Not taking sides — updated


I gather there were some issues with people not being able to see the previous version of this post. Apos for that! I had restricted the access condition to subscribers, naively imagining that my readers mostly had a subscription. Some do, but have difficulties opening posts. I have taken this up with WordPress, but not gotten very far. I have definitely changed the setting on this updated post to Access: Everyone. People who get the alert, but can’t see the whole post, could try refreshing their browser.

Anyway, I am putting this update at the head of the post, so people who could read the content previously posted don’t have to scroll through it again. I previously discovered that the channels on the turntable were hooked up incorrectly, in the sense that the right hand channel was actually the left, and vice versa. Then I wondered whether I was having the same problem with my disc player. It wasn’t easy to determine, because I didn’t have a stereo check CD or DVD. However, the player (a Cambridge Audio) has a fairly primitive YouTube browser built in. So I found a stereo check video and played it back. This was basic in the extreme, consisting of someone reciting “Left channel, left channel, left channel”, then “Right channel, right channel, right channel”. (The sound was put through the correct stereo channel alternately, obvs.) Anyway, it showed me that each channel is coming through the correct speaker. Here endeth the update.


Warning — ultra nerdy content ahead.

I had an interesting trawl through my local op shop yesterday, coming back with three DVDs and two LPs. We watched one of the DVDs last night, quite an interesting 2007 “neo-noir psychological thriller”, Disturbia . A good mid-week flick, featuring a breakout role for Shia LaBeouf. (The other discs I haven’t seen yet.) I regard op shop DVDs as a cheap indefinite loan. For convenience I have the region settings of the Blu-ray recorder in my phone, so I don’t end up buying something I can’t play.

The vinyl was pretty interesting. The first one I played was Vangelis’ sound track to Chariots of Fire. (Not going to link this, you’ve all seen it!) Side 1 comprised various tracks from the movie sound track, all played by the monomynous Vangelis, except for the original choral version of “Jerusalem”, by Hubert Parry. (This must also have featured in the sound track — it was so long ago that I saw it, I really don’t remember.) Side B was a kind of fantasia on the main Chariots of Fire theme, played on various keyboard instruments also by Vangelis. This was all quite a blast from the past, and a very well produced LP.

The second one was quite an ear opener. This was a demonstration disc called “Miracle in Sound: the Festival Stereo Sampler” (Festival Records, SFL-2/1). Strangely, this is an Australian label, although the content originates in the US. Side 1 began with a follow-the-bouncing-ball track, intended to show whether your speakers are set up with the correct left to right orientation and phase. A bouncing ping pong ball sounded first out of the left, then the right channel. Following this, the bouncing ball is heard alternately left and right. Finally, the ball appears to be bouncing in both channels simultaneously, to allow one to hear the elusive “middle channel”.

I have had stereos since the 1970s, when vinyl and cassettes were all there was. I used to have about 300 records, most of which I gave to 3MBS-FM. However, the vintage Luxman tube pre-amplifier I bought about seven years ago has a very good phono stage. This has encouraged me to start collecting vinyl again. Well, when I played “Miracle in Sound”, I was glad I was sitting down! My speakers were reversed — for the turntable, at least. What I had thought was the left channel was actually the right, and vice versa. This is totally a rookie error, which I couldn’t believe I had made. Still less, having made it, that I hadn’t noticed it! Que?

Something that made the reversal harder to pick up was that the balance control worked correctly, i.e. when turning the knob to the left, sound was transferred to that channel, and vice versa. My stereo also is hellaciously complicated to set up. This is because it has not only a separate power amplifier and pre-amplifier, but also a powered subwoofer. My valve amplifier guru Dallas drew me a diagram to aid me in which leads have to hook up to what. Physical access is quite complicated also, with little room to get behind everything and check. So the possibility that, at some point, I swapped over some leads is quite a real one.

There is a subtler extenuating factor, if you like, to do to with orchestral layout. Growing up and going to concerts in Australia, one might think that orchestras are always sitting with first fiddles on the conductor’s left hand, followed (reading left to right) by second fiddles, violas, and cellos. Second and third tiers are woodwinds and brasses, with double basses behind the cellos. Percussion at the back. Well, after looking at maybe a hundred Berlin Philharmonic concerts (on their Digital Concert Hall service), I can tell you, their string sections sit quite differently. First fiddles on conductor’s left (same as here), but then violas and cellos next to them, then second fiddles on conductor’s right. Alternatively, the violas can swap with the second fiddles. Double basses can be behind the first fiddles in the second tier, on the conductor’s left, or in the middle. It all depends. All these seating arrangements affect the sound stage; otherwise, I might have realised something was wrong earlier.

