Wednesday, April 13, 2011


When you first came to us you were a scared little pussy cat, hiding behind the piano with your sister. But very soon you made this your new home and loved us as your new parents. Gradually you started to discover the outside world – but never venturing too far from the back door, so you could always see your way back.

As you started to get to know us you started to talk to us, announcing your presence and demanding our attention. You would come into the room when I was making music and insist that I stop what I was doing and give you some tickles under the chin. Then you began to get up onto the desk where I was working and sit alongside the keyboard, so you could be close to me.

You learnt such a lot while you were with us – you learnt how to use the cat-flap, how to climb fences, and you showed amazing skill at climbing ladders – up and down.

You've slept in all sorts of locations – in the wardrobe, on the landing, in practically every room of the house – but more recently choosing always to sleep on the bed with me, at least for part of the night. On your last night with us you stayed with me in my arms through until 5.30am, our longest ever cuddle.

You were such a little character, stealing your sister's food, pouncing on string, playing with the footballs, yapping at birds in the garden, scared of the vacuum cleaner, waking us up every morning by calling from the bottom of the stairs. And you could always hear the sound of a packet of treats being opened, no matter where you were or how fast asleep you seemed.

You were always waiting to greet me when I came home from work, and when we returned home very late at the end of our wedding day, and after coming back from our honeymoon, you trotted down the stairs still half-asleep, so pleased to see us.

You were such a brave little girl when your collar was stuck and we had to cut it away from your fur.

You loved to explore, loved to crawl into the undergrowth or sit beneath the conifer, but you were also a homely cat. And you never did get the hang of snow.

Although you have only been part of our lives for a year and a half, it feels like I have known you for so much longer. We were looking forward to many more years of your companionship and it is tragic and devastating that you have been taken from us so soon. I loved you more than I ever thought it was possible to love anything, and I miss you terribly. The house seems quieter and emptier without you and our family is incomplete. I will think about you every single day for the rest of my life; you will always be in my heart.

Rest in peace, my beautiful, sweet little girl. x

Sunday, November 18, 2007


And so it now looks certain that Dinah McNicol has been found (see BBC News article here) at the end of what has been an emotionally up-and-down week. I've felt a mixture of extreme sadness, relief, anger - and of course when the first body they found turned out not to be Dinah, I didn't know whether to feel glad about that (as it re-ignited the vague hope that maybe she was still alive) or disappointed that it was not the closure to the situation that it had first seemed. Of course, my sympathies go out to the family and friends of Vicky Hamilton, who it transpired was the identity of the first body discovered on the site.

I hate to think what Dinah's last moments alive must have been like, it makes me sick thinking about it. Nobody deserves to die like that, it's just awful that there are people in this world who do these sorts of things. I would like to think she didn't suffer too much at the hands of her killer, but unfortunately my gut feeling says otherwise.

But that's not what I want to focus on here.

I just want to take this opportunity to remember Dinah as she was - a lovely person. She was a good friend to me. I always enjoyed our twice-daily chats on the school bus and I remember with fondness the good times we had, particularly in the 1989/90 era, like sitting in Central Park Chelmsford listening to Muddy Waters on a small cassette player, and the time when Dinah, Claire, Tim and I went to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show at that little cinema in Chelmsford ('The Select') and were the only ones there who were all dressed up and joining in with all the audience participation.

There's more I could say about her (see for example this page I wrote last Summer) but I guess everyone that knew her has their own particular memories, and we should keep those alive in our hearts. Dinah was a unique individual, a kind person, a deep person, and a lot of fun to be with.

My thoughts are with her family - I hope that they can now grieve properly and at last move on in their lives. This is not the ending that anyone would have hoped for, but at least it is an ending.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Slight return

Been a while since I posted any entries to this blog, and the reasons for this delay are numerous and uninteresting.

But the point is, here I am back again. Did you miss me?

Since my last post (that's not a military reference) I've been moving around a bit. For a while I was spending over 2 and a half hours a day driving to and from work - all of which lends itself nicely to listening to a lot of music. One of the best things about a good long drive is that you can listen to the whole of a meaty symphony or an entire prog-rock concept album in one go, uninterrupted. So I've used the opportunity to reacquaint myself with some CDs that I hadn't heard in a while. Some Vaughan Williams, Mahler and Shostakovich symphonies, and some Pink Floyd and early Genesis albums - plus some more straight-down-the-line rock from the 80s and 90s: REM, U2, even (would you believe it?) those old Dire Straits LPs.

And what thoughts and theories have I come up with during these 'musical journeys'?

Well, try this one for size. Pink Floyd - "The Final Cut". A good album, I say. Not sure whether I'd say a great album, but definitely a good album. Quite a similar kind of sound and sentiment to "The Wall". And yet (and here's the thing) by no means is it one of their more popular works. I mean, everyone's heard of The Wall. The whole world and his mother can chant the hook line "We don't need no education", and yet even amongst many Floyd fans this follow-up album has slipped under the radar. Is it that its lyrical content was just too political for the average consumer? Of course there are strong political and social messages in The Wall, but mainly drawing on a period of history from several decades ago. The Final Cut drew on very recent history, still fresh in the minds of the potential purchasers of the album, namely the little popularity-boosting project of Maggie's that we call the Falklands War. Does this just go to show that a significant proportion of the Pink Floyd fan-base are/were closet Tories at heart who, whilst they may be just about comfortable with the idea of knocking the old-fashioned disciplinarian style of schooling characterised by the gown-and-mortar-board-clad sadistic teacher screaming "Wrong! Do it again!" at the petrified kids, are in no way prepared to put any commercial backing (in the form of an LP purchase) behind any direct criticism of their beloved war criminal leader, Mrs T?

