Posted in Family

Tuning Grandma’s Piano (The Antidote To Chopsticks)

English: Piano tuner's most basic tools: tunin...
It's not all black and white: inside a piano (image via Wikipedia)

The only thing worse than hearing chopsticks played repeatedly on the piano is hearing chopsticks played repeatedly on a piano that is badly out of tune.

At the turn of the year, my daughter acquires this party trick from a school friend who has learned it from her cousin over Christmas. Chopsticks spreads like a virus among children. There can be few who are naturally immune. Roll on the day when the MMR vaccine gives way to the MMRC – Mumps, Measles, Rubella and Chopsticks.

But as this vaccination has yet to be invented, I decide the most effective remedy for my household is to get my piano tuned. My previous tuner in Bristol having retired, I scour the internet in hope of finding a new one closer to home. To my amazement, I discover there’s one in Didmarton – virtually on my doorstep. A phone call later he’s literally on my doorstep, toolbag in hand.

Clearing the photos and other debris from the top of the piano, I explain to him the history of my particular instrument. As I do, I realise why I’ve been so tardy in getting it tuned: I’m worried that it’s now beyond redemption and will have to be written off. A humble “cottage upright”, it’s not a valuable instrument, but it is precious to me.

Exactly a hundred years old, it belonged to my beloved grandmother, who was born in 1900. Her stepfather bought it for her when she was about eight – the age my daughter is now. In her twenties, she took it to her new marital home in Sidcup. (I can still picture the piano in the corner of her dining room, family photos and trinkets on the top, and I often dream that I’m back in that room having tea.)

Grandma and my more musical cousin

Her husband, my grandfather, was a gifted musician, too poor to afford a musical career, but music was always his passion, passed down the family line. Unfortunately his musical genes passed me by, but I did eventually gain the piano. It went first to my more talented cousin, whose skills soon outgrew the instrument’s powers. A trained opera singer, she played this piano at my wedding reception.

That I have chosen the right piano tuner to revive this family heirloom soon becomes clear. He reveals that his mother was also born in 1900. When I tell him my daughter’s name is Laura, he immediately begins to play the eponymous tune, which I’ve never come across before, declaring it to be his favourite. When she comes home from school, Laura will be thrilled.

Lovingly he coaxes the piano back into good order. He suppresses the squeaks that had lately haunted the pedals. He handcrafts new wooden shafts that give new voice to keys that had turned dumb. In turn, little by little, he brings each note back to just where it should be in the scale.

And then comes the grand finale: that fabulous moment when he shows off his handiwork by playing pieces that test every note on the keyboard. It’s the piano tuner’s equivalent to the typist’s quick brown fox jumping over the lazy dog.

Even if there is no cure for chopsticks, this is a most effective antidote. Thank you, Mr Felton – and may there be many encores.

This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser, a great place to find a piano tuner and many other friendly local service providers!

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If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in another post about how my lovely Grandma, contemporary of the Suffragette Movement, taught me to value my right to vote:

I Wear My Vote on My Sleeve

and this one about how one of her old ornaments inspired my new business venture:

The Reading Man

Posted in Family, Personal life

A Two-Sheet Solution

English: Toilet paper 日本語: トイレットペーパー
(Photo: Wikipedia)

With just a week to go before I leave my salaried job, my thoughts have turned to our household economy.  I will have to find ways of saving money.  

This idea does not upset me.  In fact I am looking forward to the challenge.  Ever the optimist, I anticipate that I will find an upside to enforced frugality.  Already I have become addicted to a certain cut-price supermarket chain whose cheap goods have an appealing exoticism.  My weekly shop now feels like a lightning tour of mainland Europe.  It is exciting to pick up a product which lists its ingredients in 20 different languages.  It is refreshing to see that the manufacturer has not assumed that English is more important than the other, showing a sort of inverse imperialism.

Poring over the supermarket till receipt, I am reminded of a conversation with my grandmother who, in preparation for my grandfather’s retirement, was rehearsing aloud to me one day the economies that she planned to make.

“I will use two sheets of lavatory paper instead of three,” she confided.

Even then, at the age of 8, I was impressed by the elegant simplicity of this solution.  At a stroke, Grandma had sliced a third off her future toilet tissue budget.  This logic could be rolled out right across her storecupboard. Sharing a teabag between two mugs instead of allocating one each will halve your tea costs.  A level teaspoon of sugar instead of a rounded cuts a quarter off.  Substitute sherbet pips for sherbet lemons – my goodness, on a one-to-or one basis, you are  talking about an 80% saving at least.

I have always wondered why climate campaigners don’t adopt this sensible system for saving energy. If only everyone would just use less power, there’d be no need to do battle over controversial wind turbines or nuclear power plants.  It just takes a little effort and imagination.  There would be unexpected benefits too.  Turn off the lights while you’re watching television, for example, and you’d gain the atmosphere and excitement of a cinema.  Add a box of popcorn (home- made, of course, for a matter of pence  – and healthy into the bargain), and you’re set up for a very cheap and environmentally-friendly evening in.This system would work equally well with fuel.  Instead of keeping the usual three lamps on in the dining room, turn on only two – hey presto, a third off your dinner-time lighting bill.  Use an inch less water in the bath, and you’ve got a 10% cut  but you’ll still be just as clean.

I am therefore ready to embrace this economy business wholeheartedly.  At least, until my husband emerges from the bathroom that I’ve just stocked with multilingually-labelled toilet paper (10 rolls for £1, what a bargain!) “I hope you’re not economising on toilet paper?” he pleads, a pained look on his face. And I haven’t even told him yet that he’s only allowed two sheets.