Tags: biking, cycling, humour, music, singing, strava
Singing practice can be a lonely business. Just you, the score and a surprised window cleaner. Why not get social? The newest app in the Strava family lets you upload your training, track your progress and match your efforts against fellow hopeless amateur singers all over the world. Take a look at my latest activity file:
Rumours abound of notoriously competitive professional singers downloading the app, so don’t be disheartened if your QoM (Queen of the Mezzos) is mysteriously taken by Paula Murrihy. You’ll just have to train harder to get it back. To the piano!
Tags: cycling, cyclocross, biking, advice, humour, music, opera, contemporary
If you followed me for the cycling content, you might be a bit bemused by my sudden foray into classical music overenthusiasm. Relax! Music is just like biking. It’s all about finding the right event. Use my handy guide to decide which type of musical offering will suit you best.
1. Opera is the audax of the classical world. Characterised by incomprehensible content and sections that are much longer than they look on the map, you’ll need endurance, a comfortable saddle, and a plentiful supply of snacks. Short naps are advisable.
2. Groovy contemporary ArtMusic installations: Think of these as cyclocross. Hard work, loud and excitable, you’ll spend more time than usual on your feet, but they’re over quite quickly and someone might hand you up a beer.
3. Recitals. Held in small, intimate venues, recitals are like criteriums: a chance to get up close to your favourites. You might even get an autograph; you should bring a CD for this, as Sagan-style body-part-signing still guarantees ejection from most concert halls. And when the performers surprise you with a ‘spontaneous’ encore, remember to act like you didn’t know it was all worked out in advance.
4. Introduction-to-the-orchestra afternoons, community gamelan projects, Gareth Malone-style choirs, etc.: these are the Go-Rides of classical music. Designed to get people participating who’d otherwise be sitting in the pub, diehards will insist grumpily that they always raced with the Cat 1s and it never did them any harm.
5. Early music conventions: these are Tweed Rides. Everyone goes to enormous lengths to source genuine equipment and use it in an authentic way. This generally means looking impressive, but getting a bit overheated and suffering unexpected chafing.
6. ‘Modern’ programmes, including anything that uses video, audience participation, or the good bits from otherwise dreary works: These are essentially sportives. They’re fun, accessible and popular, so purists will look down their noses at you for not doing things properly. Look on this as an added bonus.
Tags: biking, cycling, driving, humour, sunday, sunday drivers
Well. Gosh. I’m… I don’t know what to say. Thank you! Thank you SO MUCH. I haven’t got a speech prepared, of course… Golly. Er… I’d like to thank my agent (Tish, darling, you’re a miracle worker), my fans (I <3 you all), my social media team (you GUYS!), and my big brother for failing to swap me for a bootleg copy of Donkey Kong all those years ago.
Anyway! On to business. Now I’ve been elected King of Everything, I’m looking forward to making a few changes around here. I’m pleased to introduce my very first piece of legislation: the Sunday Driving rules.
Sunday Driving rules
No driving on Sundays*.
Exemptions MAY be granted under certain STRICT conditions. To apply for exemption, please fill in this form and submit it in triplicate four weeks before your intended driving-on-Sunday date.
1. Name …………………………………………………………….
2. Address …………………………………………………………
3. Vehicle registration …………………………………………
4. Fill in and sign the following DECLARATION, to be witnessed by an upstanding member of your local community (Breeze ride leader, bike shop mechanic, cycling blogger, etc.):
I, …………………………………, hereby apply to be allowed to drive on Sunday the …… (day) of …… (month) 2014 ONLY.
I solemnly swear that I will stick to A roads and motorways, venturing only onto smaller roads when the above are not available. (I attach my proposed route and understand that it is subject to official approval.)