"Brezhnev took Afghanistan,
Begin took Beirut,
Galtieri took the Union Jack,
and Maggie over lunch one day
took a cruiser with all hands,
Apparently to make him give it back."

Sadly, it's probaby not just a chunk of the Floyd fans that may have been secret (or not-so-secret) Maggie-worshippers, the same accusation might well be levelled at the other band members. For it was not long after the release of The Final Cut that Roger Waters, the lyrical genius behind Floyd, left the band. And whilst those that remained continued to rake in the cash by playing all the old classics at massive venues world-wide, I don't think you ever caught them reviving anything from the Final Cut.

Which is, I think, a shame. So I'd like to go on record here and say, the Final Cut might well be one of Pink Floyd's lowest-selling albums by a long way, but I like it.

And I'd like to end this post with one of the more poignant moments from the album, from The Gunner's Dream:

"A place to stay
Enough to eat
Somewhere old heroes shuffle safely down the street
Where you can speak out loud
about your doubts and fears
and what's more no-one ever disappears
You never hear their standard issue kicking in your door
You can relax on both sides of the tracks
and maniacs
don't blow holes in bandsmen by remote control
And everyone has recourse to the law
And no-one kills the children anymore."

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Classic FM Hall of Fame 2007

And so another Easter weekend passes, bringing with it the latest Classic FM Hall of Fame – the top 300 pieces of classical music as voted for by the listeners. And what do we find? Well in some respects the listing has improved since I wrote this analysis of it back in 2002, inasmuch as the top 3 pieces this year are all works that I featured in my own Desert Island Discs-style listings – namely Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto – and the work which is probably still my favourite piece of all time – Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis – is in the top 10 (just) for the first time.

Also, since I compiled my Top 10 favourites back in the day, the Howard Shore soundtrack(s) to The Lord of the Rings trilogy has come onto the scene and if I were to re-work my Desert Island Disc choices, some portion of that work (probably the Return of the King disc) must surely feature. In the Hall of Fame it is to be found at number 55 and is the highest-placed film soundtrack.

But it has to be said, when you analyse this Classic FM chart there is quite frankly way too much Beethoven! (4 of his symphonies and 1 piano concerto in the top 20 alone.) Why does this guy’s work have this mass-appeal that makes the general public rate him so highly? There’s also just as much Mozart – same question applies. Is it just that there are a lot of people out there who have only really heard of these 2 guys and therefore they get the votes? There are some fantastic composers out there who haven’t had a look-in in this chart – Moeran or Scriabin for example – and, whilst RVW’s popular Lark Ascending may have been the most-voted for work, only 2 of his symphonies are in the top 300 and they’re both near the bottom end.

There does of course still exist the “self-fulfilling prophecy” argument that I wrote about 5 years back, i.e. that, if your only knowledge of classical music were to derive from listening to Classic FM, you would become very familiar with the particular works and particular composers that receive a lot of air-time and you are likely therefore to choose your top 3 from this limited subset. Then the radio station spends the next 12 months playing these same tracks again because they’re “the ones the listeners voted for”.

In general Classic FM tends to play single movements from symphonies or concerti, rather than whole works – often the slow movements or “chillout classics” to use modern parlance – and I for one think that the true measure of a symphony can only be assessed by listening to the whole work from start to finish. If it’s got a few catchy tunes here and there but is mostly pants then it shouldn’t feature highly in such a chart – but voters aren’t required to know the whole work in order to vote, they need only know the bite-size chunk that the radio station has fed them.

So, it’s time to set things straight. As soon as voting is opened up for the 2008 Hall of Fame, I urge absolutely everyone who reads this to cast the following identical votes:

Moeran’s Symphony in G minor
Shostakovich - Symphony no. 12 (“The Year 1917”)
Scriabin – Piano Concerto in F sharp minor

and let’s give Mozart and Beethoven the good kicking they deserve.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What's been spinning in the in-car 5-CD player lately - and why?

Been listening to some mellow in-car entertainment on my trips round the Home Counties lately in addition to the usual diet of hard rockers. Of note, really enjoying the second CD (the acoustic disc) of the Foo Fighters double album "In Your Honour". Dave Grohl writes great songs irrespective of whether he's going for the mellow genre or the harder edge.

Also been re-listening to various offerings from Neil Finn - from his Crowded House days, their second album "Temple of Low Men" (probably their least well-known as it contains no UK hit singles, but some beautiful songs are contained within - Into Temptation, Love This Life and Better Be Home Soon being fine examples); the "Finn" album, produced in collaboration with his brother Tim; his brilliant solo album "One Nil" (absolutely love songs like Turn and Run and Last to Know) and songs from his amazing live show with special guests from across the music industry "7 Worlds Collide" (also available on DVD and well worth it in my opinion). I don't know why Neil Finn isn't as recognised in this country for the fantastic song-writer that he is as he is in the antipodean countries. I don't think the skill of crafting songs to a consistently high standard is better exemplified anywhere else than in this man's back catalogue.

And on the classical side of things I dug out one of my old Sibelius CDs the other day - featuring Symphonies 4 and 6. The 4th has a dark feel to it in places, slightly foreboding, but still a very good work and, as for the 6th, it is still one of my all-time favourite symphonies. The perfect soundtrack to the beautiful sunny day that we were blessed with last Saturday.

So those are my recent listening highlights, alongside the staple diet of Coldplay's "X & Y", The Feeling's debut album "Twelve Stops and Home" and Radiohead's "OK Computer" and "The Bends". I'll keep you posted on any new audio experiences that I feel are particularly worth bringing to people's attention.