some comments about swimming

I was not organised and did not get out swimming this week – in part it’s because I wound up with some kind of ear infection last time I went and it was painful. Very painful.

But I follow a bunch of swim related accounts across social media and stuff and there are themes from a lot of them which would leave you with the impression that swim culture is utterly toxic.

There are some seriously aggressive attitudes there. I don’t know why but there seems to be this underlying narrative that the swim world fights against that swimming is not a sport. They should try figure skating once in a while to know how it feels to be considered not a sport.

I wonder how much of this is driven by American culture. I wonder this about other things – women in tech is another example where I think specifically American experiences which are particularly toxic drown out the discussion world wide. And also, we have Uber because they can’t arrange taxis in some cities over there, and that to the detriment of functional taxi services elsewhere.

Anyway, swimming for me is exercise. I don’t do it to race, except against myself, and last week I swam – freestyle 800m. It’s not a lot for some people but as someone who struggles with freestyle rhythm, it’s good. It’s a pity about the ear infection afterwards but I will try again.

F- a new guitar

The last time I bought a guitar, prior to yesterday anyway, was sometime in 1991. I bought an Applause with a wooden neck in a shop in Fussen in the south of Germany. I traded in an Applause with a metal neck against it. In truth, the main problem with the metal neck was that I was at the limit with what I could do with very high action in terms of fixing it and I struggled to play it. I wasn’t looking to change but there was this lovely looking and sounding guitar that looked just like mine, except it had a wooden neck. I named it Andy, after I took delivery of it, and that was it. I liked the guy who owned that music shop. He let me play his pianos, and he spoke to the guy who owned the bar across the way and said things like “she can play the piano, and you should let her”. The day he did, my friends spent a lot of money on beer and someone called Craig spent hours asking me to play something called Misty. I have no idea but this is probably a lack on my film culture part

The Applause went everywhere with me. Ireland. France. Germany. Finland, Belgium, UK. It opened doors, and got me friends and acquaintances. But sometime while I was living in Dublin I seemed to stop playing very often. I think social media had something to do with it; I also think part of it was the pressure on IT people to be constantly adding to their skillsets in their free time, and then of course, there was the photography which swallowed every spare minute I had for about 5 years. When I came to Luxembourg, Andy did not come with me.

I’ve had mixed feelings about this. I got a piano sharpish after I arrived in here because Kleber rented digital pianos which is handy when you are in an apartment block but the guitar thing was , well you don’t play often and you have a guitar. At some point I went and looked at some Taylors. I fell in love with a Taylor when I moved to Dublin in 1999 but I did not have the money for it so was saving. When I had the money, none of the Taylors felt right so I left the decision, pretty much forever When I went back last year to look at them as it seemed easier to buy a midrange guitar (ie far less than three thousand euro but a bit more than 85E with a sparkly box and a Santa Claus) than to shop a guitar across a bunch of flights and surface travel, I looked at Taylors and yet….nothing.

This is the thing about musical instruments, particularly stringed ones. You need to feel them. I cannot describe to you what I want from a guitar only that I have to play it and either it feels right or it doesn’t. None of the Taylors felt right. I think I played a Seagull the same day and possibly an accoustic Fender. Nothing.

I had this conversation during the week at work with someone. I don’t know if he plays music or not because he has not told me. He did tell me there was a good music shop not so far away which I had not been to and that maybe it might be worth a trek out on the bus. It wouldn’t be hard, and on that, he was really right. It took about 15 minutes from work and I went and had a look. There were a bunch of Martins, a couple of Yamahas and a few others, and a wall of acoustic Ibanezes

I kind of went off Yamahas at some point. When I was 15 they were THE guitar to play. I wonder how much of this is driven by what’s available locally and how it is priced. Anyway, the Yamahas today tend to fit into the Christmas present for starters bracket and I wanted something a little more than that. I started playing more than 30 years ago and could do some quite nice things with a guitar, like, sing. So I had a look at the Martins. One of my friends in Dublin had a Dreadnought which he had, if I remember rightly, bought second hand, and which was the absolute love of his life. Before his wife and children.

