Susanna Mälkki at the Proms (2015)

Conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Proms

Conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Proms

I switched on the radio this afternoon, which happened to be tuned into Radio3, the BBC classical music station, and there was a recording of a “Proms Concert” from earlier in the week. I had missed the first half of the concert but managed to catch all of the second half featuring a performance of Gustav Holsts “Planets Suite” performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki.

The performance was one of controlled excitement (particularly in the Mars section), utter clarity and joyfulness under the baton of Ms Mälkki. Let us hope it is not too long before we see her again performing in the UK.

David Nice of “” did a very positive review of the concert and concluded by saying  “This is a Proms piece par excellence, with that spatial effect unique to the hall and selective blasts or pedals from the organ, but never has it sounded to me more like a total masterpiece than under Mälkki’s magnificent baton.”


It is also another small step for the growing band of extremely talented female orchestral conductors who are beginning to get invites from some of the world leading orchestras and in  Mälkkis case she was recently been appointed Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, effective from the 2016/17 season.

And lets face it, you have got to admire a woman when asked “what is your guilty pleasure in music?” responded by saying  “there are days when Led Zeppelin is the only right thing to listen to.”……………..she gets my vote any time!

Posted in 21st century, BBC, Cklassical music. Female Conductors, Classical Music, Conductors, Equality, Finland / Suomi, Music, Women, women in society | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Napoleon and Lithuania………….the undoing of an emperor

Bodies found in the mass grave outside of Vilnius

Bodies found in the mass grave outside of Vilnius

A longstanding mystery surrounding the deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon’s army found in a mass grave in Lithuania has been solved.

The jumbled bones of the men who died on the French leader’s ill fated attempt to march on Moscow in 1812 show signs of starvation, according to archaeologists from the University of Central Florida.

According to Forbes, buttons found on the site, which was first discovered in Lithuanian capital Vilnius in 2002, show over 40 different regiments were represented from Napoleon’s army as they made their desperate dash back across Europe.

Around 500,000 in the Emperor’s army began their long march to Moscow in June 1812, but by the time they were stumbling back to Vilnius in retreat six months later only 40,000 had survived.

Around 20,000 men were believed to have died of hypothermia, starvation and typhus in Vilnius alone.

This failure was seen as the beginning of Napoleon’s downfall from power in France, which led to his temporary exile in 1814 before his imprisonment by Britain following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Posted in France, Landscape, Lithuania, Russia, Vilnius | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

7 barmy but brilliant British traditions

Finnish National Sleepy Head Day sees the last person in the household to wake up has water chucked over them. It sounds crazy, but we Brits are in no position to mock…

If you were last to wake in your household on Monday, just be grateful you don’t live in Finland – unless of course you do, in which case, hard luck. There, the ‘laziest’ person in the house, defined as the one who is last to rise from their slumber, would have a bucket of water poured on them to wake them up in honour of National Sleepy Head Day. Unluckier still, are the late risers who are chucked into a lake, pool or river.

Observed in the Finnish calendar since the Middle Ages, according to tradition, the day marks the Saints of Ephesus who slept in caves for 200 years to hide from persecution from the Roman Emperor Decius.

While we Brits might have escaped a soaking this morning, we do still have plenty of unusual traditions, as this lot prove.

Maypole dancing

Maypole dancing

Maypole dancing

A form of folk dancing, this tradition sees a circle of people holding on to a piece of garland attached to a big pole and jigging around it.

But it’s not aimless – some forms of the dance see the dancers intertwining their ribbons and then retrace their footsteps to unravel the ribbon. The tradition began to celebrate May Day, with the prettiest girl in the town or village making a speech to kick off proceedings.

Bog snorkelling

Bog snorkelling

Bog snorkelling

Less appealing than a nice old jig is the annual World Bog Snorkelling Championships held in Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys. There, the brave competitors don their snorkels, flippers – and even the odd fancy dress shark suit – and race each other to swim along a 120ft trench filled with mud, all in the name of charity.

Morris dancers

Morris dancers

Morris dancing

Like maypole dancing, Morris dancing is also part of a folk tradition and involves a set of people wearing white shirts and red braces with bells and implements attached to their clothes.

