Tuesday October 6th, 2015. Posted by Alex:
So Jeremy Hunt thinks (Guardian) that a hefty reduction in the incomes of low earners will encourage them to work hard, like the Chinese, and give them self-respect. He says that ““It matters if you are earning that yourself, because if you are earning it yourself you are independent and that is the first step towards self-respect.” These changes are designed, he tells us, to send “an important cultural signal” about hard work.
Oh. So he’s turned into a radical communist? If this idea – that income should be related more closely to the amount of work done – were pushed through with any consistency his government could start by raising death taxes to something like, let’s say, 99%. He wouldn’t want to take away the self-respect of the next generation, would he?
Equally, of course, institutions such as the Duchy of Cornwall, the royal family, the Duchy of Westminster and, I suppose, all other people and institutions who make their money from rent paid by other people, rather than from actual work, should be abolished or sent to do essential jobs like shelf-filling and garbage collection, as appropriate.
We should then move on, of course to the investment bankers. No one could for a moment argue that they “earn” their sky-high salaries. After all, between them, they carry much of the responsibility for the financial crash for which working people are still paying heavily. But let’s be generous. Let’s assume that they do work long hours, and are not completely without skill, so let’s allow them to earn more than the national average. We might, to strike a balance between fairness and generosity, say that income above £100,000 per annum would be taxed at again, let’s say, 99%.
What, that’s not his thinking?
WAIT! STOP! I FORGOT!!!
It’s POOR people who have to work harder and longer for lower rates of pay in order to make ends meet and to earn their self-respect. The rich and privileged are fine as they are. Silly me.
Friday March 27th, 2015. Posted by Alex:
There’s nothing like an urge to rant to get one blogging!
Last October (2014) we had a fire in the roof, started by the chimney that was not insulated from the roof timber. We got off lightly, as the Fire Brigade were here very fast and cut the smouldering timbers out of the roof with a chainsaw before the glow had spread very far. That was where it started.
We knew that the fire was dreadful. It used a lot of wood, made smoke and dust in the house, and didn’t give out much heat, so with the replacement of the chimney it was time to replace the fire altogether with a modern, efficient stove. We chose an “Eclipse” model made by the Italian firm of Edil Kamin. And it turned out to be a proverbial example of Italian engineering. As you will guess, I’m now about to explain. There are three points.
Firstly, it was by no means cheap. Somewhere not far from the top of the range, in fact. Here it is:
Secondly, it looks great. Lots of glass, wonderful sense of a fire in the room when it’s burning. Full marks for style!
Thirdly it works quite well UP TO A POINT. It burns well, throws out lots of heat well using no more wood than the open fire did, and should therefore pay for itself within the foreseeable future, quite apart from being so much cleaner in the house. True, the glass has to be cleaned every day, but by and large it does keep clean.
BUT. Yes, now we get to the “but”. That’s what I mean by “Italian engineering”.
In the grate, above the ash-box, there is a circular depression with slots in, through which most of the air comes up into the fire. There is a matching circular plate, with very similar slots in, which sits in the circular depression. The plate can be rotated through a small angle using a lever at the front. This has two purposes. Firstly, you can rattle it left and right to shake ash down into the box if it’s getting clogged. Secondly, you can adjust the main flow of air with it. As a little symbol on the lever shows, and as is described in the instructions, the operation is very simple: move the lever to the left, the grate is closed, move it to the right and the grate is open. And, of course, in between is in between. It worked, as described, for a couple of months. Then something in the works came loose, got lost, or got broken – it’s still not clear which. The lever at the front now moves far too freely, the plate in the grate moves to far to the left and right. The problem is that once there is a fire in it you can’t see whether the grate is open or closed. The fire is therefore much more difficult to control. You could live with this, but seeing as it’s brand-new, expensive, and under warranty, we felt that it ought to work in the way that it was designed to work and in the way that it is described in the instructions. Here is the recess, with the movable plate lifted out for cleaning:
And so begins the saga.
Firstly, our (very good) builder, who had arranged for us to buy the stove, came and had a look, to confirm to himself that I wasn’t being an idiot and that there really was a problem. He told Lumachelli, the local building supplier who acts as the agent for Edil Kamin in the area.