I further declare that I have a legitimate, unavoidable reason for driving on this particular Sunday (e.g. piloting an emergency vehicle, participating in a remote cyclocross race, staffing the Rapha coffee van). I understand that the following are NOT considered legitimate reasons, and will result in the immediate rejection of my application:
a. Tootle to a country pub for lunch
b. Trip to the garden centre
c. Taking all those tetra packs to the dump
d. Visiting every supermarket within a twenty mile radius looking for barbecue skewers
e. Going to sodding IKEA
f. The sun’s out, Deirdre! Put the top down and let’s go for a spin!
g. Going The Pretty Way
h. Driving anywhere to go for a walk, fgs
I also hereby declare that I will smilingly and uncomplainingly cede priority to all non-motorised road users, including (but not restricted to) cyclists, pedestrians, horse riders, mobility scooters, runners, inline skaters, skateboarders, sheep, pheasant, ducks, frogs and wayward footballs.
I am aware that driving in contravention of any of these declarations results in immediate and permanent revocation of my licence, and enters me into a weekly draw to appear on Celebrity Masterchef as an ingredient.
Signed ……………………… (driver)
Signed ……………………… (witness)
Tags: 2014, benvenuto, cellini, cinema, english national opera, eno, film, review, screen
I’m an opera newbie. My Dad was obsessed with Verdi and Puccini, but I never paid much attention (though I realised halfway through a school trip to La Bohème that I knew all the words to Che Gelida Manina from hearing him singing it in the bath).
But it’s sucking me in. As usual, I blame twitter: in my new experiment with classical music fandom, I’m following a gaggle of writers, performers and enthusiasts, and they’re all obsessed with it. They’re being terribly nice to me, sending me YouTube clips and reviews and blogposts, and being lovely about the fact I don’t know my arias from my Elgar. And the excitement is catching.
So. Benvenuto Cellini! Directed by Terry Gilliam! Everyone was in a flap about this. No chance of going to London to see it, but happily it’s part of the ENO Screen season, and was broadcast live in cinemas last night. Now, I was a bit nervous about this. I remember watching televised dance, and being wound up that the cameras never seemed to be where I wanted, and I couldn’t get the perspective I needed. But the trailer looked stunning, and it was the ideal excuse for a night out with a good mate. We got our gladrags on and downed a glass or two of prosecco (just to get in the Glyndebourne spirit, you know).
As we wandered in, the audience on screen were finding their seats too, standing on each other’s feet, sitting on their bags by mistake and offering each other Murray Mints. One portly chap stood and wearily hitched up his trousers (I wonder if that’ll make it onto the DVD). The cameras squinted over people’s shoulders at their programmes while we listened to the strange meanderings of the orchestra warming up. I tried to spot @joshspero, who was on the balcony somewhere.
The opera, like all good operas, contained a number of essential elements: 1) star-crossed lovers; 2) rowdy drinking scenes; 3) women in elaborate underwear. I liked the staging very much: the space was used cleverly, the crowd-scene choreography was great, and there were lots of visual gags. The script’s a daft romp, with lots of implausible events, wild emoting, railing against fate and so on; the principals played along with unironic gusto and almost managed to make the story credible. Minor characters tended towards Coarse Acting hamminess, but once I’d reminded myself the scenes were designed to be peered at from the back of the upper circle, this bothered me less. I wasn’t too thrilled by the music: I’d expected some memorable, sing-this-in-the-shower type arias, but nothing stuck with me (except, perhaps, the one where the dissolute sculptor yearns for a pure life among goats, which probably sounds a bit more solemn in French). But the singing was truly marvellous; I’d convinced myself years ago I didn’t like operatic voices, all silly vibrato and peculiar pronunciation, but things have changed – or I have – and I was swept away by some performances. Willard White’s bass-baritone Pope was mesmerising, like watching a limbo dancer (lower… lower…), Michael Spyres was a clear-voiced and almost loveable Cellini, and Paula Murrihy stole the show in that other operatic staple, a chick playing a chap (this is called a ‘trouser role’, which just makes me giggle like a loon).
