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since 14/09/2003


DHL 04/04/2008

This Way Up

DHL Who are DHL? DHL are the company that charged me £80 and couldn't even spare some bubble-wrap for the flutes that I shipped halfway around the world. Bastards. My Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience with DHL I've started to build up quite a collection of random world music instruments in my bedroom at home, and on my recent six-month trip to Bolivia I managed to add to this collection 26 panpipes, 13 tarkas, 10 musinus, 2 charangos and a quena. Most of these instruments are still in Bolivia waiting to be sent back to England, the 13 tarkas I managed to fit into the biggest suitcase I could buy in Bolivia, which broke my hostel owner's scales as I was trying to check the weight of it, and the musinus I posted back home with DHL just before I left. One thing that can be said for DHL is that they're almost as prolific as Starbucks - there are offices in every city in Bolivia and a total of seven offices in the capital La Paz. I walked into one of these with my flutes in my arms and was told that I would need a special wooden box made for them, what with them being fragile, delicate, easily breakable instruments and everything, and I was thus sent off to the DHL headquarters which were, of course, not in the centre of the city and required a rather expensive taxi ride to get to. But once I had got to DHL headquarters things didn't take that long at all. The nice DHL girl helped me to fill in the forms, which were easy enough, and then took my flutes and went away and ...

La Paz 26/02/2008


La Paz La Paz - Bolivia's capital - is an incredibly lively, colourful, bustling city with loads of character. From around 4060m at its highest point to 3100m at its lowest (the better off you are, the lower down you live), the city sprawls across a huge valley surrounded by massive snow-capped mountains, and it looks amazing. Because La Paz sometimes seems to be so full of bustling people and honking taxis and in-your-face street-sellers and things going on it can be a difficult city to really relax in, and tiring to look around, but it's got a great atmosphere, and there's a lot of energy, and all sorts to see. What to Do And because there is such a buzz to it La Paz is a great city just to have a wander around - past all the street-sellers and salteña stands and traditional women wearing colourful Aymara dress, who in turn walk past the trendy businessmen wearing suits and sunglasses, and the markets and witchcraft stalls and the little minibuses on the main road, which constantly holler their fares and destinations as they drive along. And the people dressed up in zebra costumes who stand on - ha ha - the zebra crossings and are like the Bolivian equivalent of lollipop ladies. They're great. The one main road in La Paz goes straight through the centre of the city - known in this central section as El Prado - from the plaza San Francisco (the San Francisco church looks quite pretty on the outside but is actually rather plain inside), down to the plaza del Estudiante, ...

2007 In Music 17/02/2008

A whole world of music

2007 In Music For me writing about 2007 in music means simply writing about 2007, almost all of it, and for that reason this review (or whatever you wish to call it) is going to be a long one. I apologise in advance. Very little of my year was focused around anything else. And so this was my 2007 in music; a few of the things that I studied, performed, heard, and learnt. January At the start of 2007 I was a third of a way through a masters in ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology is the study of world music, more or less. Although a masters in ethnomusicology mostly involves a lot of talking about how to study world music rather than actually studying the music itself; theory and ethics and fieldwork strategies and how to write about 'others' without calling them savages. During January I developed my hatred of the word 'representation'. Philip Bohlman, a particularly well-known and well-respected ethnomusicologist, came to England and gave a lot of lectures and talks in association with our University; I didn't understand a word he said. I began to form a suspicion that while I may be too boring for a lot of things, I am simply not boring enough for academia. February Our University used to have a wonderful chapel choir which was sustained by the noble belief that anybody who wants to sing should be able to; despite this we were actually quite good, and during my degree I loved, really loved to start each day with a hymn and a psalm and perhaps a bacon roll, and I loved ...

Everything from 0-9 09/01/2008

2007: A crap year

Everything from 0-9 1. What did you do in 2007 that you've never done before? Lived in a different country. Which has so far been rather more difficult than anticipated. I've been in Bolivia now for almost four months with my lecturer's family, looking after their two children (it's a strange situation to have ended up in, I know), and I'm quite ready to come home. But it's certainly been an experience. 2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I can't remember what my New Years' resolutions were - I hardly ever do, and so there never seems to be much point in making them. But I then make them nonetheless and so my resolutions for this year are: 1) To make the most of being out in Bolivia while I'm still here. 2) To be make the most of being back in London when I return. I really hate London as a city, but all my friends live there and at the moment being able to live with my friends is more important to me than anything else. (It's been a lonely two years.) But there is a lot of music going on and I know I should take advantage of it - find a good choir, go back to gamelan, try and begin to learn jazz piano and African kora, for starters. And find a job I enjoy, too. 3) To be in a happier state by this time next year. I think I probably said this last year too, and ha, it didn't happen. 4) To not get scared by social events with more than four people present. And especially if I don't know them. 3. Did anyone close to you ...