Then after a week somebody came from Lumachelli. He had no idea how the stove was supposed to work, what the various levers are for, and what everything was supposed to do. After three quarters of an hour he had confirmed to himself that I wasn’t being an idiot and that there really was a problem. He went away.
Some weeks later, two people came! Apparently not from Lumachelli, but directly employed by Edil Kamin, since this was clearly a warranty case. They spent a couple of hours fiddling around, since they had no idea how the stove was supposed to work, what the various levers are for and what everything was supposed to do. Eventually, they confirmed to themselves that I wasn’t being an idiot and that there really was a problem. They also discovered, what I had seen the beginning, namely that the “works”, where the problem is, has a cover that has been fixed in place by RIVETS. So you can’t unscrew anything to see what is wrong. That must’ve saved Edil Kamin probably more than one euro in construction work. They went away, saying they would have to get permission (presumably from Edil Kamin) to spend more time here dismantling the stove so that they could get at the working parts.
Today, they came back. At first, things went well. Within less than an hour they had taken out the shields, fire bricks and so on that you have to do before you can lift the fire-bowl out and get at the working parts. There was, however, still a problem, in that they still had no idea how the stove is supposed to work, what the various levers are for, and what everything is supposed to do. Eventually, they did something, and put it back together again, whereupon I could see that there was no improvement. Several times I had to explain to them that the thing was supposed to be very simple: move the lever to the left, the grate is closed, move it to the right and the grate is open. They told me that this was impossible, and that it was just necessary to put the lever in the middle. I pointed out that once there’s a fire in there, you can’t see, and that it is supposed to be very simple: move the lever to the left, the grate is closed, move it to the right and the grate is open. I got the instructions for the stove to show them where it says that you should move the lever to the left, and the grate would be closed, move it to the right and the grate would be open. One of them phoned technical assistance, who merely confused the issue, talking about a thermostatic control which allows different movement when the room is hot from when it is cold. Nothing to do with our problem. I pointed out that this is a completely different thing, a different lever, and the one where we have the problem is very simple.
So they took it apart again, fiddled about, did something else, and put it back together again before trying to convince me that it was now alright. I can see that they put in a different screw to act as a pivot for the lever. It has improved the situation – by a few percent. Not enough to matter. The lever wobbles about, the screw they put in wobbles about. When you move the lever to the left, the grate is closed, when you move the lever to the right, the grate is closed. The grate is open only in some hard-to-recognise middle position. Not how it was designed. Not how it was when it was new. Not how it is described in the instructions. Not what we paid for.
At some point I did make the suggestion that it might be necessary to refer to the technical drawings. I’m not sure whether they noticed the sarcasm in my voice.
So that’s where we are. There has been no improvement worth reporting. Whether we will ever get somebody who actually knows how it’s supposed to work, what the levers are supposed to do, and how it all goes together I don’t know. I suppose the foolish person who designed it may know that. Or whether they end up giving us a new stove because nobody knows how to fix the 1 euro lever – that all remains to be seen.
Wednesday August 6th, 2014. Posted by Alex:
So far, in spite of a repeated inquiry, the SIAE have failed to reply. Simona, manager of the “venue” has not been given the money back, although there is some vague talk (that I don’t understand) about offsetting the mistaken payment against future events.
I have therefore written yet again, pointing out that
… all the copyright in the music performed was mine, and I have not assigned the collection rights to anyone else. You (the SIAE) were not entitled to collect it on my behalf.
I therefore need to ask you (the SIAE) this: where, how and when can I collect my money? I would like to give the money to Ms. Ferrari, as I had intended to do the performance for free.
What do you think the result will be?