Fortunately the pre-amp has a nifty feature — a “Reverse Stereo” switch. This swaps around the channels left to right, without having to touch any wires. Everything suddenly sounded as I imagined it should! Simple. Except that now I have to figure out whether the outputs from my my disc player are reversed left-to-right as well. If so, when I am going from playing a record to a CD or DVD, I have to remember to un-reverse the channel reversal. Hifi paranoia, here we come!

PS Please, no advice to ditch the stereo for something simpler! If I didn’t have this to fiddle with, what would I do?

Don’t crack the Easter eggs yet

Following my last scans last Friday, we saw Dr P on Wednesday. The news was much the same as previously. The PSA has crept up again, 16.3 (from 14.7). In his words, this is “neither here nor there”. The good news was

  • the CT scan looks normal — everything the same as last time.
  • ditto for the bone scan. The scan folk mistakenly wrote on my report that there were no prior scan results with which to compare these ones. Of course I have been having these scans every three months for the last few years. Dr P rang them during the consult to query this. Whoever he spoke to found the previous results and said “nothing’s changed”.
  • Dr P is going away in April, and happy to kick my next consult with him forward to May, i.e. in eight weeks.
  • At the last consult we had asked him about going away for a holiday. He said he would be guided by the next scan results. So the uneventfulness of these scans led him to give us a leave pass until my next appointment with him.

I have been taking prednisolone over the last few weeks for the sciatica — see below. My GP wanted me to have a DEXA scan to establish baseline bone density data. (The scans I have with Dr P don’t give the right data for this.) So recently I had a BD scan, followed by a consult with the GP to discuss these results. As above, everything looks normal. The BD scan surveyed in particular the lumbar spine, femoral neck, and hip areas. (The thigh bone’s probably connected to the hip bone, or however the song goes. So sue me.) The lumbar spine is “in the normal range”. The left femoral neck is technically in the mild osteopenic range, but only just. (The osteopenia T-score range is between -1 and – 2.5; I scored -1.1, so only just within the range.) I eat plenty of calcium, and exercise quite regularly, so wasn’t expecting to have low BD. Nevertheless, it’s always good to have these things confirmed.

(We all know prednisolone reduces bone density. So in order that the DEXA scan would give me a proper set of baseline results, I held off on taking it until after the scan.)

The consult with the GP explored whether I could have something other than prednisolone. I said I had tried stretches, analgesics and anti-inflammatories, none of which worked satisfactorily, whereas the prednisolone does. (The effect of one 25 mg tablet each morning, followed by a coffee, is quite magical.) The GP ended up giving me a script for another medication, tapentadol, which should have a similar effect to the prednisolone, but without its side effects. I am yet to try this one; I have first to taper down the prednisolone over a week or so.

When too many Beethoven concerto cycles are never enough — I am just listening to the recent recording on ABC Classics with Jayson Gillham, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and Nicholas Carter. I had heard most of this when first broadcast on ABC Classic (to whom a shout-out for promoting Australian musicians is due). Gilham has plays with neatness, clarity, and spontaneity, and gets up quite a head of steam with Carter. All beautifully recorded at live concerts in the Elder Conservatorium. I actually like it even better on CD. Who else have I got? Stephen Kovacevich/Colin Davis, and Maurizio Pollini/Claudio Abbado are the only complete cycles on modern instruments. (I also have several of the Christian Bezuidenhout/Pablo Heras-Cassado cycle on original instruments, which are quite fabulous.)

A glimpse of eternity

To the Finnish composer Rautavaara, “music is great if, at some moment, the listener catches ‘a glimpse of eternity through the window of time’”. I heard this comment a short time ago on ABC Classic before they broadcast his Missa a capella, an extremely beautiful and tranquil work. This comment crystallised a few thoughts I have been having recently about music.

For many people, classical music means music that is calming and zones them out. Everyone will have their favourite pieces that do it for them. Works that come to mind for me are mostly slow movements: those of the “Emperor” concerto and the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies of Beethoven, the Piano Concerto no. 21, K.467, of Mozart, the piano concertos of Brahms, and so on. Piano concertos figure a lot in my list, but the experience can come from any type or genre of music. ABC Classic had a regular segment in its morning programs, which they named Swoon, for music of this kind.