Playing an instrument 12/09/2006

Grizzly bears drink fizzy ale

Playing an instrument There are books and books written about this subject: on how to play, on technique, on performance practice, and so on. Academics and performers and all sorts have had their say about the matter, and this year as part of my masters course I'm going to get to document my own attempts to learn Cuban piano and have my say as well. This review though doesn't claim to be nearly quite so grand; it is simply a few of my own thoughts on starting to play an instrument, and will hopefully prove a useful guide for children and adults alike. Why Should I Learn An Instrument? Here are some good reasons, pick the ones you like: For your own enjoyment, or for the enjoyment of others. To impress someone. Because your Mum always wanted you to. To create jealousy. To annoy. To put on your CV. To appear more cultural. To meet people. As an outlet for emotion. Because music is, to quote Stephen Fry, 'the bees knees'. Which Instrument Should I Pick? The obvious answer to this is to pick the one you like the sound of. Adults are generally quite good at knowing the answer to this, but children often don't have a clue: I've absolutely no idea, for example, why I started to play the piano at the age of 7, and the only reason I started to play the violin a couple of years later was because I didn't want to play the trumpet. I didn't want to play the trumpet because my music teacher had told me that Harriets 'make good trumpeters' and I didn't want to grow up to be a ...

Green Wing - Series 1 (DVD) 18/08/2006

A is for Apendectomy

Green Wing - Series 1 (DVD) "As you've seen from your actual in-depth bowel tour of an actual working hospital, it's basically full of sick people who desperately want to get better but a lot of them don't and they die in pain, any questions?" (Or: Introduction.) My good friend Tessa has a wonderful ability to be able to laugh at practically anything. And whenever I've watched her sitting on the sofa chuckling away at Friends or Little Britain or Cheers or the irony of Neighbours I've often envied this about her. The trouble is, though, that I tend to be incredibly picky about my comedy. I must have a very specific set of values which are obviously entirely the wrong sort for TV sitcoms, because most of them appear to be complete shite. And so when I do stumble across a comedy that I like - a comedy that's original and clever and sharp and not full of canned laughter - then I will stand up and applaud it as loudly as I possibly can, in the hope that someone will hear and commission a few more like it. Which, actually, is exactly what Channel 4 seems to have been doing. We obviously have very similar tastes. And after such gems as 'Black Books' and the wonderful 'Spaced', 'Green Wing' is everything that you could possibly come expect from them. It's witty and dark and surreal and stylish and intelligent and certainly not your average mainstream 'My Family' sort-of comedy, which is the sort-of comedy that we'd all be better off without, I reckon. But we could definitely do with a few more like ...

Cuzco 29/07/2006

No gracias

Cuzco Cuzco is a truly beautiful little city with loads to offer, surrounded by some stunning mountain scenery. It's almost impossible not to fall in love with the place. Cuzco's full of narrow, winding cobbled streets, white colonial buildings, red-tiled roofs, colourful artesania shops, perfect Inca stonework, and cool little cafes, restaurants and bars spilling over everywhere from the main plaza. It's definitely a city with a bit of magic. And if you want Inca history and ruins then Cuzco, once capital of the Inca Empire, is undoubtedly the place to go. Of course it's also the starting point for the world famous Inca trail to Machu Picchu, the close proximity of which has unfortunately resulted in Cuzco becoming the tourist capital of the entire length of the Andes, a fact that the locals have latched onto with a vengeance - it's impossible to walk around the centre of the city without having finger-puppets, postcards, water-colour paintings and massage offers shoved into your face every few steps. Hence the most commonly used phrase in Cuzco of 'No gracias', which the Irish Pub Paddy's have even stuck onto a T-shirt. There are gringos absolutely everywhere. Which is something that's unusual for South America, I think - on our travels through Peru and Bolivia and Ecuador we bumped into very few holidaymakers, and not that many more backpackers - but not so in Cuzco, where fat Americans wobbling round with their video-cameras and OAP tour groups and Japanese tourists ...

The Great Automatic Grammatizator: And Other Stories - Roald Dahl 01/07/2006

Unexpected endings

The Great Automatic Grammatizator: And Other Stories - Roald Dahl 'Books shouldn't be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives you a terrific advantage. If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books.' How great it would be if Dahl's words were true. Most of the Big Brother house wouldn't be able to get anywhere, for a start. I imagine they'd be buggered. So would the Beckham's, probably. And Essex.* But you're right, and I'm sorry, that's not really the point. The point is that out of all of the books you should have to read to get anywhere in life, Dahl's should most definitely be some of them. I love Roald Dahl. I loved him as a child - nearly every child does - and since then I've been able to appreciate more and more just how wonderful a writer he is. I've spent the past few years trying to get my hands on all of his books, the more obscure ones too, and have now read almost every word he's written. His short stories for adults are not nearly as well known as his children's books, but they undoubtedly deserve to be; imaginative, clever, witty, dark and twisted, each one sucks you into its own little world and captures you there right until the very end. Dahl's more macabre side, which you catch glimpses of in most of his children's books, is given free reign in his short stories without a younger audience to think about, and practically every one of them ends with some sort of disturbing, shocking, always completely unexpected twist. It may come in the ...

