Feeling useful

I don’t know what the programme was but I remember the great Bill Dean who played the legendary Harry Cross in Brookside, (just think of Ricky Tomlinson only with sharper wit) saying:

“There are three useless things in this world. A clockwork orange, a one legged man at an arse kicking party and you.” Other popular similes include a chocolate teapot, an ashtray on a motorbike and a vacuum cleaner in space. Whatever term you would choose-I like the one legged man, it would be aimed at someone or something that served no useful purpose. But despite any criticism we get, feeling useful is something we want.

If you’re like me, this can sometimes be difficult. I am retired through ill health, divorced, isolated from my daughter and go for days on end without speaking to anyone. Retirement coincided with the birth of Rose. It also came with increased fatigue, failing mobility, increasing weight, more barriers in the home and a developing attitude from others that I was just becoming the lump on the sofa who had trouble trying not to wet himself.

images8ZERX30WTo cut a long story short, this go to me and there followed depression, anger and separation. In the usual day to day tumult of domestic trials and tribulations when things went awry, my suggestions would often be scorned; not openly but by more subtle means. And I wasn’t getting paranoid. I know when I’m being cast aside. I’ve had a whole life of teaching so I can read people and detect fine changes of attitude and opinion. So can many other people of course but some can’t. And some can’t ever consider themselves to be guilty of such change due to high levels of sanctimony.

No-one liked my “Just because you think it, it doesn’t make it true” mantra. I mean people used to think the earth was flat. See how much trouble Copernicus had convincing everyone the sun didn’t actually orbit around the earth. Massive misconceptions we find almost laughable but for every massive one there must be millions of small ones.

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Think about the misconceptions and myths surrounding disabled people. Yes, we may rely on others for certain things but that doesn’t mean we are clueless when it comes to finding out why the washing machine has stopped working or why the cutlery drawer won’t open, sending the whole household into melt down.

Thankfully I have had friends for a long time. They remember the days of wild partying and acts of foolish bravado. Oh that night in December when we came out of the pub to see gigantic waves crashing over the promenade wall. Did I regret hooking myself to the railings while a breaker threw itself all over me firing a hard pebble straight onto my nose causing massive bleeding to go along with the massive saturation? No. I laughed. We still laugh about it today, thirty four years later.

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With this sort of history and the wisdom of age we may have calmed down a bit but the spark is still there. All right, it might need some planning but I can still go out and have a good time.

Then there was work. People relied on me. I relied on other people. Mostly I was thanked and appreciated for making a positive impact on the lives of the young people I taught and the community I worked in.

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When that all goes; the salary, the inter-dependence, the community and the whole business of the business, are we right to feel a diminution of our use as a functioning human being?

I’m now a wheelchair user. Am I now restricted in my potential for usefulness? What about the “Does he take sugar?” scenario? It’s happened so often.

On the contrary. I feel motivated to prove my independence. Yet some will tilt their patronising little head to one side and say:

“What about when you can’t do anything for yourself?”

I’ll tell you now, there will always be something I can do for myself. I will do as much as I can while I have a breath left in this ailing body. “As sure as hell I will,” to quote John Wayne. Because that spark is a big spark.

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I do have my uses. I may cause mayhem with the wheelchair. I will cause dents and scratches in both mine and other household but I will cook for you and entertain you.

I have to laugh when I’m out and about-especially in the wheelchair. People will approach me tentatively and be quite nervous about addressing me in an appropriate manner but after one hefty slice of my sledgehammer wit, the barriers fall and comfort swiftly returns. Soon my daughter goes to school. I will not be sitting here passively watching from afar. I won’t be raising merry hell or anything like that but I will become interactive with the progress of her young life. So have a think about the things you do. Don’t dwell on what you used to do. We have experience. How valuable is that?

My old mate Stash often reads these posts and leaves some curt barbed comment. But he once paid me a fine compliment: “Steve, you’re a c*** but you can cook.

Thank you for reading.

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Creative bits

I’ve had nearly five years off. During that time, school has provided me with little more than a passive passing interest but now Rose is going to start her own “journey” in September, things may become a little different.

I use the word journey for reason. Obviously from the first day of anyone’s life, the journey begins. In fact it continues from the womb to the real world. It’s one of many  words loved by educationalists. I will refrain from listing them here; just watch out for the insertion of inverted commas. The corridors of learning are awash with these generalised euphemisms.