But none of these really appealed to me. I mean, a guitar is a guitar is a guitar is a guitar but meh. 1000-3000E worth of Martin wasn’t hitting the spot. So I went and looked at the Ibanezes. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I know they have good reps as electrics, and most of the names I hear endorsing or playing Ibs are electric. But there were three rather lovely looking guitars hanging on the wall and two of them caught my eye. They were both priced at somewhere between Christmas Present for Teenager and Been saving up for 5 years adult guitar nerd, which is to say they were the same. One was a cut away and rather unusually, it looked to have a slightly narrower neck. I asked if I could play that one and they said yes.

Yesterday, in many respects, was not a good day to test guitars. My nails were long, and protected by four layers of nail polish, and of course, having not played much for a few years, my fingers were going to hurt. They did. They do, even though I cleaned off the nail polish and cut the nails to what I thought was short enough (clue; it isn’t). But the guitar resonated remarkably for what was quite a small body – in fact, it’s an AE205Jr which means in practice, a slightly shorter fretboard and a smaller body. 10 years ago, I’d probably have turned my nose up at it and I would have been wrong to do so. It feels remarkably perfect in my hands; it has a gorgeous sound and it resonates with my heart. I’m obviously very rusty in terms of playing but the speed which which things are coming back has astonished me. There is a little getting used to the shorter frets and the slightly narrower neck but not much. I have small fingers as I know to my cost from the piano.

There was a time I knew every single guitar shop in Dublin, and every single acoustic guitar on sale in Dublin. I spent hours of my life playing them. I was heartbroken to hear Waltons on South Great Georges Street was closing – I used to go in there to play at my lunch hour when I was working in the area. In a way, it’s surprising I haven’t really don’t the same here although I imagine part of it can be explained by having a piano at home now. But I have played a lot of guitars in my life in shops in Dublin, London, Germany and wherever. In truth, I have never played a guitar quite like this. It really packs a punch way above what I would have expected for its size and especially, what I paid for it. Every review of the guitar which I have seen since has been immensely positive, both in terms of the sound, and its value for money. Despite the JR label on it, anyone I’ve seen playing it has actually really liked it. I found that edifying, and validating.

Mostly, the plan for me is to start playing trad again after a 10 year break away and while my list of desired features was “made noise, sweetly” and “doesn’t bankrupt me”, it didn’t occur to me that I would also wind up with a really light weight guitar that was easy to carry around. So that’s a useful bonus.

It’s funny though; old feelings never go away. I bought a couple of plectrums to tide me over until I get back to Ireland to pick up my box of tricks (I have hundreds) and the smallest that I found was a .46mm Dunlop, a plec I know well as I probably have about five in various boxes at home in Ireland, and yet it still felt really hard. It’s just occurred to me that in fact, I mostly used to play with a 0.38. Almost like paper.

Like my previous guitars, it has been named, and unusually, it hasn’t got a male name, but a letter, F. Mostly, when I went to tune it yesterday it was a couple of tones below concert such that the A was nearer F. So….

I can’t really compare it to my other guitar (and it feels wrong to talk about “other” guitars) as they are very different, and, more specifically, separated by an ocean, an island and a lot of land. So I don’t know how I’d feel about having the two of them in the same place. But then they were bought at different times in my life and I’ve done different things with them and I expect that playing them even now would feel different.

Paints and pens and self control

I went to the arts and crafts store in Trier yesterday. The shopping list consisted of two items – a 12 pan set of White Nights paints if they had them and an inch brush of some description that could handle water and water colour but which did not require a mortgage to pay for.

New #artsupplies #arthaul

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Broadly, this is what I came back. It was a bit more than I expected to be buying but there is an inch brush in there, and the White Nights.

One of my friends asked me during the week how many paints I had. He asked about pens too. I think he was brave.

I’m not short of paints so you might wonder why I eventually capitulated when here in Luxembourg I have with me:

  • 48 pan Sennelier Artists Colours
  • 24 pan Winsor & Newton Artists colours
  • 24 pan Schmincke Akademie Student colours
  • 12 pan Van Gogh Student colours
  • some Schmincke Horadam Artists colours in a box put together by me
  • a 12 pan Gansai Tambi set
  • A 6 pan Kuretake Starry colours set
  • 2x Winsor & Newton travel boxes containing a mix of Cotman Student grade colours and WN Artist grade colours.

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t “need” paints as such. But I was intrigued by the White Nights paints. They provoke a certain amount of polarisation. There are arguments over how light fast they are, and there are people who love them, and people who really don’t think they are all that. I’ve found that I like a lot of stuff on instagram which comes from Russian artists and I wondered if by any chance Russian manufactured paints behave any differently to my western European and to a lesser extent, Japanese paints. The White Nights are not that expensive – depending on where you buy them, that is. I paid about 24E for mine and they are apparently Artist grade paints so that would put them in the zone of least expensive Artist grade paints

I’ve painted up a reference sheet and looking at it here beside me, I can say I like the neutral black which is opaque, the umber and light carmine too. The Emerald is very Viridian like, the Green is quite dark to black and opaque so that will need watering down in the future. All in all the set of colours looks to be reasonably useful. We will see how I get on when I start trying to paint roses with them.

There was nothing too exciting in the rest of the pile – some Pigma Micron brush pens as I tried them out in store and they seem fun. More for brush lettering than painting or colouring. I also added to the collection of Uni Signo pens – found a midnight blue which I did not know existed (but they even do refills for this – yay). I am now so well kitted out for Uni Signo it will take a while before I need any more. There were some water colour canvases which I hadn’t seen before but knew existed. I will probably put a van on one of them. We will see. I added another square block of watercolour paper and now I really need to figure out how best to store that as I have about 4 blocks on the go at any given time (different paper size, surface, blah really, 1st world problems.

The one other thing of note is I found a Zentangle set with a couple of white Gelly roll pens in it – these I cannot find individually at all and they are well spoken off for highlighting so, not being that expensive, I picked up that set and added to the collection of white pens.

So at the moment I cannot think of a single thing that I need other than to actually spend time doing art, painting and drawing. No more shopping in other words. Oh and stop hoarding paper – I have more than enough of it now.

Ireland and housing (again)

A couple of things cropped up this weekend that make me feel the need to write about property in Ireland (again). It’s been an ongoing saga in my life for the guts of 15 years at least.

Yesterday, Leo Varadkar suggested that people get deposits by:

  • going abroad and working for a while
  • getting the money from their parents
  • other loans.

Back in the day when I was apartment hunting in north county Dublin, banks didn’t like things like the getting of money from parents. They wanted proof that the money was a gift, which would not need to be repaid at any point, or likely to cause any lien on the property. As for other loans, well technically they were a no-no.

Per the Indo Leo Varadkar financed his property via a 100% mortgage, which in the grand scheme of things was never a really great idea. Apparently this was 10 years ago. Anyway.

A couple of things struck me about this, and a key one is this: there is a generation of politicians coming for whom the last 20 years is normal. Even the bit where property values halved in a comparatively short space of time, mostly, property is expensive and you need to be special to buy any. I don’t think this is healthy for the country as a whole and yet somehow, the visions coming out of young politicians are not really in the direction of fixing access to housing. Rents in Dublin are ridiculously high. So you can’t afford to buy and you can’t afford to rent. Losing on both fronts.

