Category Archives: Piffle

The Strange Case of the Haunted Piano

Working in a shop that sells pianos, one is gradually inured to the musical endeavours of small children. Not for us a joyous rendition of 4’33”; instead we are generally treated to some of Stockhausen’s less poetic creations, sometimes accompanied by parental entreaties of, “Be gentle, Molly!” and “Careful, Henry!” but, more often than not, completely disregarded by the supervisory adults (who seem strangely seasoned to the musical inventions of their infant prodigies – much as if they worked in a music shop, in fact). Thus it is, thus it will ever be.

And so it was that, at around four in the afternoon, as I was on the way out of the door to fetch some milk for our afternoon tea, I was unsurprised to hear another Mozartian genius hammering away at one of our pianos – the very expensive one which lives by the door. We had had a large family in the shop only minutes before, playing away at the pianos, strumming the ukuleles and generally bustling loudly around; but they had left. Thinking that one might have been left behind, I turned to see if I recognised the child. Only, there was no child. There were, in fact, no children in the shop at all – and yet the piano was playing on, a Stockhausian (to coin a term) rhapsody that used the whole range of the piano keyboard, and which was being produced by no human hand…

This is the point where I should point out that my shop sells only digital pianos – and digital pianos have a recording facility as part of their basic software. Still, it took an unreasonable amount of time for me to realise that the piano was not, in fact, haunted, but merely playing a repeat of some long-forgotten work that had been accidentally recorded onto its memory drive – and it was with great pleasure that I informed my colleagues of the arrival of our piano’s unexpected supernatural guest, and to watch their faces as they, too, realised that there was no child in the shop. “How is it doing that?” was their wondrous cry. In our defence, it was the end of a Saturday.

Disappointingly, by the time I had come back from the grocer with the milk the piano had been exorcised, and the ghost lingered no longer. But it was fun while it lasted.

Funny Business

I am on a Business Trip.

I know I am, because I’m in a swanky hotel, with a telly over the bed and an oversize shower and air conditioning and an up-to-date modern boot comb and an automatic hedgehog polisher and all the other mod cons. And today I was on a Course, learning about copyright (the creator has automatic copyright, so plagiarise this blog if you dare) and bibliographic software and how to bind my thesis using only garden twine and a pocket knife, which is definitely Businesslike and a solid sort of thing to be doing. And when I walked through the hotel door I was asked, “Are you here for the Conference?”. I felt slightly guilty to admit I did not know what Conference this was, but still, it proves I’m doing a convincing impression.

Otherwise, it does not feel entirely like a business trip. For one thing, I have only had one coffee today, and that was in my hotel room and not “grabbed” from a nearby Cost(mega)bucks, along with an over-priced muffin that tastes of thick syrup wrapped in paper. Besides that, I did my usual absent-minded thing of leaving an uncapped pen on my knee, which has resulted in an ink-trouser interface, to the sad detriment of the only neat pair of trousers I had brought with me (I have ruined more pairs of trousers this way than I care to enumerate). This leaves the problem of what to wear to my other Important Event, the teaching of cuneiform to a large group of schoolkids tomorrow. I suppose it’ll have to be jeans, which is not a very Businesslike thing to be wearing to a teaching event, but my only other other trousers are…well, covered in ink stains (see above) and I am therefore rather limited. And d’you know, it would also have made me feel more like a modern BusinessPerson if I had realised that this wretched teaching event was tomorrow, and not Thursday as I had originally thought. Cue much frantic scrabbling to finish preparing all the relevant material and having it sent to be printed by the departmental coordinator. Goodness knows how I didn’t notice that the 15th is tomorrow, not Thursday. I must have been looking at last year’s calendar.

All of which leads me to suspect that I am not really on a Business Trip. Modern BusinessPeople aren’t covered in ink, starved of caffeine and still using last year’s calendar. I sincerely doubt they are weighed down by the eleven full price Modernist classics they bought instead of dinner last night. I suspect them of having sharp suits with creases and suchlike, maybe wearing tie-pins like the chap who was running the course (now he was terribly smart. I thought librarians were supposed to wear jumpers? Yes I think in stereotypes, SO WHAT?) and eating swanky food in the hotel restaurant. My hotel doesn’t even have a restaurant!

And BusinessPeople all use language like “I want everyone to give 110%” (a mathematical impossibility); “blue sky thinking” (not much of that in the North-West, let me tell you; more like “grey drizzle thinking”); “we need to be growing my business” (seriously, when is somebody going to tell them that “grow” is not a transitive verb?); “leveraging our synergies” (dear God, what does that actually mean?*).