Oh, the number of times my eyes have rolled in staff meetings and training days when the old chestnuts are dusted down and fired through the stale air of rooms full of bored professionals, feigning pained expressions of awe and wonder.35929A3800000578-0-image-a-22_1466646507970

I digress. They are the days I do not miss. Some of these occasions have had some bright moments with bright personalities but most of the time I sat, nailed to my chair trying not to think about where the nearest toilet was and if anyone was going to be offended if I had to break from their riveting narrative to avoid wetting myself. I’m still digressing; it’s only when I start writing about something I realise new levels of scorn and contempt. Snobbish man

Now to the subject of creativity. All members of the teaching profession may well be tempted to incorporate the term “creative curriculum” in any response to thorny questions about how a child may be encouraged as an individual to be imaginative and expressive. Isn’t it such a lovely well meaning alliterative couplet, conjuring up ideas of bright enthused artistic children being inspired through art and music whilst taking in great swathes of pertinent knowledge and experience? And in reality?

The term itself is just a name. Sticking a paint brush or a tambourine in a child’s hand does not automatically make them “expressive”.

kids-face-painting-A term long focus on a given theme incorporating several subjects into one exercise book is not creative in its own right. “Empowering” pupils by giving them “ownership” of their direction and presentation could easily lead to a state of organised chaos. Below is snippet from statutory framework for the early years foundation stage:

Being imaginative: children use what they have learnt through media and materials in original ways, thinking about uses and purposes. They represent their own ideas, thoughts and feelings through design and technology, art, music, dance, role play and stories.”

Hang on, is there nothing creative in maths or phonics? Science? Surely there must be; even in early years. Now I’m not going to get all political about this. National guidelines need to take a generic “best fit” approach otherwise how could it be relevant to all those involved? It would be too easy to sit back and take pot shots at such terminology armed with years of experience and a razor sharp line in quick waspish rhetoric. I could easily begin to demonstrate creative approaches to maths and little teaching ruses for a child to take a step further. But no.

There are two main points I want to get across. The first one is easy. Rose is starting school and suddenly I’m interested again. Secondly, I’ve been thinking a lot about the creative side of education.

On the occasions when I finally manage to meet my daughter’s teacher, I’ll be enquiring about the creative side of teaching. I will be curious to know their own take on it and what opportunities they may take to encourage a child to make decisions and evaluations about what they are learning.

Of course, I’ll expect to be reassured by the teacher’s response and attitude. Teachers work hard by choice. They will do everything to foster a happy, easy going classroom with a rich blend of learning through a multitude of sensory and intellectual experiences.

They also have to cope with Big Brother however.

baseballBatInHand_largeThere are now so many ways of making teachers accountable. They are small, short sighted niggling nasty little ways. Pupils’ progress is measured in tiny little steps. Any steps back lay the teacher bare to much tutting and head shaking from the higher echelons of educational power. It gives the faceless bureaucrats some sense of control I suppose.

The only way to find out if a teacher is doing a good job is to know them, trust them see your child leave school every day with a smile on their face. Remember the child you know at home may be different from the one in school. They could be subtle but significant differences. There will be differences and animosity between individuals within peer groups. You may get your child’s view but it’s not always the whole picture.

These are small children learning about the realities of the world, having to deal with other people, the pressure of expectation and the inevitable pecking order of the school playground. But there are so many opportunities to be creative.

Finally, how would I describe creative teaching? Everything to be learnt in a classroom and beyond comes in a box. A good teacher will encourage children to go outside that box.

outsidethebox_fullpic_artworkNot only that. The box can be carried, passed around, thrown up in the air and opened many times. The contents can then be inspected to see the effects of wider thinking through further learning and experience. I’ve been privileged to have seen and taken part in brilliant teaching. My job satisfaction regularly went through the roof.

Thank-you for reading.

So and so

The pedants are revolting. They’re up in arms about everything. Nothing is safe from the Constabulary of Pedantry. There is even a column in The Times on Saturday entitled “The Pedant.” Who cannot be irritated by the sentence which starts: “I think you’ll find that…………….”?