Musical works that make time stand still like these have an obviously calming and slowing-down effect. There is something more subliminal that is going on as well. Moments like the examples I have listed are also moments of community: what used to be called togetherness. Like tapestries, music is made by groups. Whether you are an instrumentalist or a singer, your contribution is a strand in the fabric.

In times of anxiety and isolation, like the year we have all just had, music can remind us what cohesion is like. But to be part of the ensemble, you have to be able to play or sing your line. Making music can lift you a mile high. Wanting to be part of the magic, and being unable to do, so can leave you feeling lonely and ashamed.

This came to mind recently in a scene from the wonderful series Unorthodox (currently on Netflix). Esther (Etsy) has had a sheltered upbringing in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, New York. Her marriage to another member of this community doesn’t work out, and she travels to Berlin to track down her mother. Before she manages to contact her mother, she wanders into a conservatorium, where she is befriended by a group of students. Etsy learns that the conservatorium has scholarships for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and applies for one to study piano. Before her audition, her new friends inveigle her into playing something for them. When she does, it clear that she is nowhere near the standard required to enter the conservatorium. She is so far behind, she will never catch up. One of the students tells her this, plainly. Life as a musician will obviously be impossible for Etsy. Worse, she will not be part of a group which accepts and likes her. Etsy is shattered, and flees to consider what options might remain to her.

Those who know me will know I learned the cello for about ten years. I decided to stop, for a range of reasons, a few years ago. The years I spent learning the cello gave me a taste of both the highs and lows of making music. Because I started so late, and for other reasons, the former experiences were much less frequent than the latter. Over the years of struggle, I fell out of love with the instrument. Deciding to stop was like realising that a marriage or relationship you were in was just not going to give you what you wanted — no matter how long you have persevered with it.

People I talked to about my struggles with the cello would say “Can’t you just enjoy your playing?”. But no-one can enjoy doing something badly, with no realistic prospect of doing it better. Like Etsy, I realised I would never catch up. A professional musician’s performance sits atop a mountain of grinding, repetitious, incessant practice. And once you reach this rarefied altitude, you need to practice to stay there. After I sold my cello, I used to console myself with Groucho Marx’s comment that he wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would admit him.

Everything implies its opposite. There are no sweet harmonies without dissonant ones. The company of those we love is doubly delightful to one who has experienced loneliness and rejection. Without those times when the universe seems a bleak place, music would never open its window for us. For those in the cheap seats, their fingers twitching surreptitiously in time to the cascade of notes, eternity reserves a special place.

Snakes and ladders

Apologies in advance for any repetition of anything covered in previous posts, errors, or other solecisms. I have had rather a lot to arrange just lately. Please therefore take this as both an apologia and a disclaimer for this and all subsequent posts.

I had previously scheduled my next Zolodex implant for Monday 12th October. This date was made long before I knew I had to have the hernia operation (the latter scheduled for Friday 9th October). The hernia op can cause some bruising in the general area. So, on my oncologist’s advice, I rescheduled the Zolodex implant to be done before the operation. I had this implant yesterday, which was uneventful.

Generally, I see the oncologist (Dr P) on the same day on which I have the Zolodex implant. This time I had to have the implant before having gone over my most recent blood test results with Dr P. He will be ringing me some time today, however. I will put the results of that conversation in a separate post.

This morning I also had a COVID19 test, now required in Victoria (and probably everywhere else) before any operation can be performed. The office of the surgeon who will be doing the hernia op (Mr B) requested that I have this test a couple of days beforehand, at the pathology office located at Knox Private Hospital. (This was to ensure that Mr B gets the results in good time before the operation on Friday.) We therefore headed out to Knox Private this morning, where I had the usual back-of-throat and nasal swabs. My eyes watered a bit, but otherwise it was not too bad. I have to stay in isolation until I get the results of this test. Unless the result comes back positive, everything is set for Friday.