To be fair, I often use language that not many understand (enclitic copula, anyone? Yes, that’s a perfectly clean term!), but that’s subject-specific grammatical jargon, not meaningless twaddle. Incidentally, I am reminded to inform you that it is funny if you say of a friend’s party, “It was a terribly sedate affair.” Apparently people don’t talk like this any more (hence the blog’s subtitle, of course). So maybe I shouldn’t be commenting on other people’s use of language. But I digress.

All of this brings me, in roundabout fashion, to The Apprentice. I don’t watch television but as far as I understand it, The Apprentice exists solely to parade a bunch of wannabe comedians before a public ready to be amused, with the best comedian being picked at the end to work for a chap called Lord Sugar, a cuddly, teddybear sort of a name if ever there was one (that, or perhaps he was the CEO of Tate and Lyle?). Well, that’s how I read it, anyway. I’m absolutely certain that they can’t be serious. Anyhow, I am reliably informed that the Guardian does a terribly jolly liveblog during the show, which is even funnier than the comedians themselves and might afford some amusement. For those who are keen on internet memes, there’s even a pairing of candidates with their cat lookalikes (I know, I know, I promised no cats). I’m not particularly convinced by the wigs (and some of the cats look pretty weird as well, ba-doom-ching). Anyway, I hope some of you enjoy those two links. As for me, I’m off for a pizza, and then I’ll be curling up in bed with Daisy Dalrymple (there’s nothing between us, honest!), so will take this opportunity to wish you well and goodnight.

*This phrase will be shortened in all forthcoming posts to WTAW, or “What the actual what?”

Starting A Blog and Plugging A Guest Post

Well, as Eccles almost said, “Everything’s gotta start somewhere,” and my blog starts here. Or, at least, it would be starting here if Little Cat weren’t trying her very best to help me – which, of course, involves her trampling over the keyboard and generally getting in the way. Incidentally, I’m trying to persuade her to learn how to pose as the cat from the Cabaret du Chat Noir, but she’s not really taking the hint. But I digress.

A new blog, much like a new story, seems to fill one with trepidation. Will there be enough material in my life, enough ideas in my brain, enough wilfulness in my lower left leg to set out regular blog posts before my readership? Will there be a readership? Will I realise in time and with regret that a blog, like a dog, is not just for Christmas? Will I take it out for walkies even when it’s raining? Will I remember to buy the biscuits it really loves? Will I ever start making sense for long enough for the blog not to stop making sense?

I have begun this project thanks to the work of my good friend Abi (my fingers automatically typed that as my book friend Abi, which is incidentally very true), whose blog So This Is School has greatly impressed me. She offered me a guest post which I accepted with trepidation – no, you’ve used that once, Finn – apprehension, perhaps; that is, until I began to write it and discovered I was having the most tremendous fun. I thought, “I know! I’ll start one of my own!”. Famous last words…

So what, then to write about? My life is, as I have intimated in the subtitle to this selfsame blog, a singularly sedate affair. I don’t have adventures – at least, not in the flesh (my mind has been known to perform terrifying acrobatics on high cliff edges, but that’s not the stuff of blogs either). I don’t have children, who seem to be a source of continual amusement to many parents of my acquaintance, and Big Cat and Little Cat tend to spend all their days lying under the bed, under the armchair, under the sofa or, on occasion, under each other (a tessellation worthy of A.K. Dewdney (like M.C. Escher, only less famous)) and as such do not often afford great amusement. What, then, can I write about?

The answer is simple, and comes in the form of the old adage oft quoted to writers: Write about what you know. I know a lot about several things: music is one, though for some reason I never feel qualified to talk about music, which is slightly absurd. Writing is another; not the process of being published, though I am learning more every day, but the process of producing fiction, and non-fiction, is quite familiar to me. Cats, I know about but don’t intend to blog about; as a student of Mesopotamia I always like to distance myself from anything to do with Ancient Egypt. But I do know about Mesopotamia and, oddly, the 1920s – I’m writing a series of novels set during the 20s/30s, and as such have picked up a mass of random knowledge which I am always keen to share. Incidentally my blog title, outskirtsofthetwenties, can refer both to the 1920s (see above explanation) or the 2020s, that is, BCE – the reign of Ibbi-Sin, last king of the Ur III dynasty and my Specialist Subject (I’ve started, so I’ll finish). So I intend to write about one, some, or all of those, though possibly not all at once.

So, having piffled on for a good six hundred words, I shall open my blog. I have drowned out my original intention, to post a link to my guest post on So This Is School, in half a century of witter, but I’ll link it anyway. Farewell, and happy hunting!