otsanda asked: Thank you so much for the post about your experience on the set of Sherlock. I think you coached Benedict very well. I've played violin since I was young and seeing convincing violin acting always makes me happy. =) On another note, I love your (Bond's) version of Korobushka. It's by far my favorite version of the tune (and I have gone through a lot of versions). Keep up the amazing work!

thank you! He’s an incredibly fast learner. and yes Korobushka is one of our favourite pieces to play. Always lots of fun. x

jettisondown asked: As you have most likely noticed I have started following you. I wanted to let you know that though it was because of the Benedict Cumberbatch post that I came, but it was mostly about your level of writing and insight that prompted me to click the "follow" button. It's rare to find such simple but intellectually delightful blogs lately, and I'm elated to have stumbled upon yours. I just wanted to let you know that I truly appreciate your writing, and I hope it comes often and in abundance.

ah thanks x

trebledchild asked: Okay, I have searched up and down the entire Internet and I was wondering what bach song Sherlock played in Reichenbach Falls? PS congratulations on teaching Benedict!

Hi- it was Bach sonata no 1 in G minor, for solo violin 

Three Minutes in Rio fro Pirelli Calendars

It’s not often that you get asked to fly on a 36hr round trip to play for 3 minutes. But Pirelli Calendars flew us to Rio last week to play our very first single, Victory, for the launch of their new calendar. Our video (shot in beautifully dilapidated buildings in Cuba) chimed with the Brazilian locations in the calendar, so it was a harmonious match of styles.

 

We arrived just as the Grand Prix finished so the place was buzzing, but we managed to get some sleep. The next morning we awoke to views of Copacabana beach from our hotel rooms. We had a few hours before our sound-check so off we wandered, shoes in hand, walking the whole length of the beach. Despite the rain (well.. 3 of us are british.)

 

That recharged our batteries enough for sound-check, where we were excited to see that the person in the dressing room next to us was..Sophia Loren- as in SOPHIA ACTUAL LOREN! Obviously we played it very cool (we didn’t see her).

 

A few tweaks at sound-check and then back to the hotel to look at an exciting new video,  which tested the hotel’s Wifi to its limits. More on that soon…

 

We were due to be at the venue a few hours before our performance time so I decided to get changed there and just wear my day clothes for extra comfort value. This seemed like a Good Idea, until our limo (minibus) pulled up at the Red Carpet; the same Red Carpet that the president of Brazil, Owen Wilson, and SOPHIA LOREN had just floated down.

 

The door rolled back and there we were, sitting with all our bags, looking confused. We held back for a while saying ‘no,no, we’re meant to be at the other entrance’,  but they insisted. The Pirelli PR instructed us to work the Red Carpet and pose for the assembled Paparazzi. So- we de-bagged and just went for it. Me in an £8 dress and espadrilles (comfy), Elspeth looking glam despite not being in show clothes,and Tania and Gay-Yee both cunningly Stage Ready. We were interviewed along the red carpet by various fashion magazines- speaking to us in an array of languages. I managed to dodge questions about ‘who’ I was wearing, or ‘why’.

 My red carpet espadrille woe

I was quite keen to get changed into my stage clothes by now, surrounded by models and the glitterati, all in black tie. The Pirelli Images were very beautiful, and have updated their image hugely from previous years. One of the models was even photographed pregnant! Things had moved on. Maybe espadrilles were ok after all? No…ok.

 

Finally changed, we went on stage and played Victory with our video playing behind us. It had been a while since we played that version and it only added to the sense of funtimes and timewarpishness. Yes that’s a word.

 

It was over in a flash and we left as we heard Owen Wilson introduce Sophia Loren to the stage, pronouncing her surname LORen. She brushed past us in all her glory, giving us a smile on her way. A couple of glasses of champagne later and we were tempted to stay for the various parties we’d been invited to but we decided against it (early flight) and swooshed back to the hotel, each now with ENORMOUS and VERY HEAVY copies of the Steve McCurry 2012 Pirelli calendars. They are all numbered so that if anyone sells one, they can trace back who that person was- and, tell them off. Or something. 

 

We flew back first thing the next day, landing 24hrs later in a very wintry London, with Copacabana still in our shoes.

 

 

Surprise And The Saving Of It: An Olympic struggle.

My name is Eos Chater and I’m a twitter addict. See such gems as: ‘I am having some soup. It is hot.’ and, ‘My dog’s knees are funny’. 

 Being a twitter addict means you tweet everything you think. I even had a dream in which I was on a pontoon, and I tweeted ‘I am on a pontoon’ IN MY DREAM! I then woke up and tweeted about tweeting in my dream. My very own Inception.