Quito 18/06/2006

Oh te gusta?

Quito The City I became really attached to Quito during my seven weeks there. It's a lively, very colourful city in a stunning setting - I think the thing I loved the most about Quito was being able to look up, walking anywhere west in the city, and see the most amazing jagged green mountain range towering up past the outskirts. It was wonderful. Ecuador's capital is maybe not quite as traditional as Bolivia's, or nearly as Westernized as Peru's, but it creates quite a nice balance somewhere in the middle, with both aspects of new and old - as seen by the fact that most people split Quito up into two halves, new and old, when describing the city. The old city is beautiful, full of narrow winding streets, grand old colonial buildings, little local shops and cafes, wide-open plazas, impressive-looking theatres, and it's absolutely littered with churches. It's a lovely place to wander round for a day or two. The new city extends to the north of the old city, and the bit that most tourists are concerned with is Gringoland. Which, as the name suggests, is full of gringos, and sounds a bit like an adventure theme park or something. Unfortunately it's not. Gringoland (also called 'La Mariscal') is the area in Quito with all the most touristy and expensive restaurants, bars, clubs and internet cafes. The two most distinctive noises in Quito are dogs barking, and car horns honking. South American drivers are maniacs - instead of slowing down at a junction, for example, they'll ...

Everything that starts with A ... 01/01/2006

And so on to 2006...

Everything that starts with A ... I found this challenge in a random online diary and thought it looked more promising than most challenges usually are, so decided to give it a go. A very Happy New Year to everyone - here's to a fun 2006! *** 1. What did you do in 2005 that you've never done before? I did many things in 2005 that I've never done before. Here are just a few of them: I discovered the secret of how to open supermarket carrier bags without fail every time. I had a proper slow dance with a guy (admittedly he was gay and 6 foot 7, but still, at least he was male. It's a start.) I attempted to make rice pudding with basmati rice, which didn't work at all. I learnt how to play the charango (a bit like a tiny mandolin or lute, from South America). I sang in a church 1800 feet above sea level, on top of one of the Alps. I forgot I was supposed to be in a lecture. I had a conversation with two lesbians in bed. And I learnt what it was like to be a Mum by looking after two small children for the whole of my summer. 2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I gave up making serious New Years' resolutions a long time ago, because I used to forget them within a week. I did however last year decide that maybe I should just make one, for the sake of it, and resolved that I would try and learn how to juggle. Not an essential life skill perhaps but quite a useful one to have. And I did, too. I also made a list of things which weren't exactly ...

Night Watch - Terry Pratchett 31/10/2005


Night Watch - Terry Pratchett It is commonly believed that all good things come to an end, at some point, and I would like to venture my opinion here that Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, as a good thing, came to an end with 'Jingo'. I think that, really, that was where things should have ended, and if he'd packed it all in at that point then he would have gone out with a bang rather than what will probably become a fizzle. I'm fully aware that this is the sort of statement which is likely to earn myself a good mobbing from an angry bunch of Discworld enthusiasts, and I'm sorry, but Louis de Bernieres once wrote that the best kind of patriot is the kind that loves their country while at the same time being able to clearly see and acknowledge its faults, and maybe the same can apply for the best kind of fans too. And insofar as I am a fan of anything, I'm a fan of the Discworld series. Some of Pratchett's books I've read over and over and over again until I can pick them up, open them on any page, and know exactly where I am, what's happened, what's going to happen, what's been said and what will be said. Aside from maybe Roald Dahl, I've found no other author whose books are quite so addictive. But recently all the life, and the sparkle and magic and whatever it is that does make Pratchett's books so addictive, has escaped. And 'Night Watch' and 'Going Postal' and 'Thief of Time' and a few in-between have all still been good reads, and even still been page-turners, but they just haven't been the ...

