Tuesday, 20 March 2018

GTech Pro Plus review

Over the years I've become something of an expert in vacuum cleaners. We've been sent a few to review. And I've bought a few myself, including the GTech AirRam which I thought was quite possibly the best thing in vacuum cleaning since sliced bread (...all those crumbs!).

That's not the only GTech product I've bought. I've got their frankly wonderful lawn mower, too. And the cordless hedge trimmer. I think it's safe to say - having been a pretty regular customer of theirs - that I'm a fan.

So, when they sent me the new GTechPro to review, I felt both pleased and, well - challenged. You see, a review is nothing if not honest. And I honestly thought there'd be no competition for the AirRam.

Like the AirRam (like everything from GTech) there are no wires. That's bonus number one. That and a more-than-adequate lithium-ion battery which provides enough juice for picking up plenty of crumbs. And just about everything else including - thanks to something called its AirLOC feature - large bits that other vacuum cleaners miss!

Unlike the AirRam, the GTech Pro has a bag. Aha! I thought. Fiddly, unnecessary, dirty (after years of having bagless cleaners). But... it has its advantages.

For a start, you don't have to worry so much about filters (which can be a pain to clean). And although the AirRam is great at compressing all the dust you suck up into a nice, neat, easy-to-empty cassette it's SO good at compressing it that you can, well, leave it rather too long to empty. And then get a bit dusty.

But this isn't about the AirRam. It's about the Pro. And so not being bagless might actually be an advantage.

What's also a distinct advantage is it's versatility. The Pro is really three vacs in one. It's a hand vac for those hand-vac moments, a stair vac (this is probably my favourite adaptation) for stair cleaning and a floor vac for, well, floor vac-ing. Look!

All in all I can do no better than say that if we hadn't already got an AirRam (did I tell you how impressed I was with that?) I'd definitely be getting a Pro instead. It's everything you need in a vacuum cleaner without an awful lot (wires, for instance) that you don't.

My wife has criticism. For a long session (which the battery, with up to 40 mins charge, easily permits) it can start to get a little heavy. But when you compare it to other models (as in this Which? report) the GTech actually weighs in as the lightest, and almost half the weight of the equivalent Dyson.

Anyway, I just told her it wasn't a problem as I'd do all the vacuuming.

Which, with the GTech Pro, is (almost) a pleasure!

Highly recommended.

Disclosure: we were sent a Gtech Pro by Gtech for the purposes of the review, but our opinion - as always - is entirely honest and neutral.  

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Sing unto the Lord!

O Sing Unto the Lord: A History of English Church MusicO Sing Unto the Lord: A History of English Church Music by Andrew Gant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re a fan of English church music, if you know the pieces and the people discussed then this book will be a joy. But it will take a long time to read. James Booth’s biography of Larkin had me constantly scurrying back to the collected poems. And it’s almost impossible to read ‘O Sing unto the Lord’ without stopping on every other page to trawl your CD shelves or do a quick YouTube search. If Gant says (of the music of William Lloyd Webber, among others) that it ‘compressed the sound-world of the Palm Court orchestra and the romantic symphony into well-crafted music for choir and organ, like tinned Gounod’ you just have to hear that with your own ears!

And If a survey of two thousand years of church music proves anything, it’s that there is nothing new under the sun. Certainly, disputes about music go back several centuries. The poor monks of Glastonbury found themselves quite literally on the sharp end of their Abbot’s sword, when they proved less than enthusiastic about Thurston’s new continental musical practices. And if you think discordant harmonies are modern, or practices like improvisation innovative, think again. Jamming (they may not have called it that) goes back almost a millennium. As Gant says, get someone to sing a song with another improvising a harmony line above and someone improvising a bass line below and ‘they will be doing something their medieval forebears did every day... your choir will be doing something it didn’t know it had forgotten how to do.’ (p42). The book is full of such rich details.

Gant also has a vividly memorable and pithy way of summing up the broader historical picture. The English Reformation was ‘an insurrection by the government against its own people, a war… with the added complication that the government kept changing sides.’ This was the time when ‘English church music hit puberty. Before this, you didn’t have to think about whether you accepted the Pope, or if the Virgin Mary answered your prayers: Mum and Dad were always right. Afterwards, there was a period of experimentation, and a series of associations with with partners of wildly varying character, none of which - perhaps fortunately - lasted very long.’

Sometimes you actually seem to get a better sense of history and a deeper understanding of an era from such small details, approached here from a very specific direction. Gant quotes the only eyewitness account of the dissolution written from the monastic side of the fence. A monk present when Henry's commissioners arrived a Evesham Abbey recalls that in the 'yere of our Lorde 1536 the monastery of Evesham was suppressed... At evesnonge tyme... at this verse 'Deposuet potentes' and would not suffer them to make an ende.' Deposuet potentes being the Latin phrase 'He hath put down the mighty from their seat' from the Magnificat. In other words the troops waited until the very moment in the service when the words being sung were most significant - and pounced!

