Kleines bissen

As all of you know, Kleines bissen are just “little bites”. (OK, you do now.) Mozart lovers will recognise a near relative of the adjective “Kleine” from the title of his most done-to-death piece, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K525. Anyway, those still reading by now are way ahead of me — this post is just bits and pieces.

I don’t know if John Silvester’s article Just hang on: the A to Z of pandemic politics appeared anywhere other than in The Age. If you haven’t read it, please do forthwith. I laughed so much that I literally (not virtually) had to wipe my eyes. Twice. It was both extremely funny and slightly sobering: the latter because nothing in it was either invented or exaggerated.

I had a small win a day or so ago. My vintage FM radio tuner had difficulty receiving ABC Classic. I listen to the radio a lot, so this was what polite people call a PITA. Trouble receiving ABC Classic was unusual, though; this station has a strong signal. I cursed extensively, and looked up where I could get a decent new tuner. The prices of possible replacements gave me pause. Maybe I should go for digital radio or streaming radio instead. These would present fewer problems with reception; unfortunately, to me, they sound processed and harsh.

My research, however, turned up a couple of simple things that could improve my FM reception: elevating the antenna, and moving it nearer a window. The antenna was already up on top of a cabinet, about 1.5 metres above the floor. The second suggestion seemed a good idea, though; what was to lose?

I needed a longer coaxial leads. Generally long runs of cable are not a good idea because they increase the potential for interference. I decided to give it a crack anyway. Fortunately, I had several coax leads down in the garage. The longest one turned out to be a monster; maybe 10 metres. The hernia wound was feeling pretty good, so I went through the steps necessary to disconnect the antenna, move it closer to the window, arrange the new cable around the corner of the study, and re-connect everything. Take ‘er away, Boris!

Well — my little Technics tuner sounded pretty happy with a lot more signal to munch on! 3MBS-FM was particularly improved. My antenna has a gain dial, giving some variable boost to the reception. When I moved the tuner dial to 3MBS, and boosted the gain on the antenna, I could see the signal strength meter zoom up from 4-5 to 8-9 — just about the max. (Not being a Marshall, it doesn’t go up to 11.) The stronger signal significantly reduced the hiss, as well. ABC Classic was similarly improved. Cost: 0$.

I came across a story in the Green Guide, I think, about a TV show showing celebrities reorganising their closets. Caviar to the general, perhaps. However, my beloved is very interested in a) fashion and b) closets. (Her wardrobe is organized to a T.) I therefore adjudged this story to be of strong potential interest to her. Her tablet needed charging, so I gave her mine on which to read the story. Being unused to my device, in attempting to scroll down, she accidentally opened an image. I reached over helpfully (not to say patronisingly, even patriarchally) to close the image for her. My hand was swiftly batted away. The moral — never get between a fashion maven and a fashion story!

Avoiding the past

Last night we just finished watching the Watergate series that has been recently broadcast on SBS. Watergate started really coming to a head in 1972, the year in which I sat the Higher School Certificate. So you would expect that something that happened nearly fifty years ago would be of mostly historical interest. However, we found this recounting of it both extremely gripping, and highly relevant to the current US political scene.

Part of the interest of this series was its use of dramatised episodes. (The dialogue of these was taken verbatim from the famous Watergate tapes. ) These episodes demonstrated something we only knew intellectually: real people had said these things. Everyone involved, especially Nixon, was prepared to engage in endless acts of denial and deception, to stop the truth coming out. The scale of the cover-up was so vast, it was difficult to keep track of everyone involved. Hundreds of people (including the Attorney General), federal government agencies, the shadowy Committee to Re-Elect the President, elements of the Republican Party: all were recruited to keep a lid on things. Later on judges, standing committees of the legislature, and specially commissioned Watergate prosecutors, each with their small army of investigators, got involved.