One of the snakes referred to in the title to this post has been the health care card. I successfully applied for this card in July (uploading, in the process, a significant number of documents about our super and other assets). This card entitled me to various concessions, all of which I duly applied for — power and gas, water, car registration, and so on. A week or so ago, however, a couple of these organisations informed me that I no longer had a valid concession. On Monday I spent the best part of a day attempting to re-apply for the card, by uploading a different form and a lot of other scanned documents. I could upload the former, but not the latter: it just gave me an error message. (Later on I got a different message, to the effect that the site was down for maintenance.) Eventually I did what I had avoided doing until absolutely necessary, and rang them.

The person I eventually got to speak to confirmed that I had lost the concession. (She acknowledged I hadn’t been informed of this decision by the Illuminati bureaucracy; this omission was “unusual”.) I could make a fresh application: if that were successful, I would be sent a new card. I could then apply to have the date of the new card backdated to that of the original card. When this was done, I could apply retrospectively for the concessions that I had missed out on in the period between the expiry of the first and the beginning of the second cards.

Clear as mud? After I translated this out of bureaucratese, I looked again at the guidelines, and our finances. I can’t see how we can now satisfy the former. (I believe a recent change in our circumstances is why we got pushed off the concession. In the interests of privacy, I won’t go into more detail here.) So it’s back to being a self-funding retiree — for a while at least.

As oldies like me know, age pension eligibility depends on one’s birth year. Theoretically I become eligible for this entitlement at the very end of 2020. Meanwhile I could make an early application for the age pension. If this application is successful, the pension and the other entitlements will be ready to go from one second after midnight on the day on which I come of age. (Sorry to be a tad vague about this — privacy again.) Anyway, I will save this task for when I am recuperating from the operation. They can only say no!

On a lighter note, as the saying goes (and correct me if I misuse the expression) — if you like opera, here is a small diversion. The British Classic FM station is running a quiz about famous operas. The exercise is to match a set of emojis with an opera. No prizes — just a bit of fun. The spirit of competitiveness and one-upmanship is obviously just as strong among my faithful readership as elsewhere. So I will reveal the score I got in this quiz in the next post. Bragging rights are up for grabs, so have a go! This link should open in a new tab: opera quiz . (It isn’t over until you-know-what happens.)

Schumann surprise

The Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov is someone I had heard of, but missed seeing when he came to Australia a few years ago. I was therefore interested to catch his performances on the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall. One I have watched a couple of times now is that of the Schumann Piano Concerto, with Mariss Jansons conducting the BPO. (NB: because the Digital Concert Hall is behind a paywall, this link will only point to the trailer for this concert, unless you are a subscriber, or have a 7-day free ticket.)

Trifonov is an artist who seems to feel the music deeply each time he performs it. His emotions are signalled by his facial expressions, and his swooping and bending over the keyboard. Tempos get pretty pulled around around in the process, in ultra-romantic style. Fortunately, Triifonov has the virtuoso chops with which to put his view across. The solo part in the Schumann did not seem to stretch him. He had a good rapport with Mariss Jansons, whose accompaniment was sensitive, but full-blooded in the tuttis. He and Triifonov seemed to enjoy their collaboration. This was one of these old-young partnerships that can provide real excitement as well as deep musical understanding. (Think John Barbirolli and Jacqueline Du Pre in the Elgar Cello Concerto.) After the concerto, Triifonov played a stunner of an encore: an arrangement by Alfred Cortot for solo piano of the Largo from Chopin’s Cello Sonata.

I realised, while listening to the performance of the Schumann, that this music has been in my life for over forty years. The first performance I heard of it was the classic recording by Sviatoslav Richter with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra, made in 1958. (I reckon I bought it on vinyl in the early 1970s.) However, it still stands up very well, particularly in the DGG remastering on CD. Richter’s account of it is considerably more urgent than Triifonov’s, getting through it four minutes faster overall. The CD also includes the Introduction and Allegro Appassionato for piano and orchestra, some short solo piano works, and the Forest Scenes. Richter was a superb Schumann player: you are always caught up in his vision of the music.

The Schumann is obviously a staple of the concerto repertoire. It was often coupled on LP with the Grieg concerto, another “only child” piano concerto. I came across a discussion of Schumann piano concerto recordings on a discussion group. The message that started off the thread listed 162 recordings of this work. As one might expect, just about everyone has had a crack at it, some pianists several times. Among the repeat offenders: Martha Argerich, Claudio Arrau, and Richter (all 7 times), Annie Fischer (5), and Walter Gieseking, Clara Haskil, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, and Rubenstein (all 4 times).

