Archive for March, 2015

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.