(Incidentally, when people speculate about Trump refusing to accept the results of the upcoming election, and attempting to mount a coup, this was also on people’s minds just before Nixon’s resignation. The word was put out to army command that they were to disobey any order from the President to surround the White House with armed troops. One of the investigators said dryly that, if General Haig — then the White House Chief of Staff — turned up wearing his uniform, everyone should watch out! Fortunately, Al Haig is best remembered nowadays for offences against the English language, the most splendid of which was surely “Let me caveat that response”.)

We can all be thankful that investigative journalists had smelled a rat from the beginning. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post spent the most time on it initially. Their persistence led more and more of the story to be exposed, and its multifarious connections revealed. The grilling that their colleagues in the broadcast media, most famously Dan Rather, continued to give Nixon and his parade of press secretaries added significantly to the pressure. All these reporters (and their proprietors) withstood repeated stonewalling and intimidation intended to throw them off the scent. At the end of it all, a President was revealed to have disgraced his office and the Constitution that he had sworn — twice — to uphold.

Watergate provides an compelling background to the current attempts to make Google and Facebook pay, effectively, a levy to news originators such as Nine Entertainment Co., News Corporation, and The Guardian. (This story from The Guardian explains the rationale behind the draft legislation under which — if it becomes law — these payments will be made.)

In my view, Google and Facebook are acting in a completely parasitic way towards news originators like those listed above. The social media companies do not employ journalists, maintain newsrooms, subscribe to Reuters or any of the other news services, or write news stories. They just repackage what other people do.

This would not matter if Google and Facebook were not eating the news providers’ lunch in the digital advertising market. The story linked above contains an estimate by the ACCC that Google has about a 47% market share of Australian digital advertising (excluding classifieds). I have not seen any suggestion that the pandemic is growing the total digital advertising spend. If it is a zero sum game, these inroads by Google and Facebook represent lost revenue for the news providers on an enormous scale. All of the latter have certainly shed staff and cut back their operations in recent years, not least by the cancellation of local and regional newspapers.

It’s uncomfortable for me ever to line up with NewsCorp (the Voldemort of media companies). The Watergate investigation, however, reminds us that investigative journalism — no matter who does it — is a public good. How else are we, as citizens, voters, and consumers, to know when bad deeds are committed? Good investigative journalism doesn’t come cheap. Can we do without it, though? If the news organisations all shut up shop, are Google and Facebook really going to start shining light into dark corners on our behalf?

Isolation day 41

  • Wow, that number of days is creeping up!
  • It is odd how easy it feels to lose touch with the outside world. We haven’t, of course. My beloved continues with her job, we shop for groceries, exercise (by video in my case), and buy stuff on the internet. We read news services and stay in contact with people by phone and videoconferencing. We went for a walk this morning, as we do most days.
  • In spite of all this, my sense of what is normal has been reset. My beloved got some cash out when buying our last lot of groceries, and gave me $10. I thought fleetingly “What use is money to me?”. At that moment the thought of going out and buying things the way I used to, without even thinking about it, seemed foreign. Of course I expect I will get used to it again pretty quickly.
  • I spent an hour or so fiddling around with our NBN modem to see if putting it up on a box made a difference to our wifi coverage and download speed. It didn’t affect either of these things. Neither did taking the modem off the box and moving  it so that it sits inside the window, instead of hidden away in the corner. (Moving the modem closer to a window is one of the things our telco recommends to speed things up.) I did a coverage map and a speed test before and after doing both these things. Both are pretty well identical.
  • Moving the modem is quite a business. There is a curtain which opens into that corner of the bedroom, which has to be pushed out of the way.  There is also an unbelievable number of wires and electrical leads in that corner:
    • telephone jack
    • modem
    • NBN box
    • cordless phone
    • telephone cable
    • electric blanket
    • bedside light
    • power board into which all these plug.
  • However, while browsing on our telco web site, I discovered we can get a wifi booster at a reduced cost using our accrued points through the their loyalty scheme. It becomes a toss-up whether to do this, or put that value towards about nine months’ worth of a plan with a greater download allowance and a faster maximum speed. If we get either of these, will we end up having to get the other as well? No-one is going to be able to tell us in advance. The wifi is working OK at present, fortunately, with very occasional dropouts.
  • I discovered a good ebook through our local library: Conclave, by Robert Harris.  (The link points to a New York Times review.) It seems very well researched, as is usual for his novels. The book is helping me get back into reading, something that I feel I have lacked much concentration for just recently.
  • The setting of the book reminded me of a terrific movie we saw a few years ago on SBS, We have a Pope (Wikipedia entry). Unfortunately this film doesn’t seem to be available on any of the streaming services listed on JustWatch. Keep an eye out for it, though. In the old days I could say: look for it at your local video store, or public library. Of course the former are almost all gone — I think there is one left in Melbourne — and the latter aren’t lending physical media.
  • I get the feeling that services like public libraries will reopen reasonably soon — along with all the usual stuff. We will have to start thinking about due dates again!