  My point is this-  imagine the self control required for someone with my affliction to resist tweeting about something AMAZING that was happening! IMAGINE IT!! Now imagine everyone around you is gossiping about what they think is going to happen in this amazing thing and you STILL don’t break. Well I was doing that, and then this popped into my timeline:

 ”@Uberfacts: The average amount of time a woman can keep a secret is 47 hours and 15 minutes”

 Well, see that riled me, because I was keeping a secret that I had kept for MONTHS and would continue to do so for more months. I was not alone. There were at least three other women I knew who were similarly keepy of secrets*. My Bond bandmates, Tania, Gay-Yee and Elspeth. 

 So by way of therapy, allow me to now tweet those absent tweets. Allow me to give them their rightful home on here on the electronic place of words:


 OMG we (@BONDQUARTET) have just been asked by @davidgarnold to perform at the closing ceremony for the Olympics!! With @RustyRockets!! #London2012

-

 At  Angel studios to record our parts for I Am The Walrus- using Sir George Martin’s ORIGINAL scores! 

- 

 Great fun recording today! We ate biscuits which were nice although I’m not convinced about caramel digestives.

 -

 Ooh now we’re going to record on Here Comes The Sun for the closing ceremony too- and play Indian violin on it- all at @AIRStudios. 

They’ve sent us our costume pictures through. Here’s a photo I took of me wearing mine:


-

 

We’ve just met our wigs. They seemed hungry

-

 

AT THE OPENING CEREMONY DRESS REHEARSAL! IT IS STUNNING

-

 

We’re at the rehearsal in Dagenham and THE SPICE GIRLS ARE TALKING AND SINGING INTO MY VERY EAR-HOLES. Becks is here with the kids!

-

Jessie J can SING

-

THANK GOD FOR CHIFFON. Our costumes have been altered- This is some crazy-ass psychedelic FUN

-

oh @DavidGArnold took one look at me in my costume and said ‘oh look it’s Esther Rantzen in a hall of mirrors’ +


+(to be fair- he was right, judging by this picture on Perez Hilton’s site)

Esther Rantzen, Russell Brand and Elspeth Hanson 

-

I just picked up 5p that One of the Directions had dropped telling him not to spend it all on sweets. He looked puzzled. 

-

About to go on stage..eeeeeeeeeeeek!


-

RICKY WILSON is RIPPING IT UP with PINBALL WIZARD

-

I AM ON A STAGE!

-

I have accidentally manhandled Russell Brand :-/

 

 

 

There -that’s about the shape of it. Fire spirits go MAD for Gary Barlow- they were doing proper screaming in the wings as Take That were performing- Gary Barlow exited on the ramp towards us, So the fire spirits all got to pour past him onto the stage, all flamey and professional, but inwardly screaming with excitement.They were performing in the ballet, which opened with Darcey Bussell’s stunning entrance on a flaming Phoenix.

 

The Spice Girls were singing in our in ear monitors and we could hear everything they sang and said- clear as a bell. They actually sounded  good  (how patronising of me) and there were some expletives let loose about painful shoes.

 

The Russell Brand manhandling was entirely innocent.. I am rubbish at walking fast in really high heels- especially downhill- and so as we walked down the ramp after our performance we were supposed to link arms but he was gesticulating so i grabbed on to the back of his jacket to use him as a kind of human crotch. CRUTCH! I MEANT CRUTCH! and near the bottom of the ramp he turned to me and said “Are you alright?” but in a kind of ‘why are you manhandling me?’ way.

That was the entirety of our exchange. I’m probably pregnant now :-/

 

We walked back to our dressing room, led by Eric Idle, rollerskating nuns and fire spirits, and gave our wigs a little drink.

 

 

The volunteers were the spirit of the whole ceremony really and epitomised the spirit of the Olympics- all excited and eager and keen and laughing and tolerant and enthusiastic and aahhh I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE PARALYMPICS!! 

 I hope it doesn’t all get leaked again like it did for the Olympics. They’re called SPOILERS for a reason- and that reason has nothing to do with F1 racing or aerodynamics. #savethesurprise

 

  * yes it’s true we had signed Non disclosure agreements and that if we had said anything we’d be extradited** but it still counts as a secret. 

 

** the extradited bit may not be true

 

 

 

 

 

hello you

I’m not on here very much, so if you want to ask anything it’s best to do so on twitter @eoschater (otherwise I might not see your question). Kisses n all this.

Sherlock on the Fiddle

Sherlock’s violin

It’s weird being in a flat that you recognise off of the telly. Especially when that flat is 221B Baker street, belongs to Sherlock Holmes and is basically a life sized doll’s house, on scaffolding in a hangar, in Cardiff. It’s like Sherlock Holmes goes 3D interactive. You can walk through it, pick stuff up, sniff things, walk behind things. You don’t because that would probably make important people shout at you. But you could. 

