Sunday, 13 November 2016

Early Musical Influences

Following on from bringing my grandchildren to their firstlive concert, I began to wonder what the impact of my own early musical experiences had been.

Clearly my father’s piano playing and the church played an important part (see Getting into Music). The question here is “to what extent have I guided my own musical taste?” as opposed to having it preordained by early experiences.

My teenage years coincided with the ‘Swinging 60's’. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Kinks permeated my young mind. Some of those influences were surprisingly sophisticated, but by the middle of the 70's I had lost all interest in popular music.

An opposing influence were the long playing records that Cla brought home from the Hendon Record Library. The emphasis was on song, mainly Schubert, but there were other important highlights (e.g. Haydn’s arrangement of “My Mother Bids me Bind my Hair” and Benjamin Britten’s folksong arrangements). Kathleen Ferrier and Irmgard Seefried figured large in this melee.

The records also had an impact on the piano music that Cla bought. These included both Schubert’s song cycles “Die schöne Müllerin” and “Winterreise” as well as the group known as Schwanengesang. There was also a large volume of Schubert’s more popular songs. These represented a wide source of exploration for me looking at the piano accompaniments. (There was a universal hatred of me attempting to sing along with myself.)

My tastes in instrumental music were also influenced heavily by Cla’s acquisitions from the Library. Once again, these were dominated by Schubert the piano sonatas, pieces for 4 hands, the myriad of impromtus and moments musicaux,  the ‘Trout’ quintet (including a wonderful cover cartoon of the string players fishing from a grand piano), the two piano trios Op 99 & 100 and the extra ordinary string quintet (Stern, Schneider, Katims, Casals, Tortelier). The emphasis on chamber music was certainly led by Cla, but I was also introduced to the “Great” C major symphony and the incidental music to Rosamunde.
Hoffnung's Trout Quintet Cartoon

This was quite a narrow fare of influence. It needed some external factors to encourage the expansion of my musical taste.

Two things happened at almost the same time. I began to learn the violin and I joined the Hendon County school choir under the direction of Charles Western. To the casual observer, Charles was a mild mannered man who presented a weak persona together with his sloping shoulders. Much fun was made of him, but he had true intellectual integrity in the way he presented choral music.

Naturally, the choir worked on the major choral works in English – Messiah, the Creation (Haydn). On the lighter side, he schooled us in Gilbert and Sullivan (I certainly remember Iolanthe, but I suspect there were others lost in the mists of my memory). His passion, however, was for the English madrigals. These were both great fun and contain sufficient technical difficulty to keep the choir’s collective nose to the grind stone.

Charles was well respected and influential as a choirmaster. He brought the school choir onto the BBC at least twice during my time. The highlight, for me, was the choir trip to Berlin, where Gertrude Stranz (Head of Chemistry) had contacts in Neukölln. The trip, long before the opening of the Channel Tunnel, was an adventure in itself. Charles never lost an opportunity to promote his choir. We sang from memory on board the cross channel ferry. The choir gave two concerts at the school in Neukölln. We also had the opportunity to explore Berlin. This included a brief strip across the wall into East Berlin (as it was then). To us westerners, this was a strange rather unsettling experience.

Learning to play the violin, was every bit as difficult as one might expect. Those hearing me practise must have had sore ears for quite a while. Curiously, I joined several orchestras but never really joined in. The process of working with other musicians meant that I had to submit to a communal discipline, especially with regard to bowing. This was something I have never quite achieved. I’m not deliberately or intentionally anarchic, it comes quite naturally.

Even so from the fringes of the various groups, got to know a much wider range of orchestral music. The highlights of these were the early Schubert symphonies (in particular 3 and 5), the Mozart A major Piano Concerto (No. 23), Mendelssohn’s Oratorio “Elijah”, Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” marches and, almost inevitably, the orchestral accompaniment to Handel’s “Messiah”. I also took this enforced expansion of my musical horizon into other areas of chamber music.

Two groups of works made a profound impression. These were the Beethoven “Rasumovksy” quartets (Op 59) and perhaps most importantly the Haydn string quartets Op 20 (also known as the Sun Quartets). The name “Sun Quartets” may well be made up, even so it is entirely appropriate. 

These quartets brought the genre out from background salon music into an era where the listener was expected to listen attentively. The form of the music was still in its early stages. The 1st violin was very prominent especially in the slow movements. The more egalitarian employment of all four instruments would develop in Haydn’s later quartet writing. Even so these 6 quartets are all emotionally powerful presentations and clearly a precursor to his “Sturm and Drang” period.

