Saturday 30 August 2014

BFS Convention 2014

The biennial convention of the British Flute Society was held this year at the Warwick Arts Centre. For me it's a "must", an opportunity to submerge myself completely in the world of the the flute and its music, renew friendships and make new ones.

Accommodation was the student digs on the Warwick University campus.  It's perfectly adequate for such an event and is lifted from looking like a 1960s council housing estate by careful planting schemes.  The many varieties of mature and nearly-mature trees that were everywhere around were especially effective.

The convention progamme included as many as ten formal recitals that you could go to each day, ranging from serious to light-hearted (Supercalifragilistic for a quartet of baroque flutes, anyone?) plus workshops (e.g. circular breathing for flutists), lecture-recitals, and informal performances of flute groups in the foyer.

Highlights?  Well I'm always willing to learn things, and the piccolo has always sounded to me like it well deserves its nickname of "The Shrieking Stick".  But not when it's played by Peter Verhoyen it doesn't.  He gave a wonderful performance of delicate and refined playing of modern pieces I had never heard of.   You can fnd him on Youtube:

I've always been suspicious of much of the music of Arvo Pärt, and had considered his piece Spiegel im Spiegel to be devoid of merit, until the interpretation by Christopher Lee, with Richard Shaw on piano, moved me to tears.  He's on Youtube too, but not playing that piece.  (You have to add "flute" to the search or you get that other Christopher Lee.)

I am currently studying one of Piazzolla's Tango Etudes for flute.  The Tango tradition is one of aural and improvised composition, and is in danger of losing much in being written down.  (Like ragtime piano music.)  So it was a treat to discover ethnomusicologist Dr Jessica Quiñones and her insights into these pieces in her lecture recital.

Other highlights?  CDs at 80% off from a shop clearing down their stocks.  You can hardly get them at that price at a car boot, and there are never flute ones there anyway.  I bought lots.

Lowlights?  After the Saturday night concert (the last night that most people are staying) the bar was shut.  I mean, what???  That's the time you want to kick back, have a few drinks and circulate with your friends.  Big opportunity lost.

And I decided to miss playing in a big flute choir in order to see/hear an interpretation of Jouers de Flute by Rousell (a piece I like and have played), only to find that the programme had been changed.

But, it was a good convention, I'll be there if I possibly can, in two years' time.

Wednesday 27 August 2014


I spent a few days in Coventry for the British Flute Society convention.   A great time, of which more later.

One of the first things that struck me in the Warwick Arts Centre where the convention was held, was that the toilets are now proudly boasting that they feature "accessible facilities".  So much more practical than inaccessible ones, don't you think?

So my mind was wandering, imagining what inaccessible facilities might be like.  I am used to urinals being installed a couple of feet off the ground.  (With the occasional one or two mounted somewhat lower, in thoughtful accommodation of those among us who are more generously endowed than the common run of men).  Perhaps inaccessible ones are mounted near the ceiling, encourgaging the kind of competition I enjoyed with my school pals as a young boy.

Of course, facilities can be said to be accessible even if you have to climb through a window to get to them.   But what if the window is too small to get through?   So today's question, especially for French youngsters doing their philosophy Bac is this:   "If a urinal can only be used by pissing through a window, can it be said to be accessible or not?"

P.S. You might have noticed that I haven't mentioned the porcelain throne, and the many possibilities for mounting it inaccessibly on the wall or ceiling.   ....   Don't go there.   ....   And if you do, don't flush.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Millwheel turning

The Moulin du Gô at St Pierre sur Erve is being renovated, and they have got the water wheel to work.  This has involved completely remaking all of the oak sections of the wheel including the paddles and spokes, and getting the whole thing central on the axis.   It's still not quite central and the wheel speeds up and slows down just a little as it turns, but it's pretty even.   The centralising is achieved by hammering different-sized bits of wood between the metal hub and the oak shaft.  You can see them on the shaft as it turns.   I gather it's very much a trial-and-error thing to get right.

There is more work to be done in the next room.  You can see that this horizontal wheel is not square on to its axis, so that will need sorting out.  It also has no gear teeth, and it requires an especially hard wood; what the French call a Cormier; Sorbus domestica, a rare tree in Europe.  They were lucky - they found some at a furniture-maker's in the village, and he is making the gear teeth.   Once they are in place, they will be able to turn the millstone that is upstairs.

The wooden teeth that are already in place on the vertical gearwheel are made from Robinia pseudoacacia, a hard wood that is strong enough for this application but not for the smaller wheel.