The usual policy in Ireland is to throw money at the problem via help to buy schemes or preferential transaction tax rates. These are usually targeted solely at first time buyers. During the last week or so, a journalist commented that she couldn’t understand why they weren’t extended to second time buyers or those stuck in negative equity. She called these people the forgotten generation. I wasn’t really impressed. These people have bought homes already, at a time when it was massively obvious that property would not continue to rise in value regardless of how much they claim now they did not realise it.


The thing is, the big issue with Ireland right now is the disconnect between the cost of housing and the salaries being paid to people. In truth, there’s a hard choice to be made: massive inflation on the salary side or massive deflation on the property values side. Neither is good. No one wants to admit fixing this will be a long term problem either. No one wants to understand why the cost of building in Ireland is so terrible when the output is also fairly terrible, and no one seems to want to ask countries other than the UK what are possible solutions.

It’s all ready depression. In the meantime, the last option left by Mr Varadkar, the going abroad to earn some money, well that isn’t a panacea either. What he is saying that with all the economic growth in Ireland, it still cannot house its population. It’s a disappointing admission of defeat.

Cold days in December

Today I added yet another sport to the list of sports I have tried. Today I tried curling.

Now, to be honest, when I woke this morning, I did not say “I must try curling”. I said “Where is all that bleeding snow MeteoLux has promised and why am I not seeing a blizzard”.  But life turns out interestingly, and somehow, I accidentally wound up trying curling.


The new transport system went into operation in Luxembourg today – this means a brand new tram, a brand new funicular and all sorts of changes to the buses and rail system. The current changes don’t suit me at the moment – I’m moving from a direct bus to a bus and change to tram which is ludicrous for a 2km journey but sometime next year the tram will extend to where I live and I will have a direct tram journey to work which will be handy if somewhat sweaty for the height of summer. Today it was somewhere approximating the depths of winter as it snowed all morning and this evening, we’ve got gales to look forward to.

Anyway, here’s the funicular. It takes a minute to go from top to bottom and vice versa.



And here’s a video of the trip up with some arty out of focus sections.


I had trouble getting the video to work on the way down.

The tram was running, and to be frank, was packed but I suspect in part that’s because all of the useful buses have been re-routed.


Tram in the winter sun.


As part of their celebration stuff, they set up Luxembourg Curling club with a temporary (plastic) curling rink and you could have a go, if you were so inclined. I had a go. I had several goes. I have looked up the Olympic curling set up to see if I could like, compete for Ireland and it transpires I need four other Irish people with an interest in curling.

That might be a tall order. My options for Olympic greatness continue to be limited.

But curling is compelling.  It’s basically simple. Stand here, and give this circular stone thing an almighty shove up the rink and hope for the best that you get it into the circles. It took me 4 goes to shove it hard enough but so what. It was fun. In fact, I don’t know why it was fun given how simple it is. But it’s more fun than Candy Crush, that is for sure.

There is a curling club in Luxembourg. I’m going to join as the bunch who were there this afternoon were great fun, mad supportive and dead helpful. And they let me have quite a few goes.


CFL, Luxembourg National Railways, also had an ice sculptor in.



After all that excitement, I went off to Auchan (on the tram) (which was packed) to do my my grocery shopping in a shopping centre which was not that busy so I was in and out quickly. I also bought one Christmas present and looked at a watch which I want but will have to save up for.

I blame Google

I’ve found lately that social media – by which I mainly mean Twitter – has become unsufferable. The scale of insufferability has gone through the roof. In some respects, I blame Google. I particularly blame Google for the strength of Facebook and Twitter because Google did one thing which contributed more to centralising social media than anything else at all. They shut down Google Reader and…I’d argue they did some damage to the blog reading eco system. What was nice about the blog world was that it was basically decentralised. You didn’t have to be on Twitter. You didn’t have to be on Facebook. All you had to do was publish an RSS feed. I use Newsblur now but the whole blog world is also very different.

