Thursday, June 28, 2012

Twenty Six Years Later

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, I have entered myself for Grade 3 piano, after having taken grade 2 26 years ago. Today was my exam. There is an almost exquisite feeling of anxiety and torture in the build-up to this sort of exam which is unlike anything else. The day began when I was roused from a nightmare about being in the piano exam - where my fingers were basically deficient jellies and I was unable to even direct them to press the keys I wanted.

I managed to stay calm through the day, distracting myself with work, and practiced my scales and three pieces a couple of times. I was good at them, although was annoyed because that probably meant I would mess them up for the actual performance. I must have played those pieces hundreds of times, and they have gone from being strangers to old friends to tedious enemies who will secretly betray me. So today was the day when at least I knew I would never have to see or hear them again, if I passed.

This is one of the pieces I had to play (this isn't me playing it). It's called Strolling Along. Every time I play it, my fella starts doing a ridiculous walk.

I arrived at the exam location on time and an obligatory old lady with a kindly face and glasses showed me to the waiting room, where a mother waited while a teenage girl had her exam. Various teenage girls fluttered in and out, and it became apparent that they were running late, and I was the last person of the day. I needed a wee, and felt like one of the more high-maintenance characters from Glee, preparing for an audition to get into some prestigious New York music academy, rather than a 40 year old male (who admittedly could pass for 39).

Fortunately, I was allowed to have a practice on another piano, which disturbingly sounded much louder and the keys were much harder to press than my own at home. Then it was my turn. I played all my scales OK, apart from hateful E flat major, which I always mess up. Fortunately, B minor, which I always worry about, went fine, as did the two arpeggios (A major and G minor) that need to be done both hands together.

Then it was time for my pieces. I think I did OK. I only noticed a minor slip towards the end of the first one. I tried to put in the loud and soft bits as appropriate, although because the piano was so loud, I felt I was banging away in a very uncouth manner. The examiner did a lot of writing after my first piece, and less so for the next two. My sight reading piece went OK. But I think I did badly on the aural questions. I was basically guessing whether the pieces the examiner played were in 3/4 or 2/4 time, or whether the change in pitch was gradual or sudden. Fortunately those bits only count for 18 marks, and you need 100 out of 150 to pass. I wouldn't be surprised if I scrape a pass. It's just as well it doesn't make much difference - I'm not getting into that fictional New York music academy either way.

I think my only worry now is if I do pass, will I put myself through it all again for Grade 4.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New Car Smell

My first car was a 20 year old Hilman Imp that cost £100 in 1993, just after I passed my driving test on the 6th attempt. It had a back window that didn't lock and a seatbelt that went over your knee, like a useless ribbon. It never went above 50 miles per hour and on my first trip in it (to a garage), I managed to reverse it into a parking space and found myself unable to maneouvre out again. Two burly enraged mechanics got tired of watching me, and ended up picking up the car (with me inside it) and carrying it a few feet so that I was freed. I never went back to that garage, although I drive past it every day of my life on my way to work.

The poor old Hillman Imp lasted all of six months, and then during an ambitious and foolhardy trip to visit my parents, it conked out on the A685, in the middle of nowhere, forever. After that I bought a little Renault for £400, which regularly conked out on hills, and used to make a hideous grinding noise when going round corners. A series of better second hand cars followed, gradually getting bigger and more expensive. My most recent one (a Nissan X-Trail) lasted five years although it almost permanently had a yellow warning light on the dashboard, and every time I took it to get serviced it came back with more problems than I had started with. I endured it vibrating scarily for the past year when it went above 70mph on motorways, but after its last service last week, it stalled 5 times on an A road, and I decided I'd had enough.

So now I have a brand new car - no previous owners, straight from the car shop, place, thing. It is like a spaceship, with buttons that I don't understand and will never use. If I reverse, it shrieks when I'm about to hit a wall. The music system has bluetooth and starts playing songs from my Iplayer. There are dual air conditioning systems for the front seat. Even the glove box has its own air conditioning unit. And the integrated satnav says "please" when telling you to turn left.

I will be paying for it until I retire, and I keep putting it into reverse when I mean first gear. But I finally have a car with the number 12 in the registration number. And it feels quite nice.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In the kitchen with the lead piping

I was made a professor recently, ending what has been a slight source of stress for the last couple of years. My fella hid a bottle of champagne in the fridge as we awaited the decision of the third and final committee who get to decide these things. He even offered to make me breakfast so I wouldn't accidentally find it. So I had an excuse to have champagne before breakfast without looking like an alcoholic Joan Collins. My parents were actually impressed (they stopped following my academic "career" after my GCSEs), and sent me a card that said "You've reached the very top." I didn't have the heart to tell them that I am only a level 1 professor (my university has 9 levels to traverse - my fella is at level 8), so I'm merely at the bottom of another ladder looking up again.

At least I don't need to keep my CV up to date for a while. I had hoped to be made one before I got to the end of my 30s (like my personal rival, quadrulpe threat Professor Cox - professor, media star, member of D-Ream and person who my sister-in-law fancies), but my 40th birthday came and went at the end of May, and I kept my birthday cards up for a week longer than usual, so at least I could say that I got made a professor just as I turned 40.

I look and sound even less like a professor than Brian Cox (OBE) is, resembling someone who might have been in a boyband in the 1990s but now looks like they probably appear in local newspaper adverts for step-ladders. I tried it out yesterday when someone asked my title and I don't think I was very convincing, and when it was said back to me, it just sounded silly. I guess it's a role you can grow into. I think the trick about being a professor is not necessarily knowing more than other people, but just being able to convince others that you do. The best professors are good at evading difficult questions (by turning them back on the questioner) or giving vague, cryptic answers that seem wise. Other than that, I could just grow a beard and/or start wearing a bow tie and stroking my chin. It's either that, or go the opposite way and try to be trendy, which means wearing jeans with ripped knees, driving a Volkswagon van and saying "fuck" a lot. None of those seem attractive.

"You do realise that people will start asking you to do things now," said my fella, bursting the little bubble of happiness I had going. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.