Petestack Blog

28 November 2015

Master of nine?

Filed under: Music — admin @ 11:37 am

A slip of the tongue, a Facebook post later and ‘master of nine’ seemed too good a mistake to waste, so here’s what I wrote with appended list of my non-masterly ‘skills’…

Having described myself yesterday as a ‘jack of all trades and master of [oops!] nine’, I’ve tried to count the instruments I ‘play’… not a clear-cut task when some things maybe count separately (e.g. Boehm flute vs. simple flute or smallpipes vs. border pipes) whereas others clearly don’t (e.g. different sizes/makes of recorders and whistles), but let’s say ten or eleven to a useful (not master!) standard and a few more I’ve dabbled with, taken lessons in or (trombone alert!) started learning now. No way I’m still as good at anything as the recorder player who spent a year at Koninklijk Conservatorium, Den Haag, nearly thirty years ago, but it’s fun… sometimes frustrating fun when I can’t practise everything all the time, but fun!


  • Recorders (learned at school, then studied with Rosemary McGillivray and Jennifer Hill in Glasgow, Alan Davis in Birmingham and Michael Barker in Den Haag)
  • Flutes (studied Boehm flute with Frances Wilson and Joanne Boddington in Glasgow, self-taught on simple/trad. flute and dabbling with baroque flute)
  • Whistles (short course with John Gahagan at Battlefield Band’s Highland Circus, Ullapool 1989, otherwise self-taught)


  • Piano (studied with Ian Dobie, Vince Chudy and Robert Foxcroft in Glasgow)
  • Accordion (self-taught)
  • Guitar (self-taught, and better 20 years ago than I am now!)
  • Bass (self-taught, and much the same as guitar!)
  • Scottish smallpipes (started March 2012 and largely self-taught, but have also attended several of Ian Kinnear’s smallpipes weekends)
  • Border pipes (started August 2013 and basically self-taught)

Working knowledge (mostly for school)

  • Tuned percussion
  • Drum kit (intro. from Ron Forbes at Northern College teacher training)

Now seriously starting and intent on keeping up

  • Trombone


  • Violin (had one for a while)
  • Cornet/Trumpet (tried as a boy when my dad bought an old cornet at auction, but it was my brother Angus who became the trumpeter)
  • Oboe/Baroque oboe (lessons from Maurice Checker while at university, but ended up just playing recorder with his group!)
  • Clarinet (had one and tried, but not for me!)
  • Bodhran (sure, I own one, but haven’t touched it for years!)

NB the main bar to violin, modern oboe and clarinet would be my lack of fingers… not so much of an issue on guitar and bass, which I play left-handed to get four fingers on the fretboard.

22 November 2015

pBone mechanics

Filed under: Music — admin @ 12:07 pm

[Update, 31 December 2015: To be fair to the pBone…]

Three years ago I got a pBone (plastic trombone) after hearing about them from our school brass instructor and thinking that sounds like fun. Then blew it a few times before hardly touching it again till a YouTube video of Alison Balsom trying the pTrumpet recently had me digging it out for another go. And now I’m making real progress, completely sold on the trombone (yet another diluting diversion for an incorrigible jack of all trades!), but increasingly unhappy with the mechanics of my pBone…

Musically, it’s fine for now, and that ABS construction will undoubtedly take knocks a brass instrument won’t. But, mechanically, it’s just not good enough. Or, more specifically, no matter how well/badly other pBones work (and I’ve researched this extensively looking for cures), mine seems poor. While I have various minor gripes like the water key spring rusting and having to remove the slide lock to stop it unexpectedly rotating and reengaging, the real stoppers (which might or might not be related) are the bell-to-slide-section joint (aka bell, or slide, receiver) and the wretched glassfibre slide.