I edge towards switching Twitter out of my life. The apps are gone from both my mobile devices and access to twitter is purely via a webbrowser. Twitter keeps asking me if I want notifications. I don’t want notifications, no. I want the nice chatty atmosphere which allowed me to learn stuff quite quickly which Twitter used to be. Now, it’s just a place where people come to demand that I be outraged about stuff.

Be outraged about Trump. Be outraged about Clinton. Look I don’t even live in the US and I’m sick of finding out about which of their politicians is acting the maggot lately, for a given scale of maggot ranging from some mild corruption to dating 14 year olds. It is not that I don’t care, it’s just that in certain parts of my life, I don’t want to have to care. You don’t need to outrage me about rape culture. I know about it. Suicide rates, too, and homelessness. I have a neverending wall of despair coming at me from the newspapers and the radio. I’d like it if it wasn’t coming at me from twitter too. But it does because people retweet stuff and expect me to be outraged. I must be outraged all the time or I am not a worthy human being.

I mute. I block. I have muted people I considered friends because they were polluting their threads with stuff designed to make me feel angry, and annoyed, and outraged that I really couldn’t handle it. I like Pinterest and Instagram because they are not constantly haranguing me to be angry.

The reinforcement of Twitter and Facebook to some extent (I mute I block there too) has its roots in centralising social discourse on the internet on those sites and one of the things that drove that was Google shutting down Reader. You have a hugely decentralised social media ecosystem which was basically interoperable but which had one big reading central. In theory, I imagine they expected us to kind of get Google Plus to pick that up but they did it in the most stupid way possible. People now access blogs via assorted newsreaders, email newsletters and who knows what. Serendipity about finding out about blogs has died as well. And in the end, it’s not like Google Plus waltzed up and blew up the competition.

I’m torn with what to do about Twitter. I like the interesting stuff which crops up. Yesterday I read a fascinating piece which turned up on a Twitter link. These are the things Twitter is really good at (and blogs used to be too). I have friends that I interact with mainly through twitter. I’m filtering and muting to beat the band. But it’s getting close to a point where I’m starting to think…you know, what’s the point?

Luxembourg International Motor show


It’s been a while since I carried a real camera and now, if I want to take Photographs, I have to do so within the limits of my phone camera. I never cease to be amazed at how much they have to offer and with a little judicious Photoshop.

I kind of like taking photographs of cars, and I don’t get the opportunity to photograph supercars very often. If you’d asked me before today what supercar I’d buy if I ever had the choice, I’d have said, with a lot of regret, a McLaren F1. The car is more than 20 years old and there aren’t a whole lot of them around so that’s never going to be anything other than a pipe dreak.

But this Honda NSX is rather attractive. I wouldn’t buy it in white – it’s not really my colour. I think a car like this deserves a brooding grey metallic paint job.

I was marginally disappointed with the shortage of supercars on show. There were a couple of Lamborghinis, and some Ferraris but nothing which really excited me beyond this one Honda.

More pens

I decided a while ago – after I bought a brand new Pelikan M205 which of course I didn’t need but had fallen in love with and well – that I didn’t want any more pens…So it was entirely a bad idea to go to the Antiquités and Brocante yesterday and in particular, I really should not have been looking at pens.

I didn’t buy all around me. Specifically I left a few Montblancs behind me – they were priced above my Gamble On an Old Fountainpen limit which is 25E per fountain pen. But I rifled through a box of pens that were 3E each or 2 for a fiver and surfaced with a Pelikan and a pretty but probably originally dirt cheap English pen. For 2.50 each though, they were worth the gamble. Both take cartridges and both are writing okay.

The other two pens were more of a gamble. They came together at the top of my Gamble on an Old Fountainpen limit and necessitated some serious research when I got home. The Waterman, which is the hall of mirrors-esque one on the left turns out to be a Lady Patricia dating from the 1980s. I give the date because Waterman produced a model with a similar name in the 1930s also. This definitely dates from the 1980s. It takes international cartridges although having spent some time with it yesterday, it really only takes Pelikan 4001 cartridges and they slide into the barrel with a little difficulty. I will see if the barrel needs to be cleaned if I can. But the pen has a beautiful broad nib and writes rather nicely. It’s a slight challenge for my hand because I have quite fine handwriting which I need to scale up a bit for wider nibs.