 “and… Action”

 Sherlock Holmes is standing in his living room, playing a Bach piece in the mirror. I study his movements, his bow-arm and his fingers. He is interrupted by someone coming into the room. He stops playing and talks. I take a few paces back into the kitchen- no longer needing to be so close…there are what look like antique test tubes and flasks on the table as though someone has been doing a chemistry experiment- there are some plates in the old stainless steel sink, dishcloths hanging from the angular 50s cupboards. This is a very lived in flat and someone needs to do the washing up.

 “Cut”

 I am here as Benedict Cumberbatch’s violin coach and today they’re filming scenes for The Reichenbach Fall, the third and final episode of Sherlock series two.

 I step in to give encouragement and make some tweaks - Benedict smiles, ‘was that ok?’ (it was) and then when I give a tip he consumes it entirely. Information is his quarry and it shall not escape him. No wonder he’s such a good Sherlock.

  It was David Arnold  (the composer on Sherlock along with Michael Price)  who had asked me to be Benedict’s violin coach. I was of course thrilled and more than a little excited to meet him for the first time, at Air Lyndhurst studios. We were sitting outside in the sun and Benedict strode up, motorbike gear on, helmet in hand… but I managed not to show my excitement too much- I might have glowed my underarms a bit damp but it was a hot day, so that could be forgiven…

 A lot of the lesson is spent on stance and hand positions and trying to work out how much of the Bach piece he would need to learn, timing it with his reading of the script.

 I lend him my spare violin to use for practice and as he attaches his own leather belt to it as a strap and slings it over his shoulders, I realise that violins look much more cool when worn by bikers.

 Lesson over, he offers me a lift to the station ON HIS BIKE.  I momentarily entertain the idea of agreeing, letting him take me to the station, waving him goodbye, and then walking the 10 mins back up the hill again to drive my own car home…but sense prevails.

 He’s very quick- he’s very focused. He’s not at all a muppet. And he’s a real perfectionist. Not content to just look convincing, he wants to sound convincing too- and despite not playing any instruments he’s very musical.

Unfortunately, the sound of beginner violin is not one suited to the musically appreciative ear. I think it might be one reason why almost all professional violinists started when they were around 5yrs old. It’s not the years. It’s the abilty to saw away perfectly content to be making such a horrific noise.  Older people just can’t bear the inevitably horrendous catawauling of the early years and they give up before they’ve got to the bit where it stops sounding like the results of a chance mating between a cat and a parakeet. To learn the violin is to become an expert in delayed gratification.

 

Benedict had a week,  and made a surprisingly good sound. I have no doubt he would be a good violinist if he had the inclination.

 I send him MPEGs of me playing the pieces so that he can practice using those, between lessons.

 

 The Bach extract I taught him was for The Reichenbach Fall, the third episode of Sherlock 2- and now I had been invited back for the first episode “Scandal in Belgravia’ in which there is, I am told, a fair amount of violin.

 Most of the tunes are well known -We Wish You a Merry Christmas, God save the Queen, Auld Lang Syne.. (  ‘must be set in July’ I thought) and one is to be a new theme which David Arnold will write. He is in America- so being him- he writes it from the Grand Canyon and sends me the recording, which I transcribe and learn. It’s a beautiful and forlorn melody. I hope I can do it justice whilst still sounding like Sherlock playing the violin.

 The score is the last thing to be written, so I choose the key of the known pieces so that they are the most easily playable on the violin, involving the fewest string and hand position changes.

I base all the known tunes around the same sort of hand position to make it easier to learn- I also keep all the bows separate- so a new note is a new bow. Not how you’d do it musically perhaps, but Sherlock is a keen amateur rather than a professional and keeping it simple is the key to making it look convincing; something I have to keep in mind a lot in the recordings.

 I record the guide pieces and deliver them on a dongle to Steve Moffat (writer extraordinaire) by hand at a read-through, which is taking place in a very unlikely and pleasingly disheveled location in central London. This feels exciting. Because it is.

 The producer, and Steven Moffat’s wife, Sue Vertue offers for me to sit in on the read through. I decline because I don’t want no spoilers, yeah? It is for this same reason that I have only scan-read the script for mentions of violin while trying to ignore all plot lines.

 By now I had given Ben two lessons. Now is his third and final lesson.

I was becoming familiar with his laser focus, and his ‘locked onto target’ eyes,  when it’s best  to stand back and leave him to work it out for himself. Having been told once, he knows when and where he’s making mistakes, then he drills and drills until they are smoothed out- any tweaks from me while he’s in this process would be more of a distraction than a help.

 He pays a lot of attention to the way to handle a violin, “how would you lift it to your chin?’, “How would you play around with the bow?”, “Which way would I put it down on a chair?” and he practices and practices each component until he looks and feels totally at ease with the violin.

 Our time is nearly up and everyone else has gone home, except for a cleaner, who comes into the room, bucket in hand and backs out apologising. Benedict apologises to her for using the room longer than she had expected, and does so with such grace and charm that I more than anything am glad to be coaching such a lovely human being. We pack up so that she can do her job and go home too.

 

I get the shooting schedule through. Violin is needed from Tuesday- Saturday- so I head down to Cardiff for the week. 

 

I’m called for 12.30 on the first day- but I am woken by a phonecall at 8 asking if i can be there in 20 mins.I say yes of course and then scrabble around frantically trying to a) wakeup b) get dressed c) wake up.

 Once there I am taken directly to ‘the stage’  ie the large hangar type thing that the set is in. It’s very dark- with people huddled around monitors, scrutinising every stray lock of hair, moved prop etc. Sherlock’s co-creators and writers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are there. Mark also plays Mycroft and is all dappered up in his costume.

 In the big scheme of things the violin isn’t that big a deal at all- but the production value on this being as high as it is, attention is given to every detail… I feel the responsibility of “violin department’ on my shoulders. Maybe it’s just my excitement at the novelty but it feels as though there is a real buzz on set; the awareness that something exceptional is being made. There are pictures and letters from Sherlock fans pinned up near the monitors, the hushed silence of the takes themselves punctuated by the hive-like bustle and activity of the turn-arounds, when the camera tracks are dismantled and re-laid, lights moved, props tweaked, air con units powered up.


some of the fan mail 

I go and stand on set, (ie in Sherlock’s living room/hallway or kitchen, 221B Baker Street) when he’s doing a scene with the violin in as he sometimes has questions between takes.

 Often, between scenes, his only moments of rest, he asks for lessons. He really is a hard worker. One time I’m giving him a lesson on the side of set, in the dark, dodging crew hefting lights around- with him dressed IN A BED SHEET. This is fine I tell myself. TOTALLY FINE.

 

Amazingly, they are also shooting scenes which don’t involve the violin (IMAGINE!?) during which, I sit around watching the monitors and getting to know some of the cast and crew. I also get into a bit of a loop with Martin Freeman -who plays John Watson:  He is the master of comic timing and understatement. He has an exceptionally expressive face, which you’d know if you’d seen him- which of course you have- he’s Martin Freeman for god’s sake. What’s wrong with you???

 We pass each other a lot during each day- our exchange goes as follows;

'hello',

'hello'..[tight-lipped smile; look to the floor] .

 This happens between 3 and five times a day. After the third day it starts getting a bit, well… hello-y. He breaks this run of helloing by asking me about the violin, where I’m from and being all jokey. . I say something that is supposed to be complementary but comes out a bit wrong,

 "no wonder you’re all so slim…sweating so much on set" Yes I know, I know!!  But in my defence it is a crazily hot day and they’re all in thick winter garb in what is essentially a greenhouse. Amazingly he doesn’t take offence.

 Una (Yuna) Stubbs is sitting on a seat in the kitchen, she says something quietly to me which I miss- so I crouch next to her to hear what she said. Then, in her unmistakable ‘gentle lamb’ voice, “That smell isn’t my feet…it’s the fridge”.

 That was the first thing she said to me. Una Stubbs!  I couldn’t smell anything but was instantly in love. I was only on set for a week but she’d sit in her chair, look at me and pat the chair next to her, inviting me over for a good natter.

She had an almost maternal love for the other cast members, and seemed very proud that Benedict remained the charming and gracious person he was in the first series, despite its massive success.

 

 On the second day they were scheduled to film the scene with the longest bit of violin- the sad song- a beautifully melancholic and reflective theme- to echo the emotional world of Sherlock in that scene.

 

It’s a very long, demanding scene (as many of them are) with a lot of violin, and his playing is interrupted frequently. Sherlock is meant to be composing the music he’s playing as he goes along- so he breaks off mid phrase to write some of the melody down, then re-starts, then breaks off to swerve a question from Watson. So I need to see him; to play when he lifts his violin up and stop when he stops.

 But Benedict also needs to see me; to copy my bowings and to ghost what I’m doing. Between us we decide that the best way to do that is for me to be outside the window (which he will look through)- my back to him while watching a monitor of what he’s doing in the scene. I have headphones on to hear the cues too. We try it. I am too low,  Ben can’t see me. They put me on a scissor lift. Too low. They raise the scissor lift. They put one, then two boxes on the scissor lift for me to stand on. This works although I feel slightly precarious because the guard rail is now below my knees and the “baker street’ backdrop in front of me is moving in the wind- messing with my head, like an evil balance prankster ghost, and throwing me off balance.

 

 

backdrop and lift

 I watch Ben on this monitor while he watches me through the window.

I gaffer tape the music to the monitor. They are recording the sound. It’s quite scary as I could conceivably balls up the takes. Occasionally Benedict knocks on the window to ask about hand positions. Given how much else he has to think about while playing an instrument entirely alien to him (his multitudinous lines, which hand he uses to point, being on is mark)  he does remarkably well.