PS Some of you might like to check out the “Stop SIAE” page at facebook
Wednesday June 25th, 2014. Posted by Alex:
If you happen to have ploughed through http://alex-wilding.com/2014/03/busking-in-italy/ you will not be surprised about the resentment felt by many musicians regarding the SIAE (the Italian copyright-collecting agency). In the past, this had been a matter of stories that I had heard, but now I am in the middle of direct experience. We will see whether they are the outrageous quasi-fascist leeches that some people say, or whether they will be reasonable. I will let you know how it goes. Here is the story:
Last Saturday I did what is perhaps best described as a “benefit” gig for a local health food shop, where I have performed before a couple of times. Key points are – an audience of maybe up to 30, nobody paid, nobody got paid, and it was combined with a “tasting” of wine and olive oil. Some tables were put out on the little square outside the shop, and I believe that a little bit of extra trade was done during the hour or so that I played. It’s also important to note that I have changed my repertoire, dropping old favourites like “Love Letters Straight From Your Heart”. This is a deliberate policy, tailored for Italian circumstances – I no longer do any songs in which other people hold copyright. To be sure, the current set includes things like “House of the Rising Sun”, and there would indeed be copyright holders for various recordings of that, such as the famous Animals version, or the Bob Dylan version they learnt it from, or the Dave van Ronk version that Bob Dylan learnt it from, before which it was known as a more “generic” sort of blues. So those *recordings* would be copyright, and if you play them as background music you might be liable to pay copyright fees. But the song itself goes back further.
Unfortunately I did not make it clear in advance to Simona, who manages the shop, that this was the case and she, since there had been more publicity, went to see the SIAE and ended up paying 70 euros! Now the only person with any claims to hold copyright in what I performed is myself. Arrangements of some of the old standards are mine, and some of what I played was indeed my own composition. I have not, however, assigned my rights to any collecting agency, let alone the SIAE. They, therefore, had no right to collect fees on my behalf. If they say that my music is subject to their authority (which clearly isn’t), then I would want to know how and when I get my share of the €70. (Yes, fat chance of that, I know.)
I don’t know what Simona’s markup is, so let’s say that it’s 30%, just the sake of argument. That would mean that she would have had to turn over an *extra* €230 during the hour. Again, I don’t know what her sales were, but it’s hard to imagine that it came to that much.
The upshot is that the work of organising the performance and of giving it served one benefit: fattening the salaries and pensions of the SIAE staff, and boosting the copyright payments to their favourite people, none of whom had anything to do with any of the music that was played.
Anyway, they have been approached and informed that the whole thing is a mistake. Who knows? Perhaps they will say, “Oh, sorry, here is your money back”. We will see.
Friday April 25th, 2014. Posted by Alex:
Since I have started to do a bit more music – blues-based guitar playing, to be more precise – and since I hope to continue, I set up a Facebook “musician” page the other day. Thanks to the people who “liked” it, I got to the count where Facebook lets you set a URL that is
Read more… Doing more music
Sunday March 23rd, 2014. Posted by Alex:
This post began as a response, on a closed Facebook group, to a question about busking in Italy. By the time I’d written it I realised that I have collected a fair amount of information and it might be worthwhile “putting it out there”. On the other hand, I am well aware that there are things
Read more… Busking in Italy
Sunday March 23rd, 2014. Posted by Alex:
The property market is not exactly bubbling here, any more than in many places, but a couple of days ago this notice appeared on a lamppost at the corner of the village:
It says that this estate agency, with an office in Pontremoli, is looking on behalf of Russian clients for farms (poderi), houses (casali – a
Read more… A sign of the times?
Friday January 31st, 2014. Posted by Alex:
Frana? Yes, Italian for landslide. Much of the hilly landscape here consists of stones of various sizes stuck together by sticky clay. And when it rains and rains, the clay can go soft. So I took the dogs out this morning, and we found a funny thing on the way to the cemetery:
Not far from the village,
Read more… Frana
Wednesday January 22nd, 2014. Posted by Alex:
Having enjoyed the company of Jeanne the Resonator for a couple of months now (thank you again Sarah for such a beautiful present!), one or two friends have actually said, “Yes, but what about a complete piece?” Well, that kind of puts me on the spot, doesn’t it? So here are a couple. Firstly a version
Read more… A couple of complete pieces
Thursday December 19th, 2013. Posted by Alex:
I am now proud to own a Fender resonator – an FR55. “What’s that?” you may cry in harmonious, polyphonic chorus. One of the most (metaphorically) rock-and-roll guitars you can get while still being entirely acoustic. My “main” guitar has a beautiful, smooth action, which unfortunately has the side effect of making it very unsuited to
Read more… Jeanne the Resonator