Those taking part jig in a choreographed fashion using sticks, handkerchiefs and swords. There are lots of regional variants of the Morris dance including the East Anglian Molly Dance, the Welsh Border Morris and the Yorkshire Long Sword dance.

Worm charming competition

Worm charming competition

Worm charming

Worm charming, that is to say, the method of enticing earthworms from the ground, also goes by the delightful names worm grunting and worm fiddling.

Every year in Cheshire, competitors flock to try to charm the highest number of wriggly ones out of the ground as they can in just 30 minutes.

Straw bear

Held annually in January, the Straw Bear festival in Whittlesea on the Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire borders sees an elected local dressed up as a straw bear, flanked by 250 dancers, musicians and performers.

The entourage then visit local pubs and take part in a procession down the local streets. The custom, which used to see the straw bear performing on doorsteps in return for food, money and beer, was resurrected in 1980 after being phased out at the start of the century.

Yes, the hill IS that steep!

Yes, the hill IS that steep!

Cheese rolling

Cheese rolls = delicious. Cheese rolling = dizzying. And yet every spring, people flock to Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire to roll down a hill chasing a 9lb round of Double Gloucester cheese. The first person to roll over the finish line wins the cheese.

Pearly Kings and Queens

Pearly Kings and Queens

Pearly Kings and Queens

Founded by Henry Croft (1861-1930), the London pearly kings and queens wear elaborate dark suits decorated in beautiful pearl buttons.

Croft, an orphan who worked as a street sweeper, was inspired to start wearing pearly buttons after seeing a group of market traders who sewed buttons to recognise each other and help each other out.

Croft wanted to collect money for charity and in a bid to stand out, started sweeping the streets for pearly buttons, eventually covering his suit in them. These days, the pearly families still collect money for charity and celebrate with a yearly parade from Guildhall to St Mary-le-Bow.

So who says we British don’t have a sense of humour?


Posted in Culture, Filnand, fun, Humour, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2015 QS World University Rankings (QS-WUR) ……………….

A university’s position in world rankings is more important than the quality of teaching it offers if graduates want to find work, say the majority of students. QS World University Rankings (QS-WUR) – an annual publication of university rankings – carried-out a survey with 519 students – mainly postgraduates – from countries across Europe, including the UK.


62 per cent of those interviewed said it was important for an institution to be internationally known in order to improve their employment prospects post-graduation.

And, if students were to compile their own rankings, 33 per cent said they would put more emphasis on employability while 20 per cent said they would focus on the quality of teaching.

Eager to improve their own job prospects, one student from Paris, Rachida, said: “I would want to know names of the firms where graduates go on to work” while another from Milan, Jacubo added: “Universities often have banners of their most prominent professors; what they should have however is banners of their most prominent alumni.”

One US student told the survey: “The name is really the most important, because then you have it on your CV” while another, Italian PhD applicant Lorenzo, admitted: “Whilst I agree that program is key, if I got an offer from Harvard, I would go there no matter what.”

On the whole, though, the survey found very few students actually take time to consult the methodology behind university rankings – which can result in confusion. Master’s applicant, Valerio, said: “The same university is fourth in one ranking and very different in another ranking. So I don’t know which one is the right one.”

However, time taken to interpret rankings detracts from their appeal as a time-saving device, with fellow Italian applicant, Francesco, adding: “It takes a lot of time to understand exactly what the rankings are telling you and how to manipulate these results. I will waste time.”

Here, the challenge for rankings providers is to increase transparency and make top-level results easy and quick to unpack, the final report recommends, adding: “For universities, this is further confirmation of the importance of employment outcomes for today’s students, with implications for both service provision and marketing messages.”

Sources: IoLine/QS-WUR

Posted in Culture, Economy, Education, Employability, employment, Higher Education, University Graduates | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A short visit to Cumbria………..and no, not the Lake District!

Bridge across the River Eden at Armathwaite

Bridge across the River Eden at Armathwaite

Recently paid a very short visit to the count of Cumbria in Northern England which is most famous for the tourist area of the Lake District and has to be said one of the “jewels in the crown” of all English beauty spots.