So let’s start with that main joint, where the two halves of the trombone plug together. And I mean plug because it’s just a push fit with no retaining ring. When I got the pBone it was very, very tight, but now it’s not. It’s still tight enough to work, but the outer (blue) housing is opening up. Which might not in itself be problematic because there’s an inner black housing forming the socket and apparently taking care of leaks, but it’s quite clearly stressing the plastic as shown by the photos below (clearest if you click through to the enlarged second pic, where you can see three little stress cracks where the socket ends, but there’s also another further to the right):

2015-11-22pbone-1 2015-11-22pbone-2

And what about that slide? Well, even the most cursory search will tell you that pBone slides start stiff, noisy, grabby, scratchy or whatever (take your pick!) but should ease up with use and regular cleaning. Except that some apparently just get worse, and mine seems to be one of them. I’ve done all the research on breaking it in, worked it in the bath and cleaned the bearing surfaces ad infinitum, but it remains at best usable and sometimes impossibly stiff and/or grabby. It was briefly falling under its own weight when not at its shortest, but has got much worse since and is typically spending as much time being cleaned and worked free as played (and that’s loads of time!). But perhaps it’s related to the stressed housing described above when it was briefly getting quite smooth before that opened up so much and started cracking. Why? Because you can still improve its operation (not while playing!) by easing the inner slide tubes outwards above the top of the hand slide as it goes, which suggests developing misalignment to me.

One more thing I’d guess might be contributing to the problem is the shape of the u-bend (slide bow), which is strangely square with rounded ‘corners’ on the pBone. And why? Because the cleaning/sticking problems are typically related to the build-up of deposits in the slides as they supposedly wear smooth (causing annoying black dribbles everywhere from the water key!) and you’ve surely got unreachable deposits landing in that ‘bend’ where no brush is going to get round those two tight corners but said deposits could find their own way back up the slide.


So where do I go from here? No doubt there’s a brass trombone in my future and it’s merely a question of when. It’s a great instrument for me to play and would, of course, have been a good choice for me in the first place with my nine fingers (on which note I did enquire about lessons at school some forty-odd years ago before taking up the flute). And, while there’s no way I’d want to give up my woodwinds now, it could yet be a useful standby in years to come if my arthritic fingers keep getting worse! While I so much want to like the pBone and get it going as both a cost-effective starter and longer-term ‘beater’, I’m so fed up of that slide and thinking that socket housing’s simply going to give one day even if I do miraculously get the slide going properly. :-/

2 November 2015

Staggering on

Filed under: Running,Walking — admin @ 10:13 pm

It was Ian Beattie’s stag do at Tyndrum this weekend, so I was among friends runners and we had to run to the pub for lunch on Saturday. About seven miles to the pub in Bridge of Orchy. Where we watched New Zealand beat Australia at World Cup Rugby and I fell asleep because that’s what I do when I’m not doing anything else. And then we ran back to the pub for dinner. About seven miles to the pub in Tyndrum, in the dark with too few headtorches between too many (disclaimer: at least mine was a shining light!). Where I fell asleep because that’s what I do when I’m not doing anything else, but most of the others seemed to get mixed up in some kind of karaoke with the zombies of Tyndrum (apparently normal on 31 October!). After which Keith (perhaps scunnered by his team’s loss) and Dod made renewed attempts to wake the (un)dead with some colourful noise at 2:00am and I had to play whistles in the hostel because Ian made me start and Scott wouldn’t let me stop…

So that was that and then it was Sunday (or, to be technically correct, still Sunday) and time for everyone to go their separate ways again. Which, for me, meant two Corbetts and a Graham Top on the way home, with a splendid, staggeringly appropriate display of carefree non-nav (note the ‘Oops!’ on the map) on a stunning November day when you could see for miles around…


Now the rules for non-nav are very simple. It’s not like bad nav (where you actually look at maps and stuff but still get it wrong), but quite simply following your nose without checking the map because you thought you’d registered it all from one quick look before you set out but hadn’t (all-time classic: Not Fyne but Shira!). Which is the only rational explanation I can offer for maintaining that rising traverse for so long with no sign of the expected bealach despite being fully aware of lower ground to the right I just hadn’t associated with what I thought I was looking for. At which point I did consider just skipping Beinn Bheag (which turns out to be a splendid viewpoint!) and pretending the agenda was just the more ‘hilly’ hills of Beinn Bhreac-liath and Beinn Udlaidh, but why let such a sensible solution spoil a good story? ;-)

The question mark on the map, by the way, marks a possible alternative route to Beinn Bheag up a big forestry track where I took a small (ATV?) track up and came down a big, open cleft with a burn.

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