Well. It made me really, really wish I’d been there to experience it in person. I hate you, people who live in London. But I got a lot out of watching on the screen: in many ways it was better than being there. Somehow, seeing it all up close brought home the mad, bizarre brilliance of opera as an art form: not just the artistic vision and the organisation and the hard work, but the sheer astonishing fact of people, up there, making this extraordinary, beautiful noise, perfectly, live. Add to that the detail of faces, costumes and sets; the sweat running from the conductor’s sideburns; the glint in an oboist’s eye. Even opera glasses don’t get you that.
Tags: biking, book, cycling, france, france en velo, guide, holiday, review, route, touring, travel
Francophilia oozes from this book. Part travelogue, part tour guide, it takes you on an idiosyncratic, 1000-mile journey through the authors’ favourite bits of France, with plenty of historical, cultural and culinary detours along the way. Hannah and John know France very well, and their route is largely off the beaten track; I was tickled to see the stunning yet little-known Gorges de la Nesque included, for example.
You get the feeling it would be a giggle to go on holiday with these two. Their enthusiasm for good riding in gorgeous scenery is matched by a healthy interest in the local tipples and a penchant for serendipitous exploring (the list of Picnic Essentials includes swimming gear, and one of the Useful Phrases is Could you fill my bottle with red wine, please?).
The book is beautifully laid out. All the pictures of spectacular vistas, inviting streets and architectural gems will induce hopeless nostalgia in anyone who’s visited France, and send readers who haven’t scurrying off to Tripadvisor. Ideal for dreaming over on wintry evenings, you can practically smell the lavender and taste the Sauternes, and the loving detail gives you a real sense of what you’ll experience when you’re there.
It’s a terrific read, then. But would it work as a holiday guide?
Hannah and John suggest ways of adapting the route to your preferences, including dividing it up into different stages depending on how far you want to travel in a day, or doing parts of the route as short breaks. There’s plenty of practical information about each town, including where to shop, stay and get your bike bits from, and I can see all the tidbits of historical and cultural information really enhancing a holiday.
However, the vivid detail that’s so enchanting in your living room might weigh a little heavy in your pannier. The book includes turn-by-turn route descriptions, which would work in a walking guide, but I’m unsure I’d be hauling it out at every junction to check I was going the right way. For me, a different format would have worked better – perhaps a narrower, slimmer volume with directions that would fit in a back pocket, and an accompanying text with the local colour, for route-planning over pizza in the evenings.
I was expecting fold-out maps, and was a bit surprised to find schematic route plans only. So you’ll need to get hold of a set of Michelin maps (not a bad thing, in itself), and spend some time beforehand translating routes from book to map.
The very specific local recommendations in the book may mean it’ll suffer from Lonely Planet syndrome, whereby you arrive in a town to find none of the places you were hoping to eat/ drink/ stay at exist any more. There’s an accompanying website, which isn’t very developed at present – this would be a great place to post up-to-date recommendations, e.g. from travellers using the book. Ideally, the book would have its own app, so you could check directions and local information while on the move.
All in all, though, this is an inspiring read for anyone dreaming of cycle touring in France. Maybe the best approach is to let it stimulate your imagination, and then do as Hannah and John would do – pack a few maps and your swimming gear, fill your bidons with vin rouge, and see where the Mistral blows you.
- France En Velo, by John Walsh and Hannah Reynolds. Wild Things Publishing, 2014. Rrp: £16.99
I was kindly provided with a free copy of this book for review by Wild Things Publishing.
Tags: advice, crushes, diet, exercise, humour, tips, weight loss
Weight-loss solutions abound. Crazy cabbage-soup diets apart, most of them involve sensible eating, exercise, and giving up the stuff you like. However, in an exclusive preview of my new bestseller, I share with you the secrets to losing weight without effort, privation or inconvenience.
1. Fall in love. This is the very best way to lose weight. The stomach-inverting sensations of lust are only a hair’s breadth from nausea, and you’ll be far too busy mulling over underwear choices while anticipating your next tryst to think about prosaic things like food. Furthermore, once in your sweetheart’s arms, you’re limited to eating what you can reach from the bed.