Sherlock’s window

As with other scenes they shoot many different angles.

 Even though I am watching him, watching me, watching him and concentrating…and we’ve been doing the scene for a while and I’m standing on a high thing with wobbly walls, trying not to fall off.. even given all of that…when it comes to the close up of Sherlock’s face when he’s playing this sad theme- he looks so forlorn and so deep in his own sorrow that I get overwhelmed with sadness and fill up. That’s good acting that is.

 I tell him afterwards that he made me cry. He beams…. Pfft. Actors.

 The next day and Benedict has asked for a lesson in his trailer before going on set to film a scene where he plays Auld Lang Syne . We never managed to practice this one before as there was so much else to do. Hand positions, bowing straight, stance etc. And he only needs to be able to fake it too- it doesn’t have to be pitch perfect. But it does. Because he’s Benedict. 

 I am stunned as Ben picks out the tune himself- I give him a starting position and a finger (oh hush)  and sit aghast as he picked out the notes  He had pretty much nailed it in ten minutes having only had three proper lessons- none of which was on the tune. We’re so excited, we spontaneously high five (something which I doubt either of us would normally do) and I decide he is something of a genius.

 My bit done, I creep out…the rest of the cast and crew still have 3 weeks’ shoot left. (Some of which get interrupted by riots in London)

 Once the edit is done , David Arnold and Michael Price set about writing the score. They also check the violin scenes for synch as there was no playback on set - that would have compromised the fluidity between dialogue and music.  (My previous recordings were more as guides than the final thing). Some of the shots now cut between beginnings and ends of songs, and they look very beautiful but the songs still have to sound as the songs themselves. So I re record the pieces. It’s a balance between keeping the tune as close to the original as possible, and back- matching the bowing, so I adjust my playing to fit with the picture as best as possible.

I am so grateful to have been a (tiny) part of the second series of Sherlock, having enjoyed the first series so much as a viewer.

I watched Scandal in Belgravia all the way through for the first time last night when it aired on BBC1 and was so glad I hadn’t read the script properly beforehand. It was a real treat to see it and without knowing what was going to happen next. 

 It also means I get to read the script now, with a cup of tea and some slightly stale mincepies.

Happy new year!

For the Love of Pandas

I love Pandas. I would prefer them to be in the wild and not flown half way across the world to be put in a zoo and used as a diplomatic pawns, but I did love the coverage of their arrival into Edinburgh on BBC News 24 today. - I would count it as one of my favourite ever items of rolling news. It was unintentionally ‘try not to wee yourself’ funny.

In a time of economic downturn and people generally doing stupid things and being nasty or dying a lot in the news, a bit of light Panda news would surely lift the spirits. “It’s been bad times for the zoo.” said Colin, the BBC’s man on the scene, “They’ve laid off staff. But the coming of the pandas should help that” and how right he was, for ‘The Coming of the Pandas’  provided a much needed comic interlude to a drizzly Sunday afternoon.

 

 Understandably, twitter soon became aglow with talk of pandas. Pandas are innately funny. Look at them! Look at their funny clothes and their smiley faces! See how they scratch their bellies and with their big furry feet!   

The same VT of pandas at play was on a loop, allowing me to excitedly anticipate my favourite shot;  a  panda lying on his back, practicing yoga and using his belly as host to his own personal bamboo banquet. The news cut between this VT and a live shot of a FedEx plane WITH A PANDA’S FACE ON THE SIDE coming in to land. 


The news anchor was batting every now and then to the aforementioned Man At The Scene, Colin. Colin had clearly decided to read up a bit about Pandas. He had read up enough to talk for about 10 minutes. This was going well for a while, as Panda facts rolled out:  The pandas are on loan to Edinburgh zoo for ten years; Edinburgh is spending £600,000 a year; the Pandas are called Tian Tian and Yang Guang , or Sweetie and Sunshine in English.

The picture changes and we see crowds of children waiting outside Edinburgh zoo, some dressed as pandas, most waving flags.

The facts still roll in; The pandas have traveled 9 hrs from China. The ‘gifting’ of pandas is a diplomatic act of friendship and that China doesn’t just give pandas to anyone,  they study where they’ll be housed, we’re told…..but then in the same breath, Colin tells us ‘a panda was given to President Nixon as a present’. I then imagine Nixon tutting at said panda over breakfast as she eats her 15th pot of jam straight from the jar, whilst reading the paper over Nixon’s shoulder. “Get your own paper! ” Nixon would shriek ” Enough is enough! ” and the panda would roll her eyes, dolefully.

In connection to the talk of diplomatic relations came the wonderful line, “ (Pandas) are a Trojan horse”. This was turning into the funniest news day ever.

