Piano minding

March 31, 2015

Twenty years ago, a friend and fellow music student (A) lent me a piano.  A was moving to share with another fellow student in a house which had a bigger and better piano, and I did not have a piano. 

The piano was a small Young Chang upright – not really an adequate piano for any serious purposes because its action was so shallow and light.  Almost a toy piano, indeed, but still adequate provided those limitations were taken into account.  I think such pianos then sold for about $1500 or maybe that was the second-hand price at the time, but it is sufficient to give an idea. 

I paid for the removalists (that was about $150), moved a bookshelf from the one available wall in my flat and its contents into my then unregistered car sitting in the carport to my flat, and kept the piano tuned.

Fifteen years ago, I moved temporarily to Perth. I decided that the Young Chang was not worth taking – even though my employer would have paid for it to be moved and eventually to be brought back. I anticipated renting something a bit better once I got to Perth, which is what I in fact did.

A had in the meantime moved and had another, more adequate, piano.  With A’s permission, I passed the piano on to my friend B, who as it would happen lived just a few metres up the street from A.  B knew it was A’s piano.

Thirteen years ago, I came back from Perth.  I bought my own piano, a Yamaha U3 imported (second-hand and reconditioned) from Japan.  That cost me $5,000.  Two years ago when I moved from Dulwich Hill to Ashfield, I paid the removalists a modest premium for moving the piano. 

I kept the piano tuned, save for a longish gap between the last tuning in Dulwich Hill and the first tuning in Ashfield at the beginning of this year.  That was because my by-then-preferred piano tuner had taken a full-time job as tuner and was no longer interested in tuning my rather crumby instrument and it took a while to track down another tuner and actually get him to come.  Just to give an idea, over this time a tune went from about $120 to (on the last occasion) $200.

I would still see A from time to time in musical contexts, though our worlds have otherwise drifted apart.  I saw B more often.  In the intervening period, B moved twice, getting the piano moved at a premium (stairs and pianos always attract a premium, usually per step) each time, although as far as I could make out B played it rarely and never had it tuned.

In the middle of January this year, I received an email from A.  As a barrister, I can always be tracked down.  It turned out the better piano I’d seen at A’s place in 2000 was not A’s own piano, but was one that A had been “minding” for someone who had been overseas.  That person now wanted their piano back.  A asked if A’s old piano might still be somewhere and retrievable.  “If it’s not, never mind, but if it is, I’d definitely be interested in getting it back.”

I asked B, who said A was welcome to the piano if A wanted it back.  I passed this message and B’s contact details on to A. I suggested to A that A might want to have a look at it first before deciding if A really wanted it.

I don’t know if A ever got to look at the piano.  Quite soon it became clear that despite B’s initial agreement to returning the piano, B was not being particularly co-operative. Yes, A could come to check the piano out, but B would not be going very far out of B’s way to make any arrangements to enable that.

And so it went on.  Removalists arrived at B’s place to pick up the piano, but at 8.30 am rather than the arranged 9.00 am. They left without the piano. According to B, they didn’t have piano straps, but whether or not this was the reason they left empty-handed, no subsequent arrangements for picking up the piano were agreed to by B before B left the country for some months a few weeks ago.

There’s probably a moral to be drawn from this tale but a snappy conclusion eludes me right now.

Seeing the quack

March 24, 2015

When I was a child, our family doctors were called Angel and Himmelhoch. It was, as my parents liked to joke, a partnership made in heaven. In a piece of slang which seems to have disappeared now even from my father’s idiolect, they also used to talk about going to see “the quack.”

In my first few years of high school I was very unhappy at school and became a bit of a malingerer, especially on days when PE was on the timetable. I was taken or sent to the doctor rather more often than I really needed to go.

These days I don’t go to the doctor often. I know most of the things which are wrong with me and the remedy largely lies in my own hands (more exercise, less eating/drinking, stop smoking – though attempts in that direction can be pharmaceutically assisted).

So generally, when the odd need for a diagnosis or a prescription or a referral arises, I go to a medical centre in the city.

I’ve found a doctor there I like. I saw his birthdate once on some paperwork on his desk (I’m good at upside-down reading) and the year was 1938 – or it might have been 1936. In his surgery he has some old photos including a graduation photo and some group shots presumably with other young doctors which by the cut of the suits corroborate this date.

I ask him why he keeps on working. He says he loves it. He comes in for 3 or 4 days a week and as far as I can gather, works for 12 hours on each of those days – from 8am to 8pm.

Maybe that’s just a bit much. Last time I was there he needed to ring up for an approval of something he was going to prescribe for me (OK, I confess: to do with another quit attempt), and there was quite a long conversation with the operator before he finally realised he had rung up the number for people with a militarily-derived entitlement rather than the ordinary Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme number for the rest of us. It was almost 8pm and I suppose he was tired. He claimed this was the first time he had ever made this mistake, which I find a bit unlikely.

