Gardeners’ World

‘Carol divides her perennials to continue the cost-effective stocking of her new beds.’

‘Monty Don shows what to do now to maximise next year’s soft fruit crop.’

‘Carol Klein is at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve; Joe Swift visits Marqueyssac in the Dordogne.’

This is genius. Gardener’s World is one of very few TV programmes that hasn’t changed in format since I was 10 years old, and it’s unique — here’s why.

You don’t have to watch much daytime television to see quite a lot of other shows about houses and gardens and other domestic projects, and most are pretty indistinguishable from each other. The thing that unites them is the way that each episode is a self contained hit of satisfaction. The investment, perhaps in the form of a randomly chosen envelope or a visit to an auction; the work (sometimes literally taking only a day, or otherwise presented in a time lapse sort of way to squeeze it all in); and finally the payoff — consisting of someone crying and surprised because they were out for the 8 or so hours during which their garden was ‘transformed’, or an estate agent valuing a house at £60 per person per week on the private rental market — are all contained in a single half hour slot. In that way, they’re pretty much the same as any drama or soap, as opposed to being truly non-fiction. Certainly, they’re not sold as sources of solid professional advice for landscape gardeners and property developers.

The reason Gardeners’ World is so different and, without its long history, possibly uncommissionable (?) is that the episodes are designed to be valuable and informative for people who actually are willing to go out in the Autumn to divide and re-plant something which won’t even come out of the ground until the next Spring. The format is ridiculously simple: it really is just people walking around the garden doing things, and talking about doing those things. Occasionally, there are inserts about famous big gardens that make me want to become a member of the National Trust. It’s calm and composed and makes almost no concession to the various trends in television beyond sometimes reading out electronic mail.

Even as someone who doesn’t have a garden, knowing that there are people around the place who care about watching this, and that the BBC exists to make it, is great.

In contrast, Autumnwatch Live is kind of lame and needy. The only bits that aren’t horribly cringey and suffused with badly-contrived sexual tension are the inserts, which aren’t live anyway. But again — at least they’re trying to make something based on a premise that we are interested in watching how the natural world around us changes over the course of months, rather than seeing a garden get obliterated by patterned paving slabs in half an hour.


Fair weather, for big band

I’m just finishing off turning my transcription of the Benny Golson tune ‘Fair Weather’ into an arrangement for big band. I’ve included most of the elements of the small band version from Chet Baker’s ‘In New York’ album, expanded on the contrapuntal theme slightly, put a drum solo at the start and trumpet one in the middle. I really enjoy the chords on this tune — mostly made up of various 2-5s in C Major, but with temporary shifts into an E Minor tonality at the just the right points to make it awesome.

A science picture

Click the photo for a high-res version

Here is a photo I recently took with my friend Tom. It’s a little tube containing a suspension of colloidal particles (described a bit more on my Science page). Colloids are small but not microscopically tiny, which means that when they form crystals, the typical distances between particles are larger than those found in molecular or atomic structures. In fact, the distances correspond roughly with the wavelength of visible light, so the crystals scatter incoming light of all different colours and, as shown in the picture, look great. Natural and synthetic opals also display this ‘opalescence’, because they are formed by the crystallisation of colloidal sand particles.

I got this little sample when I was on a conference in Corsica and I’m very fond of it, because the only colloidal suspensions I usually get to see are pretend ones in computer simulations. The motivation for having spent a morning with Tom pointing a camera at a tube is, hopefully, to provide a nice green-screen background for an interview I was involved in for the Physics Department’s website. In the interview I managed to talk for 15 minutes about why Leeds is a good place to do a PhD, while forgetting to once mention its music scene. Well done me.

Thanks very much to Tom West for his incredibly steady camera-hands, and patience.

Le Boy, electro house

I used to be in a very nice band called Neon Kicks. It featured Chloe Elliott on drums, Natalie Graham singing and Rob Peck playing bass, and I was playing quite an old but good keyboard on which, in a near-perfect reflection of our music, the pitch shift wheel eventually broke due to overuse.

Rob is also quite clever with computers and synths and DJing, and I’ve recently been listening to some of his work. There are some nice long mixes which I’ve found very good for doing work to, and in particular there’s a great tune called Any One which I think (think) might be a Philip Glass remix — only because Rob told me he was working on one and this seems like it might be it [edit: now I don’t think it is, and can’t remember whether Rob told me otherwise..].

It’s one of those things which, as well as being good to listen to, has obviously identifiable musical peculiarities which it’s nice to go on about to your friends. In this case, I love the extra 2 beats on the leading tone which break up the harmonic movement but are smoothed over rhythmically by thumping electro-crotchetz. I also love the way the whole thing is just 3 notes over gradually more exploratory and wandering chords. It’s great.

Music for the shower

Since recently discovering that my phone is resistant to water and very loud, I’ve taken to listening to music in the shower. Not owning a purpose-built bathroom audio appliance, the only other option is to open the door through to the kitchen and use that whole room as a sort of giant speaker.

Now, songs are different lengths, and so are showertimes…. so:

I’m aware that even by the standards of a blog where the first proper post was a picture of some pasta, this is kind of inane.

Jerusalem and Audio Hijack Pro

I’ve just finished an arrangement of Elgar/Parry’s lovely socialist hymn, ‘Jerusalem’. This somewhat confused adaptation was part of a last minute effort by Steve Wright and myself to provide patriotic material for one of the gigs on LUU Dance Band’s 2011 tour of France — the gig happened to fall on St George’s Day, so the enthusiastic and numerous ex-pat community of Bergerac had requested that Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory be played that night. We forgot about it until a week before the tour, during which Steve was very busy with other things, and fun ensued.

I hope soon to upload an export or recording of Steve’s wonderful jazz-waltz setting (yes) of the latter tune, but for now here is an export of Jerusalem using the Sibelius 7 Sounds library.

Due to a minor bug and the fact that it was made in Sibelius 6 originally (I think), the inbuilt export chopped off a few notes, so I used the terrifying and excellent Audio Hijack Pro, a great Mac application that is able to steal the audio from any program and record it to a file.

Mark Richardson and his excellent video

There were lots of good teachers at my old school. It seems to happen that we look back at teachers and various other figures who (generally speaking) tried to help us out when we were young, and realise that we didn’t appreciate them as much as we do now. That’s probably natural — it’s hard to realise you’re being offered a good deal until you’ve had the experience of being offered other ones, or not being offered them at all.

Despite that, there were a few teachers who, even at the time, we knew were something special. One of them was Mark Richardson, who is an English teacher at Beverley Grammar School, a state comprehensive near Hull. He had such a clear idea of what the point of studying English was that the question of its relevance or otherwise seemed barely to make sense. Literature wasn’t something that had to be mangled and picked at in order to connect to our lives. Instead, what we did in lessons was to talk about how the world was and what it was like to live in it; and it’s important to point out that children do that a lot anyway, possibly more than most people. Mark knew this and he knew that by its nature, literature is the most important and valuable guide there can be to that discussion.

There are a couple of links to share. The first is a video made by Mark about the recent history of the school through the eyes of its outgoing headmaster Chris Goodwin (who, from what I’ve seen of the documentary, merits a thousand blog posts of his own). The second is a resources blog for his lessons, which is excellent reading for everyone, perhaps especially people who no longer have, or have never had, the benefit of going to Mark’s lessons three times a week. Both have been doing the rounds on Facebook, circulated by the many people who saw the deal that Mark Richardson was offering them and knew it was special. Cheers.

Update — this video that I dug out from Mark’s blog (made by a friend of his working with kids from another school in Hull) is too good not to share: