I love Wednesdays – it’s the day when my week starts to calm down and the studying overtakes the office/church working. (It also follows a 12 hour working Tuesday, which is all kinds of exhausting.) To ease myself into the day, I spent 11 minutes this morning watching an utterly delightful video. I was tempted to add it to Friday’s list, but actually, it’s not really ‘fun’ in the Friday sense of the word.

Have you ever wondered exactly what went into printing sheet music before the invention of computers? I can’t say I have, but after watching this film, I’m utterly in awe. Basically, (and many of you probably know this) it involved engraving the notation onto metal sheets, from which prints could be made. As anyone who has studied musical theory can tell you, notation is a pain in the backside to get correct – so imagine engraving metal?

Much of this video is in German, but it has subtitles and is hypnotising. My favourite moment is when the engraver is asked what happens if he makes a mistake and he replies “but I don’t make mistakes” – so they ask him to demonstrate what he would do if someone else made a mistake. [Surprisingly, it doesn’t involve throwing the whole metal sheet away and starting again – lucky, that.]

For me, the most ridiculous discovery was that musical directions had to be stamped letter by letter. When you think of how many ‘allegro’, ‘allegrando’ and ‘tuttis’ there might be in even a short piece, that’s got to be a pain.

So, Sibelius fans, don’t take what you’ve got for granted. Be thankful for Herr Henle Verlag and others like him for turning notation into the artform that computers had to emulate. (And fans of handwritten notation – just be grateful you’re writing on paper, not metal.)

My Teenage Diary

Recently, I discovered something of a gem on Radio 4. On Tuesday evenings (at 6.30pm) you can listen to various celebrities sharing extracts from their teenage scribblings on My Teenage Diary. Anyone who kept a diary as a teen, or who can remember being that age can imagine just how cringeworthy and hilarious this might be. This is now the second series (I’m gutted I missed the first) and has so far featured Sheila Hancock’s journal of her first trip to France aged 14; Victoria Coren’s tales of a teenage life in which interviewing celebrities was less exciting than going on actual dates; and Julian Clary’s early university obsessions – all fabulous.

Unsurprisingly this prompted me to dig out my diaries. I think I first regularly kept a diary from the age of 13, but prior to that any time we were on holiday, journalling was compulsory – beginning with scrapbooks and continuing into the proper (obsessive) travel diaries I still keep whenever I go somewhere interesting. When I extracted the box the really old ones are kept in, I thought I knew what I’d find. My main diaries (1994 onwards) are basically a chronicle of every boy I ever liked – ridiculous crushes, friends who were boys, unobtainable and unsuitable men – and copious details of singing weekends, arguments with friends and related traumas. Not particularly interesting.

What did interest me was the discovery of a notebook in which I journalled two consecutive summer holidays, one aged 12 (1993) beginning at Guide Camp and continuing in Bavaria and the following year’s less exotic trip to Yorkshire (in our new, but second hand, trailer tent). Not least because each day’s entry was written in a different colour – a practice I know for a fact was continued in my New Zealand journal (2008) and New York diary (2009) – I’m clearly a creature of habit.

It’s long been a joke that my travel diaries basically list the food I’ve eaten, and this was no exception. Even short entries mention dinner or at least an ice cream – and could get very specific. For example:
1/8/93: “…we drove to Bad Tolz and had a look round and a coke & calippo (strawberry).” You can kind of understand the interest in food when in a foreign country – there were no end of interesting things to explore…
8/9/93: “Miriam and I had sausages and ‘cola mix’. (Cola mixed with lemonade, yum.)” [There is nothing more exotic than mixing Coke and lemonade in the same glass, clearly.] But, even on holiday in glamorous York, food was an important topic:
1/8/94: “…I had to have a cornish pasty cos I didn’t like any of the sandwiches…” Fortunately, by the time another picnic rolled round two days later, Mother had learnt a valuable lesson: “When she was at Sainsburys, Mum had bought me an egg and cress sandwich.” 

In fact, food wasn’t the only tedious feature of these diaries, shopping was carefully listed too – though as this was often food related, there is a connection. It seemed that on every holiday there was an opportunity for a little bit of retail therapy. At Guide camp it consisted of a trip to the tuck shop where I bought “a white toblerone, some penny sweets and a badge for my camp blanket saying ‘Cherry Green Trees’.” In Germany, it was all about the chocolate (quelle surprise) – “I bought a mini pack of Ritter Sport to share with my friends and 2 bars of normal RS (Peppermint & Cornflake) for me & Mims to share.” [Personally, I’m dubious just how truthful the use of the word ‘share’ was. I flipping love Ritter Sport.] Even in York I was able to satisfy shopping needs, not to mention my bookworm tendencies: “…then we went into Blackwells where I bought: Joey & Co in the Tirol, The Chalet School Reunion, Prefects of the Chalet School & Zlata’s Diary. Boy wasn’t I a happy bunny! Eventually we found Lakeland Plastics where I bought a new lunchbox and Mum bought some lids to put on cans to keep the fizz in.” [The search for the Lakeland Plastics shop was chronicled in detail, so must have been an extremely important element of the day.]

A key feature of our summer holidays was often my birthday – frequently right at the beginning of our time away. This meant that birthday gifts were dutifully recorded in the journal, and, for some reason, birthday cards. On my 12th birthday I listed every card I received, which is how I can tell you that I had two from my sister and one from Bubble and Squeak (our gerbils). On my 13th birthday I went for a slightly different angle, ranking all my cards in order of how tasteful they were (oh yes, this is what I spent my first hours as a teenager doing…). So, whilst my paternal aunt gave me a “v tasteful” card, both sets of grandparents’ were “not tasteful” – one card even managed to score high taste points from me, whilst my father thought it wasn’t tasteful at all! (Plus, yet again I had two cards from Mim – though fortunately both were tasteful and one was handmade.)

Aside from the strange lists of food, shopping trips and birthday cards, the journals also had odd gems and insights into our family life. The following were personal favourites:

“…but then we had to stand through an extremely boring serviece in GERMAN!” [We were in Germany, I can’t think why this was surprising.]

“In the evening M&M [me and Mims] had McDonalds in the car while M&D [Mum and Dad] had dinner outside a restaurant. While we ate Miriam ruined the Talking Heads tape by jamming it into the tape player. Mum and Dad were angry, as it was new.” [It emerges that this was their wedding anniversary. I would also like to question the wisdom of playing Talking Heads to a 9 year old – which is how old Mim was at the time.]

“…later on Mim and I watched Neighbours (in German and 6 years behind us).” [If I remember correctly, it was an episode in which Harold and Paul got stuck in a lift together. Again, why was I so surprised by the German?]
“When we got home Miriam went to sleep because she was VERY bad tempered!* (*Mims didn’t want me to write this!)” [I can imagine that as with all my other diaries, my sister was a regular reader of my travel journal.]

“I was wearing my new dress and straw hat.” [It was my 13th birthday, how the heck did I willingly agree to wearing a straw hat?! Incidentally, we were at a wedding, it wasn’t my party outfit.]
“After 5 mins xxxxxxx came and sat 2 rows behind us – I was thrilled!” [Far more typical of a 13 year old’s diary entry. Until I read that sentence I’d forgotten that particular inappropriate crush had existed! But how pathetic to get excited that someone had sat a whole 2 rows behind me at a wedding?!]

And finally, possibly my favourite sentence of all – particularly because it began a day’s entry, so was obviously the most pressing thing on my mind:

“Today, we discovered that The Independent is now 30p! [Big letters.] Dad was shocked! He never thought The Independent would lower its price.” 
Oh yes, the fact that The Independent had followed in the footsteps of tabloids and The Times in engaging in a price war was major news in the Clutterbuck household. This also means that by 1994 we had entered our phase of reading The Independent rather than The Guardian – this lasted for a few years, until my parents got annoyed with the former and returned to their natural newspaper.

Apologies, this is an extraordinarily long post – I must have got rather carried away. For once I’d actually have been willing to supplement it with photos from the same era, but sadly I have none in London. (I’d be particularly interested in one of me in the wedding outfit complete with straw hat, especially as I believe all I wore around that time were leggings and baggy t-shirts – how the 90s treated us well.)

The diaries & an explanation:
Journal of teenage angst filled poetry; the summer journals of 93 &94; diary 94-95 & 95-01
Diary 01-05; 05-06; 06-present (yet slightly redundant thanks to anonymous blog). 

Munich 1990 – A Journey Through Photographs

Yes, that’s a rather poncy title for a blog post, but I was lacking inspiration.

A few months ago, I shared the fruits of my Dad’s latest project: scanning his collection of slides for posterity. This project is rumbling on, last time I was in Belfast I got to look through a folder of images that seemed largely to consist of his ex-girlfriends (an enlightening experience), but fortunately he’s still coming across photos which I find particularly interesting. Namely, photos of me.

However, its also given me an insight into my Dad’s idea of what consitutes an interesting holiday photo (or even an interesting holiday, for that matter!), as these photos from our trip to Germany in 1990 reveal…

When travelling, it’s always important to record exactly what mode of transport you use to reach your destination. Especially if it’s an extremely exciting roll on-roll off ferry.

Appreciate local art – like these beauties in what appears to be a bustling town.

Stay on the look out for wildlife. (I’m thinking these cows are possibly just a little too close for comfort.)

Take photos of road signs. Or possibly he was going for the church tower?

Admire traditional architecture and horticulture.

This photo was actually taken at an open-air museum of Bavarian culture. It was so interesting that we visited it on our return to Munich three years later. By this time I was 12 and my sister was 9. I was still able to convince my sister that the reason why all the chalets had numbered bricks/slats was because every winter they took the chalets apart and rebuilt them in the valley – you know, like in Heidi where they had to leave the alm every winter because of the cold?? Anyway, she totally bought it and we totally bring it up every time we see chalets…

[Of course, the numbers are to do with them being rebuilt, but I believe that was a one-off.]

Experience the culture and traditions of Europe’s great cities.

In case you can’t tell, this is Salzburg. Notice the large fountain and horse-drawn carriage? Both feature in the lesser-known musical film The Sound of Music. Except, for me, visiting Salzburg aged 9, the city was famous for one thing only – being the birthplace of Mozart. The Sound of Music was a mystery to me, I hadn’t seen the film and didn’t, until I was 12 – a grudge I still bear towards my parents. It’s not like they banned it, they just forgot (“forgot”, I ask you?!?) to show it to us!

And finally, the one photo in this collection that has me in it:

That’s me – in the corner. Obviously Dad was aiming for a non-Elizabeth obscured view of Munich’s Olympic stadium. Clearly I couldn’t be bothered to get out of the way. Because of course, holiday photos are about the things you see, not the people you see them with!!

Things I’ve learnt this week about Germany:

  • You can only wash your car in dedicated car-washing areas. Sounds odd, but actually quite sensible – it’s so the toxins from the outside of the car don’t go into the ground water system.
  • You’re not supposed to wash out yoghurt pots before you put them in the recycling because it wastes water. (This means that the pots might sit around becoming increasingly fragrant as recycling’s only collected once a fortnight.)
  • It’s illegal to mow your lawn on Saturday afternoons or at all on Sunday, or during the “quiet time” during the week. This is to keep things nice and quiet when people are trying to rest! Nice.
  • People have locks on their bins. This is because rubbish is weighed when it’s collected and people are billed according to how much they chuck out – so you don’t want someone off loading their rubbish in your bin.

But the best thing I discovered:

  • Dogs may only bark for 10 mins in any 3 hour period. I’m not sure what you’re meant to do to stop a dog barking. In my experience, if a dog decides to bark there’s not usually a lot you can do to stop it – except give in to their demands! And if you start doing that, who knows where it might end!