The time before, I had a lengthy consultation about a shopping-list of long-deferred issues. During it I noticed a rough patch of skin on the outside of my forearm. At the heel of the hunt I mentioned this to him and he took a quick look at it. “I’ll give you a referral to the skin cancer clinic. They’re very reasonable.” By the latter he meant their fees.

That’s exactly the words he used last time he referred me to them, some years ago. There’s a lot of repetition in the work of a General Practitioner.

A few days later the area on my arm began to itch and soon after the rough patch began to come away. I decided it must have been a previously unnoticed scab from some encounter with sharp vegetation in the garden or somewhere else. I told the doctor about it last time I was there (ie the next time I returned) and he half-heartedly defended the earlier quasi-diagnosis: “It can happen [and still be something which the skin cancer clinic should look at].”

In fact I’m happy to go for another check-up for potential melanomas though it might take me a few months to get around to it. We’ll just have to pass over the bit in the referral letter which refers to the spot on my arm because it is totally gone.

If I had something seriously wrong I expect I would be referred to a specialist with up-to-the-minute expertise, but in the meantime I find it quite comforting to be able to see an old-school doctor.

I suppose that is a short-term view. The longer-term approach at my age would be to find a doctor a good deal younger than oneself.


March 5, 2015

Sxq Feb 2009

This was meant to appear automatically a few days ago to mark the 3 years since my friend S/Sx/Sq decided to leave us early.


March 3, 2015

I have been sitting on a half completed post about Opera Australia’s current production of Gounod’s Faust for a while.  This is not it.

The production, originally directed by David McVicar is an often revived co-production between Covent Garden and a number of other houses. It has been brought out here by the Opera Conference and is destined to rattle around Australia – to Adelaide and Perth at least, for much of this year (with Teddy T-R as Mephistopheles on each occasion). Maybe it will get to Melbourne and Brisbane next year if it hasn’t been packed off back home by then.

The Sydney production is strongly cast. I have seen it twice and have only a few niggles:

  • When Valentin, Marguerite’s brother, is off to the war, he is concerned about leaving Marguerite home alone.  Sebald (a trousers role), who nurtures a (we know) hopeless love for Marguerite, reassures Valentin that he will look after Marguerite while Valentin is away.  This is not a lewd suggestion (we know Sebald’s love is pure and also hopeless as he is too young for Marguerite to be interested) and Valentin thanks Sebald.  Sebald responds that Valentin can count on him.  The men’s chorus echo “You can count on us too.”  That is a little more suggestive.  All the same, I don’t think that the thrusting gesture with a rolled-up newspaper by one gentleman of the chorus was called for. A little teasing might be OK but I lewdness directed towards a departing soldier’s sister seemed implausibly vulgar.
  • Likewise, in the Garden scene (when Faust seduces Marguerite), Mephistopheles disappears inside the house of Marthe, Marguerite’s neighbour (she’s a comic duenna type character) for a bit of how’s-your-father.  That’s fine and it’s clear that is what is going to happen.  But I don’t think that Mephistopheles would emerge, as he does in this production, buttoning up his trousers.  Mephistopheles is the devil but he is also a bit of a gent.
  • Musically, I was a bit surprised, both times, at the strident tone that Peter Jenkin, the principal clarinet, adopted for one of his big solos, but he must have been doing it from choice.

Otherwise, it is a strong production and accessible music.  Perfect for high-brows and non-highbrows alike, provided the latter are prepared to go along with a rather clunky story and its premiss in particular of the fallen lass who can reasonably expect to be damned (OK: she does kill her child).

Emboldened by the universally positive critical reception, Opera Australia have announced an extra performance, on Monday 9 March.  I would gladly go but the date is impossible for me.

Meanwhile I am concerned that OA may have left their run a bit late.  The production was well-booked even before opening night and it is a pity that the extra performance couldn’t have been announced earlier. It’s all very well waiting for the opening night, the reviews and the word-of-mouth, but a couple of  weeks or so is a rather short time to rustle up an audience on a Monday night at 6.30 pm with ticket prices as they are. People need to plan for these things (especially considering the price). When I looked just now there were still 839 [Revision: not 739 as I originally stated owing to a failure to carry the 1] seats out of 1431 available for sale.

I hope they can shift those seats.  It would be a pity if they went to waste.

Strange meeting

February 24, 2015

One night last week, in the early evening and after the post-work rush, I took a lift from my lofty workplace to the ground. One man, probably a bit older than I, was already in it. It was just us two.

At first he seemed to be reading something. He eyed me quizzically for a moment and then spoke.

“Did you go to Gordon West Primary?”