This started on me on a musical exploration that continues to this day.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Getting into Music

For me it began at home. Cla played popular songs from WW2 and Stephen Foster songs from the US on the piano. These were my earliest musical memories, caught on the verge of sleep. Setting dates to early memories is really difficult, but I guess these were when I was between 5 and 8 years old.

Curiously, I never remember my two eldest brothers at piano practice, I guess they must have learnt although neither of them play now. My closest brother, David, is a different matter. David is 5 years my senior. An age gap where the younger sibling can be real nuisance. I fitted that category to a ‘T’.

Initially, David took piano lessons from a teacher near his school in Hendon. While I certainly heard him practice, it made no impression on me. As I reached 10, my father wondered whether I would take to having lessons myself. David at that time was having lessons from Dennis Page at home. Dennis lived in Harrow and arrived at the house on a moped. It’s curious how these memories stick.

There was some doubt as to whether I had either the talent or was suitable for teaching. It turned out that I had very little talent, but plenty of energy and interest in music. When teaching young children that counts for a lot.

The initial stages must have been difficult for Dennis, but over the course of time I learnt my way around a keyboard. Reading music, and in particular sight reading, never came easily. Here my elder brother David was an absolute boon. He, of course, was practising a way at his pieces while I listened. This was not an intentional or surreptitious listening. It was simply part of life at home. I confess, however, when I got bored with practising my own pieces, I grabbed his and learnt them.

This was a cause of deep irritation for David. I gather he complained quite forcefully to Cla and Rose. But I was not very controllable and, in any case, whole episode was one of the primary reasons that I learnt to read music effectively. I have benefited hugely from this learning, in particular from the intimate knowledge of both the base and treble clefs. I still play the piano, albeit, very badly.

Dennis and his sister were both music teachers. Together they provided a platform for us young students to present our progress in performance. I remember being driven to Harrow and waiting with lots of other would be pianists (and the occasional violinist).

One of the most nerve racking experiences was the wait until I was called on stage. We young performers were in the wings of a theatre stage, trying (and in my case failing) to remain calm. I remember going through this process at least twice. At the last of these, I performed the “Gypsy” rondo from one of Haydn’s piano trios arranged for solo piano. (I still have the sheet music in my library of piano music.) Although it looks simple, it really isn’t.

Here I show images of the initial bars of the rondo up to the first recapitulation from two different sources. The first is 18 bars long and the second 26 bars. Broadly speaking rondos have standard structure of A – B – A – C – A. Second source shows the full rondo structure in its full glory, while the first is adapted for students at around grade 5 and entirely misses out two of the sections as well as some of the elements of the musical development.

Simplified version

Full Version

I highlight below some of the more interesting sections omitted from the student version.

Note the rather tricky rhythmic passages in the left hand of the second passage. I have certainly never managed this effectively on the piano. But this is taken up by the cello in the trio version and is much easier.

Notwithstanding that I eventually became a committed atheist, I attended church at Mill Hill until I was 16. Curiously, my weekly dose of hymn singing made very little impact on me. However, I was asked to accompany small children on piano at Watling Free Church during my later teens. This meant that I had to come to grips with a new hymn more or less every other week. This requirement to lead the children in, and to persuade them to sing with me was a very useful skill.

Although perhaps the most useful skill was being able to fudge the difficult bits. I’ve applied it ever since.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Live Music and Children

About a week ago I attended a workshop for orchestral instrumentalists organised by the Pulham Village Orchestra (PVO). These are biennial events and I attended my first in 1988, when my own children were all 10 or less.

This year the study pieces included Vaughan Williams, Symphony No.8; extracts from Hansel and Gretel, Humperdinck (including a couple of songs) and overture to Semiramide by Rossini. I expected the Vaughan Williams to be very challenging and indeed it was. After three fairly full days of rehearsal work, both as a whole orchestra and with tutors for individual sections we gave a performance. This time three generations of Allens and Walshes attended the concert.

Bryony, Meredith and Simon had their work cut out keeping Molly (8) and Nuala (4) from causing disruption, but they managed it. At least I didn’t notice anything untoward from the depths of the viola section. However, the order of the concert was geared for the benefit of the amateur players and our powers of concentration, rather than the audience.

The Vaughan Williams Symphony came first. It was something of a struggle for both audience and players. However the 3rd slow movement for strings only came over well. It certainly attracted Nuala’s attention. That’s quite a feat for a four year old.

Everybody enjoyed the singing in the Humperdinck but the purely orchestral parts did not come over as well.

Molly’s attention was really engaged by a recently composed duet for percussion. Unfortunately, neither the details of the performers nor the composer were included in the programme. I’ll try and locate these details over the next couple of weeks.

The Rossini overture was also attractive for both the children. Even so, I gather that their attention was beginning to waiver. From their viewpoint it would have been better received at the start of the concert (as implied by its title).

Molly and Nuala were by no means the only youngsters at the concert. It is important that they hear presentations of all sorts of standards. They will be much better able to appreciate what’s really good later on.

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Sore Loser

What is it that I don’t like about Jeremy Corbyn? (October 2016)

At the beginning, I was a Corbyn supporter, so my political tendencies are closely aligned with his. Nevertheless, I believe that his re-election as Labour leader will consign the party to the political wilderness for a decade or more. Since I like his politics, I have to ask myself “why am I so convinced of this?” It does not make obvious sense.

The June EU referendum in which the UK voted to exit from the European political block represents a second strand to this argument. To date I’ve always tried to keep these issues separate, but they are so closely intertwined I don’t think I can make sense of the whole unless I treat them together.

We know the bare facts of the history. Corbyn was elected the Labour Party leader following electoral defeat at the 2015 general election. The Tory Party had promised a referendum on membership of the EU if it won the election. It delivered on that promise. As individual streams of reality there is nothing particularly remarkable but together they have the power to decimate the future of the UK. Why? Because, it leaves no one to speak for the 48% who voted to stay in the EU.

The argument from the Brexit camp seems to be that I and 16 million or so fellow voters were on the losing side so we should put up and shut up. In a normal General Election I would indeed agree, but this was not a normal election. I do not get to vote again in five years’ time.

A further argument might run that I should leave it to our MPs. After all, that’s what they were elected for. Our current Prime Minister, Mrs May, seems to believe that the referendum vote provides her with all the authority she requires to proceed without further scrutiny from Parliament. In fact there has been a wholesale changing of the guard in Her Majesty’s Government (HMG). Was this really a vote to change HMG? Yet that is what has happened. Not only have the personnel changed but significant tranches of government policy have changed. The referendum was not a general election. It conferred no such authority upon the government post referendum, no matter how plausible and rational the changes she proposes. Yet in reality that is exactly what has happened.

At this point, I feel the need to step back again and take a long hard look at what really happened in the context. The members of the UK electorate were given an opportunity to voice an opinion on whether we should remain part of the EU. I’m satisfied that for 90% of the electorate, who voted that is exactly what they did. But I’m not convinced of the remaining 10%. The scope and integrity of the arguments laid before the electorate on both sides lend credence to this view.

The narrowness of the scope of the arguments laid before us and in some respects their downright mendacity suggests that we were being duped for the sake of winning the vote. A feeling of being duped, I suspect was quite widespread and at least some part of the electorate was determined to make their voices known. Is this fanciful thinking on my part? I suspect not. Railing against the government of the day is common place, especially in by-elections.

I have analysed the votes against the government in by-election over the past 4 general election periods. These analyses show a clear protest against the government of the day between general elections. Data source

These tables show clearly that protest against the government of the day is a common feature of by elections, but the sentiment tends to be reversed in General Elections. 

It would be prudent for any government to consider whether this kind of sentiment had affected the result of the referendum. The Cameron administration had invited some pre-eminent voices from the international scene to speak on its behalf. For voters, already predisposed to protest, this could have confirmed their prejudices.

A potent argument against this logic could be that the referendum was a “single issue” topic and therefore not susceptible to the kind of protest so clearly exhibited in by-elections. In truth though this apparently simple question has a multitude of facets. Indeed it is so easy to get lost in the myriad of detail that comprises the EU, I wonder why it was ever considered suitable for a national plebiscite. For that I would have to look into the minds of those who prepared to the 2015 Tory manifesto. This is a task I am determined to avoid.

Unlike our history of by-elections, there is no evidence from similar elections to demonstrate that this was a protest vote. However, I note from Polly Tornbees’s article in the Guardian, 20 October, that the level of regret amongst leave voters was significant around 6%. The equivalent level of regret amongst remain voters (at not being on the winning side) was 1%. On this basis the result of the referendum would have been reversed.

Nevertheless, we have a result that say that the UK should seek to extricate itself from the EU. The new Tory administration is determined to follow the referendum commendation without further consideration. So how should the 48% who voted to remain in the EU react?

Normally, one would jump on the opposition bandwagon and wait for the next general election. This is not practicable. Firstly, the leader of the Opposition (one Jeremy Corbyn) won’t oppose leaving the EU, even though he “said” he was in favour of staying. Secondly, we the electorate, don’t get the chance to reverse the decision in 4 or 5 years’ time.

The “remain campaign” cannot bury its collective head in the sand. It must act now, but how. We desperately need a collective opposition to Brexit. In the absence of Jeremy Corbyn stepping up to the mark, he must be disposed of, since his presence is a positive barrier to effective opposition.

Let us suppose then, that the Parliamentary Labour Party would once again approve a vote of no confidence in Mr Corbyn. That would leave the PLP both leaderless and exhausted from a bruising leadership election over the summer. My advice would be to appoint a caretaker leader until next year’s conference season. That would still leave the “remain campaign” without a focal point or leader.

Curiously, we have a ready-made leader in Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP. Her voter base may appear out on a limb in Scotland, but she is experienced and effective. I wonder if she would be prepared to lead a coalition of that rather disparate opinion that represents the “remain campaign”.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

A Question of Timing

Quite often I’m alone on my morning walk and my mind has a tendency to wander. On this particular morning I wondered whether there was a clear relationship between the number of steps taken on the walk and the time taken. Of course, I had recently bought a stopwatch and was anxious to get good use out of it.

A moments pondering suggested that there would be an inverse relationship between number of steps and speed. I had measured the distance of our morning walk fairly carefully (see Measurement) so calculating speed was easy. By this time, I thought I’d enough data to evaluate whether there was indeed a correlation.

Excel is not regarded as a good statistical package, but it’ll do for my amateurish approach. I have 26 data points ranging from 5462 steps to 5846 at the high end.

Data points from my Morning Walk
When plotted on a scatter graph it gave a good impression of verifiable statistical relationship.

I have marked two data points that might be regarded as outliers. The problem with outliers is that I really have to justify their classification. Fortunately I maintain a contemporaneous commentary on the morning walks and both these data points had suitable remarks. These remarks provided the justification for their removal from the data set.

Looks may not be everything, but in this case the scatter graph provides a much more convincing case for a correlation between speed and the number of steps.

In fact in statistical terms the correlation coefficient improves from -0.85 to -0.90.

Friday, 14 October 2016

A New Morning Walk Route

On Tuesday, Bryony and I set out for our regular morning walk in aid of getting fit, or at least fitter. The route goes down the gentle slope of the Needham Road out of Harleston. We then turn right into Starston Lane. This has a dip in the road from which water cannot escape and a rather steeoer slope the other side of it – see the gully at the start of Starston Lane (Walking, talking and listening). The dip was completely flooded filling the whole road. There was no route to either side. We gave up and returned home.

Since winter is coming on and we are likely to face more occasions when we cannot use this route. I was determined to find a new route, roughly equivalent to this one.

I first sought to circumvent the gully. This is possible by continuing on towards the roundabout and turning right along the side of the Needham bypass. There is no footpath here but plenty of fairly flat grass. In 200 - 300 yards we reach a footpath (also not paved) going back to Starston Lane.

Adjusting the usual Starston :Lane route
While this isn’t a major diversion, the lack of paved walking is a major drawback. This is not a long morning walk. The only way it can deliver a reasonable contribution to an exercise regime is by taking it reasonably quickly. As winter draws in and the mornings become darker, there is no chance of maintaining a reasonable speed over this portion. Sadly, this route has to be rejected.

I’ve always liked the route to Harleston’s sister community in Redenhall. This has the advantage that it can all be walked on paved roads, which are, mostly, free of traffic.

Route via Redenhall and the Gawdy Hall Estate
There are however some major drawbacks. It crosses the main A143 twice, which means waiting for a gap in the traffic. It is also about 4.3 miles long. This is too long for a morning walk which has to be fitted with our commitments as grandparents. A pity, I liked this route.

The advantage of the north eastern end of town is that it exhibits far fewer steep slopes, so the tendency to get flooded is also reduced. After heavy this also seems a good alternative. The major issue was to find a route that was roughly equivalent to the distance of the Starston Lane route, kept to paved roads and which was relatively free of traffic. Eventually I chose a route as shown below.

Route via School Lane and Lush Bush 

It proved to be a couple of hundred yards longer than the Starston Lane route, but we encounter slightly less traffic. The timings are very similar.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Spreadsheet Control Strategies and Tactics

The majority of spreadsheet users/builders never consider the methods of controlling spreadsheets as a separate entity to the functions of the spreadsheets themselves. A minority do consider controls and employ a variety of tactics (e.g. protecting cells, hiding sensitive/rows columns, hiding a sensitive worksheet, employing named elements, employing specialised structure (like Excel tables)). I have yet to see this given strategic consideration at the beginning of the construction process.

The purpose of this article is to seek to persuade readers that in addition to these elements (the primary functions and the control methodologies) the context and environment in which a spreadsheet exists is equally as important. This context should be considered separately at a strategic level. This context will have a profound impact on the way we build spreadsheets in terms of structure and the life span of any individual spreadsheet system.

Background – an auditor’s perspective

In traditional management systems, we were able to separate clearly the functional role of the system and the controls associated with the system that ensured it operated correctly. We employed simple control mechanisms such as the separation of duties and validation of calculations by cross tabulation. In extremis I came across one early computerised farm subsidy system (circa 1980s) where entries were validated by double entry; the entries were posted by two different operators and the system validated that both sets of entries were the same. Since then, cheap effective computerisation has changed both the systems and the landscape within which controls operate hugely. How should we manage this change?

In nature, the functional systems and the controls that maintain the functional systems are so closely integrated we tend to treat them as a single system. The relationship between a biochemical system and its related enzymes are such, that it is almost impossible to describe the chemistry of the pathway without incorporating a description of the role of the enzyme. Similarly the relationship between a computerised management system and the enzyme like nature of the controls need to be teased out.

When I think of a computerised management system, it’s not usually a spreadsheet or even a system of connected spreadsheets. Rather it is a combination of related activities where managers, operators and the computerised system combine together to achieve some useful outcome. It is only rarely that a (system of) spreadsheet(s) is considered part of the management system and is recorded as such.

Recently some emphasis has been given to identifying the “important” spreadsheets within an organisation, so as to ensure that they are monitored and controlled properly. In my view this is the equivalent of putting the cart before the horse. It is the horse (or the functional system) that should be doing the pulling.

The Relationship between Spreadsheets and other computerised systems

Ask yourself the question “how often do spreadsheets really exist on total isolation?” In my case the answer is never, but as a general rule an assumption of almost never is pretty safe. Does it matter then that the inputs come from somewhere else and that the outputs go to somewhere else? In my view, yes, and the rest of this section is devoted to an explanation.

Spreadsheets may indeed be ubiquitous, but that does not mean that they can or should do everything. While there are some effective comprehensive spreadsheet systems in the accounting and business control environment, these are the exception rather than the rule. However, there is one lesson I’d like to draw from the accounting environment. Every figure in the income and expenditure ledgers is verifiable to an independent source. In fact this sense of verifiability extends to every figure posted into the accounting system, albeit not necessarily from an income or expenditure voucher.

So if a spreadsheet is only part of a system, part of the discipline of creating a process/calculation that is internally consistent is to specify where the inputs came. If necessary, this means that they can be checked. In my own experience it is very useful to have hyperlinks to the original sources. It saves potentially hours of argument.

I accept that where there are a large range of sources creating connections to each source can be tedious. But the counterargument is that; the wider the range of sources the greater the opportunity for errors to creep in. Verifiability is essential. The quicker and easier it is to verify a particular figure the better.

Indexing sources of information

As a general rule, the outputs from a spreadsheet are for the owner to handle and to use as he or she sees fit. One might therefore argue that as the owner she or she is under no obligation to show how the results are used. 

As an auditor I would argue that this an unrealistically narrow perspective. The spreadsheet is part of an overall system. Of course the owner of the overall system should maintain an overview of how it operates. It is up to the individual to decide the level of detail that overview should take. My opinion is that each spreadsheet should state explicitly where the results should be used and by whom. This detail would help give information about scope of validity of the results and their durability.

Tactics for Defining Relations between Operational Systems and Spreadsheets

There is no universal method for defining the context in which any individual spreadsheet exists. Indeed from my own audit perspective, context is nearly always depended on who told me that a particular spreadsheet existed and why it had been created. It was very rare that I could go to a spreadsheet file and find out from within it why it existed. While this is certainly the generally accepted method of handling spreadsheets, I consider that it is open to question whether this has ever been satisfactory.

Spreadsheets are independent artefacts that rarely form part of an integrated system that is controlled from the centre by the “systems controller”. Therefore spreadsheet creators must develop a methodology that can be easily followed by new user as to the context in which it exists. Once again some of the more advanced software for spreadsheet accounts/financial systems provide indexes and links that help set the context, but this is far from universal.

Where next!