But hang on. It if wasn’t for pedantry, I’d find life meaningless. There would be nothing to debate or worse still; there would be no chance to correct people. Oh, how I love it when my inner teacher sallies forth to indicate a misuse of our fine language.

Yes, I’m a practising pedant, specialising in the correct use of the English language. (Should language have a capital L in this context?) But discretion is needed here. I let a lot of things go. For example, I don’t correct all people who use the term “off of”. I just feel glib about not falling into the trap of this common, highly irritating colloquialism.

This morning, from my bedroom, I heard someone outside say:

“It’s one of them roads.” Did I feel the urge to scramble into my literary fatigues and go dashing outside to correct such thoughtless abuse of the queen’s English? Well yes I did but my discretion button came into play and it was raining. I can just imagine his response:

Me: (Half dressed rolling aggressively towards offender.) It’s one of those roads.

Bemused ordinary man: That’s what I just said. A brief look of bemusement precedes his walking back to his van, shaking his head.

Perhaps one of our most respected purveyors of the spoken and written word is Suzy Dent, the regular keeper of Dictionary Corner in Countdown. Countdown is a very soft cuddly celebration of words and their meanings. It’s like a meeting of friends, all agreed about their avid interest in the very bones of our native tongue.

Once I heard the great Suzy declare her dislike for starting a sentence with the word “so”. It’s a very worth notion. We regard words like so as a conjunction or a connective; just like and or but perhaps. But (smug use of a connective opener) have you noticed how many sentences do actually start with and?

In modern literature there will be many examples. Even the first paragraph of Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” breaks all the rules of grammar. It breaks rules for dramatic effect. It works. So why can’t we use such openers for similar purposes? (I think the use of so is perfectly valid here.)

In music we’d call it an upbeat; an anacrusis to be precise. Many well loved pieces start in this way. Beethoven’s fifth, Brahms fourth or Bach’s third  Brandenburg Concerto.

The real abuse of the word so and the reason for it being so irritating is the way it’s used to stall whilst one is thinking of an answer:

“That question is tricky so I’ll start with a long so.” Then the  respondent will continue to open each sentence in the same way. Ten questions later and you want to poke them in the eye. One of my favourite TV programmes is “Pointless.” The ever jolly Alexander will asked each contestant what they do. Fifty percent of the time they will respond with “So”. That’s when I want to shout:

“So is not the way to begin a response you ignoramus who’s only on the show because you waste your time watching crappy American stuff and Strictly.”

Language, like music, needs its effects. It needs to hold the listener or the reader. Repetition, alliteration and abbreviation are great tools for drama. Similarly we can delight in the art of elegant variation as an author begins to describe a scene of tumult or tranquillity. And what about Bill the Bard? Such mastery of language has placed the bars of literary composition as high as the sky. Why say:

“He’s being duped by that old slag” when you can write “Take but good note and you shall see in him the third pillar of the world transformed into a strumpet’s fool.”

Thank you for reading.

Silly Billy

In the seventies there was an impersonator called Mike Yarwood. Every time he did his rather useless impression of Dennis Healy, he made use of the term “silly billy”.

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This is the sort of thing that comes around in your head when the night is sleepless. Then I thought of other rhyming pairs now in common use before realising how much I hate them.

If sarcasm is the lowest form of wit then rhyming clichés are the lowest form of phrase. I’m sure we all have a mental list of sayings which make us cringe and thanks to my sleepless night, I’m going to impose some of mine on you.

I was not really aware of their potential to irritate until I heard the term fun run. FUN RUN: There, I’ve shouted it at you.

Running has a variety of uses. In terms of catching a bus or minimising the embarrassment of acute lateness, running can be an expedient response. For those noble souls who run as part of their daily routine; gallantly jogging along with heads impaled by ear plugs and the traditional bright livery which gives you an urge to throw up at the temerity of such vibrant colour combinations-it’s a gesture to the value of fitness, thus deserving of some polite applause.

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Is anyone smiling?

Then there are the occasional joggers who don their shorts or leggings in the good name of charity. Again, it shows heartfelt genuine worthwhile endeavour. But is it fun? I’ve never seen a runner laughing. There might be a joyous sigh or the enforced grimace of a stitch at the end of a five or ten kilometre stretch of endurance and breathlessness but fun? Satisfaction? Yes. Feel good factor? Yes. Sense of adventure? Yes. The discovery of a new you? Perhaps. Fun? Ermmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

But it’s not catchy is it?