 

Isolation day 33

Just in case anyone has forgotten what is the point of social isolation, I just read an account in Limelight by Australia soprano Helena Dix on surviving coronvirus. (Apologies for cross posting.) This story was of particular interest to me as we heard Helena in 2017 singing Elsa in Lohengrin, for Melbourne Opera. The story has a wider potential interest, however, in that there just haven’t been that many accounts I have read recently by coronavirus survivors. Anyway, I post this FWIW.

We had a pleasant morning fiddling around outside. Our gardenia bed is starting to flower rather reluctantly. I am generally a bit late to get this going really well, and this year is no exception. Nevertheless, the sight of a few blooms stirred me to give the bed a light prune. After I get out there again, I will give it a good feed and a layer of compost. I also dug out the hedge clippers and gave the azalea hedge a haircut. We have a couple of rather ancient Confidor tablets left. (This seemed a brilliant thing when I first bought it, a combination of plant food and insecticide specifically designed for azaleas — one of the more difficult plants to keep away from scale and other diseases. Unfortunately, the last time I looked for Confidor, I was told they it been withdrawn from sale due to its containing neonicotinoids — substances found to be harmful to bees. This piece in The Conversation explains that background.)

With libraries being closed, like most people, I have been relying on the ebook collections of our local libraries. We live just outside the boundary of our former municipal area, which I will call Area A. The library branches in A are better located for us, so we rather cheekily have kept our library memberships going in that service, although we no are longer ratepayers in that council area. (I don’t believe Area A has reciprocal memberships with library services from other council areas.) When we moved five years ago, I also joined the service of our present council area, Area B. The library branches here are far less convenient for us to get to, so we hardly use it, but it is is handy for books not stocked in Area A. This works also for e-book offerings. Although they both use the Libby software, each offers e-books not available from the other library service. Fortunately, once one has logged in to Libby, it is pretty simple to switch between the two libraries and read books from both. I even managed to reset my password for the Area B service online!

One e-book I read recently was Nothing to be frightened of, by Julian Barnes. (This link points to the Penguin Random House blurb.) This is a series of reflections and literary excerpts about mortality. These are interspersed with anecdotes about his parents, brother, and other family members; these transform it into a kind of memoir. Partly under the influence of his father, who had been a French teacher, the book has a very French orientation; Barnes is particularly interested in Jules Renard. In researching this author, I stumbled across some excerpts from his journal here.)  I really enjoyed Julian Barnes’ book at first; it darts about in a way that is quite quirky, but always personal and elegant. Toward the end, I felt both his style and the argument of the book became more busy and difficult to follow. Recommended nevertheless, if the topic is not off-putting.

My beloved has headed off to have a walk with a friend in our local park. It has been very mild over the last couple of days, handy for getting towels (mostly) dry. I must head back outside to do the feeding, then come back inside to ready for lunch. (We did a big shop yesterday, so fortunately there is lentil soup and other things ready to go.) I might even get out for a walk myself later on, as I have most days — if I don’t manage this, a slight feeling of cabin fever can creep in.