There are two performances missing from this list, the more famous being Stephen Kovacevich/BBCSO/Colin Davis. (I checked for this pianist under all three forms of his name, i.e. Stephen Bishop, Stephen Bishop Kovacevich, or Stephen Kovacevich; he didn’t get a guernsey under any of them.) A considerably more obscure recording that didn’t make this list is Oleg Boshniakov/Moscow Radio Great Symphony Orchestra/Näämi Järvi. I only know about this one because I have it on vinyl (Melodia 04189-90(a), 1978). I felt a rather juvenile thrill at having a performance not listed on this supposedly exhaustive list!

The record is one I acquired fortuitously. While living in St Kilda in the 1980s, I used regularly to wander down to Acland Street. One of these excursions led into a second hand shop, which was selling quite a range of Melodia records. The proprietor explained that these had been imported from the USSR, but never picked up after they had gone through customs. They were being cleared out for a few dollars each. I got about eight, including a Grieg piano concerto, the Tchaikovsky 1st concerto with Richter, the Shostakovich 5th symphony, and the Sibelius 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th symphonies. The recordings were variable, but the performances were usually very good. The Sibeliuses are performed by the cumbersomely named Great Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio & TV, conducted by Gennady Rhozhdestvensky. All four are keepers.

Isolation day 26

  • Better night’s sleep, thank goodness. Only 6 hours 11 minutes, but 1 hour 11 of deep sleep; relatively quite good.
  • We went for a walk this morning. I had been thinking about an alt route to the one we usually do. This worked very well, and was also longer than usual. (I have done 9,300-odd steps, about 6.7 kilometres.) On our way back we bought a couple of takeaway coffees on our way home, from a local cafe next to a little park, where we sat and drank them. The sun even came out, in rather mingy Melbourne fashion.
  • When we got back I made salmon patties for lunch. My beloved was hungry, and didn’t want to wait for those, so heated up some leftovers from the freezer. This filled her up, so she didn’t want any lunch. I had a couple of the patties with some burrito and a piece of toast left over from breakfast.
  • After lunch I listened to most of an MSO concert on ABC Classic. This was one which the orchestra played to an empty Hamer Hall; apparently over two thousand people registered to listen to it, greater than the capacity of the hall. The program was a work by Deborah Cheetham, the Schelomo rhapsody for cello and orchestra by Bloch, and Scheherezade. The Rimsky was very well done, with a fine concertmaster solo from Dale Barltrop, the MSO co-concertmaster. Gee, they are a good orchestra; all stood down for the duration, poor things. (You can stream this concert from the ABC Classic web site for a few weeks.)
  • After the third movement of the Rimsky I wondered if my subwoofer was working correctly. I had bought my speaker set (Dali Ikon 2, Mk. 2) from the Brotherhood store in Camberwell Junction about four years ago. They had come with no manuals, of course, but I subsequently found one online for the subbie, and printed it out. It was this that I consulted this afternoon. The manual had such a miniscule illustration of the control panel that I had to get out my big magnifying glass to read it. Of course this panel is tucked away at the back of the speaker, so the direction in which the knobs turned was reversed from the illustration. I think I improved the set-up.
  • Meanwhile my beloved was doing some work at her workstation. After that she went to meet a friend at the park at the end of our street.
  • It was quite a sunny morning, so I optimistically changed over our towels, washed the old set, and hung them out on the clothesline. They didn’t dry notably; it was really quite still, and the sun became very elusive. So I dragged the towels back inside and chucked them in the dryer. At least they are all dry now.
  • I have left my beloved watching The Little Drummer Girl for the second time on SBS On Demand. We have had quite a retro German wallow with that and Deutschland. Looking forward to a new Mystery Road on ABC TV tomorrow night.

Isolation day 25

It’s been a lot of fun for me to be writing all this stuff. Doing the more regular posts seems to have shaken a few things loose in the literary brain. However, apart from a few poems, I’m not getting much other writing done, and I need to put in more time here.

Now that we are more used to how the days are going to go, as well, things are more routine. So from now on, until the end of the isolation, I will put these updates in point form.

