Trois Salv-adorable Vignettes

I’ve had something of a staggering writer’s block during the past 6 months, brought about by a perfect storm of creativity-draining projects and late-night rehearsals, resulting in over a dozen failed attempts at putting anything coherent into already precariously structured sentences, such as this one.

Determined to force something out (in the hope of triggering more literary aftershocks) I resolved on the train today to put down three surreal and trivial vignettes from my youth and non-youth (admittedly not really knowing what a vignette is, nor caring to).

Vignette No. 1.,): Over 5 years ago I was walking out on King Island, during low tide. I needn’t emphasise that the tide was low, as that is what makes the unremarkable King Island so remarkable; it lies some 800 google-map metres from the mainland off Wellington Point (near Brisbane) (in Australia) and is accessible via a sand-bar for walking purposes only during low tide. During high tide there is no reason to venture thence, as the island consists of 100 square metres of dense mangrove and the decaying, seagull-encrusted remains of anyone who ventured thence while the tide was rising. With King Island, it really is all about the journey (see poster below) and not at all about the destination: a pilgrimage to be undertaken purely because of its temporary availability. And if you’re a particularly fortunate pilgrim you might avoid being stung by one of the many washed-up jellyfish. One can only hope that the Bayside Bulletin named it one of the Redlands’ “Major Tourist Attractions” in a valiant effort to hamper the local tourist industry.

As shown

As shown

This occasion became distinguished from my other visits. The sandbar leading to the island extended almost as far past the island as well, so I decided to reach its furthest point. However, after making my way past the main foliage of the “island”, the landscape suddenly became not unlike a Salvador Dali painting; desolate, sandy and littered with hundreds of frozen chickens.

Melting in the sun, the chickens glistened cheekily, giving no hint of their origins, nor explaining their general intact-ness. I cannot find any other account of this occurrence, most likely due to the facts that no-one normally bothers trotting the extra kilometre out on the broken coral, and that the numerous unsavoury predators* of the bay would ensure the small flightless birds would not last another tide. The only other explanations were that I imagined the whole thing? Or maybe it was art.**

Three Quarter Shark

*Three-Quarter Shark

**Seriously, we could not find any art at the Tate Modern, unless it was supposed to be the large and random group of people jogging sporadically in unison around the main hall area. In the words of persons much more perceptive than I: “Isn’t the Tate Gallery great, Valerie?”

Vignette II) There used to be a small jacaranda tree out the front of my house growing up. It (the tree) is no longer there as it turned out it possessed great intelligence and an unquenchable* thirst for water that enabled it to spread its major subterranean tendrils into the plumbing and ultimately emerge from the bathroom sink of our house an unreasonable distance away. (See Diagram)

* Technically, isn’t all thirst is unquenchable in the long run?

Diagram

This in itself was kind of surreal, as it implies a tree was sinisterly plotting this for some two decades (kind of like a reverse Shawshank Redemption), but there is another story I have regarding it; an experience of near-impalement. One day, hanging upside-down from an (in hindsight) unstable branch for a 13 year-old to be hanging from, I realised perhaps I should probably get down, just as the branch snapped. I fell backwards onto a protruding spike from a vertically-facing branch that had been sawed off. I tried very hard to add this in the Diagram. Fortunately, this spike broke off with my impact, but I ended up unable to move as my shirt was attached to the spike-remainder until a laughing sister freed me, and unable to breathe for a while, apparently from shock.

Typical for Australia, recovering on the driveway meant inevitably being bitten by a green ant* **, which was considerably more painful. I ended up with a spectacular bruised gash and after making it assisted to bed, my family ran a bath for me and then went off somewhere. It took a good half hour to crawl unassisted down that hallway to the bath, like some kind of unthreatening zombie in a third rate horror film, but with much more napping involved.

I don’t know if that is the scientific term*** for them, but they had a green shine to them and a very distinctive sting that came with a phycological effect telling you that it was the worst thing ever.

** Helpful Hint: I learnt that if you soaked them in water first they became much more docile and willing residents for your lego houses. I am not sure exactly how I came to make this discovery.

*** Wikipedia now tells me that green ant is indeed an acceptable term, although it is also amusingly known as the metallic pony ant. I don’t know how they arrived at that one, but I like it.

Vinaigrette Three: While living in Mill Hill, a sunny suburb of London, one of my flat-mates (whose initial meeting of I had managed to avoid for some weeks) happened to arrive home while I was cooking pasta on a gas stove, which of course you should not run away from. She was very friendly and either Dutch or Belgian or some-other-non-UK-and-less-major-European nationality, but extremely friendly and chatty either way.

She began a lengthy dialogue at me about how she had just come back from the dentist. I was all ‘oh that’s nice’ and she proceeded to tell me how she had to leave the house at 4am just to get there, all the way on the other side of the city (which, again, was London). It was currently about 4pm or so. “Well that’s certainly dedication” I replied, thinking perhaps she should try and find a closer dentist, but also thinking maybe there was a long sad story involved about how this dentist saved a close relative of hers who had vicious wisdom teeth or something so I did not voice this.

I became confused, however, when she then stated how people were lining up around the block just waiting to get in – hundreds of people. I again assumed perhaps it was a very popular clinic (London is very populated after all), one that emphasised quality in a soup-nazi-esque fashion. Her closing comments were that she really enjoyed going and planned to go again several times in the next few days. “Good for you!” I thought, smiling and nodding, because I didn’t have any remotely relatable dental experiences.

It was not until she had gone and I had finished the pasta that I realised that Wimbledon was on at that time and in all probability she had actually said she had been to the tennis. But I never did verify this – I think it was also my last proper conversation with her.

Moral Conclusions: 

None. I told you they were trivial. Instead, here’s a photo of a certain (relatively) recently acquired cat playing cello.

Sterling Cello

Much too sul tasto for my taste, but he’s learning.

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Euston, we have a problem…

I like the London Underground.

Puppy!

Surprisingly, Alsatians are the world’s only venomous canine. The male possesses a poison spur on their back legs. Though rarely fatal, it can incapacitate an adult human.

Hailing as I do from Brisbane, where the train network is fundamentally sadistic, one soon develops an acute sense of fear relating to the reliability of the service. There, it is apparent there is a literal “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy relating to train failures, and a half hour journey can quickly grow into a four hour upwards ordeal while lumbering replacement buses are rounded up to wind themselves along the winding backstreets of the outer Brisbane suburbs. One learns the meaning of term ‘languish’ from the experience.

Verily, even if nothing goes wrong the bleak infrequency of literally every train line makes it costly to miss, (emotionally mainly). Between services fierce Alsatians are released upon those still on the platform who didn’t make the train in order to thin the numbers and discourage future tardiness.

They know the deal

Die in open air, the way nature intended. Ask your Druggist about Rat Bis=Kit today! IT’S PACKED IN BOXES!

The London Underground, for all its faults, is a fascinating creature. Two years since I first met it and it is still a pure joy to invariably have only two minutes to wait at most between trains and I always raise an eyebrow at the businessmen who come bounding down the escalators. They fling themselves wildly like a rat on a biscuit at the people-mass crowded into carriages, rather than wait a minute for the next train already approaching. It’s like a freaking conveyor belt, so calm yourselves!

In any case, I’ve wondered with all the stations so close together and with the time it takes to get from the street to the platform, at what distance it becomes faster and cheaper to walk. Furthermore, factoring in the fare costs saved (as well as when delays are in effect), there should be a rough solution to be found.

Some Assumptions:

  • £6.31/h is the UK minimum wage
  • £2.10 – Zone 1 (Oyster Card) trip on the Underground (£4.50 for a single ticket)
  • I’ll make walking speed 6km/h (5km/h is average but you technically need to do fast walking to equate to moderate exercise).
  • Time to get between the street and a station (a rough guess that varies considerably) 2 mins.
  • Time waiting for a train 2 mins.

So. Those are the values. So basically by choosing to walk and not paying a fare, you are effectively getting paid to walk, thus reducing the time-saving nature of the tube.

At a basic level by not paying £2.10 you are buying yourself 19 minutes and 58 seconds of walking time at minimum wage. This is 1996.83 metres!

Seriously. They will even die trying to seek water. It must not happen!

Seriously. They will even die attempting to seek water. It must not happen!

Okay, so that’s almost two kilometres. But remember, by not even going to the station you are saving a little more time. Lets combine the time it takes to get down there and up again and also the waiting time as 6 minutes total (at a rough conservative estimate of course, it depends on station layout). This costs £0.631.

That extra cost saved expands your walking range to 2596.86 metres!! (Taking 25 minutes and 58 seconds to complete)

Also, underground trains travel at an average of 33km/hour which also costs time (though about 5.5 times less than walking). Taking that into account costs £0.0191 per minute relative to walking. This will often be quite negligible and depends on where you want to travel to, but follows an exponential equation.

In the instance above it should take the train about 4.72 minutes to travel the distance you walked (£0.069). This allows for another 65.59 metres of walking. (2662.45 metres!) This additional walking distance buys you another 8.38 seconds for the train to catch up but lets not bother.

Zone 1 MapWith the above diagram; move the blue dot (and shaded red area) to wherever you are and if the station you intend to travel to is within the red outer circle you are financially and time effectively better off walking. Another way to look at it might be that if you’re going vertically in Zone 1 it’s usually cheaper to walk.

