Saturday, June 10, 2006

The World Cup

For many, the World Cup is a travesty: a celebration of the vulgar and the violent by an unthinking mob. Football hooligans, wearing their English team tops, smash city centres and intimidate foreign citizens. People ridicule and demean their nation by attaching English flags to their cars and singing the National Anthem while drunk. Pubs are taken over by shouting louts drinking Fosters. Avoid the excesses of football, declare your independence from barbarity, and follow cricket.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Gentleman’s Relish

Eating a Mars bar in the street is something one should avoid. On-the-move eating is hardly good for the digestion and there is always the worry that the gutter press will take photographs. Moreover, Mars bars are a culinary disaster and contribute to obesity. If one is going to be fat, it should be thanks to eating the best things in life.

Instead of snacking on junk food, a gentleman looks to higher things. An important larder item thus is gentleman’s relish. This relish is made from spiced anchovies and was first produced in 1928, invented by John Osborn. It works best when spread very thinly on toast. It is available in supermarkets.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Listening to radio broadcasts of classical music

Appreciating classical music is helped hugely by using good equipment. Hi-fi separates do cost more than midi systems but produce much better sound. A pair of good quality bookshelf or floorstanding speakers will last a lifetime and is an excellent investment if you want good sound. It is worth bearing in mind that the bookshelf speakers are not, despite their name, ideally placed on bookshelves, though, as they ought to be a little away from the wall. Consider speakers from Bowers & Wilkins, Mission, and Mordaunt Short, but before you buy it worth looking up some reviews in hi-fi magazines. Buying good quality speaker cable and interconnects (the cables connecting separates to the amplifier) are essential. Again, hi-fi magazines will give you a good idea about what to choose.

Any hi-fi describing itself as a “lifestyle” product (a euphemism for plastic) should be avoided like the plague as the sound quality is likely to be low. Even the expensive “lifestyle” products from Bose are widely detested by audiophiles who object to the mediocre, inaccurate sound. You will not find any worthwhile equipment in Curry's. Instead, seek out a specialist hi-fi retailer like Sevenoaks Sound and Vision, Richer Sounds, or a Sony Centre.

If, however, you are after a portable radio, then you just cannot beat a Roberts Radio which are widely available on the high street and through Roberts has no fewer than three royal warrants and has been in business since 1932. Moreover, the quality of their products is excellent. I have been using one of their DAB digital radios and its sound is as superb for a portable radio.

The Collins English Dictionary

The importance of having a dictionary to hand cannot be underestimated. It is true that those who sit at home eating TV dinners and watching Big Brother may have little use for one, and when they do read, they merely pass over the words they do not understand, leaving their vocabulary stagnant.

The more discerning individual, if not out at dinner or a function, will be more likely listening to Radio 3 and reading a book than watching television. While using a web-based dictionary is fine when sitting in front of a computer at work, a printed dictionary is more convenient when sitting in an armchair or tucked into one’s bed.

There is little point in getting a very abridged, small dictionary because you will already know all the words it contains. Yet something with more than one or two volumes can be too cumbersome. I recommended the Collins English Dictionary. The eighth edition was published this year and is a single-volume hardback. For the first time contains colour inside (blue for the words being defined, black for the definitions). The typefaces used (Collins Fedra Sans and Fedra Serif) are the most attractive of any dictionary.

In terms of the substance, there is little difference between the Collins and The Oxford Dictionary of English, but the Collins dictionary is more aesthetically pleasing. Both The Penguin English Dictionary and The Chambers Dictionary are good dictionaries, but it is worth bearing in mind that the Penguin contains fewer words than the others mentioned here (though it is less expensive) and the definitions of the Chambers Dictionary are less clearly laid out than in the other dictionaries.

For dictionary reviews, visit Word Wide Words.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Shaving the proper way

What makes certain people go around as unshaven wrecks, only shaving every few days? Could it be that they have such diabolical shaving facilities at home that shaving is just a chore? The trend of using some artificial gooey mess from a spray can (which purports to be shaving “gel” or “foam”) perhaps sheds some light on the problem. Shaving with goo is a truly horrible experience. No wonder junior staff and teenagers will try and escape shaving if they at all can.