They reckon that the wheel will generate about 9 horespower, which is a bit less than 7 kilowatts.  If it were up to me, I'd hook in an electric generator, back it up with solar panels in Summer in case the river gets low, and Bob's your uncle: free electricity for life.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Water heater

It appears to me that in France, the heating of most domestic hot water is done in a hot-water tank, using off-peak electricity.  We have one such in our house, a fairly new one, since the old one was getting past it, and was scruffy into the bargain.   This new heater heats the water to about 65 degrees, and you can't adjust the temperature.  It's a treatment against legionella, a rather nasty bacterium that dies at temperatures over 60.

Water expands when it is heated (one of the reasons that sea levels are rising) and water sanitation authorities get worried by the possibility that heated water gets into the drinking water pipes.  I'm not sure why this is a concern, it might be a legionella thing again, but in any case to prevent this from happening, the cold water inlet to the heater must be fitted with a non-return valve.  And the trouble with this is that if the expanding water can't escape, the pressure builds up until something bursts, so the tank has also to be fitted with a pressure-release valve, and a water trap connected to your waste water disposal pipes.   Here is a picture of my water heater with the gubbins fitted.   The heater is mounted on what the French insist is a tripod (trépied) even though it has four legs.

As an alternative, you could connect in an expansion vessel that keeps a near-constant water pressure as the water expands.  The people who sell these they tell you that the traditional system wastes up to 200 litres of water a year.   Doesn't sound very much to me, and it wouldn't cost much either, unless you've heated it, and the system is designed to only waste the cold (or perhaps lukewarm) water.

Anita doesn't like water coming out of the taps at 65°C.   It's too hot to keep your hand in.  So today I fitted a temperature regulator that mixes cold water in with the outgoing hot, to cool it.  Seems to work so far.  We will see tomorrow what it does to the shower, or shaving water temperature.

Thursday 7 August 2014


I figure that I know about supermarkets.   They're places where you get groceries, and are to be avoided whenever possible unless they have both a hi-tech section AND a coffee shop, with muffins.

Anita does our groceries.   I am told that the "normal" approach to grocery shopping is that one chooses a supermarket to shop at regularly, gets the loyalty card and then shops only there.  Anita's approach is different.  She shops at all the local supermarkets, and has a loyalty card for each.

She knows the products that each store stocks, so when we run out of X, she will say, for example, "Ah, we have run out of X and they only stock that at (say) Super-U, so this week I will do our shop there".  I understand that this is unusual.   Not only does she know the products stocked by all the local supermarkets, but she knows where they are on the shelves.  Unbelievable.  (I know because sometimes she asks me to get some things for her, and she tells me where to find them)

She is therefore in a position to spot when new products arrive on the shelves.  It frequently happens that she comes back with either a completely new product to try, or a new brand.  Sticking to a single product is rare for her, an approach that has few disadvantages as far as I can see, the only exception being shaving cream.

Generally, I benefit from this.  We have a diet that is varied, sprinkled with new and exciting adventures, together with some tried and tested favourites.  There is, of course, the occasional disaster, though they are seldom inedible: most of the time, daily food (and consumables) are actually quite interesting in their own right, in our house.  This, I suspect, is unusual.

So when, the other day, she said, in town, "Oh, look, there's a new supermarket, let's go and take a look", I acquiesced.  I recognise that it's in my long-term best interests.  Turns out that it's what I can only describe as an industrial-scale delicatessen.  Only food, much of it in bulk, by the kilo, and international in origin.   Tex Mex, Thai, Chinese, African, Indian, as well as traditional French.  Much of it fresh,too.  Excellent.  Anita came out with a little bag of goodies.  Well, a cartload, actually.

We'll be back.  There was, unfortunately, no hi-tech and no coffee shop, so, stricly speaking, Anita will be back.   P.S.  They're the only place known to us in Laval that still stocks (uncooked) brazil nuts.   Thought you'd like to know that.

Monday 4 August 2014

Shed coffee bar

I have had a couple of little contretemps with my local branch of Leroy Merlin (a DIY shop) recently, so they are no longer my preferred supplier of DIY products.   However they remain a convenient supplier and I still shop there sometimes.   Besides, credit where it's due, they give free coffee.  Shame they seem to have stopped the madeleines though.

They have recently redone their coffee area and given it a "shed" style.  It's all scrupulously clean but looks scruffy.   The ceiling tiles are painted to look a grubby brown, there are used paint tins on the "bench" and rusty tools attached to the wall.  The mural is of an old-fashioned workshop, and the floor is a mix of coloured tiles and wood finish.

Some of the paint tins provide you with a Ethernet cable for internet connection and there are power points in the lids of the rest.   The coffee is fresh-ground and, as I mentioned, free.  I especially liked the side table made out of a wheeled trolley platform.  I thought that they had made a good effort; top marks.

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