Isolation diary day 22

Ay, caramba! I won’t say “how time flies, when you’re having fun”. It has been fun, in part. Making plans, and exploring how something new will work, is always more interesting than just doing it, day in, day out. Everyone’s probably more in the latter phase now. Certain things are just a bit easier, like getting food (even loo paper, apparently). Is that because suppliers, like supermarkets, have regulated their businesses to help more people get more of the stuff they came for? Or is it because we’re more savvy about how these new arrangements work? Probably both. Notably, things that were never in short supply, like fuel (as far I know) never made the news. The reports about empty shelves in the supermarkets made “panic buying” a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We were running a bit low on some stuff ourselves, so did a second food shop this morning, getting some stuff also from the pharmacist. I rode shotgun, as usual, while my beloved did the hard yakka. I had a nice time sitting in the car having a coffee that I had taken with me, listening to ABC Classic, and buying some stuff from the Melbourne Museum shop. (25% off, BTW — ends tomorrow! Yes, that is a plug.) We got home, put the comestibles away, had some lunch, and watched another ep of Deutschland 83. (These links will point to a useful service I found called JustWatch, which is a free database of what movie or TV show is showing on which streaming service or free-to-air channel.) Afterwards we read the paper, and listened to the lunchtime program on 3MBS-FM. 

My beloved felt like some exercise, so we got togged up for an expedition. (Herself put on her vintage sheepskin coat, beanies, scarves and gloves, I reached for my puffer and the other bits.) It was quite refreshing, actually — cold, but not freezing. My puffer has a hood, but I had fortunately thought to grab a brolly for my beloved. (It got well used, with some quite lengthy showers.) After a few circuits of Wattle Park oval, we thankfully headed for home refreshed, energised, and invigorated. Cocooning is great, as long as you can get out and stretch your legs occasionally — within the rules, of course! 7,500 steps again.

We watched the last episode of Stateless a few nights ago. This series dramatised some of the stories behind the perilous journeys undertaken by asylum seekers, and the conditions under which they are detained in Australia. (See the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre policy statement on community based processing.) The involvement of actors like Cate Blanchett,  Yvonne Strahovski, Asher Keddie, Marta Dusseldorp, and Dominic West indicates that this is a serious dramatic enterprise. It was very well done. The stories are compelling.

Yet it was something we initially had to brace ourselves to watch. For me this is because we know that the policies and practices shown in this series, and which are widely supported by the Australian electorate, are plainly inhumane. Neither of the major political parties in Australia dares to even try to humanise how asylum seekers are treated, for fear of being described as being “soft on border control” by its evil twin. Yet to apply for asylum in Australia is a right enshrined in international treaties such as the International Declaration on Human Rights and the International Declaration on Refugees. We have been signatories to these monuments of international law for decades.  

After watching this show, I hauled out my library copy of No friend but the mountains, by the Iranian author and detainee Behrouz Boochani. I had started this before, but abandoned it at the beginning of our self-isolation. (It was borrowed for our book group, the meetings of which are suspended for the duration.) Watching Stateless gave the book a context, however, that made it impossible for me to overlook it any longer. Like the TV series, it was something about which I realised I had a bad conscience. No friend but the mountains was the recipient of a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award last year, winning the Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction. Even if it were not a good book, though, the circumstances in which the manuscript was created (as a series of text messages on the author’s mobile phone) claim our attention. Boochani wrote it this way for fear it would be confiscated. Prisoners in concentration camps and the like have used clandestine measures to write books in wartime. (Is this really happening in Australia? In peace?) The result is something that takes some getting used to, but has tremendous urgency and authenticity. I don’t think I have read a book like it, and intend to finish it this time. 

Radio

Music is one of the biggest things in my life. I need it as much as love. If I don’t listen to about an hour of music each day I get twitchy, and float loose of my mooring somehow. That listening has to be proper listening — not just having it on in the background while I am reading. (Listening while I am cooking or gardening somehow lets more of the music through.)