  • Yesterday I played one of the Super Audio CDs from the Mariss Jansons set with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra — the 5th Symphony of Mahler. I really enjoyed this reading. The SACD recording has a noticeably wider dynamic range over a regular CD — the bass drum has a real thump. All the wind solos are amazingly well balanced against the orchestra — a Janssons specialty. The famous Adagietto begins with a Mozartian delicacy, but he gets the fiddles to really dig in for the middle theme — quite thrilling.
  • My sleep was pretty crook again. My little device measured the total shuteye at 6 hours 20 minutes, which is not bad. The shortfall, as ever, is the deep sleep — only 46 minutes.
  • My beloved did another solid stint at her workstation — about four hours this morning and a few after lunch. Her work is going to be moving its catalogue and other files to another server, so there is some tidying-up to do in these files  beforehand.
  • While she did that I listened to the radio — there was a Wagner program on 3MBS-FM. This inspired me to haul out our Solti Ring Cycle set and get out the discs which explain the leitmotifs, the short musical motifs which depict characters, concepts and places in The Ring. This is a great time to play through these discs and get an overview of how these devices stitch the cycle together.
  • My main morning activity was cleaning off the boot prints our gardener had left behind on the pavers in the courtyard, following his visit on Wednesday. I did this by first flooding the area with water, giving the marks a gentle scrub with a detergent solution, then doing a final rinse. (These kinds of marks on concrete pavers can become hard to shift, if not gotten onto fairly soon.)
  • We ventured out a while after that to get some groceries and meat. Things were pretty quiet in Middle Camberwell and Maling Road. My beloved did the actual getting as usual. (No doubt people think I am being a total MCP when I stay in the car.) I was reading No friend but the mountains, when there was a thump against the rear bumper bar. I was supposed to be keeping an eye out for her return, but had become engrossed in the book — my bad! (Coincidentally, Behrouz Boochani was describing queuing up for the dining room at the Manus Prison.)
  • Lunch was some brown rice and a burrito bowl. I had made the rice a few days ago and frozen a few portions; the burrito I made yesterday. Basically a vegetable casserole, this had broccoli, celery, tomato, red onion, garlic, red kidney beans, and smoked paprika. (Like most such things  it reheats well, and the ingredients are very flexible. Whatever you use, it is a good way to get one’s veges.) It is meant to be served with avocado and a squeeze of lime juice — I only had the latter. I cooked it in the multi-cooker, so there was only one pot to wash.
  • I thought of some lines for a poem and scribbled these down. I’ll post this when I get a PhD in fiddling around to make the line indents do what I want!
  • I was going to go for a walk with my beloved, but she wanted to finish something off at her workstation. So I went by myself. The weather is quite mild, about 17 degrees, with a nice fresh breeze. I have racked up nearly 6,000 steps, about 4.3 kilometres.
  • It’s wine o’clock!


Isolation day 21

Yes, past the three week mark today.

It was a bit of a weird day, but good. I know readers find our routine as fascinating as we do, so you will remember that we normally go for a walk after breakfast — particularly if the sun is out. This morning was unusual in that my beloved wanted instead to do some weights, then some gardening. So we both did an exercise program, then some weeding and pruning in the front garden. I thought I might get the towels dry, so while we were so occupied, I put a couple of loads of washing on. Of course the change came through early,  as soon as I’d hung everything out. So I had to haul the towels back in and put them in the dryer — something we rarely use. (I generally just put them on clothes racks, which are positioned over heating vents.) 

After lunch my beloved passed out for a few hours, and I played Act 1 of Parsifal. This is obviously a suitable choice for Easter — the Good Friday music in Act 3 is one of the most beautiful passages in the opera, and indeed in Wagner overall. We had seen a concert performance of this opera a couple of years ago in Sydney, with the incomparable Jonas Kaufmann in the title role. I’m so glad we went to see him. Around that time he announced his intention to not travel so far from his base in Germany. Of course, for the foreseeable future, I won’t be travelling anywhere, so I may not get to see him again. This was one of the best opera performances I have seen. The SMH critic, Peter MacCallum, gave it 11 out of 10. (Kudos, BTW, to my former music teacher for arranging the tickets.)

Parsifal is of course Wagner’s final opera, and one that I recommend for anyone for whom the Ring Cycle is just too drawn out. Someone observed about Parsifal that it is an opera about religion, rather than a religious opera. I think that is true. It examines Christian values such as compassion and redemption, but in a rather detached way. More importantly, the music is luminous, exquisitely beautiful, and scored with great transparency. I played a wonderful recording made at the Salzburg Festival in 2013, conducted by Christian Thielemann. (This is made more poignant for me by the death a few years later of the lead, the South African heldentenor Johan Botha.) 

