Since I last posted I’ve been busy. Not full on busy… but then it’s hard to know what others are doing – aside from The Wife, who’s been beavering away, non-stop. Meeting after online meeting, all day long. Then she gets up early the next day to get some actual work done. So I ought to do my bit. But still finding time to explore the paradise that is Herne Hill in lockdown. The wildlife has never had it so good. The birds and the bees indeed.
The music-making has slightly cooled. Various tweaks have been made to the chosen 10 tracks, and we are now waiting for a drummer in Northumberland to decide if he can bear to play along with the apparently hopelessly variable tempo of our performances. But if he can’t or won’t, someone else will. Or maybe no-one will; it doesn’t matter. There is always the tambourine.
OftW had a Zoom meeting at which I rashly offered to build a website for our band – and why not, indeed? I just needed a shove in the right direction. It was done in three days and tweaked over the following week. Not bad, though I do say so myself. Despite having earned a living as a web professional for many years, I haven’t actually built many websites. But they give you lots of tools these days so it’s not that hard, and it uses WordPress like this blog. The thing is to envisage what you want it to be when it’s finished.
It contains most of our better recordings, some of which are 40 years old, plus a load of photos that were on Facebook or hard drives. Total costs of hosting for a year and obtaining the domain: about 50 quid. If I’d wanted to put any more music tracks on SoundCloud it would have cost twice as much!
We also had a brief discussion about a logo (brand identity, no less). It took me back to those focus groups and user testing sessions for the British Library…
User Test notes (extract)
“Welcome Mr X, thank you for coming today, etc. etc.… Let me assure you that it’s not you that’s being tested. The design team want to hear your reactions. What you are about to see is a work in progress. So please say exactly what you think as you are thinking it. You won’t offend anyone!”
“Great. Shall we make a start? Now, what do you think this is?”
“It looks a bit like a flag. Maybe a logo.”
“Uh-hu. So what are you thinking now?”
“It seems to say OFTW.” [or if he’s Japanese, “FWOT.”]
“Does that mean anything to you?”
“If I said that it stood for One for the Wall, would that help?”
“It’s a musical ensemble.”
“Never heard of them.”
“That’s OK. Do you listen to a lot of music?”
“Yes, all the time. Dub reggae, Korean techno…”
“So would this logo intrigue you? Maybe encourage you to find out more?”
“Probably not. It doesn’t look like something I’d be interested in.”
“Great. That’s been really, really helpful. Karen will show you out. Don’t forget to collect your expenses from reception.”
Anyway, I had an idea and the others thought it was worth running with, so I dug out Photoshop Elements and designed it myself.
I’m far from being an expert. I tend to find out how things work when I need to know, and I am a quick learner (though not as quick as I was). I’ve only done a few simple things on Photoshop and I don’t really know how it works. But neither are 99% of the people who will see it. If I were to put in a bit more time and effort it could probably be improved, but after a couple of iterations I put it live. A generous teacher might score it 8/10 for the concept and 6/10 for the execution. But I’m content with what I’ve achieved. It’s got a nice 2 x 2 matrix (and everyone loves those) and even a little hole in the centre to remind people of the vinyl era (which is, in fact, right now). On Facebook and SoundCloud it will display as a disc. Perfect. Total cost: zero. Why pay more? Especially when you don’t have a budget?
I wonder how many other people have the same attitude, i.e. “I’m no expert but I have the time to learn, and what’s to be lost by having a go?” Fixing things that they otherwise couldn’t be bothered to fix, making bread, sewing (if only face marks), doing some decoration or a bit of work in the garden. Even washing their car, though that is a bit extreme.
Everyone seems to be a bit more ambitious with their cooking. I used to survive on scraps at lunchtime, but with both of us now at home all day proper meals are now being prepared.
Anne and I have never eaten so well
Niçoise salad with fresh tuna, homemade vegetable soup, chicken sate, saltimbocca, nasi goreng, guacamole, asparagus with poached eggs… who needs takeaways? We have had just one, a curry, in the last two months, and it wasn’t that great. What we cook and eat is nearly always better than what is served up by the average restaurant. In the old days we mostly ate out in order to rendezvous with friends but now we can’t. The same goes for pubs. Hence we are saving a lot of money. Queue for McDonalds? You must be kidding. All you need to make four burgers is half a kilo of mince seasoned with some salt and pepper. Start with proper meat, though it does need a small amount of fat. Mould into patties and put in the fridge while you wait for the oven to heat up for the accompanying chips. Grab a beer and relax in the garden. When the chips have about 10 mins to go, grill the burgers then add the extras that you each want: e.g. ketchup with some tabasco, sliced tomatoes and a lettuce leaf. What could be easier? But have the gumption to think ahead and order some burger buns.
Think ahead, and push yourself a bit
There is an economic downside to all this self-learning: you might realise that you have been giving people your hard-earned cash for no good reason. I hope she will forgive me if I divulge that The Wife has been forking out every two or three months for years to have her hair cut and coloured. Now her hair is longer and she colours it herself. (She even let me cut her fringe.) And it looks fine. Do we really need six or seven hairdressers in Herne Hill? It is perhaps a trivial example, but people are already losing their jobs and there will be more to come as people discover what they can do without. Who knows what the outcome will be? There can be little doubt that the Covid-19 health crisis has accelerated the decline of the High Street, but that’s not the whole story.
About 18 months ago I decided to try to learn the fascinating language of Romania, because we were planning to go there on holiday. There aren’t many teach-yourself Romanian books, but I found a good one with a CD. I seemed to be making reasonable progress but I had to force myself to go back over the lessons again and again. Even when I did, I found that what I’d “learned” did not stick. I pressed on, chapter after chapter, but I knew that I was not really getting to grips with this complicated language.
A few months ago my wife was learning Spanish using an app called Duolingo. Although we have been to Spain many times and I speak the language well, she has never had a lesson in her life. But I was surprised at how much she seemed to know, almost by osmosis, and how much she had added to her knowledge through using this app. So last week I thought I’d have another bash at Romanian.
What a difference!
Because it is structured like a game, with small chunks making up lessons. When you eventually ascend to the next level, you want to keep going. You get a little pat on the back every time you get a question right, and you are obliged to put your mistakes right before you can move on and up. There is a lot of repetition, hence it begins to stick. There is a long way to go but after just a week I’m halfway through the second level. I have already learned 400 words. I now believe I can do it, whereas before I did not. And it’s free. There must be many thousands of people who are doing the same as me: brushing up on their French or learning Spanish from scratch.
I wrote a while ago about my experience of learning Portuguese in 1973 and how difficult it was. (And I was an 18-year-old who had already studied Latin, French, Spanish and Greek.) If apps like this had existed back in the ’70s I would have gone to university having already absorbed stuff that it took me a term or longer to learn. I would have acquired a proper accent, and I would have gone on using the app while at college… because there were no other students in my first year to practise with – not a one! As for teaching/learning English as a foreign language, you couldn’t blame people for wondering if the expense of employing a human teacher can be justified.
Lockdown has encouraged us to find different ways of doing things and (possibly) taking on things that we might not have considered. It’s given us some ideas, individually, of how to spend our time and money better. But there will be a cost to pay as unemployment rises. Yes, I will visit restaurants again, but not so often – and I am beginning to think that many in central London will never re-open anyway.