After nearly fifty years of listening to classical music, I have about seven hundred CDs, and maybe a dozen DVDs and Blu-rays. At a rough calculation, this equates to about 1,000 hours of listening. As if this were not enough, I have also resumed buying vinyl, mostly from op shops. (I bought some from a record fair recently — I drove most of the way, then walked, to limit what I bought to what I could carry back.) I only have a few dozen LPs, and am trying not to buy too many more. When am I going to get to listen to it all? This is particularly the case, considering that what I switch my amplifier to most often is the FM tuner: ABC Classic or 3MBS.

What is it about radio that I find so addictive? For one thing, I love the unexpectedness of it. ABC Classic, in particular, seems determined to keep listeners in the dark about what is to be broadcast. I have had extensive correspondence with them about this, in which I have also bitched about the shortcomings of their web site. The latter comments were acknowledged, and things improved after a lengthy and no doubt hideously expensive redesign. (This was in progress when I began bothering them. There are still, however, plenty of links that lead nowhere.) From this correspondence I learned that their research indicated — I am paraphrasing — publishing music listings on the web site was not a priority for listeners, at least for breakfast or afternoon programs. ABC Classic conceded that there was interest in having advance access to listings for concerts, which are mostly broadcast around midday. The entire programs of a week’s worth of selected midday concerts can therefore, now, be read on the ABC Classic web site.  3MBS-FM, by contrast, publishes a monthly guide for subscribers, available in hard copy or as a .pdf, for $85 a year — including postage for those who select the hard copy. This guide lists almost everything they broadcast in their daytime programming. (Students, concession card holders, musos, and other impecunious folk can subscribe for about $55 a year.)

Both stations, ABC Classic in particular, post programs on their web sites. These can, for a time, be played back on demand. Being the owner of a vintage stereo, this is not a lot of use to me. (I have tried various Rube Goldberg-type arrangements, which work, but the results sound unpleasantly processed.) However, I have progressed from battling ABC Classic about their inscrutability, to embracing this new and austere universe. I have learned to keep an ear out for hints from the more humane presenters, who actually tell the scattered and huddled listening hordes what is coming up. Audiences Australia wide must be keeping an ear out for a hint of a complete symphony or concerto. Quick — put on a coffee and warm up those valves!

But there is also something about radio broadcasting that I have become really attached to. It is the aural equivalent of seeing a film at the cinema. If you watch the movie at home on the DVD player, you see and hear the same program, but the experience is different. Having everyone who is tuned to a particular station listening to the same program at the same time is similarly different. A radio audience is a kind-of community; a special thing in our fragmented times. Being able to send in SMS comments is a great enhancement to this sense of togetherness. Listening to these comments makes you realise that other people like classical music too, and they tune in while doing their gardening, driving tractors and trucks, walking the dog, or just to listen. 

I also love how radio broadcasts can remind you of music that you know, but has gone off your playlist somehow. ABC Classic has copped some stick in this post, but props to them for playing big chunks of Mahler, Bruckner, Schubert, and even Wagner, amidst the everlasting Mozart. (Just not the Clarinet Concerto again, please! For about six months! And enough of the Mannheim School already.) Further kudos are deserved for giving Australian composers past and present, and local ensembles and performers, a platform. There is more music out there than one can ever hear, just as there is sitting on my study shelves. But the familiar galaxies and constellations are not dimmed by new stars.

Rules are rules

When I wake up early, like before 5.00 am, and can’t get back to sleep, I think “Oh, OK, coffee with breakfast!”.  It is a small but genuine consolation for a night that was a bit light on. 

The coffee rule which I am invoking is: I have to have two teas before I have a coffee. When I need to get up early, I will make a tea then, and another one when I bring my beloved her coffee at 5.45 am. (This waking time is only on her work days — I wake her at a later time on her days off.) So on the days when I wake up earlyI have therefore had my two teas before I have breakfast, making a coffee with that meal permissible.