“No. I went to West Pymble. But my mother taught at Gordon West.”


My mother was the librarian. I probably nodded.

“Did you go to Barker?”

“No, but I did go to Artarmon.”

That might seem a bit of a non-sequitur but not, I think, to him: it was my explanation of where he might have known me – when we were both taking the bus to Gordon Station to our respective schools.

He told me his name; I told him mine; we shook hands. We talked a little more about West Pymble and West Gordon. Oddly, he was a little vague about the name of the street he lived in, but he did lay claim to living on “the poor side” of Ryde Road (that’s the east side, though I don’t think there was much in it).

My curiosity whetted, I found a picture of him on Trove in a Women’s Weekly story about Daffodil Day at Gordon West Primary in 1964.

Aided by the captions to the picture, I can recognize the man in the boy. I’m pretty amazed that he could recognize the boy in me.

First-night crowd

February 19, 2015

The scene: row C of the stalls in the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the SOH just before the opening of Faust. The row is full save for two seats in the centre.

A woman enters from the right to take one of the seats. I recognize her immediately as I have previously sat next to her in those seats at one of my rare first nights. Longe blond-ish hair tops off an outfit in a style I can only generally describe as superannuated-hippy-bohemian. A woman of similar style enters from the left. Affecting surprise, she calls out: “Oh, hello, Gretel.”

Quite a good joke really: obviously they had come together but the position of their seats dictated different doors. Also quite a good entrance.

At interval, prominent Sydney defamation barrister, Clive Evatt, who sat behind me and has a propensity to unwrap his sweets just after the music starts, engaged Gretel in conversation. What about what the Telegraph (or it could have been the Herald) had published about her? Gretel said it was a very poorly researched piece, but they had since apologised. Clive demurred: apology or not, it was worth $200,000. He, too, could have been joking.

I’m not really crazy about the first-night crowd, but it was fun to see a self-declared Sydney icon keeping up appearances.

One law for the rich

February 13, 2015

Gina Rinehart has obtained an order for preliminary discovery, entitling her lawyers to preview the upcoming episode of the TV series concerning her (which is presumably coming up to the bit where she hounded Rose Porteus through the courts in a second inquest into the death of Lang Hancock – an episode rightly described by then WA Attorney-General, Jim McGinty, as “a savage waste of public resources”) in order to decide whether to seek an injunction against its publication.

Back in 2010, Wendy Hatfield, about to be defamed in an instalment of the ‘Underbelly’ franchise, did not fare so well. She was refused orders for preliminary discovery concerning that series. The judge held (and the Court of Appeal upheld) that she had to wait and see and get damages afterwards if she was defamed (which she was).

Perhaps Rinehart’s lawyers learnt from where Hatfield’s lawyers failed, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that there is one law for the very rich and another for the rest of us.

Which is probably a truism, if you think about it even a little bit. Even if I am affronted, I shouldn’t be surprised.


Justice Garling’s reasons finally (24/3) published.  On a cursory reading, it looks like Channel 9 was hoist by its own publicity, which suggested, amongst other things, that while everyone else should stay in on Sunday night to watch the program, Mrs Rinehart might like to go out for dinner.  I don’t find his Honour’s distinguishing of the Wendy Hatfield decision quite so convincing.

Self portrait with stationery

January 26, 2015


Patriotism does not greatly attract me. That is not to say that I am any more free than anyone else of an attachment to where I was born or where I live, but the clamour of the nation state holds less appeal.

I have observed Australia Day as it originally appeared to me at the time I was first able to notice such things: the last day before school – a kind of delayed end of the old year.

It’s just over 2 years now since I moved to my present house. I still believe the previous house was nicer, and perhaps it was.

Meanwhile, I decided today to sort through the above oddments which, as part of my last move, I gathered up from one of my desk drawers. So far (ie, since the picture was taken) I have managed to throw out the pens which didn’t work.

There is at least one object there the nature and use of which (even if ever so slight) remains a mystery to me.

Opera review

January 17, 2015

P1090515 (2)

Dr Nugent is chairing a review of the major opera companies. The Sydney public consultation session is for two hours on a Friday afternoon at the end of January.

Terms of reference here. The financial criteria are the most detailed.

Meantime, going through some boxes of old papers, I came across the above from an opera program booklet for our national flagship company from some years ago. The opening of the text has been somewhat mangled by my low-tech means of masking the year but the overall drift remains clear enough.

And pretty chastening.

For those who may not be troubled to click on the picture to view a larger and more legible version, it is that the demand for opera in Sydney currently exceeded the supply; that the company had 96% capacity houses in the last season and people would need to subscribe be sure of securing a decent seat (though this is not entirely consistent with the point that they would be able to exchange their tickets if they wished).

How did we get from there to here?

On the road 2

January 17, 2015



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