I’ve been pickling again…

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I really enjoy homemade pickles and I also get a lot of pleasure out of making them too. This afternoon I washed out five ‘pickling jars’ (mainly redundant pickled egg jars from my local pub!) and made two jars of pickled onions, one jar of pickled chillies, a jar of pickled eggs and a jar of mainly pickled onions, from the onions I had left over , topped up with mushrooms.

Champion!

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Click here to see how it’s done!

Pickled Red Cabbage

Pickled Red Cabbage

How to grow onions in the comfort of your own kitchen…

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More Musical Humour…

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The Katzenklavier11390123_10152890629581127_289520431725475205_n

Here is the explanation from The Guardian…

What is it? The Katzenklavier is, erm, a piano made out of cats. No, we’re not making this up.

Who uses it? Despite the initial design having some vague specifications about ordering pitch, the Katzenklavier was never intended, really, for musical use. It was actually invented for psychiatrists. Wait, it gets weirder.

How does it work? The existing drawings, based on historical descriptions of the Katzenklavier, suggested that the instrument consisted of a keyboard, with seven to nine cats held in cages corresponding to the approximate pitch of their mewling. Each of the cats’ tails is stretched out and held down. Above each tail is a nail. Depressing a key assigned to a specific cat causes a mechanism to drive the nail into the tail resulting in a shriek from the poor animal. Pretty horrible, eh?

Where does it come from? Well you can console yourself with the knowledge (as far as we know) that the contraption was never built. It was invented sometime in the 17th century by Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit renaissance man operating in the fields of medicine, oriental studies and geology. The Katzenklavier was one of several wacky machines Kircher claimed to have invented – the others included an automaton statue which could listen and talk, a perpetual motion machine, and the Aeolian harp.

Why is it classic? Because it’s just too horrible to contemplate! An 18th-century German physician named Johann Christian Reil wrote that the device was intended to shake mental patients who had lost the ability to focus out of a “fixed state” and into “conscious awareness”. The patient must be placed so that they are sitting in direct view of the cats’ expressions when the psychiatrist plays a fugue on the infernal instrument. In these modern enlightened times, there are several “cat pianos” available for the iPhone, and none of them involve the torture of felines – they’re just a bit twee. The Katzenklavier also inspired the excellent Nick Cave-narrated animation, The Cat Piano.

What’s the best ever song to feature a cat? Opposites Attract by Paula Abdul feat MC Skat Kat. After reading all that unpleasantness, treat yourself to a Spotify playlist of nice songs about cats.

Five facts and things

A bizarre 16th-century anecdote concerning an extravagant procession in Brussels thrown in honour of King Philip II of Spain describes a bear riding a chariot and playing an organ where the tails of 20 howling cats were bound to the keys. Somewhat spurious, but the first-ever description of a working Katzenklavier, and a century before it was invented by Kircher!

French historian Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin writes of finding records alluding to similar “cat organs” operational in Saint-Germain in 1753 and Prague in 1773, as well as uncovering an engraving depicting a torturous musical instrument designed to create a cacophony by abusing a choir of dogs, monkeys, donkeys and cows.

Also in Saint-Germain during the 17th century was said to have been a fairground attraction called “Miaulique”, where several cats seated in front of a musical score would be conducted through a cat opera by a monkey. Yep. A MONKEY.

Several composers have been deeply inspired by cats. Works by Adriano Banchieri, Adam Krieger, Carlo Farina, Gioachino Rossini and Robert Lucas de Pearsall all feature “miaowing” arrangements for voice and other instruments.

Domenico Scarlatti’s The Cat’s Fugue was legendarily co-authored by the composer’s cat! The moggy had a little run about on the keys which suggested the first three measures of the piece, leaving Scarlatti to finish up the rest. These days we have Nora, and of course, Keyboard Cat.

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Urban Farm – June 8th – 2015

Well, I have been away  from my garden for getting on for a week as I have been on tour with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to the Czech Republic. We had a great time there but some doubts had crossed my mind about leaving the vegetables, fruit and flowers in the hands of my wife. She has absolutely no experience of growing anything! I needn’t have worried, however, as far from getting back to a desert my garden is blooming. It just goes to show that anyone is capable of growing their own food and a reasonable chance of success is almost guaranteed.

Well done Mrs Ball!unnamed-8

A new project of mine last Summer, were the introduction of a lemon tree and a lime tree into my new greenhouse. The are doing just fine and are producing fruit now.unnamed-6

Citrus trees fruit and flower simultaneously. It is a real pleasure to see the pretty blossom and the new foliage.unnamed-3

Lemons are quite green on the tree but will yellow if left to mature for long enough. Continue reading

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Musical Humour…

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RLPO – Czech Tour 2015 Day Five – The Return Journey

The weather on this trip has been absolutely fabulous. Once again, there was not a cloud in sight outside my hotel window. Well, it is time to go home after a really enjoyable tour. It is always good to get home but I think the RLPO is entitled to feel a modicum of sadness on leaving this great country with a populace that really likes classical music, almost like nowhere else on earth.unnamed-15

We got up early for breakfast as we had to leave the Imperial Hotel in Ostrava at 8.30am. The coaches arrived to take us to the station for the three and a half hour journey back to Prague, from where we would be catching our plane back to Manchester in the UK. Our coaches in Manchester would then deliver us back home to Liverpool in the early evening. Such has been the success of the tour that discussions are already underway for another tour of the Czech Republic.

Bring it on I say!

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Chris Morley (horn) and Simon Cowen (trombone) are keen brass bandsmen. Chris (on the left), although French Horn in the RLPO, plays tenor horn in Greenalls Brass Band, whilst Simon conducts Besses o’th Barn Band, the oldest brass band in the world. Here they are, pictured proudly wearing their respective band shirts. There is a keen but friendly rivalry in the banding world!unnamed-13

This grand piano in Ostrava train station looks like it has taken a good hiding over the years. Either that or Paul Lewis arrived to catch an earlier train and gave it the Brahms D minor treatment!!! Continue reading

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RLPO – Czech Republic 2015 Day Four – OSTRAVA – Janacek International Music Festival

unnamed-3Breakfast was early today, and very busy as the coaches to Prague railway station needed to leave at 8.15 am. unnamed-4

We took a last look at Prague as the RLPO coaches headed off. I can’t think of anything negative to say about this wonderful city and must admit to missing it already. There is talk of us going back soon.

Bring it on I say!

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This is the church of St Cyril and St Methodius. The pictures are taken as the RLPO bus passed by on the way to Prague station. It is a National Monument to Czech war heroes. A group of Czech Nationalists were trained in England to assassinate the Nazi Governor, Heydrich. They parachuted in to Prague had a shoot-up and threw a bomb at Heidrich’s car. It missed but blew the door off causing Heidrich to die of septicaemia. The long and short of it is that that Nazis went on the warpath, chased the Czech Nationalist into the church. The Nazis had to withdraw due to the gun fire from the Czechs and the Czechs holed up in the crypt. The Nazis tried everything , including throwing bombs into the crypt and even forcing the fire brigade to flood out the crypt through the little window below! You can still see the bullet holes around the window. The Nationalists eventually committed suicide rather than get caught…

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This country has lots of secrets! An RLPO contingent had visited the church on the previous day, too. The interior of the church is stunning…unnamed-2

Here is the hatch, through which the Nazis attempted to bomb the Czech Nationalists, drown them etc. The bravery of these guys is really quite inspiring and humbling.unnamed-4We need not have rushed to get to the train station, as it happened, because the train itself, meant to be a Pendolino, was cancelled and we got a much older model 45 minutes later instead!IMG_0083

The old fashioned small compartments in the carriages were quite nice however and we sat back for a pleasant ride through the Czech countryside for the next three and a half hours to Ostrava. Continue reading

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RLPO – Czech Republic Tour 2015 Day Three – Prague Spring Festival Closing Concert

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The above photo is the view from my hotel room. It is not a great picture because I can’t open the window but I just wanted to show you how blue the sky is. The weather is fantastic but the temperature is also very warm! Even first thing in the morning, when this was taken.

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The view from the rear of our hotel. The finiculi finicula goes up to a bar from where one can see the whole of Prague.

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What a view!

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I have included these two photos for my wife’s benefit. They are the Japanese Embassy and Cultural Centre near Prague Castle. She is Japanese, by the way!unnamed-10unnamed-3I set off for the old part of Prague again today. I always enjoy looking around this city.unnamed-6There are several busy markets selling all sorts from food and drink to souvenirs and fruit & veg etc. unnamed-4

IMG_4153For lunch, we had previously found a nice restaurant/beer hall, Kolkovna Celnice, just past the market in front of the Smetana Hall. So, the brass section agreed to meet up there before the rehearsal. It would be nice to catch some shade under the trees and parasols outside there as the heat is quite intense. Continue reading

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RLPO – Czech Tour 2015 Day Two – Prague Spring Festival – Opening Concert

The view from my hotel room. One of the many stunning buildings  in the area.

The view from my hotel room. One of the many stunning buildings in the area.

The sun is out and shining bright on day two of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic tour. I think I’ll walk in to work today!

Public transport in Prague

Public transport in Prague

The Hotel Mozartava is just by Mozart Villa. The villa is now a museum dedicated to the visits of Mozart to the Dusek family and is now a popular tourist attraction. unnamed-3The walk over the Vltava/Moldau River into the Old Town takes about thirty minutes and in this glorious sunshine is a real pleasure.unnamed-2

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The river itself is also a joy on such a nice day, the subject of many spectacular picture post cards.

Continue reading

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RLPO – Czech Republic 2015 Day One – Prague Spring Festival- A Free Evening!

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Left – extra percussionist Richard Winter, Centre -Principal Percussion Graham Johns and Right, first violin David Whitehead, waiting for the coach to leave The Friary (our RLPO rehearsal facility) on the way to Manchester Airport.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra set off at midday today for the first part of our June 2015 Tour to the Czech Republic. We had been frequent visitors to this most beautiful and friendly country over the years, including being the first non-Czech orchestra to open the Spring Festival in Prague in 1993. On this occasion we would be performing two concerts in Prague to close the Spring Festival and a performance in Ostrava for the Interbnational Music Festival.

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On arrival at Manchester Airport Terminal One, I was interested to see one of the famous Czech beers on offer. Well, for research purposes it would be churlish not to try one for comparison in Prague later! unnamed-4

The heavy brass plus Principal Viola Vicci Wardman awaiting the  announcement to board our Jet.2 plane to Prague.unnamed-6This is the RLPO waiting to board the plane to the Czech Republic. You can see the tall figure of Vasily Petrenko queuing with the rest of the orchestra.unnamed-1

Here’s our plane to Prague and once on board we soon set off.unnamed-8

We arrived at Vaclav Havel Airport at something about 6.30pm and set off  for our accomodation for the next three nights, the Hotel Mozartova, on the very beautiful Castle side of the Moldau/Vltava river. Well, we had an evening off, so once settled into the hotel the whole brass section descended on a nearby restaurant to eat various local pork and dumpling dishes.

The heavy brass section

The heavy brass section – from left: Me!, Simon Cowen, Dave Hooper, Rory Cartmell, Simon Powell, Simon Chappell, Paul Marsden and Robin Haggart

Many of the other sections of the RLPO were had also found their way to the same eaterie.

The RLPO First violins

The RLPO First violins

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Delicious!

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So, for our free evening in Prague, the trumpet section decided to head over the other side of the river to enjoy some famous Czech beers and to take in the stunning, historic architecture that make Prague one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world. Our first stop was the famous beer hall and restaurant u Medviku. We had been to this historic hostelry on many a previous occasion.unnamed-1

u Medvidku brews it’s own beer on the premises and we decided to go for a popular mix of light and dark beer as many of the locals choose.u-medvidku

Paul Marsden and Dave Hooper - 2nd and third trumpets enjoying the beer brewed on the premises at u Medvidku

Paul Marsden and Dave Hooper – 2nd and third trumpets enjoying the beer brewed on the premises at u Medvidku

Having quenched our thirst it was off to see the city. There is so much to see! It was a shame my camera died on me, otherwise I have many more photos to show of a spectacular journey, on foot through the winding, ancient streets of Prague. Our first destination was the incredible Old Town Square to see the Tyn Church and Astronomical Clock.unnamed-10This part of Prague is always bustling with tourists, no matter what time of day or night. Many of the artisan bakeries, bars and restaurants stay open well into the night. As do the absinthe bars and marijuana beer bars. Yes, that is marijuana infused beer…_MG_8532_peThe Tyn Church provides one of the most spectacular views of the city, even in such a scenic place as Prague.unnamed-8I always enjoy the sight of the Anatomical Clock. During the day there is also a live trumpet fanfare before the clock chines and the mechanical figures appear. A large crowd always gathers to see the movements of the clock whether it is day or night time.charles_bridge_at_night_by_pingallery-d4p865m-1

After the ‘clock show’ at eleven pm we ambled down to the river to see the glorious view of the Charles Bridge at nighttime.

The Charles Bridge, Prague, at night.

The Charles Bridge, Prague, at night.

From the Charles Bridge we enjoyed views of St. Vitus’ Cathedral and Prague Castle. Prague-Castle-at-Night-Czech-Republic-1Also to be enjoyed from by the Charles Bridge is the Rudolfinum, or Dvorak Hall, the home of the famous Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Rudolfinum, or Dvorak Hall - home of the Czech Philharmonic

The Rudolfinum, or Dvorak Hall – home of the Czech Philharmonic

That was enough sight-seeing for one night. We had endured a long day of travel before this substantial look around town. As pleasurable as the jaunt was we have to rehearse and give our first import concert of Janacek, Berg and Elgar tomorrow.

We have the morning and early afternoon free tomorrow, so who knows what we will have to show you (camera phone willing!).

Night all.

TOMORROW

CLICK HERE – PRAGUE – THE RLPO PLAY THEIR FIRST CONCERT

YESTERDAY

CLICK HERE – THE RLPO ARE PREPARING TO GO TO THE CZECH REPUBLIC

Click here to check out the previous time the RLPO visited Prague

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RLPO – Czech Republic Tour – June 2015 – Preparing To Go!

This is my last day at home before the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra set off on tour to the Czech Republic tomorrow lunchtime. The RLPO have enjoyed two Czech Chief Conductors, Libor Pesek and Petr Altrichter, so as a result we have been regular visitors to that stunningly beautiful part of the world.

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CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE LAST RLPO CZECH VISIT

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The RLPO lorry loading up to set off for Prague.

We will be spending the first three nights in Prague before travelling to the home town of Leos Janacek, Ostrava, for one night.

The orchestra will be conducted by Chief Conductor Vasily Petrenko and will be offering two cracking programmes in Prague…

Continue reading

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