Reflections in the river.......

Reflections in the river…….

On this occasion I did not venture into “the lakes” but spent some time in the Eden valley. The River Eden meanders North through picturesque villages of red sandstone, such as Langwathby, Lazonby and Armathwaite, eventually reaching the historic Border City of Carlisle and the river enters the Solway Firth near the mouth of the River Esk after a total distance of 90 miles (145 km).

Cows that turned into bulls!

Cows that turned into bulls!

First came a walk along the rivers edge at Armathwaite to get a view of the imposing bridge over the river, then an encounter with what I thought was a herd of cows but which turned out to be bulls (about fifteen of them) as I traversed a field at the side of the river. The flora and fauna along the river bank was verdant and the river was beautifully calm with wonderful reflections of the trees and shrubs along the river bank

Honey production worker

Honey production worker

A drive north next heading towards Brampton and taking in some stunning countryside and numerous encounters with farm tractors driven by what appeared to be twelve year old boys!

The best village sign you will ever see

The best village sign you will ever see

It was during this drive that I came across the best village sign I have ever seen, it simply said “Castle Carrock” and underneath “Please Dance”…………if that doesn’t make you smile, nothing will. There does not seem to be any definitive explanation as to why the sign says, “please dance” instead of the usual “welcome to.”

View from Maryport across the Solway Firth

View from Maryport across the Solway Firth

Day two and a drive to the west coast and the old industrial port of Maryport, delayed by someone driving a car at 25mph no matter what the speed limit indicated! Maryport is an attractive coastal town on the Solway estuary, with sweeping views, shoreline walks, coastal sailing, lively pubs and memorable summer festivals.

The case of the missing fishermen

The case of the missing fishermen

Maryport was the site of a Roman port, built to complement the harbor at Ravenglass to the south. A nearby fort, dating from the 5th century, was one of a series of fortifications constructed by the Romans in this area.

If he says

If he says “its Friday, its Friday!”

The modern town of Maryport was the creation of the Senhouse family in the 18th century, who developed the small fishing village into a coal port with employment centering on coal mining and ship building.

A walk along the harbor in glorious sunshine and an encounter with a couple of fishermen handling five rods between them was a delight, and the view across the Solway Firth into Scotland reminded me that we must build a big wall across Northern England to keep the marauding SNP out!

Green fields of Cumbria

Green fields of Cumbria

So a nice day out to a part of England that I have never visited, I can tick that off my list of places to visit.

Posted in Eden valley, The Lake District, Tourism | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Estate Agents………don’t you just love them?

estate-agentsYesterday I spent most of the day visiting a number of estate agents in the small Derbyshire town of Glossop because the family has a property to sell in the town.

After doing some research on the internet a number of potential sellers were identified, a list of questions drawn up as to what essential information we required and then it was a fifty-minute journey by car to reach the town.

Given that Estate Agents have such a poor reputation with many members of the public and indeed, I have my own horror stories of “dubious practice” when selling my house in Sheffield, that I tried to approach the job with an open and non-prejudicial mind.

described in the brochure as "contemporary bathroom with hints of Germanic undertones"........

described in the brochure as “contemporary bathroom with hints of Germanic undertones”……..

The first agency I visited was a large well-lit room, plenty of space and displays and literature looked professionally produced. A lady greeted me (but didn’t say good morning or offer to shake hands) and then proceeded to outline what package was on offer for selling a property. She was very pleasant, provided virtually all the information I required without being prompted and conducted herself in a very professional way. I came away quite impressed and scored her highly on my assessment sheet.

The second agency visited was one that had been recommended and so there were high expectations. Well how wrong can you be? The premises were one fairly small, badly lit room with very little room for customers. As I entered the lady on reception was dealing with a customer so I stood and waited. Then a voice from a desk at the back of the room shouted, “do you need some help?” to which I replied, “yes, I would like to discuss the sale of a property.” The response was “oh, we are lettings and don’t deal with that, can you go back to the front and wait for the lady on reception.” (I was singularly unimpressed with this response). When I eventually got to see the lady on reception I had to do a lot of prompting to get the information I wanted. I specifically asked who takes the photographs to market the properties, “Oh, that is me” she said and smiled. Looking around the agency it looked “tired” and the photographic displays of property were unimpressive. I was very disheartened by my “customer experience” and scored them lowly on my assessment sheet.