Suffer a case of mild exhaustion whilst trying to chat to your friend run.” Or “slowly realise how unfit you are run.”

So we get fun run in all its euphemistic oxymoronic glory. Then at the end of that sobering yet worthy spell, when you’re standing panting, doubled over in the pain of your efforts, some super fit skinny rake comes up to you and says: “No pain no gain.”untitled

I’ve always said that putting your body through extremes of tolerance gives you excellent tools for dealing with life in general. Whether it’s running or swimming, cycling or mountaineering, the relief of the finish and the sense of achievement through grit and determination plus that little streak of madness, makes you really appreciate and value yourself. It may even offer a level of empathy with those who regularly face such challenges just to get through the day.

Then it gets worse.

Don’t look now but our whole life is being infiltrated by smug rhyming clichés.

Tear and share; I don’t know about you but I associate the word tear with a slight accident or a mad frenzy of destruction. Imagine the eager child and the wrapping paper of his x box shaped birthday present. I believe it relates to a pizza or some form of communal eating.maxresdefault

I wonder if the phrase was used in the loaves and fishes miracle?

“Come on you desperate starving five thousand; tear and share.”

On some sports channels we may well be confronted with the term Fight night. I have the impression of two brutish gangs standing face to face, shouting and taunting Hakka style until the sun dips below the horizon.

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Not quite macho!

At the sound of a bell they go at each other hammer and tongs until the last person falls.

I’ve taught a few Lizzies over the years and the one thing I’ve learned is never to use the prefix “busy”. Unless of course you want some sort of cutting painful riposte.

Now I’ve put the idea in your head, I’ll leave you to find your own personal rhyming, scream inducing clichés.

But hey, (How American. We can probably blame the good old boys over there for so many of these verbal needles.) It won’t be a blast from the past and I’m not cruising for a bruising so take a chill pill, it’s the real deal. This short rhyme chime is merely the bastard child of cockney rhyming slang. So go out and shop ’til you drop with ants in your pants because by hook or by crook it’s the real deal. I’m off to get drunk as a skunk.

Thank-you for reading.

Or ta lar, as they say in Liverpool.

Time marches on

It’s now over a week since my great northern expedition. There will be no more until September when the schools are back. I used to love the summer holidays.

celebrate-thumbs-upMy favourite weekend of the year was that first weekend of the big break. School or work was as far away as it could be. The term usually ended in triumph with happy confident eleven year olds being unleashed back onto quaking parents, often unsure about the next six weeks and when the boredom would kick in. For me it was a child free or pupil free break.

I always spent that first weekend with friends. It always ended in beers.

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Now, (sorry teachers) I can’t wait for the holidays to end. I cannot possibly fall into the grumpy trap and get all malevolent about children and their various ways of deliberately and inadvertently winding us oldies up. In fact, I have often engaged children in conversation on long train journeys. On reflection, I have quite a bit to say. But it’s that train journey last December just before Christmas.

Those two boys with their poor beleaguered grandma spent the whole two hours arsing about in the toilets. I could have interfered with my strict teacher voice but no. It was two days to Christmas and I think they were a bit excitable. But in the words of Mark Antony from Antony and Cleopatra: “Grates me: The sum”.

hqdefaultIn terms of world events, not a lot has happened over the last nine days. In terms of my world though, some things have happened. Don’t they always? If things didn’t happen, what on earth have I been doing in all that time? Lying stone still on my bed in a darkened room while Seymour, demented with hunger, rouses me from my stupor by chewing off my right ear or something equally effective?

Last Sunday night I front lined the cat. (Serves him right for chewing my ear off.) It’s always a tricky operation. It requires stealth, trickery and a strong drink to take my mind of the pain. Because the old chap loves to sit on my knee it’s fairly easy getting him into a perfect position. But the next stages are crucial. If I stop scratching his neck he looks round to see what my right hand is doing. What could possibly be more important than scratching his neck?

