case I need the escape.

Anyway, thoroughly enjoying the new Ian McEwan novel, "Sweet Tooth". Ian McEwan is pretty much the only contemporary writer whose prose I can tolerate.

My conclusion is that I can see little to be gained from reading novels other than pleasure.

Last night's dinner:

A banana:

Tango update:

Not very successful last night. But I did learn something whose significance I will try to explicate.

One reason that my feet repeatedly clatter against those of my opponent's (sorry, partner's - Freudian slip) is that there is not enough space between us at floor level.

To make that space the man slopes forward and the woman has to support him. This slope, as well as making that ground level space for the feet, also imparts the force which makes the man the propelling force in Tango.


In order to experience this phenomenon, we did an exercise where the woman held the man at arm's length and she was forced backwards around the dance floor by the force of him leaning forwards. That required a lot of faith from the man in the woman. But it was possible to do.

However, once one adopted the embrace position, as in the first picture above, it was not clear to me how the woman was to support the falling timber that was the man.