Instead, use a more natural shaving soap from a wooden shaving bowl. Not only will you save money over the long run (because a block of shaving soap seems to last for an eternity), but also the soap is better for your skin. Use a badger-hair shaving brush with water to lather the soap and then apply to the face. When finished, run the brush’s bristles under some water to get expunge the remaining soap, and then with the bristles facing downwards, shake out the water. This ensures the brush stays in good form.

Good suppliers for gentleman’s shaving products include Geo F. Trumpter, Taylors of Old Bond Street (which is actually on Jermyn Street these days), D R Harris & Co and Crabtree & Evelyn. What better present can there be for a seventeen year-old nephew than good shaving products?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sending personal correspondence

Mail-merged letter and bulk e-mails can be overwhelming and make people less likely to reply to messages they receive. The handwritten letter is an excellent way to improve the chances that your correspondence will be considered thoughtfully. When people look at a pile of mail, it is the handwritten envelopes that are opened first (though bear in mind there is a difference between fountain pen on quality envelope and biro on a brown envelope).

People take note of handwritten letters: they feel more of an obligation to reply. A4 is not ideal for handwritten correspondence, though it is okay to handwrite business letters on A4 letterhead. For personal correspondence, use smaller paper (often sold in small pads). Basildon Bond is a good everyday choice, or if you want to go upmarket you could use paper from Smythson of Bond Street.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Filofax: the perfect way to keep organised

In an age when more advanced mobile telephones can hold a diary and store a database of contacts, why should one use a paper-based system like a Filofax? Good question. Yet enthusiasts for the Filofax appreciate the way it combines both form and function. It looks great and it’s better at the task than anything else.

Its leather outside is attractive, its paper inside lets you scribble notes without needing to do any double clicking, and the thing does not crash. It has space to store some stamps and lets you store thoughts and to-do lists without the hassle on typing on a numeric keypad or with a tedious stylus. Conversely, the mobile phone diary has an in-built design flaw: it is impractical to check the diary, or jot down a new phone number, when the phone is to the ear. With a Filofax, one can hold the phone to the left ear, hold a fountain pen in the right hand, and have the Filofax on the lap or on a table. It provides a much more civilised experience.

For most, the “personal”-sized Filofax is best because it will easily fit in the pocket of a Barbour and in your briefcase. Bigger sizes are fine but less portable. Also, have a look at the extra inserts that are available such as the London street map and tube map.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Starting and managing a classical music collection

The very first thing you need is a guidebook which reviews CDs and tells you which are the best recordings for all the major works. If you are going to go to the trouble of building up a collection, it is worthwhile ensuring that you get good quality recordings, and a CD guidebook will tell you the differences between the best recordings, helping you to avoid lemons. I use The Grammophone magazine’s Classical Good CD Guide 2002. The latest edition has been slightly renamed as The Classical Good CD & DVD Guide 2006, alluding to the fact that many operas are now appearing on DVD. Penguin also does a guidebook, The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and DVDs.

As your collection grows, it is worthwhile thinking about storage. There are plenty of plastic monstrosities you can use. If you want something elegant that also keeps the dust off your collection, then you should turn to Manufactum. This German firm sells elegant marble paper-lined wooden boxes with six drawers that take 150 CDs.

Here are some suggestions for essential CDs for your collection. Where I have views on the recording to buy, I have given details.
  • Handel: Coronation Anthems, conducted by Preston and Pinnock (Archiv)
  • Allegri: Miserere, Choir of King’s College Cambridge (Decca)
  • Beethoven: 9 Symphones, conducted by Leonard Bernstein (DG)
  • Saint-Saens: Organ Symphony, conducted by Daniel Barenboim
  • Chopin: Piano Works, pianist: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca)
  • Brahms: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 1, pianist: Maurizio Pollini (DG)
  • Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker
  • Handel: Acis and Galateia
  • Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique

Correspondence to thank people

People are rarely thanked. Yet they really appreciate appreciation. People warm to those they think are on their side. Get a pack of thank you cards, and keep some to hand at both work and home, and in your briefcase, along with some stamps.

If you attend a function, send a thank you card if you were invited personally. You might also send a complimentary letter to the speaker if there was one a and you thought he was good. But don’t be insincere. Mention one or two things he specifically said that you liked. Use a fountain pen of course.

Unless your cards/notes are pre-printed with your name and contact details, include your calling card (business card) so that people know who you are. They will probably keep your card, perhaps using you as a useful contact for the future.