Be-kilted men played ‘Scotland the Brave’ on bagpipes as the plane came in to land. Which I was thrilled to see, given how much pandas are famed for their love of bagpipes.   Footage showed the plane landing, then taxiing for what seemed like hours. Ten minutes had been and gone. Colin was beginning to flounder. The anchor began to struggle,too-  asking of the hapless Colin, “Do we know if they understand any English?” Twitter guffawed audibly but Colin was only wrong footed for a moment, and then launched into another flurry of panda facts. ‘The female is only in season for 24-36hrs a year.’  He said that the two pandas would be in enclosures next to one another, able to ‘glimpse’ each other without feeling ‘inhibited’. We had been told earlier that Tian Tian, or Sweetie, as I prefer to call her, was ‘quite a coy panda’, but ‘easy going’.  She’s probably going to install curtains pretty sharpish so that Sunshine wouldn’t ogle her changing at night. “Cut it out, Sunshine”, she’d giggle while adjusting her tiara, and then she’d whip the curtains shut and tuck into some more bamboo 

 

And then came my two favourite facts ever said on the news. Gird yourself, reader-for this is magnificent. 

 

Ready?

Ok.

 

1) “The enclosures will be linked by a LOVE TUNNEL.”

 

2) Sweetie’s enclosure will have its own water feature, “When the female gets interested in the water feature, she is ready to mate” 

 

Yes. They said that. On the news. The grown ups! It’s worth repeating. "The enclosures will be linked by a LOVE TUNNEL." and  ”When the female gets interested in the water feature, she is ready to mate”  I’m now pretty sure that the absence of Charlie Dimmock in China is probably the only reason that pandas are endangered. What is she doing that she thinks is more important than installing weeing boys and dribbling metal globes in the wilds of China? What?? THINK OF THE PANDAS FOR ONCE, CHARLIE!! 

 

They ask what will become of any cubs born, which seems an odd question- the flag waving, the crowds, the speculation about the couple’s unconceived offspring, the zoo….they will clearly be next in line to the throne. Yes. Britain shall one day be a Pandadom

 

By now, the plane’s door had opened. It had been open for some time- crew lifting things and lowering flaps and fiddling with cordons (not James) with special jackets reading “FedEx Panda Team” emblazoned across the back, never ones to miss an advertising opportunity. By now you could hear the beads of sweat forcing their way out of the news anchor’s skin as he grappled for something to say..

Twitter began to speculate as to what had happened to the Pandas. Had they been eaten? Were they pissed?  Were they struggling to take off their flight socks?  

 

And, in a desperate bid to fill out the unexpectedly long wait with yet more panda facts, Colin is asked another great question, “Colin, is she called Sweetie because…. she likes…..sweet…bamboo..?” And Colin explains that he doesn’t know and that she does like bamboo- that much is clear, and that they also get fed a treat of panda cake. “What is a panda cake made of?” asks the anchor, clearly relieved to have something to talk about…  and Colin bravely answers, “Bamboo..”

 

Finally we all breathe a sigh of relief as the crate (with bullet proof glass) slides into view…the shot shows the top half of the crate…we can just see the glass and some panda stickers on it…and the line that will stick with me for ages, that I love the most…after all the build up and facts and the pipers and the crowds of children waving flags outside Edinburgh zoo and the people in Panda Outfits…

 

"Where’s the panda, Colin?"


 

 

 

Bog Standard

It was 2002 and I was in Korea the second time it happened. A massive jet of water fountained out of the toilet I was using- soaking me and causing me to run screaming from the cubicle, jeans still undone, a look of horror on my face matched only by..well..by the look of horror on everybody else’s face. I tried to explain to the seven or so people there who had been quietly re applying their lipstick or washing their hands, but to no avail. I pointed frantically at the water, still arcing over the cubicle door- but from their expressions, they seemed to side with the toilet. It was clearly I who was at fault.

I think it was a cultural thing.


 Robo-plop

What exactly is the etiquette for when toilets attack, anyway?

 

I tried to regain my composure-it was clean water. It was OK.  I washed my hands- did up my jeans and walked out of the toilets head held high. I re-joined the waiting camera crew (they were filming us for a documentary) trying not to look shaken.

“Jesus” they said, seeing my sodden clothes “what happened”

“Toilet attack” I said, enigmatically- and strode on.

 

There’s a reason this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the UK. It’s because our toilets don’t have nozzles that face UPWARDS that are designed to CLEAN YOUR BITS.


In Japan and Korea they get taught about how to deal with toilets in school. Not just when they’re really little, but all the way through teenage-hood. It takes that long to learn. Really. Hell, they can do degrees in Toilet Operation if they like. 

 (None of this paragraph is true, but hey.)

 

toilet control panels

So- you see… it was a cultural thing. In just the same way I wouldn’t know what to do in an earthquake because I don’t live in an earthquake zone- I don’t know what to do in a toilet attack because I don’t live in a nation where toilets readily attack.