A few notes:

  • For delays: Add 31.67 metres for each minute. For instance if there are 10 minute delays on a line, your maximum radius expands another 316.67 metres.
  • If you need to change lines: (say another 5 mins involved including waiting) add another 833 metres to your radius per change required.
  • If you rather enjoy walking vigorously everywhere and cancelled your £40/month gym membership: (that you happened to be using to get your 2.5 hours of moderate exercise a week) the resultant savings add about 1664 walking metres per day.
  • THUS: If you saved on exercise costs and had a line change in your intended route you can walk 5200 metres more efficiently overall than if you used the London Underground (basically the diameter of the original red circle instead of the radius).
  • This would: likely spill over into Zone 2 which would automatically give you another 665 metres due to the increased fare.
  • Finally: if you brought a ticket (£4.50) instead of an Oyster card, you could walk 4734 metres (and that’s just the base figure).
Tube

The London Underground Logo. I drew this left handed? Can you believe I’m not left handed?

There you go. I like the London Underground.

P.S. This is my 50th blog post!

Manchester, or a Study in 7ths and Other Things

I look forward to Saturday. Not only will it contain my last performance in the sunny old England but also my final visit to Manchester (though I will be briefly passing through it to the airport later next month). This final concert features George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the North Cheshire Wind Orchestra and me/I, and it is a strange coincidence that I played the exact same piece with wind orchestra in my last concert before leaving Australia in the first place. Then I return to London and eventually after a few months back to Australia 😀

Made using pebbles

‘Map of the World’ made using glass pebbles from a beach in Sicily! Not to scale and sincere apologies to Cuba and Spain. The second pebble from the right (the orange one) represents Norfolk Island.

***Disclaimer***

While I find the Rhapsody great fun to play – it is to be brought to the attention of anyone who reads this far that Gershwin’s later Piano Concerto (albeit scored for symphony orchestra) is objectively a dwarfing-ly superior work in ALL regards. The only thing it doesn’t outperform the Rhapsody in is popularity. And even then it should. Go and listen and update your aesthetics.

***End Disclaimer***

In any case, it will be particularly interesting to hear two equivalent-quality (Zoom) same-concerto (Rhapsody) recordings of my playing on either side of this whole England jaunt. I almost succeeded in doing so with Carl Vine’s piano concerto in 2008 and 2010: the first performance had a good recording but the latter (at the Queensland Conservatorium) was of somewhat bizarre audio quality. One must assume the trained monkeys they normally used had smallpox™ that day and so they brought in Plan B – the music technology students.

Cohort of '09

Mutech Cohort of ’09

The ‘Mutechs,’ as they are ‘affectionately’ known, are a special breed. Part heavy metal enthusiast, part computer nerd, and equipped with no practical musical experience or knowledge. Only the most inexperienced first-years were ever allowed to participate in the concert-recording ritual – once they matured or showed signs of competence they were taken off this duty and, well, we never saw them again. There were rumours that a select few managed to survive up on the Conservatorium’s third floor, but I’m sure that colony would have died out (much like the smallpox virus in the late 1970s) when that floor’s vending machine broke in 2011.

On this occasion when miking the auditorium, one of the Mutechs widely interpreted the term ‘piano’ as ‘glockenspiel’ – they both look kinda similar after all – and so miked the crap out of it. Secondly, they somehow acquired a consumptive nonagenarian for the concert, gave him a microphone to hold and asked him to sit at the back of the hall and cough regularly into it to make sure it worked. No other mikes were deemed necessary. Ah, good times.

Anyway I digress. Digress from what? Oh yes, last trip to Manchester. I’ve been getting to know London intimately and for the last two days have spent an hour-and-a-half weeding (or de-weeding?) this overgrown Mill Hill backyard, to the bemusement of a neighbour’s cat. You don’t really get to know a place intimately until you spend a lot of time doing menial tasks and thinking up blog ideas in it. Such is life*.

"What

“What a nice little garden”

*Fact: not actually Ned Kelly’s last words. According to Wikipedia his execution morning dialogue went thus:

“Such is life” -> “What a nice little garden” -> *mumble* -> death

So in summary you can update your general trivia that A) Gershwin wrote a piano concerto THAT IS NOT Rhapsody in Blue(and for that matter several other solo/orchestral works), B) smallpox no longer exists and C) the next time you’re praising someone’s landscaping prowess, try and retain Ned Kelly’s sense of existential resignation.

It is late so I must leave you there. One last thing: extra points if you know what quasi-famous and surreal London monument this is a terrible photo of?

To be confirmed

To be confirmed…

Returned to Sender

Belated apologies and what have you!

It has been a very hectic time these last few weeks/months with PhD applications, major recitals, moving to London and a production of the Sound of Music. All within the space of a week though all these demands (and more!) suddenly ended and it’s only now that I can catch up on the shameless and questionable art that is blogging. There will be more frequent posts now and I thought I’d provide my recent recital program notes to make up for the lack of it! It was quite an elaborate 3-piano/electronic/percussion set-up as shown:

P1010598

Masters Program Masters Program2