Brochure description "‘A rare example of what architectural historians refer to as a “fertility window”.

Brochure description “‘A rare example of what architectural historians refer to as a “fertility window”.

The third agency was one of a national chain, large well lit room and displays and literature looked professional (as you would expect). A young lady greeted me and then took me through the service they offered. Whilst she was doing this a male member of staff was sat behind her and conducting a conversation with two female members of staff at the other side of the room. After ten minutes I could stand this no more as the noise he was making was intrusive, so I stood up and suggested that if he wanted to hold a team meeting to do it in the privacy of his office and that his behaviour was extremely unprofessional. There was a momentary stunned silence in the office and then he looked at me, got up and disappeared in to his office without any apology whatsoever. The young lady dealing with us then continued to outline the services they offered and did it very well. My assessment was clouded by the appalling behaviour of the male member of staff and so I marked them down.

The fourth visit was to a smallish estate agency, space was limited as I entered but not unduly cramped. The lady on reception took me though the key issues that I wanted covered (with some prompting occasionally) but when I asked “what % do you charge?” she said she couldn’t give that information as it was the responsibility of another member of staff. At this point and obviously sensing my dismay she called over to a gentleman at another desk (he turned out to be one of the partners) and asked about fees. He then said the % charged depends upon the selling price, so I gave him a ‘ballpark figure” and he gave me a quote. I thought why couldn’t the lady have done this herself in the first place. And if they don’t trust her to pass on such simple information why are they employing her?

Legal, decent, truthful........

Legal, decent, truthful……..

Whilst the partner impressed me with his knowledge of the local market and marketing property effectively my overall impression was a little negative.

As I sat in a small coffee house in Glossop reflecting on my experiences a number of things jumped out at me:-

  1. No one seems to observe the formal greeting of good morning / afternoon these days and that you are likely to be assailed by “HiYaaaaaaaaaa”
  2. No one in any of the agencies stood up when I approached their desk
  3. None of them offered to shake hands
  4. No one stood up when we had finished
  5. Nor was there a handshake of thank you
  6. The appearance of staff in one agency looked scruffy and what I would call unprofessional
  7. All the evidence that I have seen is that many staff would benefit from basic “customer care” training and a reminder that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”
Posted in Culture, Customer Service, estate Agents, Humour, poor experience | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Shock, horror…………..footballer gets 1st class honours degree (but he is Spanish)

What can professional footballers do after their time in the game is over? They could become a coach, a TV pundit or do something different like run a pub or even train to become a medical geneticist? It is fair to say that most professional footballers are not known for their academic achievements and listening to some of them as pundits one would questions whether they ever did basic English courses. And the idea of an English footballer going to live in another country, learn the language and study at a university is almost entering the realms of fantasy.

But training to become a medical geneticist is exactly what former Swansea City striker Guillermo Bauza has done. The Spaniard graduated with a first class honours degree from Swansea University’s College of Medicine on Monday. “Growing up I’d always wanted to be a doctor, but life changes and football came along,” said Mallorca-born Bauza, who was known as Guillem in his Swansea days.

“I realised when I came to Swansea that learning English would be vital if I was going to be able to fit in and enjoy the culture here. “The PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) were very helpful with getting me over the language barrier and they talked a lot to me about my options after football. “So I was delighted when I got accepted by Swansea University and had the chance to swap one dream for another.”

Best remembered by Swansea fans for his two goals against Gillingham which saw his side promoted to the Championship in 2008, the 30-year-old former Spain under-19 international signed up for his degree after he was released by the Swans in 2010.
Initially he combined his studies with playing professionally for Hereford United, Northampton Town and Exeter City. But since 2013 he has studied full time while continuing to play as an amateur for Merthyr Town in the Southern Premier Division.
Now he is hoping to go on to earn his PHD.

So there is life after football…………..but many earn so much now that they never need work again.

Posted in Culture, Education, Employability, Society | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments