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The Heavenly Choir

Yesterday, the fourteenth of March, marked the anniversary of the passing of that great Russian composer, Pavel Chesnokov, who famously wrote choir pieces for oktavists, that is, men who can sing a full octave below the bass line. The very thought of having such vocal apparatus fills me with envy! The sound of such voices,…

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The King’s Gambit

A gambit is simply an act of sacrifice, but of a strategic nature, in order to gain some advantage. The word has come to prominence with the popularity of a miniseries whose characters inhabit the world of chess. ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is a classic move in chess openings; and one supposes that the lead actress,…

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Collective nouns

A flock of cockatoos flew overhead this morning, and I wondered if it/they had a specific collective name. I’ve heard of a ‘gaggle of geese’ and a ‘parliament of owls’ and a ‘murder of crows’, but what about these birds that screech and scream and blitzkrieg our neighbourhood trees? An ‘assault of cockatoos’? I suppose…

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Lord of the Flies

Yesterday I stumbled upon a book that was one of my set English texts at high school – William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ – a short novel about some English school boys marooned on a tropical island without adults. I quickly turned to find the only line that I can remember. Said one boy…

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Things palindromic

The closest we ever got at school to a palindrome was Napoleon’s gem: ‘Able was I, ere I saw Elba’; which filled us with about as much excitement as was experienced last Friday, when Mathematics teachers across the nation leapt into their classrooms with the news that the date was a perfect palindrome: The 12th…

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Year of the Ox

I must admit that I had to look up the exact definition of an ox, with the results as follows: Any type of cattle over four years of age, usually a castrated male, that is trained for work. How interesting that one species can be raised for different purposes: one for milk, another for meat,…

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Reaching the summit

Today I finish my time on Mount Everest, and at midnight I will begin my descent. The majestic mountain has been in my sight for all of this month, greeting me each day on my January calendar. I remember some years ago reading a book about Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay who made the first…

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Luxury!

Inspired by that skit involving the four Yorkshiremen, where they try to outdo each other in terms of describing the hardships and deprivations of their boyhoods, that was the word I was wanting to cry out when I came to that part in the story of Jacob, where he was sleeping out in the open,…

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The Brickies Labourer

I didn’t realize how challenging it is to build a brick wall. Firstly, there’s the choice of how to orient the exposed face: The stretcher, the soldier, the header, the rowlock stretcher, the sailor, the rowlock. And then there’s the choice of how to bond the bricks. If a single wall, then perhaps the stretcher…

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Tearing down monuments

I remember the day on the way home from school in Year 9, pushing my bike up a hill, and having an existential crisis. A dark thought gripped me: “Why don’t I become a mass-murderer…. at least I’ll get my name in the history books.” Whew! Glad that thought stayed restrained and unrealized! Erostratus, a…

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