Typically, I have developed my own methodology for allowing spreadsheet users to set the context of a spreadsheet system within a controlled environment. But what it is needed is education of creators and users to be explicit about where their data is coming from and where the results are going to be

Monday, 29 August 2016

Arrays vs. Arrayformulae

I find myself having to defend my intense dislike of Excel's array formulae methodology. Since I’m no expert in this aspect of Excel, this consideration relies upon Chip Pearson’s advice.

In reality, most familiar Excel formulae use arrays like =SUM(A2:A4). In this case the formula instructs Excel to sum all the values in the array of cells {A2, A3, A4}. In fact the formula = SUM(A2, A3, A4)  performs exactly the same task as =SUM(A2:A4).  Excel is also quite happy mixing different forms of presentation such as =SUM(A2:A4, C5:C20, D1:D2). In short Excel is pretty clever at interpreting user requirements.

Array formulae are different and the user must give Excel a specific instruction for the software to handle the instruction correctly. This takes the form of curly braces around the formulae {} generated by posting the formula using Control, Shift and Enter.

Chip offers the example of {=AVERAGE(IF(A7:A13>0,A7:A13,FALSE))}. Interpret this in plain English as for each element in the array A7:A13, if it is more than zero include it is the average otherwise leave it out (FALSE). The curly braces are absolutely crucial to this interpretation. Here is the evaluation of this formula with the curly braces in place.

See cell B7 for the result 5.25
On the other hand the identical formula, if posted using Enter it delivers the following result. This is a standard average.

See cell C7 for the result 2.142857

Even more confusing, if you list the formulae in your worksheet by evaluating each cell for its formula you get the following. Here it looks as if the identical formula cell delivers different results, because formula is never listed with its curly braces.

To me this was sufficient to put me off ever using an array formula, but in reality this is the more simple methodology. 

You can use array formulae to deliver an array of answers. The spreadsheet below has identical formulae in each of cells in columns E {=ROW(A7:A15)} and similarly in column  F {=A7:A13}. However, because they are entered using the control, shift method each cell delivers a different answer appropriate to its position in the array.

Arrayformuylae answers delivered according to their position in the array
If, you list the formulae however it is not possible to tell that these have been array entered – as shown below. The user or a reviewer has to deduce the array entry methodology based on the number of identical formulae which deliver different answers.

In each of these cases the identical formula appears to delivers a series of different answers
In all other languages that I have used, it has always been immediately obvious when working with arrays. It simplifies matters both for the user and the auditor. 

No matter how technically clever Excel’s array formula methodology, I will always avoid it if I can.

Walking, talking and listening

Our morning walk is intended as exercise as well as pleasure. I confess the mere act of walking is a pleasure. I don’t need much else, but this is a joint venture. Bryony occasionally reminds me as I lurch in front of her. A little conversation between us is ‘de rigeur’.

The sidewalk out of Harleston down to the Needham roundabout, however is definitely single file. (Please excuse the Americanism but it is a much better description of a path beside a road, than the more conventional footpath.) The traffic coming up from the roundabout tends to put pay to any but traffic related conversation.

By the time we got to the turn off to Starston Lane, and I had set the lap time on my newly acquired all singing, all dancing sports stop watch, Bryony was mildly irritated. She showed this by walking behind me rather slowly. This is a sure sign. Bryony’s longer legs normally have me working hard to keep up with her on this gentle slope. This is a shaded shallow gully and we have to keep our ears alert for vehicles coming behind us. The gully opens out after a couple of hundred yards.

Inevitably, we keep on listening for vehicles; the articulated chicken shit trucks are very big indeed. But once out in the open we hear a lot more. My directional hearing is pretty naff and I don’t think Bryony’s is much better. So we can’t work out whether it’s from the road behind us or over the valley until it is fairly close. I determined to look at the layout in three dimensions using the Ordnance Survey maps contour lines.

Gully at the start of Starston Lane

The gully starts at the triangular junction between High Road, Needham Road and Starston Road on the map above.

By the time we reach the squiggly red cross, the gully has opened out and the sounds of vehicles are coming over from the Harleston bypass (marked A143 east of the roundabout). It is difficult to be sure of the exact direction from which the sound is coming. You will notice though, that there is a small copse of woodland and a dwelling surrounded by trees I suspect that this protects us from vehicle noise coming the bypass to the west of the Needham roundabout.

Once round the bend, the country on either side of Starston Lane opens up even further. This year the field to the west are being used by Wharton’s as rose nurseries while to the east the fields are planted to cereals (not rape this year thank goodness). We are both sure that we can hear traffic coming from both directions.

The map below, at a slightly larger scale, shows clear lines of hearing both from the east and the west along the A143. This is the case only once we’ve walked through the long right angled bend in Starston Lane and are heading along the straight towards Cranes Watering Farm.

Towards Cranes Watering Farm. Can hear traffic from both east and west.

Contour Lines

It is difficult to see contour lines from images of OS maps. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that contours are considered less important than other information on the map. Accordingly, if there is a road or a boundary of any sort that always takes precedence. It is not always easy to match up broken contours. 

Contour lines just about visible

Also the online version of the OS map does not appear to give any heights for its contours. The image above shows a series of contours, where I have marked in the heights values, taken from the paper version of the same area.

Paper version showing contour heights

I had to follow these contours through to Starston Lane, to mark the map images above. I still can't be sure that they are correct.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Tea time music at the Pennoyer Rooms

Friends can be extraordinarily generous. For the past 25+ years Sandra Holmes has loaned me one of her violins. Here is a review of a series of chamber groups who performed for a tea time audience at the Pennoyer Rooms, Pulham St Mary. Sandra performed with two of the groups.

The Pennoyer

Pennoyer Review

The Haydn Op 20 quartets are also known as the Sun quartets, as if they were the dawn of an entirely new genre of music making. Truth be told they weren’t entirely new but they did show off, for the first time, the sophistication of the string quartet form.

This set comprises 6 quartets and No. 4 is undoubtedly the most popular. It is a happy spritely quartet and needs to be played with speed and elegance. This came over well in the outer movements, although there were times when I wanted to push the tempo along. The slow movement is a series on variations which have some brooding elements. These need absolute harmonic clarity. The occasional fudged intonation meant that some of the underlying menace was lost, but the lighter variations came over very well.

The string sextet delivers a special sound to the listener. It is quite different to that of a quartet with a softer, more plangent delivery. It also means that audiences talk over it. I was not close to the players but the little I heard of the Teleman was very pleasing.

The Mozart “Grande Sestetto Concertante” took me by surprise, even though it was written into the programme. Here the medium of the string sextet really came into its own. This very familiar piece (as a violin/viola concerto) took on an entirely new life. It worked exceptionally well in the context of the background murmur of the audience. Next time I’ll get closer.

The oboe quartets seemed to take me back to a previous life. The Mozart oboe quartet was one of the very first long playing records my father bought in the 1960s. It was a delight to be reminded of those days. Even the Stamitz and Vanhal quartets were those that I had known and played (as a violinist) over two decades ago. These performances were well worth the wait.

In the Chapel end of Pennoyers, we heard Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” trio for the unusual combination of piano, clarinet and viola. Typically Mozartian, it is quite unique in the repertoire. The opening Andante is indeed beautiful, but mainly a vehicle for the clarinet to show off. Mike Bishop accomplished this admirably. I’m used to the minuet movement being light hearted, frothy and not too difficult. Not so here. The viola’s triplets are fiendish. Sandra handled these with real dexterity, but at the cost of a tiny reduction in tempo. The final rondo brought us back to normality. The players relaxed and let their hair down (metaphorically speaking of course).

The Schumann Fantasiestücke for clarinet and piano (Op. 73) was a complete surprise. The music was entirely new to me. It certainly gave Richard Donmall the chance to demonstrate the flexibility of his electronic piano. Both he and it were very good indeed and was Mike on clarinet. This is a piece of music I will certainly be acquiring in the near future.

For those interested, the full programme is listed below
While this has nothing specifically to do with a stroke, keeping oneself active and motivated is still part of the recovery process.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Improving balance - or not

I want to cycle safely and one part of that process has been to improve by balance post stroke. There are a number of web sites offering advice on improving balance - e.g. 10 Examples of Coordination & Balance Exercise and Improve Your Balance in 3 Simple Steps.

I tried the simplest version of the one legged balance test. The results are tabulated below,

As you cab see, I'm getting worse quite dramatically. Fortunately, negative time values are not permitted.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

RSPB Minsmere

A day out with the grandchildren and a chance for me to test my distinctly limited skills with the new digital camera.

Mimsmere has a wide variety of habitats. The sand cliffs here are the perfect place for sand martins and their burrows. There were plenty of the birds about but I had no chance of catching them on camera.

Sand martin burrows

Catching Molly and Nuala at the right time is just as difficult. Molly was looking at the camera - honest.

Here Molly was supposed to be in mid jump - whoops - but there's Nuala!

Photographing birds presents its own problems. These were all taken with the telephoto close to maximum magnification.

Black-tailed Godwit

Heron at mid distance


I really should have taken a snap of some of the other twitchers and their cameras, where their telephoto lens were many times the size of the cameras themselves.

