Friday, 23 March 2012

May the Force be with You!

When I was very young, my dad would sometimes take me to cinema. My mum would get my brother down for his nap and then the news of the impending outing would be shared with me. I guess if they had told me earlier, my excitement would have been contagious and my poor brother would never have got to sleep. On one of these occasions we went to see Star Wars. I must have been five or six years old. I remember I was in infant school as I also remember playing 'Star Wars' in the playground. I can't remember excatly how the roles were divvied-up in our games, but I do recall many of the girls arguing over who was to play Princess Leia. To my mind, this used up valuable play time, so my own solution to this was to immediately volunteer to be R2D2. On some level, I think I probably did want to be the princess with the long hair and a space blaster to boot, but I was perfectly happy pootling about the playground, making droid noises. I don't actually remember any further interaction in these games, so for all I know, perhaps I just got on with my R2-ing, oblivious to anyone else. It's entirely possible! The other thing I recall is of having a 'swaps card' of Luke Skywalker stuck to my bedroom wall. Mark Hamil, as Luke, was my first human crush. (My non-human and entirely first crush, for whom I still carry a bit of a torch, was Charlie Mouse.)
What can I say? I like big ears.

As we both grew older and my baby brother gave up his daytime nap (for a while - I reckon he takes one now), he also discovered Star Wars and pretty much never looked back. I was talking to him the other day, about how - rather tragically, I suspect - we can divide out lives into 'Before and After Star Wars'. I'm pretty certain he was one of the people who helped create the 'Jedi Census Phenomenon' in the 2001 UK census. He collected the original mini figures, which we spent many happy hours playing with.

Anyway, Star Wars has been part of my life for a very long time and I have been looking forward to the day when I could share that fictional universe with my own children. TR recently declared an interest in watching Star Wars, so we borrowed DVDs IV-VI from our lovely neighbours and he and sat down to watch them while his sister was at Brownie Holiday.  I admit I was quite anxious about this - what if he didn't like them and I remained the only Star Wars fan in the Ruby household? Mr Ruby has always been more of a Thunderbirds fan. However, I neeedn't have worried - the combination of space travel, laser guns, lightsabers (he's only recently stopped calling them 'lightsavers', little eco-Jedi that he was) and explosions had him hooked from the start.

May the Force of the low-energy bulb be with you!

I hadn't watched the films for years (not since my brother's marathon video and dressing-up party, circa 1994) and really enjoyed watching them with TR. I have to say, he was less taken with the 'magic' of them than I was. He kept asking questions like, 'Did he really make the X-wing float up?' and I'd start answering, 'Yes, TR, Yoda used the Force...' only to realise that what he was really asking was whether the X-wing fighter truly levitated. 'Oh, no TR,' I was forced to clarify. 'That's CGI or models or trick photography.' After that, he spent three films saying, 'That's CGI...that's a model...' etc. Mr Ruby walked in and remarked, 'There's no magic in it, is there?'

The day after one of our viewings, we were all sat at the table eating dinner when the Mouse choked on a bit of food. Not badly, you understand; it just went down the wrong way. She choked a little and I happened to glance at TR for a second. There he was, sat opposite his sister and doing the 'Darth Vader death grip motion.' Yes, while she choked, he was apparently using the Force to bring about her untimely demise! On the one hand, I'm obviously a little shocked that he's turning to the Dark Side. On the other, I am quite pleased that he believes in the magic of it after all.

Han, I love you!

Small print: while I still feel some fondness for Luke, I can now see that it is in fact Han who is the best looking of the lot.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

When Smokey Sings...

The Mouse recently took up the violin. She has been asking for a long while to learn and we held off and held off, thinking that a true desire to learn would stay with her and then we’d know that she really was keen. It sounds harsh, I know, but if you’d been there for recorder practise, you’d have felt the same way.

Thankfully, the lovely Associate Rev offered us the loan of a half size violin and a few informal lessons to start us off. We braced ourselves for the sound of cats being murdered and warned the Mouse that it takes practise to get a good sound out of a violin. I was ever mindful of my childhood experiences of ballet, where I thought I’d be able to show up and dance like Margot Fonteyn, whereas, in reality, it involved endless clumsy skipping around a dusty church hall and serious injury to my baby brother…but that’s another story. However, the Mouse surprised us by managing to produce a pretty good sound on her two open strings. Ah yes, you see – I have the lingo now! ‘Open Strings’ is where you play the violin with the bow, but do not press your fingers on the strings in order to play higher or lower notes.
A long holiday to the States and a bout of extended illness for both children meant that the Mouse stayed with her borrowed violin and her two notes for quite some time. Finally, in January of this year, we found a permanent teacher for the Mouse and ordered her a quarter size violin. Now, call me na├»ve, but I had imagined that buying a musical instrument was relatively simple: you just walked into a specialist shop and requested your instrument of choice. So far, so good, but the shop didn’t have any quarter sizes in stock. We ordered one, for delivery ‘in two weeks’. Two months and many phone calls later, our violin finally arrived.

A violin very much like the Mouse's. She loves it that the case can be worn as a backpack.

So, the Mouse is now the proud owner of her own violin and bow. She has a music stand (sourced from a charity shop and missing a wing-nut, so don’t grow too much yet, Mouse, as we can’t alter the height of the thing!), a borrowed music book and another sourced, again, from a charity shop. She has been very lucky in that both her violin teachers have been lovely people, whom she likes very much and wants to please.
It’s been a steep learning curve for Mr Ruby and I too. I played the recorder briefly and badly, as an eight year old. In my primary school music performance I was initially given maracas, before being sent to the back of the row (behind the much taller children) and given a triangle which I was told to play, ‘quietly.’ I’m not entirely sure that the teacher didn’t then confiscate my beater! Mr Ruby had some piano lessons as a child and later taught himself to play a rather halting version of ‘Abba father’ on the guitar. As members of the youth group we mercilessly teased him by singing the chord changes as well as the words – we found we had plenty of time to do so. All I’m saying is, if the Mouse has musical ability, and she seems to, it doesn’t come from us. Her uncle DJ and her cousin Blondie both show considerable musical talent though, so perhaps there are some latent musical genes there. I hope so.
Not that kind of quaver

I’ve learned to use a metronome and am beginning to read music. I have to ask the Mouse to remind me when I’m looking at a crotchet, a quaver, a minim or a semibreve, though. I also have to remind myself not to call a crotchet a crochet. Knit your own symphony, anyone? Mr Ruby has become rather good at tuning the violin and we’ve both learned that, whatever problem you have with the violin, there’s an app for that! (As well as a Wikipedia article and a YouTube instructional video.) The Mouse, meanwhile, has learned to play open strings and is currently learning to use her fingers to play additional notes. She can play a few tunes and enjoys learning new ones.
The only one rather left out by this is TR. He does express a desire to play his sister’s violin, but she’s wary of letting him loose on it. I have offered him lessons too, but he assures me he wants to learn to play the drums (and therein lies the source of his sister’s wariness, I think – she knows that a violin bow does not make a good drumstick). If his sister isn’t looking, he likes to use her music stand as a prop for his small world play. Apparently it makes, ‘An awesome slide for moshlings!’
Small plastic toys that, apparently, like to slide down music stands


I can’t say that I’m quite so eager for him to learn the drums. For one thing, where would I put the drum kit? This blog isn’t called ‘LittleHouse on the Heath’ for nothing, you know! For another, I’m not sure the neighbours would be overly happy about TR’s drum practise. Mind you, the builders have assured us that the proposed loft extension will be sound-proof. Now all I have to do is convince Mr Ruby that a drum kit would be the perfect accessory for our new room…