To maintain the calm, I have to switch hands mid scratch; not easy with the state of my left hand. At the same time I have to quietly pick up the dreaded phial and mutter words of false praise to my brave little soldier in order to drown out the crack of the seal. With nozzle poised, my good hand takes over the scratching as I gently but firmly administer the deadly poison onto the back of his neck. Simultaneously he digs his claws into my legs to use as purchase for a bolted indignant escape. The cat flap crashes and I sip my drink, trying to drown the pain.

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But he always comes back for food

Now for the great cooker episode:

After ordering a new light cover for my cooker hood, one of the bulbs decided to blow. Now I hate an imbalance. I can’t help my own imbalance due to the inconvenience of my chronic condition but a lack of symmetry (and I will use this phrase again), “Grates me: The sum.” It was staring at me. Mocking. That infernal hood knew the missing light disturbed me.

So I planned my strategy.

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I couldn’t bear to post a “before” picture

If I could take the old one out, I could replace it. It was to involve unscrewing the cover then standing in some form of supported position, twerking with the oven and hob whilst reaching out and unscrewing the offending bulb. It took its time. Then I was ready to give myself a real treat. With object in hand, I rolled across to the electrical shop.

Now spending £3.25 on a new bulb is not exciting but it was a chance to ogle at some appliance porn. Oh those sexy microwaves.

maxresdefaultLook at that darling flat screen TV winking at me. That fridge freezer can just gobble me up whenever it feels like. I needed a slap to break the spell.

Well:

Reader, I replaced it. I’m not sure if a small audience gathered outside to watch a repeat of my gyratory, crotch against hob dance, but I hope anyone passing found some form of entertainment. I was so delighted. It got major billing on my Facebook time line.

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Then last night the bread machine gave up. It has given me sixteen years of sterling service. When I bought it, I promised never to buy bread again. I didn’t, except for a few artisan breads while on holiday; they were expensive and nothing I couldn’t do myself. And my confidence is down to that machine. In fact I’m so confident, I’m not even replacing it. That space is going to be filled by a retro stand mixer with a dough hook. The machine has mostly been used for just mixing and kneading.

Have you ever tried removing a loaf baked in the machine. Grappling with a hot bread pan trying to shake a loaf out is a sight to behold.

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Yeah right!

Just think of shaking a big pair of maracas trying to get a sound out of them. After said lump of bread has finally emerged and you wipe the sweat off your brow, you’ll find that the large paddle has inserted itself up the arse of the bread.

This is impossible to remove delicately. Half the loaf’s internal organs will come out with the paddle. Having said that, it has been a wonderful friend and the timer facility often meant rising to the heady aroma of fresh bread. So farewell my Panasonic friend, I hope they’re nice to you in the great bread basket in the sky.

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Finally, let me tell you about Bernie. Like me, Bernie was an original Mewso. After ten and a half years at the Mews, there were just three originals left. Bernie used to have a bungalow up the road where he grew his fruit and vegetables. His house was almost dwarfed by a forest of tall beanpoles. He even managed to grow tomatoes around our block. Rose had her own cherry tomato plant.

He would often sit outside on the bench chewing the fat with all and sundry.

He adored our Rose and along with his sister Beryl, the were very kind to her. He seemed to know everyone and what they were doing.

Unfortunately he was not blessed with good health and on Sunday 2nd of July, passed away from the living world. I’ll miss him sitting on that bench, loaded with dry witticisms and uncompromising observations. IMG_5346

There have been a few other things this week; I removed the hard drive from an old computer, I have a quad stick and some new challenges at physio and I’ve made some really nice bread by hand.

But when I go out on the scooter, I look up to flat four and see closed windows. IMG_5347

So sad.

Thank-you for reading.

Two days in pictures.

It’s all very well having a slick, sometimes sharp line in the written art but sometimes I just like pictures and captions. If anyone knows of a writer with such a gift can they pass them onto me; I could do with some useful tips. Felt tips? No, that was for ideas boards in the classroom. I’d set the class off on some joint writing task and in amongst the hubbub, I’d stick up ideas for vocabulary or subject matter.

Now, where was I?

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Into the nebular

 

 

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Welcome to Liverpool

 

 

IMG_5309                                        The destination of our roistering.

 

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Water?

 

 

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The original slide valve

 

 

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A liability of McChrystals

 

 

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Enthralled by the duet. I’ve never known Yingtong Iddle eye poe be so moving.

