Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Birdsong and Music

Spring is well and truly here and I'm surrounded by birdsong.  Which is great, and very loud at 5.30 on a sunny spring morning!  I do rather like waking early and opening a window to listen to the birds while still snug under my duvet.  Unfortunately, I often either fall asleep again or sleep through it entirely.  I can't understand why some people complain about the dawn chorus waking them.  Much better to wake to birdsong than an alarm, surely?  There are those who complain about cockerels, too.  Okay, so they're loud and not the most melodic of birds, a bit repetitive.  My cockerels start the day with a good crow and I love the sound.  Each has a different voice and I can tell who is crowing by the sound they make.  When I go out to feed the chickens and let them out, I can hear cockerels on farms across the valley and it can sometimes trigger a conversation of sorts between mine and the distant cockerels.

The dawn chorus is coming to its peak now and it's not long until international dawn chorus day on 1st May.  The Wildlife Trusts usually hold some sort of events, but it means getting up and out very early.  If you don't hear the dawn chorus at any other time, it's worth making the effort on just one day to listen to the birds.  When it comes down to it, mostly the birds are saying things like 'I'm bigger than he is, mate with me!' or 'This is my spot, go away!' but some just appear to be singing because the sun is shining and all is right with their world.  It makes me want to sing with them.  I especially enjoy playing question and answer with a blackbird, trying to mimic the song and hearing another line sung back to me to copy, like Jeff Beck's 'Blackbird', where he mimics the song on guitar.

I’ve just had an email from the Goldsmiths College Music, Mind and Brain research group, inviting me to participate in part II of their Earworm (involuntary musical imagery) project.  Not that I have recorded many earworms since last October, when I did my original questionnaire and wrote about it here.  Most of my earworms since then have been fleeting, each displacing and replacing another in succession.

Part II is by invitation only, to do a second questionnaire, this time with an emphasis on musicality.  I found doing the questionnaire quite fascinating.  The questions weren’t challenging, but made me think about how I see myself and my relationship to music.  It’s not something I would normally reflect on, so this was a small journey of self-discovery as well.  It made me realise how important music is to me, even though I might not play it all the time and I very rarely listen to it completely attentively, without doing anything else.  Since birdsong is also music, it might only be a matter of time before a bird's song gets stuck as an earworm.

Current earworm: Desert Rose – Sting feat. Cheb Mami.  This one has been going on and off for a few weeks now, and it’s so beautiful I’m not feeling inclined to replace it.  It makes me think of silk veils, the light catching them as they ripple and flow.  I feel a choreography coming on ....

Monday, 18 April 2011

One Size Doesn't Fit All, Revisited

(Apologies in advance a) that it’s a bit of a rant and b) that all measurements are in inches – just feeling my age a little!)
A recent shop conversation got me started on the clothing sizes issue again.  I was chatting to three other women (like you do …). Coincidentally, two of us were size 10, two were size 24.  Two were 5’1”, two were 5’9”; we covered the permutations for the four parameters short/tall thin/fat.  To somebody watching, we looked probably like OiIo.  The young, bored assistant looked at us as if we had all crawled out from under a rock.

Size of a top?
(Disdainfully) It says on the label - Large.
How large is large?
Size 14.
These skirts?
Well they’re elasticated, one size.
What does that mean?
One size fits all.
But the elastic on this one only stretches to about 40 inches, so that’s at most a size 14/16? ….

Too small for the size 24s and potentially too loose for the size 10s.  They all appeared to be the same length - too long for the 5’1, too short for the 5’9”.  I doubt the sales assistant cared, but 4 women x 2 items of clothing = 8 potential sales.  Score for the store = 0/8.  And I don’t care if they can order one in (what might be) my size, or have something made to measure.  It would have to be absolutely perfect to make me forget about making it for myself.

I first encountered the 10/small, 12/medium, 14/large when I was a teenager.  I remember my much younger and slimmer self, at a time when size 12 was average, hating that at size 14 I was considered Large.  It was like name-calling.  You’re large = you’re big, you’re fat.  So a 16 would be Extra Large and beyond that?  Huge, giant, gargantuan?     I used to wonder whether very slender women at the other end of the scale minded being extra-extra small?  Come to think of it, I’m not sure there was much in the range of size 6 clothing then.  If you were that small, you probably had to shop in the children’s department!  At least the range of available sizes has improved since then.

Anyway, size 14 isn’t Large!
The average size for UK women is now 5’4” 14-16 (Bust 39-41”, waist 32-34”, hips 40-42”*).

(*Source: Fashionworld, part of J D Williams & Company Ltd.  They have done a lot of research into clothing sizing and specialise in providing clothing in larger sizes as well as different lengths.)

There has also been quite a shift in clothing sizes over the past 30 years, particularly in the waist measurement.  When I was a teenager, size 14 was generally 36-26-38, (although the ‘ideal’ was 36-24-36), so 10” between bust and waist size was usual.  Now 7” seems to be the norm, much to the annoyance of those with curvy hourglass figures.  Were I the same size today as I was when I was 18 (I wish!) then I would be wearing a size 12.

The difference implied by the words Average and Large is enough to make you forget that there’s only nominally 2” difference between sizes. Sizes may also differ by 2” between one manufacturer and another.  And then there’s fashion ease, the designers’ idea of how loosely or tightly a garment should fit, another 2” or maybe more.  Plus or minus 4”, (that is, roughly 10%), may be insignificant or may be the difference between something fitting, or not.

In the end, the clothing size label is only a guide, but we get hung up on sizes and measurements, as if we’re defined by them.  Our bodies’ measurements, in all their variations, are just numbers reflecting our individuality.  My advice is, know your measurements, carry a tape measure, try things on in any size you think will fit (if it’s available!) … and remind shop assistants that one size does not fit all, and a size 14 is not Large!