When my beloved surfaced, she had a late lunch, and we watched Fake or Fortune. It was time then for a drink, the ABC news, and another Deutschland 83. During the last of these the wifi started slowing down occasionally, although only for a few seconds. This was the first time I noticed this happening since we had switched over to NBN about six weeks ago. Last week the laptop in the study disconnected a few times from the wifi. After reading some Telstra discussion list messages, I went to the settings for the NBN modem router and switched off the band steering. (This allows the modem to switch between 2.4 and 5 GHz speeds. The latter is obviously faster, but can be problematic for devices further away from the modem.) I switched the setting back on again, in the hope that this will reduce these slowdowns. No doubt, with everyone staying put for Easter, everyone is streaming Stan, Netflix, and so on all at once.

Isolation diary day 11

So I called yesterday day twelve! Big deal! As most of you will have found, one day resembles another to a fair degree. Back when the isolation started, I actually cut a post-it note in half, and stuck it on our kitchen calendar to mark the current day. I stuck the other half of the post-it on the nominal last day of my sentence. Of course, the latter date, whatever it is, falls in April, so the two yellow bits of paper are on different pages of the calendar. (They will soon be on the same page, however, and start drawing ever closer.)

I slept in a bit this morning, until about 7.45. After breakfast, coffee #1, and a few other things, we headed out for our walk at about 11.00. This was rather later than our usual excursion, and had gotten quite warm by then. (On the weather report this evening, I see that was about when the maximum of 26 degrees was reached.) We did our usual route in reverse, probably just for a change. (By the way does anyone know why people have started saying “Change it up” recently, instead of “Change it around”, or just “Change it”?) Anyway, when we got back it was time for another coffee, then lunch. Coffee #2 was better than its predecessor. I still had some grounds in the container this morning, so I ground a smaller quantity of beans, which turned out to be fewer than I needed. (I am still getting these settings right; I might need to turn the quantity dial to 2 cups, and press it twice.)

We entertained ourselves during lunch with an episode of State of play on Stan. Afterwards I managed to place our second online grocery order through Woolies. For some reason, the their web site wouldn’t accept the password that I had set previously. So I had to reset it — twice, or possibly three times. Each time I was sent a message containing a reset code. I had to click on this code to be taken back to the web site, where I would reset the password. The messages were quite slow to get through, and all filed underneath each other in my email inbox. I managed to open a message twice, and click on a link I had aleady clicked on, so had to go through the reset process all over again. I finally managed to log in, retrieve the list of items I had ordered last time, add a few more, and place order #2. There was a delay right at the end for some reason I couldn’t fathom. After a few goes I worked out that I had to supply the CV code, or whatever it was, for the credit card. (This was unexpected. As far as I can remember, when I order something using Chrome, this code is usually stored in the browser.) So it all ended up taking about half an hour. Still, it is better than trooping along there in RL.

For a bit of light relief after all that, I played one of Mariss Jansens’ CDs that I hadn’t previously played: his newer recording of the Shostakovich Leningrad symphony.  This is probably the longest of the Shostakovich cycle, and undoubtedly the heaviest. I will have to go back to the earlier one, part of his complete set — I think the performance that time was done with the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. The newer one was with the Bavarian Radio Symphony; being an SACD, it is superbly recorded, if rather low in volume. I will give it another go before deciding which I like better. This symphony gets very loud; anticipating this, I hadn’t turned the amplifier up quite high enough. I will turn the wick up a bit more next time!

We didn’t get any new appliances today, but we did get some rain. Also, possibly inspired by the Shostakovich, I wrote a poem.

See them coming

During the pandemic
that everyone knew would be declared
we stayed home and cooked
watched TV
not the news.
When we let ourselves out for walks
we crossed the road when people came.
They did it too.
No-one had to pretend to be cosmopolitan
everyone was a stranger
we could avoid them openly.

A white cat hovers in our driveway
on the damp concrete
next to the nandinas
it can see the street but still
climb the fence.

It’s one of about four
which used to pace around our courtyard
then they stopped coming
it’s like the Berlin Wall dissolved overnight
and there was nothing any more to patrol.


Isolation diary day … err, 12?