2. Develop a crush. If you can’t fall in love with an actual real live person, an intense, distracting crush is a fine substitute. Mooning around the crushee’s neighbourhood humming On The Street Where You Live burns off excess calories, and all those hours spent youtubing ancient Japanese chat shows mean you’re bound to forget to have lunch. Moreover, when you realise you will never charm him/ her into following you home after a chance encounter in Pret at King’s Cross, the inevitable crash will catapult you into heartbreak, which is the next best weight loss method there is.
3. Fall out of love. Heartbreak is rightly fêted for its appetite-suppressant qualities. Just as your day is suddenly a black-and-white Wim Wenders film, so the contents of the fridge lose their technicolour appeal. Kindly friends try to tempt you from the doldrums with cake and prosecco, but you are immune to these gastronomic charms. Well, maybe not the prosecco. Go on, then. Just a glass.
But what of those of you who are happily ensconced in amiable relationships, with no hint of discord or need for distraction? Are you doomed to middle-age spread? Fear not! There are solutions for you, too.
4. Get really, REALLY nervous about something. Stage fright, performance anxiety, interview stress, dental appointments, even talking to your in-laws on the phone can all helpfully induce the racing heartbeat, room-pacing, obsessive fidgeting and sweating conducive to weight loss. True panic may result in queasiness, a well-known side-effect of which is being unable to finish your sandwich. Talking of which…
5. … Catch stomach flu. I lost 6lb in three days. No kidding. If you can’t bear this solution yourself, persuade your partner or child to develop it. Clearing up after them will put you off eating, probably forever.
Tags: awareness, conversation, counselling, friends, helping, listening, mental health, mental health awareness week, talking
We’re used to having this kind of conversation with friends:
- Topsy: How are you?
- Tim: Oh, I don’t know. Not too good, if I’m honest. I just feel worn out.
- Topsy: Ooh, I know what you mean! I haven’t slept properly for ages.
- Tim: Mmm. I’m just feeling really down about everything.
- Topsy: Oh, dear. I know loads of people who are stressed out at the moment.
- Tim: I think it might be more than just stress.
- Topsy: It’s hard when your kids are little. Maybe getting out on your bike would help?
- Tim: I can’t really seem to get motivated to do anything.
- Topsy: Oh no! Have you been to the doctor?
This is fine, right? Topsy’s making suggestions, giving advice, trying to make Tim feel better. So why does Tim come away from this conversation feeling wretched? He knows Topsy was trying to help, but he feels that his problems were being minimised, that he was being jollied along, that Topsy wasn’t really taking him seriously.
Here’s an alternative.
- Topsy: How are you?
- Tim: Oh, I don’t know. Not too good, if I’m honest. I just feel worn out.
- Topsy: That sounds hard.
- Tim: Mmm. I’m just feeling really down about everything.
- Topsy: Oh, dear.
- Tim: I think it might be more than just stress.
- Topsy: Oh, really?
- Tim: I can’t really seem to get motivated to do anything.
- Topsy: That must be tough.
We fear this kind of conversation because we think: what if I make it worse? What if Tim starts to feel REALLY bad, because I haven’t managed to cheer him up? In fact, the opposite might be true.
- saying ‘I know what you mean’ (you can’t be sure of this)
- giving anecdotes from your own life, or those of others you know (this takes the focus away from the person you’re talking to)
- giving advice
- making suggestions
- trying to cheer them up or distract them
- trying to make them feel their problems aren’t really so bad
It’s hard to do. It’s really hard. We’re not used to it. But it’s worth a try. You won’t make it worse, and you might even help.
* (aka: what I’ve learned from a year of counselling training)
Tags: apostrophes, innovation, language, language change, plurals, punctuation, rules
This ad has been doing the rounds this morning, to the sound of garments being rent all over twitter.
I got a bit excited, though. As a linguist, I was trained to assume that language behaviour is motivated. By this, I mean linguists assume people who know and use a language have (largely unconscious) reasons for speaking or writing in particular ways. I’m not saying no-one ever makes a mistake in writing or speaking; I’m just suggesting that we shouldn’t immediately write off everything that looks ‘wrong’ as an error, but instead think about why someone might have made that language choice, even if they weren’t aware of it at the time.