Eventually, I got some reasonable photos of Molly and Nuala.


Nuala - deep concentration

Granny keeps careful watch

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Boudicca Way (Stage 2)?

Last weekend our house was full to the gunnels. My brother Russell was visiting for a couple of days and I decided that we two should escape the crowd. I had always intended to walk the Boudicca Way, a medium distance walk of nearly 40 miles. It breaks up fairly neatly into 4 sections. We would trial section 2.

Photographs of the relevant OS map sections below show the walk we should have taken below. In practice our planning went awry.

Pulham to Tyrell's Wood

Tyrell's Wood to Tasburgh

Fortunately we have public transport between Harleston and Pulham Market, which was the beginning of this stage. Perhaps our first mistake was to rely on maps downloaded from the web rather standard OS maps. In fact Russell had handwritten our route onto A4 sections of an OS style Map  For an example see below.

Hand written route onto OS map printed from the WWW.
It was a warm summer day and the first part of the route went smoothly. I even had the presence of mind to take a snap of a rather interesting wooden footbridge.

Russell looks back across the interesting wooden bridge
Woods and forests are always tricky to navigate and Tyrell’s Wood is no exception. The navigation was not made any easier by my attempts to avoid the extensive boggy patches, which formed after the recent heavy downpours. We re-joined the official route about half way through the length of the wood, I confess this was more by luck than judgement.

Once through the wood we met up with one of the myriad of small roads that meander the East Anglian countryside. We should have turned right off this after about 100 yards. We missed it. In fact we were looking left rather than right. By the time we had reached one of the many back roads into Long Stratton that I recognised, I knew we were wrong. Fortunately we were close to a junction with both roads named. There’s a rarity.  I was able to locate our position. We turned towards the authorised route.

Errors - missed one right and took a left before returning to the authorized route
Russell however was still not convinced I was right. I suspect the “little brother syndrome”. We found ourselves heading towards a wooded area on both sides with signed footpath heading left (north).

We turn left off Mill Road
This footpath was clearly marked. Inevitably we reached another. My guess was that turning left would lead to Long Stratton. We agreed that the right turn was a more profitable direction.

Short cut to the Rectory at Morningthorpe
So it turned out. Although we didn't know it the time we were back on the official Boudicca Way. Perhaps more to the point we turned left at the triangular junction, which meant that we were indeed heading for Tasburgh.

Our next error was fatal. We knew we had to turn right off the route and came across a likely candidate as shown below.

Should we have taken the lane to the right
This picture above has been taken from Google Maps. When Russell and I saw it there was a chain across the path with lots pretend notices on it. Nothing actually said that this was private property but the implication of the chain together with the fake notices suggested it was. Both of us looked around for any official notice to show us that this was indeed the official Boudicca Way. We found nothing and assumed that this was not the turning we were looking for.

We went along Brick Kiln Lane. There was no sign of the authorized route and by the time we arrived at Church (yet another route to Long Stratton) I was getting tired and hungry. The need for food overrode all other considerations. 

The Queen's Head, Long Stratton
The Queen's Head was very welcome, together with Fish and Chips from the chippy 20 yards down the road. I very rarely drink cider, but the pint of very dry cider from the Aspall's Brewery (brewed in Suffolk) was exceptionally welcome. Sadly the pub was due to closed its doors permanently the very next day. This part of English life seems to be disappearing.

It's surprising what refreshment can do. We decided to work out way back to Tyrell's Wood in the hopes of finding where we made our original routing error. Eventually we returned to the point on our route where we should have turned off. Perhaps it was not entirely our fault. The growing season this year has been has been warm and wet. Everything is overgrown and the sign post for the correct route was more or less invisible.

Obvious when you know it
Through Tyrell's  Wood we took yet another route. I still have no idea which the correct route is. Once through the wood we turned right (off Boudicca Way) and headed for tea and cakes at Goodies Farm Cafe.

Measuring distance on maps

There is no doubt that we made a lot of mapping errors on this walk, But I wanted to find how much of a difference it made to the distance walked, The first map below shows the main mistake and the correct route.

The next two images employ the Google Maps measuring tool to estimate the two distances.

The authorized route

Russell and Stephen's short cut

In fact, according to these measurements, we skipped about 2/3 miles. Also we didn't even attempt the last couple of miles to Tasburg. In our defence though, we did walk a further 3.62  miles from Long Stratton to Goodies Farm shop.

Long Stratton to Goodies
My guess is that we weren't far short of the original distance that we intended to walk.