At other times Gant (a distinguished church musician himself) memorably sums up a situation that would in other hands require an entire dissertation. ‘Church music,’ he writes (p312) ‘has always had a place for those who are good at sucking up to the clergy and the pen-pusher, and has shown itself concomitantly intolerant of those who find such arts undignified.’ Enough said.

That particular mot juste was inspired by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (grandson on the hymn-machine, Charles) - that slightly loveable but decidedly odd composer almost of the ‘he’s-so-bad-he’s-good’ variety. Explaining Wesley’s appeal to the English (while Europe was enjoying Wagner) ‘is like trying to explain cricket to the French,’ says Gant. ‘But it’s worth it... English church music needed Samuel Sebastian Wesley. Though, perhaps to our relief, we will not see his like again.’ (316).

English church music is a rich and varied subject. Covering it comprehensively could have been a dull but worthy undertaking. In Gant’s hands it is anything but.

View all my reviews

Monday, 12 March 2018

Oh! what a tangled web we weave...

Just thought I'd give you all the quickest of quick updates, which is this. After many years of blogging I've finally gone and got a website, bringing together all my activities and interests and linking to important things like, well... this blog, as well as media appearances, my Facebook page and YouTube channel.

It's a work-in-progress at the moment, but do please click the link and take a look. And tell me what you think!

Wednesday, 7 March 2018


It's the birthday (or would be, if he were here to celebrate) of that wonderful man of French music Maurice Ravel, one of my favourite composers.

Someone asked me the other day why I'm so fond of these 'on this day' ditties. The dead aren't here to blow out any candles, after all.

But the thing about the creative dead - or rather, those creative artists no longer with us - is that their music (in this case) or poetry or paintings, books, albums, all are. And that's as good a reason to celebrate as any, in my opinion.

So I'm going to listen to Le Tombeau de Couperin (Ravel's tribute to friends killed in the Great War), Alborada del gracioso, the sublime Daphnis et Chloé and the first piece of his I think I ever heard, the Introduction and Allegro.

Oh, and how could I forget the brilliant, jazz-influenced Piano Concerto in G? (Listen to the slow movement if you don't listen to anything else today - it starts at 8m 20s!) I'm certainly going to listen to that.

Probably not, though, to his most famous composition - Boléro. Why? Because as he himself said of it, 'I've written a masterpiece. Unfortunately it contains no music' which is a bit harsh... but very funny.

Anyway I do like Boléro, it's just that - like Elgar's 'Enigma' variations - distance might lead to more enchantment. And it must be a real chore to play. And to conduct. I mean, just look at this - Daniel Barenboim hardly bothers! He lets the West-East Divan Orchestra at the 2014 Proms just get on with it.

Mind you, they do a damn fine job!


Monday, 5 March 2018

Why do we bother, Fawlty?

I've nothing whatever against strike action. In fact, the right to withdraw your labour has got to be one of the fundamental rights of man. And woman.

But if you do (and I've been on strike) your pay suffers. That much also is true and - as long as such deductions are proportional - is right and as it should be. 

I've been on the receiving end, too, as a punter. I've bought train tickets for trains that haven't run because of strikes and I've had events cancelled for the same reason. Believe it or not, as a student, I was even affected by a strike of university lecturers.

The difference is, back then, I wasn't paying. Not directly. Back in the good old days the state funded your degree and even chipped in for your living costs. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, it was the system then and the same for everyone. 

This time, of course, the striking lecturers are depriving students of some very, very expensive lectures, tutorials, even exams. Because I was informed at the weekend that at least one university (well, faculty within one university although it may be more widespread) - one world-famous university at that - was planning to make its students sit their end-of-year exams but then refuse to mark their papers, issuing a blanket 'pass' grade to everyone instead.

Now, my daughter is paying a great deal for her higher education. She's also working very hard, as hard as you do when your future depends on it. Because it does. She and thousands of others like her get one chance at this. And what's happening could seriously adversely affect their career, to say nothing of their pension. 

I have nothing but sympathy for the lecturers or indeed for anyone faced with a similar pension shortfall. And as I've said, I have nothing whatever against taking industrial action. Indeed, neither have they because at the same institution to which I refer, the one my daughter attends (and which had better remain nameless) many of the said lecturers are NOT taking action - those teaching medicine, for example, and engineering. 

But I do strongly object to the effect it's having on those students whose one chance this is, who have worked damned hard and who are paying a premium for something they're not getting. 

Of course, the lecturers want to create an impact. They need to cause disruption to get noticed. And they have been. (Although it's telling that my wife hadn't - until the other day - even heard of the dispute.)

But there are other means, perhaps more high profile, and certainly less damaging. I don't tune in the BBC Radio Four on Thursday mornings and hear Melvin Bragg announcing that In Our Time has been cancelled because no lecturers will appear. I don't see academics appearing any less frequently on telly. (Yes, I know what we're seeing now will have been recorded months ago but that still leaves the programmes currently being made.) And are they all crashing their publisher's deadlines, or boycotting the prestigious academic journals that publish their research papers?

Probably not. Because, of course, they're not in dispute with the BBC or with their publishers.

They're not in dispute with their students, either - students whose future they are jeopardising. 

Students who are paying for a service they're not getting. 

And who aren't getting any refunds, either.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...