 

 

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Oops, pissed again

 

 

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Room with a view. A sea of grey.

 

 

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The old travellers’ rest. Showing its age through deliberate neglect.

 

 

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Into the nebula (said with a scouse accent)

 

 

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Still grey

 

 

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Glorious Grove Road

 

 

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Lime Street lower level. Obviously the disabled route is tucked away so we don’t embarrass Joe public with our shaking head and dribbling.

 

 

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The Lime Street clock can still be seen. A step back into Edwardian or Victorian elegance now slightly concealed by the prominence of motorway service station je ne sais quoi.

 

 

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Gower Street terraces. Value?

 

 

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I love St Martins

 

 

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The last leg

 

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The aftermath; this is how I felt.

 

 

Thank you for reading

Beethoven’s words

For many lovers and exponents of Classical music, Beethoven stands astride the bridge between Classical and Romantic.

Just picture that stern face, score in hand spanning some colossal abyss, where so many before him failed the great leap across to passion and angst. His work is packed tight with examples of his vision and courage; courage to move away from the bonds of patronage and strike out as a musician in his own right.

This all mirrors the true romantic and heroic notions Beethoven himself was pushing towards. But if we were to take a closer look, we may find this grand image deflated a little by some of his contemporaries and immediate predecessors.

I’m not going to go into details but the great abyss I alluded to was actually little more than a narrow meander twisting across and back between the two genres. The whole business has more subtlety and nuance than you could shake a conductor’s baton at. (Common time, obviously with little bursts of frantic scherzo.) Apart from the obvious signs of Beethoven’s progressive style; five movement symphonies, quasi fantasia sonatas, the reflection and self analysis within the string quartets etc etc, it is the texture of his piano music which really spells it out. Look at the first page of the Sonata Pathetique:

Beethoven-Sonata-Piano-Sonata-No-8-op-13-no-8-Pathetique-page1-51c90ec56dfb1It’s so thick isn’t it? There are great handfuls of chords, it covers over four octaves and the melody is in octaves.

For the piano itself, it is genuinely demanding. The dynamic markings give a licence to push the bounds of an instrument still in its infancy. Yes, Haydn and Mozart’s piano music is full of turbulent passion but they still carry a sense of the style brise, necessitated by the lack of a sustained sound-characteristic of the harpsichord.

This takes us from the idea of the keyboard in its generic sense to the pianoforte as a vehicle capable of orchestral and vocal expression. The rest of the sonata, whilst being as turbulent as its introduction, settles down to a more conventional arpeggiated texture. Here we can make direct comparison to Mozart’s wonderful C minor piano sonata.

But of all of Beethoven’s piano compositions, I’m drawn to a modest late bagatelle. Many times I have languished in the tortures of the late sonatas and marvelled at the genius of harmonic creativity.

By this time, the piano had itself grown in size and strength. Yet it’s this simple little piece which leaves me spellbound. Here is the opening page:HL-349806First_BIG

It’s hardly the Pathetique is it? But look at the left hand. From the start, it’s in thirds below a single melody line; a sure indicator of a piano’s (and performer’s) capability of balancing sounds. At one stage the hands are also quite well apart. There is also a sly key change from G to C.

In fact I could find so many discreet little signals which mirror the many advances of this great composer. But the real reason for showing this piece does not need any great clever tricks of musical analysis.

For me it is the embodiment of the Romantic notion. It has romanticism oozing from every bar. At the time of writing this, Beethoven had spent many years trapped within his own tortured cell of deafness. I have no idea what he heard between his ears but it is not reflected in what he heard in his head. In some respect, the deafness had freed him from the shackles of pleasantries; the melodic harmonious nature of which still attracts many listeners to Classic FM. “Whatever!” I loudly exclaim.

The bagatelle opus 126 in G leaves me with a combination of admiration, sorrow, excitement and pure heartbreak because in amongst the turmoil of his later years, it is a snapshot of genuine love. It is tempting for many people with life affecting conditions to hate the world and to rave against their fortune. But here Beethoven is saying:

“It’s all right, I still know what joy is. Here is a little piece of my heart. I cannot hear it with my ears but you can so I’m happy to share it with you.”

Thank-you for reading.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ye7evxEeHs