Writing is particularly interesting, because it’s easy to spot ‘mistakes’ and chastise people for ‘incorrectness’. The Rules are written down in dictionaries, style guides and grammar books. But writing isn’t simply about adhering to a set of (often arbitrary*) grammatical rules. While people delight in sharing this kind of thing…
… there are examples where the ‘correct’ written language can seem ambiguous or unclear. This is what I think is going on in the Dorothy Perkins ad. (More on this in a minute.)
So, you know the rule about plural formation, right? No apostrophes in plurals. Simple. Except even style guides give some exceptions, including plurals of some foreign words (folio’s), numbers (100’s) and letters (mind your p’s and q’s, the three R’s). Why the exceptions? I’d suggest it’s for clarity. The plural of folio is probably to suggest the correct pronunciation (foh-lee-ohz, not foh-lee-oss), while the others are probably to make sure readers interpret what’s written correctly (p’s versus P.S., 100’s versus 100 seconds…?).
Clarity. I saw a sign advertising coffees and tea’s. Why the apostrophe in tea’s only? Possibly because the writer unconsciously worried that teas might be misread (or misunderstood) as tease. (Yes, yes, I know this sounds nuts. I know the plural of pea is peas. Bear with me.)
I think there are several possible motivations for what’s going on in the DP ad.
- Making sure people read words correctly. If the plural of maxi is written as maxis, how do you stop people from reading it as ‘max-iss’ (and failing to understand it)? The writer is trying to be clear.
- Distinguishing one sense (meaning) of a word from another. Yes, the plural of pencil is pencils, not pencil’s. But DP doesn’t sell pencils you write with; it sells pencil skirts. Minis – they’re cars, aren’t they? The writer forms the plural with an apostrophe to make sure that the reader understands that the word is being used in a different sense, and that DP hasn’t suddenly branched out into selling automobiles and stationery. Again, it’s about clarity. (Note that dresses and savings are pluralised without apostrophes, as these words are used in their primary (normal) sense.)
- Maxi’s, mini’s, pencil’s and skater’s are actually abbreviations of noun phrases: maxi dresses, mini dresses… So the apostrophe indicates something missing (which is, incidentally, a well-established use of apostrophes that is drummed into EVERYONE at school. Why not extend this to mean more than just a letter or two being omitted?).
In fact, it’s possible to see this as linguistic innovation, rather than fall-of-the-Empire type lassitude. In my first year at university, we were told to keep an eye out for this kind of stuff, as it might indicate ‘a linguistic change in progress’. So, in a couple of hundred years, when apostrophes are routinely used to distinguish one meaning of a word from another and style guides have whole sections on when to use pencils and when to use pencil’s, you’ll put aside your harp, look down from the clouds, remember this blogpost and smile.
P.S. Yes, yes. I know hundred’s shouldn’t have an apostrophe. I can’t explain that one. Sorry.
P.P.S. I’m not saying these choices are made on purpose – just that they are made for a reason, even if the writer her-/himself isn’t aware of that reason.
P.P.P.S. I should say that I am in no way arguing that this use of apostrophes is beautiful, stylish, or shouldn’t make you want to shave your head, climb a lamppost and start picking people off with a crossbow. I’m just saying it’s interesting.
* For a lovely, cogent, witty explanation of the arbitrariness of grammatical ‘rules’, see The Stroppy Editor.
Tags: aurora orchestra, classical, how pure the sky, iestyn davies, lso st luke's, may 1 2014, music, review
Well, regular reader. You know I’m a bit excitable. You tolerate all manner of burbling about cyclocross racing, noncommittal training, crush-justification, motorist-baiting, and why Sherlock’s violin-playing makes me want to kill people. Classical music, though? Stay with me. You can do it.
Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a froth over Iestyn Davies. After years spent carefully avoiding classical music, his madly ravishing singing crept up on me when I was looking the other way and smacked me forcibly around the chops, and I’ve not been the same since.
I was pretty excited about the programme: I didn’t know any of it (remember, I’ve had my fingers in my ears for the last fifteen years), but some of it was contemporary, and going to see Psappha used to get me all animated. My Mum agreed to come, even though she doesn’t really approve of anything composed after 1750. (Me [reading programme out to her on phone]: ‘Herbert Howells…’ Her: ‘Well, I won’t like THAT.’)
I managed not to spill anything down myself on the train, and arrived at the venue reasonably presentable and hopelessly overexcited. We busied ourselves with the world’s best feedback form (five-point scales: I will endure the concert ° ° ° ° ° I will enjoy the concert). The small orchestra tuned up; second-row tickets turned out to be the best thing EVER, as we were effectively looking up their noses. A few moments of film, heavy on cloudscapes and atmosphere, introduced the evening, and we were off.
My mum was contrite about dissing the Howells, as it was beautiful, but she did a bit of other grumbling: ‘I couldn’t hear him over the orchestra.’ I liked the close interplay; it felt organic, Iestyn’s voice stitched into the music, appearing and disappearing. Being so close to the action gave a completely new perspective; every lift of the conductor’s eyebrows, every sudden grin from a viola player. This was very cool in the Adès, as what sounded like a seamless flow was actually made up of separate notes from different players in an insane feat of timing and accuracy. The Bach wedded an uplifting tune with hellfire-and-damnation lyrics (no doubt where the Smiths got their inspiration from), and the exposed voice in the recitative was thrilling.
In the interval, I learned how you pack up a marimba (astonishingly, the bits you hit get lifted off all in one piece, like a rope bridge), and how you tune a chamber organ (thrust your hand into its innards, suck your teeth and say ‘Just ease off the gas a bit, can you?’)
My main objectives for the concert were:
- Don’t clap in the wrong place;
- Try to say hallo to Iestyn;
- DO NOT CRY. YOU HAVE MASCARA ON.
Regarding no. 3, I nearly came unstuck in the Muhly, with its gorgeous, mounting close harmonies and Iestyn’s voice suddenly soaring from the rafters (he’d snuck up onto the balcony). Mum helpfully informed me that Muhly got the idea for drones from singing along to the vacuum cleaner, which brought me safely back down.
On to the Gluck, and another mascara-threatening performance, with orchestra and voice so perfectly balanced that the whole auditorium basically took off in flight. The Schubert – well, although I couldn’t take my eyes off Nicholas Collon and his lovely, fizzy conducting, I wasn’t sure about the Schubert. Mum studied her programme for a while. (Her, afterwards: ‘I WASN’T asleep. I know I looked like I was, but I wasn’t. Don’t you DARE write that.’) To be honest, I’d have preferred to finish on the massive high of the Gluck.
So, all over. Except, of course, it wasn’t. The words Blue skies appeared on the screen, then, a moment later, smiling at me. Everyone laughed. Iestyn strolled in, toting a brolly, and, well, classical singers don’t always quite make the transition into other genres (I’m looking at you, Kiri) but this was lovely: light, witty and bubbly. To my delight, the polite classical-music audience abandoned its decorum and shouted WOO!
It’s hard to do live stuff justice. All through the gig I was thinking, This. I have to remember this. The details are already fading: which piece had the delicious oboe solo? How exactly was the singing different, in the Berlin? It doesn’t matter. I woke up the next morning, my head teeming with glorious music, and still about to POP with the joy of it all. I felt my heart expand. That’s what will stay with me.
Having ticked objectives 1. and 3. off my list, I also managed 2. Not content with singing utterly transcendently marvellously, Iestyn turned out to be lovely, humble and delightful in person, talking to us for ages, signing CDs, etc.. Apparently Jonas Kaufmann needs bouncers to control his ARMIES of fans; I’m ecstatic to have got in before this was necessary, as if there’s any justice, this will be Iestyn’s equivalent of the Oasis-gig-that-if-everyone-who-says-they-went-actually-did-it-must-have-been-at-Milton-Keynes-Bowl. And I was THERE. WAY cooler than you.