Why do I have this rule? It’s complicated. I really prefer coffee to tea. So if I had it all the time, I would have four or five cups of coffee a day, which seems undesirable. Limiting my coffee intake is a hangover from the days when my insomnia was really bad. Then, I used religiously to have only one coffee each day, at 10.30 am. I have since concluded that this doesn’t noticeably improve my sleep, and have thus relaxed the rule somewhat to have two or three coffees each day. Once I have had coffee, I don’t want to go back to having tea. 

This may not be very earth-shattering in itself, but it strikes me as a neat example of the little rules that we like to construct for ourselves. They go by several names: maxims, rules of thumb, heuristics. Many are relics from more leisurely ages: one for each person, and one for the pot. (Does anyone still make leaf tea any more?) Many old saws contain practical advice, like eating shellfish only in months containing the letter “R”, and planting your tomato seeds after Melbourne Cup Day. My beloved said her father put his in earlier, raising another rule: there are exceptions to every rule.

Then there are the proverbs that everyone knows: a stitch in time saves nine; look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves. I remember a few bridge-related ones from Dad; always lead with the third highest of your longest and strongest suit: never trump your partner’s ace. And one, from a bygone era, that he loved to quote: there’s many a man walking the streets of London for not having played out his trumps.

There is a range of these sayings based on superstition: if you give someone a knife, they have to give you a coin, or else you’re symbolically cutting the friendship. Other sayings use rhyme as a mnemonic. In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Thirty days hath September (etc. — I could never remember the bit about the leap year). Everyone will have their own examples — please add as a comment.

I find this plethora of little guideposts to daily life intriguing. How have they come to be so ubiquitous? As usual, I think there are several reasons. One is to do with efficiency. Practical rules do distill some useful experience. If you can’t remember when you changed the battery in your smoke detectors, you may as well do it every Easter. Shellfish apparently can taste different when they are spawning. In the Northern Hemisphere, the months-with-an-R-in-them rule is a handy mnemonic to avoid this season. (In Australia, according to Richard Cornish’s column, this doesn’t apply.) The same with planting your tomato seeds. Rules of this type give a handy mental hook on which to hang a fact that would otherwise swim away. (This, of course, was from a pre-Wikipedia era, when everyone was expected to have “general knowledge”, whatever that was.)

Food is something that is both rule-ridden, and reflective of social change. Mustard with mutton is the sign of a glutton — guilty as charged! Red wine goes with meat, white with chicken or fish. A meal isn’t complete without bread. Mealtimes now are vastly different to when most of us were growing up. There is obviously a much greater range of foods consumed in Australia and New Zealand, and much less of that food is made in-house. It is also consumed in a much more hedonistic way; food is now seen as something interesting and pleasurable. Back in the day, some households operated an immutable seven-day menu. Saturday was roast day. Sunday lunch was leftovers from the roast with salad; dinner was scrambled eggs. Monday was a casserole, and so on. 

These kinds of arrangements reflect the good and bad aspects of rules. Having a rule is reassuring in the same way that habits are. Rules can provide not only useful guidance, but also a sense of continuity in a world that can feel hostile and overwhelming. They can also be boring and constraining. In this way they are a bit like the Queen’s Christmas message. One might like the fact that HMQ is still pegging along and giving us her take on things, but her comments are often so anodyne as to be pretty dull. (Just the thing after a day’s epic consumption!)

Having just finished reading Willpower, by Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney, I have a another explanation for rules. The main function of rules is to simplify the decision making process. Having to make a lot of decisions leads to a state known as decision fatigue(I think this is similar to cognitive overload.) Anyone renovating a house, or who has looked at a number of properties, will have experienced this state. Decision fatigue leads to impulsive decision-making: you just want to get it all over with. This in turn makes bad decisions more likely.

Back to my tea and coffee rule. The obvious question is: why don’t you just have what you feel like? That actually involves more work in that I have to make this decision several times a day. If I do that all day, I’ll spend all my decision-making energy on this little stuff. I’ll have nothing left in the tank when I get to the big decisions.

Sounds fanciful? Baumeister and Tierney’s main contentions are:

  1. You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.
  2. You use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks.

