Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Paris via Le Mans

I had not come across the word dystonia until August of this year.  I was at a flute course/holiday when our tutor (Philippa Davies, an amazing flute player and lovely person) discussed the symptoms of one of her colleagues, and I was forced to observe "that sounds like what I've got".

It started when I noticed that certain of my scales on the flute were no longer regular, as in regular as clockwork, that is, with the notes evenly spaced in time.  The problem was in moving from A to G going down the scale, which is achieved by the fourth finger of the left had pressing down the G key to cover the A hole.  (No jokes please).  The fourth finger, instead of just going down onto the key, was going up before going down, and I was completely unaware of this.

No problem, thinks I, a couple of weeks of careful practice in front of a mirror so that I can see what's going on, and all will be fixed.  Well I got the finger doing the right thing, but since then, my left hand stiffens up when asked to do certain specific actions, which results in incorrect rhythms and wrong notes.

After discussions with my doctor, other flute players and a pianist who has suffered a similar problem, I went to see a neurologist in Paris.  A lovely guy, a New Zealander, specialist in musicians' problems, and he confirmed I have a focal dystonia.  Basically this means I have to reset certain aspects of my playing technique from zero; correction takes a long time.  Researching online finds, for example, a guitarist who claims to have emerged completely from the problem, after 7,000 hours of practice.

This could be a problem, given that 7,000 hours represents about 20 years at an hour per day which is my usual rate of practice, and I'm 61.  I might have to re-think my participation in various activites to ensure that I'm only involved in things that I can actually do.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Bulk buying

I was in our local cash & carry buying ingredients for our guests' meals, not so long ago.   Figs were on the list, for a fig sauce.   As you can see in the photo, 250 grammes cost €5.33, and 500 grammes (twice as much) from the same producer costs €5.50, just 17 euro cents more.  I bought the bigger packet.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Troc plante

For the last couple of years, at about this time, there has been a small plant swap event at Sainte- Suzanne.  Having nothing else to do of any urgency this Sunday, I went to have a look.

The weather was not kind.  November is a good time for transplanting plants, but poor weather-wise.  It was drizzling when I set off, and when I arrived at the huddled tents, the heavens opened and the wind blew.   The tents were kept in place only by people hanging on to the legs.  Later, rocks were found to hold them down.

I sheltered under the coffee tent since it seemed the best bet from a comfort point of view, and the coffee was free.  The hot soup was free too, but it was a bit early in the day for that.

You didn't have to bring plants to swap; it was really a plant give-away, with people bringing spare things from the garden.  I came away with some seeds of large sunflowers, (4m high, the guy promised me)  and something I was assured was an edible veg, a bit like spinach.  Plus a raspberry plant that makes orange fruit - I am hoping the birds will leave it alone; they devastate the red ones.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

A walk

On the safety of Elves, and protection from lawyers

I have a big garden so I do a lot of gardenng.  This would be hard on the hands if I didn't wear protective gloves of some kind.  And the gloves tend to wear out quickly; I get through a couple of pairs per year.

The best ones I have tried are branded Stihl.  With bright orange highlights, they are easy to spot if I take them off and leave them lying around somewhere, and being made of a soft leather, they are tough and flexible.  I had occasion to buy another pair yesterday.  They are described as "Protective gloves for chain saw users".

They came with an 83-page booklet in 26 languages.  Including helpful information to the effect that if you get petrol, oil, grease or anything else that might burn on the gloves, take them off because there's a fire hazard.

It's a wonder that all clothing doesn't come with such a warning, really.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017


On a whim I got myself a Google Chromecast device the other day.   It has since become a standard piece of household kit in routine use.  It allows you to send pictures and movies that would appear on your PC or tablet, to a nearby TV screen.

That doesn't sound particularly exciting, but combined with suitable software on the Android tablet, it makes for an improved telly-watching experience.  Mine is an old TV, no internet connectivity and bought before the days of HDTV, and the Chromecast occupies one of its two HDMI slots.

A nice piece of Android software called Molotov lets you watch live TV and record chosen programmes, so together with Chromecast it eliminates the need for both an HD tuner box and a video recorder.   We're free trialling a Netflix sub (for the second time) and the Chromecast eliminates the hassle of having to connect up the tablet to the TV via the HDMI cable every time.   YouTube videos too are easier to watch on the big screen.  The tablet acts like a remote controller.

The thing seems to configure itself easily enough and I got it working in a few minutes.  It didn't start properly again the next day though, and I had to reset the router (i.e. turn it off and on again) to get it to work.  Apart from these teething troubles it seems to work reliably (touch wood).

Picture quality is good; it starts out pretty rought but sharpens up in a few seconds.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

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