 

I remember the first time I met a Japanese toilet. It was my first visit to the Japan- in 2001 I think. We were on tour and we all (bond and our backing band) gathered in my hotel room, huddled around the loo and pressed all the buttons. I imagine this is how it was when radios were first invented. But with less of the water park log-flume funz.

If you’re ever in Japan looking at a toilet, I would recommend not pushing all the buttons.

Lights start flashing- whirring sounds are heard, Nozzles extend proboscis like, water sprays, pulsates, squirts, steam happens, music plays, seats heat up spin around…

 

I wouldn’t have been more surprised if the toilet had stood up, nodded- shaken my hand and walked out the hotel.

 

I’ve never bought a toilet- but if I did, I don’t think my first question would be ‘What does it do?’. (Actually… having said that… it would. Sinks too. And Floors. “yes that is lovely parquet- what does it do..?”)

 But then today I saw this ad for a toilet in a British Newspaper’s Magazine and.. and… well. Look at it. JUST LOOK AT IT.

 

 The arse in a heart- the less than dazzling money- line- “The WC that cleans you with water”

 

Maybe this is just the first of its kind to be advertised in the UK. Maybe….. just maybe we’ll all be using Japanese style toilets 10 years from now.

 

MAYBE  you’re reading this on an electrically warmed toilet seat.

 

MAYBE it’s the beginning of a new shitegeist.


 

"Restroom for more beautiful life" 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Dog Intentions

I knew what I was doing. I’d read the books. I’d watched The Dog Whisperer. My dog would know who was boss. I would do everything I could, short of urinating on the boundaries of my territory. I’d make that funny tsch noise that Cesar Millan did- seemingly the abracadabra of the dog training world, so concerned was I to prevent my 7 week old bundle of fur from chewing my face off while I slept.

After a fairly long search for a dog that would fit best with my life - I got a Labrador. I called him Red. Because he’s red. He was 7 weeks old when we brought him home. He was the size of a guinea pig. He had needle sharp teeth. He liked to use them. Images of dog carnage horror flashed into my head- the slavering St. Bernard in Cujo - the twins in the corridor- the toddler on a tricycle- the violin stabs in Psycho*.

Future monster?

I needed a trainer.

Having recently had surgery for a freak trampoline/ alien/ cosmonaut/ music video related knee injury- I couldn’t walk enough to take Red to puppy classes. So I got someone in. Winkie Spiers. I liked her name. It sounded like she was one of a range of Spears dolls, another one of which was famed for her British knees.

Winkie was very friendly and told me not to worry about training yet. And I thought , “Oh. But. Look! He can sit already” (I’d been reading BOOKS, remember), “I want him to be able to walk down the road without a lead and wait for me outside the grocers and bring- no- BUY me the papers and find the remote- and guide me away from danger and towards triumph and sit in the back of a pickup truck (I don’t have a pick up truck) and do heroic slo-mo leaps through fire and be kind to other animals and take on the world and be my Diefenbaker and bark at gas leaks and …and..”

“Too early” she said, “just let him settle in” and she showed me ways to make him feel comfortable being left for short periods, and to stop him gnawing my hands off and other invaluable things- but at the time, I just thought: BOOOORING!!! I followed her advice as it seemed to make a lot of sense, and I’m sure doing so made things a lot easier than they could otherwise have been.

But…

I had a problem with him pulling on the lead. I couldn’t have him pulling on the lead. Not with my recently operated knee. It might snap off.

I wanted to nip his lead pulling in the bud, before he grew to rabbit, cat, and finally horse size and strength (one of those miniature ones. Y’know- The ones the same size as dogs). He was also a very nervous puppy- I still don’t know why but I remember when it started. Nothing in particular seemed to have instigated this nervousness. He was wary of strangers- men in particular, and he’d sometimes bark at them in the street if they approached him too quickly. They backed away- tutting and shaking their heads in a ‘don’t you watch The Dog Whisperer?’ way.

So I became even more addicted to The Dog Whisperer and began to adopt more of his methods. They seemed to work so well on the telly. And his gleaming TEETH!! Those must surely be teeth of TRUTH! And while he’s jerking their necks he’s smiling calmly and telling us it’s fine so you think, “ooh smiley man say it fine….mmmm it fine”

Cesar Millan, his teeth, and a narked-off dog.

Thing is, adopting his methods made me quite stressed. To the point where, if Red tried to go through the door in front of me I felt like I’d failed and that I was, despite my best efforts- in the process of creating a monster. My dog had to be Cary Grant where doors were concerned, this much had been made clear. His methods also seemed to exacerbate Red’s nervousness.