The last pen I knew to be a Parker when I picked it up. I’m not certain why I bought it. I’d see the words Vacumatic on it when I examined it and I decided a long time ago that any Parker 51 that I bought would have to have an Aerometric filling system as they don’t give any trouble, even in pens 60 years old. I have a Parker 51 from the end of the 1950s which although it was battered a bit when I bought it, I love to pieces because it is just such a joy to use.

So I took the Parker with the Waterman and brought it home to examine it. It looks to be one of the entry level Vacumatics, and there’s a marking on the side of the pen which strongly indicates that it was manufactured in 1935. Its filling system aligns with a production date of pre 1937 as does the brand marking on the pen. So the pen is around 82 years old and is by some distance the oldest pen I own.

Other research says the ink filling internals have to be serviced as they have a habit of cracking and breaking.  I toyed with selling it on on eBay but made the emotionally unwise decision to try and write with it by dipping the nib into a bottle of Parker Quink black. And I fell in love.

I own a lot of pens and deep down, up to today I would have said that of all of them, my favourite to write with was my Parker 51. This is even better. Sufficiently better that it’s going to break my heart to send it to the UK for a service.

The down side of these older pens is that I tend to be very conservative about what ink goes in them. There are horror stories about modern inks destroying the insides of older pens. For this reason, the only ink that goes into my Parker 51 is black Parker ink and when this Vacumatic come back from hospital, it took will only get Parker ink although I might get a bottle of blue ink for it. This is one of the reasons I retain all my modern pens – I expect them to take pretty much any ink I put into them. I have one pre1993 Pelikan which I expect to take Pelikan on the ground that I expect a manufacturer to provide ink that doesn’t damage its own pens which gives a little more leeway. But the two Parkers…they will not be getting radical modern inks in them.

November Urban Sketching

November 5 was a cold, cold day in Luxembourg. This I know because I went urban sketching. ONe of the key contributors to “why did you go out drawing” question was we were around Limpertsberg, about 200m from chez Treasa to be honest. So I couldn’t “not” go. It’s not like I had any excuses.

We spent 90 minutes in the graveyard which as befits a graveyard with the graves of some fairly wealthy people, has some very attractive grave sculptures. I’ve seen a fair few of them. I was drawn to something different though because I knew there was some kind of a monument at the far end of the graveyard that I hadn’t been able to find out what it was. So I walked to it.

It’s one of two major monuments (that I found) in the graveyard. It is a memorial to members of the Resistance in Luxembourg during the second world war. There are two primary features; a plain cross with no adornment. Before you reach the cross, to your right there is a sculpture. I didn’t see a name for it but as I was describing it to someone later, it’s like a supplicant with their hands bound behind their back. It is a very modern piece of sculpture, totally at odds with the ornamental angels and virgins which litter some of the other graves. At its base someone had placed a white rose.

I didn’t have a particularly successful day drawing and painting. For one thing, it was so freezing cold and damp, I just couldn’t get paint to dry and wrecked the ink drawing of the cross with undried paint from the entirely separate piece I did of the statue. I drew a section of a wall which I assume is set aside for ashes.

And then I went for a walk and found the second monument, which I hadn’t known existed. It is where the tomb of the unknown Luxembourg Legionary lies, and it is more specifically, a monument in memory of the men of France who died on Luxembourg soil during the period 1915-1918. All of the named soldiers on it had died in the last quarter of 1914, One of them had come from Ajaccio in Corsica and one of them from Douarnenez in the west of Brittany. It seemed an awful long way to come to die for the folly of greater men.