Top 10 Qualities 05/10/2005

Hurrah for people

Top 10 Qualities I was surprised that this category didn't exist before I tried to write in it. It's such a good way of really finding out about someone, I think. (Apologies for lack of proper reviews at the moment, I will write one next I promise! I sort of had this one in the pipeline, as such, and was just waiting for my proposal to be accepted, which is why it has come so quickly after my last review.) The top 10 qualities that I admire the most in a person are: 1. A good sense of humour I know it's clichéd. I'm sorry I haven't come up with a more original No. 1. Top 10 Quality. But humour, I think, means more to me than anything else. I will instantly respect someone if they can make me laugh, and the more they make me laugh, the more I admire them. This has, on the odd occasion, led itself to ridiculous situations; when I meet someone who does exude large amounts of wit I will often freeze up around them because I'm terrified that I won't be funny enough for them, good enough for them, and they'll just think that I'm dull. I know that this is, ultimately, incredibly stupid, but it still happens. I suppose it's what I get for placing so much value on this one quality; sometimes, despite all that I try and tell myself, I end up believing that people funnier than me are better than me. I had this problem with my Head of Department at RHUL. I admired him hugely, due to the fact that he is actually a comic God and has wit pouring out of his ears, but I never felt comfortable ...

Everything that starts with C ... 03/10/2005

What I want for Christmas

Everything that starts with C ... I'm sorry to have to mention the C word. I really am. The trouble is, this is the sort of challenge that I'd do any time of the year (having sung Christmas carols at a barbeque in June before timing no longer means very much when it comes to this sort of thing), but I've just happened to come across this challenge at that time of year when, apart from in department stores, Christmas has become a bit of a taboo and touchy subject, not to be spoken of for at least another month. It's just a bit to close for comfort, but not quite close enough, I suppose. I should really wait until November, or maybe have completed this in August. Anyway. This challenge was created by thingywhatsit, and I was inspired to have a go at it after reading sunsan1967's comedy answers. It's certainly more fun than answering questions about what time I get up in the morning, or what's on my desk, or what's my favourite flavour of youghart, etc. 'Make up a list of 6 items that you would like for Christmas in an ideal world where money is no issue and then tell us why you would like them and how they would improve your quality of life.' *** There are loads of things that, in an 'ideal world', I'd like for Christmas. I'd like to go back to Royal Holloway. I'd like an exciting haircut. I'd like to have my University friends with me. I'd like to get away from Banham. I'd like some really posh chocolates. I'd like a good hug. I'd like my mum to do a 24-hour sponsored silence or, alternatively, start ...

Everything that starts with U ... 07/09/2005

The University experience: my own personal tribute

Everything that starts with U ... (This review has been so-titled as an acknowledgment of the rather amusing fact that almost all academics - or, at least, almost all of the ones that I came across while at University - feel it necessary to stick a colon into the middle of almost any title for any academic paper or book. Obviously, the colon is a punctuation mark that signifies both knowledge and intelligence. And I sincerely hope that this review can live up to the high standards expected from such a use, in my own title, of this academically prestigious punctuation mark.) *** At the beginning of this summer I came back home to Norfolk from Royal Holloway for the very last time, with my life packed into our car, having completed three years there as a music undergraduate. (Royal Holloway, or RHUL, is part of the University of London but isn't actually in London at all, and is instead about 15 minutes away from Windsor and surrounded by lots of trees and grass and things.) And I've found it incredibly hard to put into words exactly what those three years at RHUL were like. My Mum is convinced that the time has flown by, and swears that it only seems like yesterday when I was setting off from home for the first time, but setting off from home for the first time for me seems like years and years ago. Another lifetime ago. At the start of my degree I was, I think, a completely different person, and so much since then has happened, and so much has changed. I've had a truly fantastic time. It's been An ...

Copenhagen (Denmark) 31/08/2005

'Wonderful Copenhagen'

Copenhagen (Denmark) This is a bit of a hotchpotch review. I will admit that I haven't spent enough time in Copenhagen to write comprehensively about the place, only 5 days, but I'm hoping that what I have to say will complement other people's reviews on ciao. In particular, I can introduce the Copenhagen jazz festival, as this was the reason why I went to the city in the first place. Copenhagen is a lovely city. To me, it's almost the exact opposite of London, which I have to admit is a city that I don't like at all. London, in four words: grey, dirty, claustrophobic, and unsafe. Whereas Copenhagen just seems much lighter, and clean, open, and harmless. The open-ness comes partly from the bicycle lanes (an inordinate amount of people cycle in Copenhagen, and there are bikes lying around all over the city), which substantially increase the width of the roads, creating more space, and also partly from the obvious lack of sky-scrappers and high-rise buildings. A lot of people leave their bicycles unattended and unlocked in public places around the city, and although a Danish friend told me that a few do get stolen (I suppose it would be a bit of a freak city if there wasn't at least a bit of petty crime going on somewhere), obviously not enough are stolen to stop people from leaving them around anyway in the first place. It comes across as being a very safe city. And Copenhagen is full of colourful, light buildings. Copenhagen admittedly isn't really a city you think of first when debating ...
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