Cesar Millan and other dominance enthusiasts often encourage owners to take the dog’s food away while he’s eating ‘to show who’s boss’. I did this a couple of times, but my dog looked slightly mift the first time and then a bit humph-y the second time. I could sympathise. I put my self in his.. um… shoes and thought that if somebody kept taking my food away mid-meal, I’d quickly lose my sense of humour. But often people who do persevere with this end up with a dog who growls when you go near their food. And rather than realising that that might be because you keep nicking it- they often think ‘just imagine how bad he’d have been if I hadn’t been doing the dominance food takey-away thing.’ and they carry on.

And Red wasn’t happy either. We eyed each other with suspicion- me always sure to stay higher so that there was no mistaking my dominance. He hadn’t read ANY of the books or watched the Dog Whisperer. I felt let down. And he… well, I swear I heard him mumbling, ” who in fresh hell IS this humanoid and what does it want?!”

It was odd because he immediately learnt anything I trained him to do; sit, lie down, stay, wait, come (as in ‘here’) high five, close the door, open the door, leave it, fetch, find it - and I didn’t need any dog whisperer for that. It was just common sense. Give him a reason to want to do it. And the reason was always food. It’s kind of the reason for life as far as he’s concerned. Yet he’d still sometimes try to go through doors first, and he still pulled a bit on the lead and he was still nervous.

So I met again with the original lady, and over the course of a few long long discussions I began to get what she’d been saying in the first place. A dog is not a robot. And training them is not a mathematical formula. The key thing is the relationship and understanding one another. “Oooh.” I thought. “Sounds a bit….wafty. Sounds a bit like someone’s been on a yoga retreat”.

“But what about the dominance thing and the alpha thing and him chewing my face off while I sleep or him saying to visitors, ‘who’s the daddy?’ “

She explained that the guy who first came up with the whole thing about dogs and wolves and dominance did so in the 70s in a study which he has since said was completely flawed. The guy in question is David Mech. The study was of a group of wolves. But rather than studying them in the wild (difficult- them got four legs. Them fast. ), the team captured wolves from different packs and put them together in an enclosure and then studied them. They fought. They moped. Their actions were noted and the term ‘alpha’ was coined (in relation to canine behaviour) as they battled for scraps of food.

But since then- David Mech has studied wolves in the wild. It turns out that wolf packs consist of a mating pair (previously called the alpha pair) and any number of subordinate wolves. BUT. The ones that mate are actually the parents of the others. So of course they get sole mating rights. Anything else would be a bit ‘Jeremy Kyle goes to Norfolk’.

When one litter of wolf puppies becomes adolescent, they either leave to start their own pack/family (tends to happen more when food is plentiful) or they stay and help raise the next litter of pups. So it turns out it’s kind of the same as humans. The ‘packs’ are actually family groups.

So the whole dominance thing is a misnomer. In fact, punishing your dog and acting aggressively with it is more likely to result in your dog reacting in kind. Just as you and I might eventually, if someone kept shoving us in the chest. The bullied often becomes the bully. David Mech’s book ‘The Wolf’ was one of tiny number of publications on the subject at the time and so had a massive influence on dog training worldwide. It continues to do so despite the fact that he’s since debunked it as being of no use as a study whatsoever.

It’s like judging human behaviour by dragging people from their homes and putting them in a cage (albeit a big one), throwing them the odd bit of food and watching them fight over it.

Actually. That sounds like a great new twist for Big Brother. Make it involuntary- with housemates harvested at random from the general populous. At no point let them know what’s going on or what they’re expected to do.

Intrigued by this I then decided to study dog behaviour. I signed up to a course with Sheila Harper and I learnt a lot about their body language and realised why my dog was wary of strangers approaching head on quickly ( that would be an aggressive approach in the dog world). Amongst many other things. I can no longer watch The Dog Whisperer as I can see the dogs are often very stressed and only appear to the untrained eye to be well behaved because they’re keeping a low profile- as might I if introduced to a maniac. ( I’m not saying Cesar Milan is a maniac- in fact I think he is very well intentioned but he has drawn his own conclusions about dogs and they aren’t always right.) If he came into my house, teeth gleaming- poking me and saying tshch a lot- I might think it politic to keep my head down til the nasty bully man went away. Or I might bite him….. Cesar Millan gets bitten quite a lot.

I relaxed totally about the whole dominance thing and me and my dog now get each other. We’re both a lot happier. He still pulls on the lead a bit sometimes but he still hasn’t eaten my face off in my sleep. Nor I, his.

We both still have faces

*some of these do not contain dogs

Reading stuff:

Whatever happened to the Term, ‘Alpha Wolf’..David Mech: http://www.4pawsu.com/alphawolf.pdf

The Other End of the Leash Patricia B. McConnell

Calming signals. Turid Rugaas

How to handle Living With Your Dog. Winkie Spiers (http://amzn.to/n74bDZ )

It’s Me or the Dog. Victoria Stilwell (Just useful for the training bit)

Good trainers/ behaviourists

http://www.pdte.org/

http://www.sheilaharper.co.uk/

http://www.winkiespiers.com/