A large number of experiments have confirmed these statements. One early piece of research is known as the radish experiment. Students, who had been fasting, were assigned to one of two groups. Each group was put into a lab with freshly-baked chocolate biscuits, chocolate, and raw radishes on the table. One group was told they could eat anything, the other group told only to eat the radishes. Both groups were then given a large number of difficult geometry problems to solve. The chocolate biscuit group persevered longer than the radish group. This confirmed the hypothesis that the willpower of the radish group would be eroded by refraining from eating the biscuits and chocolate.

Ever tried to compare phone plans or health insurance? The tasks are so difficult one soon hits decision fatigue. Given that this results in most people staying put, it’s not hard to see how this state of affairs is in the interest of the telco or health insurer. There have recently been reactions against all this complexity. Health insurers have been forced to offer bronze, silver and gold plans. Some telcos offer basic plans, as well as ones with the lot. And in fashion, there is talk of the capsule wardrobe; a collection of garments in a restricted colour palette, all of which go with each other.  One may not take Mark Zuckerberg’s advice in many facets of life, but he has a relevant sartorial rule. He only has T-shirts in one colour: grey marle. This way he gets to leave the house with his decision-making mojo intact. Your time starts now: tea or coffee?

Round and round we go

After some agonising, comparing, and general research, I took the plunge and got a new turntable — see below.

at_lp120_usb_1_sq@2x
Audio Technica LP120 USB

This is actually the fourth turntable I have owned. The first was a Dual. That was a rim drive (a technology I am not sure is still used), and had a fair bit of rumble. That was followed by a Sony direct drive. The Sony was incredibly reliable, as their products tend to be. It had some quite good features like a strobe band around the edge of the platter, so one could see whether the record was spinning at the correct speed or not. The platter itself was carbon fibre, supposedly, with funny little rubber mushrooms to support the record. That deck went through a house fire which buckled its dust cover so severely I had to take it off and throw it away. To my surprise, the deck still worked. It was still working when I reluctantly put it out on the nature strip over forty years later. So why did I get rid of it? I had no room in the stereo cabinet for a turntable.

It was succeeded by a much smaller Akai belt drive deck. This was a modest machine, sourced from Cash Converters for not very much money. I intended to use it just for ripping recordings from my few remaining LPs. I recently liberated the stereo from its cabinet and re-housed it in a new console, where I could now get at the back of it. I also got some LPs from the op shop, and a record cleaning machine. The limitations of the Akai were becoming more obvious as the quality of the vinyl improved. So when I saw the Audio Technica on sale online, I realised it would be a major improvement.

The major feature of this deck is the capacity to record vinyl records directly to a USB stick. However, I bought it for its other features:

  • direct drive (no messing about with drive belts)
  • S shaped tone arm (supposedly better for tracking toward the LP label)
  • prefitted cartridge
  • universal headshell, giving the capability to upgrade the cartridge
  • capacity to use
    • the deck’s inbuilt preamplifier, or
    • an external phono stage, or
    • the one in your amplifier. (The Luxman has a good phono stage with switchable impedance, and it seemed a shame not to use this.)
  • hydraulically damped lift control for the tonearm (although you need to lift the arm at the end of the record).

It even has a dinky little pop-up light so you see where to put the needle at the start of the disc. And, for members of the Illuminati (and the tinfoil hat brigade), one can actually play discs backwards. Yes, subliminal messages encoded onto The Beatles, David Bowie, and other such seemingly inoffensive artists, can be — ah — outed? Revealed? Whatevs.

The handful of Melodiya discs I picked up in a junk shop in St Kilda plays beautifully. I remember asking the assistant what the story was with these. Apparently no-one had picked them up from the dock after they cleared customs. Melodiya is the number one Russian record label; the discs I have date from the Soviet Union era. Material includes the Shostakovich symphony no. 5 (conducted by Maxim Shostakovich), four of the Sibelius symphonies with Rozhdestvensky, the Schumann piano concerto, and Schubert impromptus. The Russian orchestral sound is unique, particularly the brass playing — where else can you hear horns played with vibrato?

Other op shop finds, not all played on the new deck yet, include

  • Brahms: Alto Rhapsody, Wagner Wesendonck Lieder; Strauss orchestral songs, with Janet Baker
  • a Nielsen symphony
  • Debussy: La Mer; Ravel: Daphnis & Chloe suite no. 2, Pavane, with Szell and the Cleveland (extremely well played)
  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherezade with Leinsdorf (pristine condition, very good performance, and a great recording — the trifecta)
  • Beethoven: Pastoral symphony with Charles Groves (pretty good, as I recall)
  • Verdi: Don Carlo with Karajan (mono, from Salzburg Festival)
  • Schubert: Unfinished symphony and Rosamunde excerpts, with Paul Kletzki and the Philharmonia Orchestra (from the 1950s, the glory days for that band — how could you go wrong?)
  • Marschner: Hans Heiling and Der Vampyr (a gift from a mate — a terrific discovery of a composer I hadn’t heard of, let alone heard. Private recording.)

Some of the best of this bunch are World Record Club pressings. There is a story worth telling here — if only the business records from this enterprising outfit are still around. I had quite a few of their records in the 70s and 80s. Only two of these old-timers survive; a volume in the complete Haydn string quartets, with the Fine Arts Quartet, and the Sibelius Violin Concerto with a Russian soloist, Tossy Spivakovsky, and the London Symphony Orchestra. The latter is one I liberated from the music department at North Sydney Technical Boys High School. (I would return it, but the school closed down in the late 60s or early 70s.) This was the recording through which I got to know this work. I always liked Spivakovsky’s performance; it made me think of a soul wailing in frozen wastes. After a wash, the disc (although pretty worn) doesn’t sound at all bad on the new deck. I can hear now, however, that the soloist is balanced extremely close. Some things just ain’t the same forty years on!

Advance future planning

Some people are just disgustingly organised. Yes, it’s around this time that the first shame-making batch of Christmas cards starts to appear in the mailbox. (Hand-addressed ones, I mean, from people you actually know, not those ones with the word-processed labels from real estate agents and other hopefuls.) Impressive as this is, some people of Olympian foresight are actually thinking about their new year’s resolutions. Fair crack of the whip! I’m still resting on my laurels from working out which bin to put out last Thursday.

For those who would like to take a mini-meerkat ramble, and peer over the parapet of the present (oh, when you’re hot, you’re hot), there is some pretty interesting stuff to ponder. The Guardian asked its readers for suggestions about how to live in a way that, while it didn’t involve throwing off the whole capitalist yoke, at least brought up some alternatives. The result was this article, From freecycling to Fairphones: 24 ways to lead an anti-capitalist life in a capitalist world . The suggestion that most tickled my fancy, not surprisingly, was the one about using libraries more.

(Strangely, I have just taken a not-a-new-year’s resolution to start using our local library less. This is to support a different NANYR, that is, to re-read In search of lost time. Having turned into a super slowpoke reader, I simply won’t get through this magnum opus in 2019 if I am forever putting books on hold. However, for anyone for whom their library service hasn’t been restructured, corporatised, and had its customer service outcomes optimised out of existence, I say — use it or lose it!)

My personal suggestion to do things differently in 2019? Shop in op shops. I had the most delightful conversation a few weeks ago with the co-owner of our local greengrocer, a Canadian, and a fellow op-shopper. I think I impressed her with my two op shop loyalty cards! (Not everyone would be.) I was able to fill her in about some local outlets, and admire her ability to score a wearable cardigan. Knitwear is definitely the Achilles heel, if I can put it that way, of the op shop. Most jumpers, or even sweat tops, are either stained down the front or worn thin. I have scored a couple of good jumpers, one of which I wear as I write, but the hit rate is definitely lower than for jackets, shirts, or pants. Op shops, though, are a great way to connect with your community, save stuff from landfill, and disconnect from the whole disposable fashion cycle. And obviously they are mega cheap. As the Mitsubishi ads used to say: please consider.