OK, technically, my isolation started on Monday 16th of March — the date of my last consult with the oncologist. I have tended to think of Tuesday 17th, however, as Day 1 of the isolation proper. This is partly to do with having done some food shopping and — shock, horror — had a coffee out, both on the way home. One neither could nor would do the latter now. Anyway, for these reasons, the Monday didn’t feel like a day in isolation. But who’s counting? 

I knew that the new coffee grinder was coming today. We chose the delivery option “Someone will be home” instead of the more usual “If no-one’s home, we will deliver to the nearest Post Office”. (This was so my beloved wouldn’t have to schlep up the street and possibly break social distance at the local sub-post office.) She had a chiropractor appointment this morning, so I knew I had to be back from my walk before she left, to be home for the courier. I therefore hot-footed it out after breakfast, pacing out my usual route up the street to Wattle Park and back. (I often combine this with a turn around the oval, but there was a number of other people already doing this, so I cut my expedition slightly short. It still came to about 25 minutes.)

All this finagling was unnecessary, as it happened, because the courier left it on the front verandah anyway, ringing the doorbell to alert me to its arrival. No signature was required; times being what they are, this was fine by me. So I unpacked it from its double box packing and set it up in the kitchen, with the result you see below.


Although technically all these thingies are the same colour, the grinder proved, on first installation, a paler blue than the toaster and kettle. The somewhat sordid reason for this slight mismatch was that we have had the last two for about eighteen months, in which time they insidiously took on a faint kitchen-y patina. This in turn is as a result of being next to the cooktop, on which I make a stir fry every week. I also sit the pressure cooker right in the corner shown above, bang in front of where the grinder is now. This also gets an outing at least every week, cooking lamb shanks and so on. (Yes, we do have an exhaust fan, always switched on while any of these operations is carried out. Obviously the fan isn’t very efficient. Hey — it’s a 20 year old kitchen!) Anyway, giving the more senior appliances a going-over with Jif rendered them more worthy of sitting next to the spanking new grinder.

This gadget leaves the old Gaggia in its dust, as it were. Grinding up the first coffee was like stepping into the GT after five years trundling around in the twenty-year old Fairmont. The Smeg stores beans above the grinder. One selects the amount that one wishes to grind (determined by the number of cups one is making) and the fineness or coarseness of the grind that is desired. The grinding is started at a press of the button, at the conclusion of which it switches itself off! All that remains is to remove the (cunningly non-stick) receptacle underneath, twist off the lid, and pour the grounds into the Aeropress. So, I offer this modest palindromic caption: Smeg are now, won era Gems!

Another busy day was fitted around the installation of the new appliance. My beloved is working from home, as mentioned, and is by now well ensconced at our dining table with her laptop. A week or so of working in a kitchen chair proved hard on her back, however. (She had coincidentally strained this in a yoga class not long before the isolation period kicked in.) In one of our walks around the neighbourhood last week, I picked up a laptop stand from the nature strip(I gave this a good wipedown with bleach to keep everything nice.) In combination with a Bluetooth keyboard and a proper chair, this had the potential to make her setup more ergonomic.

To this end my beloved drove in to work yesterday, to pick up her office chair, and (she thought) a proper keyboard. She came home with the chair and keyboard, but the latter was fatally missing the USB dongle needed to connect it with the laptop. So, after another trip in today, she collected her usual keyboard. This connected mysteriously to the laptop without any apparent assistance. Bingo! The laptop stand was pressed into service, and an Instagram-worthy setup was thus created. This image, together with that of her IT in-house consultant and barista, was duly shared with her colleagues, all of whom are reinventing the wheel in like fashion in their search for the perfect WFH setup. 

Music has been something else that has been fitted around all this unpacking, installing, ergonomic and technological wrangling, and general coffee making. I did manage to play one of my favourite recordings of the Sibelius Violin Concerto yesterday, though, the one with Hilary Hahn, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Jukka-Pekka Saraste. This is quite a stately reading, much more lyrical and searching than any of the Heifetz recordings I have heard. Hahn and Saraste might not be in any hurry, but they generate quite some tension, and are wonderfully recorded by DGG. Hahn is such a beautifully clean player, with immaculate intonation, but it is never just technique — she seems always to be thinking the music through. After that I played the Shostakovich 6th Symphony with Jansens, a different performance from that in his complete set. (In that cycle it was played by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, whereas the one I heard yesterday with with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.) In both, indeed in everything Jansens does, tempi seem just right, all the lines are beautifully balanced against each other, and the music always has a direction that seems to come from within.