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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Classical music's agony aunt
ALICE McVEIGH visits Legoland (?!)

Dear Alice,

What are the best strings for cello? I am still at secondary school, but I'm lucky enough to have inherited a lovely 1700s English cello and I'm trying for Grade eight this year.

L Harvey, Bath

Dear L Harvey,

There are some people -- some of whom I actually know -- who could bore for England on the subject of cello strings, but I am not one of them. It is also a fact that the same strings which gloriously open up the tone of cello A make, for some inexplicable reason, cello B sound like a hacksaw let loose on some inoffensive pine tree at disconcertingly close range. Also, players' ideals of sound vary wildly, not to mention the fact that making recommendations without actually trying the cello concerned is fraught with danger.

However, as you have managed to stray into one of my many areas of (moderate) competence, I can at least tell you from my own experience that I've tried at one time or another almost every available string combinations on all of my own cellos and come down on Larsen Soloist A and D (medium) and Helicore on G and C. The Larsen lower strings are pretty generally accepted to be inferior to the top two, and the Helicore do give a lovely deep, rich and satisfying timbre. (They cost more than most, but the sheen on the sound also lasts longer.) Don't be shy about buying the 'soloist' Larsens rather than the regular Larsen -- most serious players do, and it seems to me that they do have a bit more projection. (But don't overlook the possibility they might just be exactly the same strings, put in different packets and sold to gullible cellists by those thigh-slapping folk at Larsen!!!!!)

Anyway, all the best for your exam!!!!!!!!! Don't let yourself be intimidated by the (false) mystique Grade 8 possesses. Just tell yourself that you have something to say in the piece (whatever piece it is) and go out there and say it.

Cordially,
Alice

Ask Alice

Now, as a writer, I labour under terrible disadvantages.

My parents never abused me, and the servants we had abroad never even let me make my bed. Despite provocation, my husband Simon still cruelly neglects to beat me, and gracefully surmounts my every effort to sink us into debt-ridden misery. I have yet to be afflicted with any disease more serious than appendicitis, and infertility (which had at least the makings of a major tragedy) I was fortunate enough to overcome. Both my parents are still with us: indeed, they can (irritatingly) still defeat me at tennis. In short, in terms of suffering, I am an also-ran, a bit-player, even. Apart from a couple of terrible love affairs, tragedy has skirted me to the extent that, to potential biographers, I so far represent a near-total loss.

But no longer!!!!!!!!!! As of yesterday, all this has changed!!!!!!!!!!!! At long last I can look a starving Ethiopian in the eye, saying, 'Comrade! Brother!' For now I too known true suffering. Yes, I too have taken my daughter to Legoland!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now I admit that I was at least partly to blame, because I am an avid reader of the Sunday papers, and Sunday papers, as you know, do not feel that they have done their bit to elevate and amuse without lists of fun days with the kids, listed in order of appeal from one to a hundred, and in said lists, Legoland is always at the top. Legoland isn't full of older, drugged-up kids whooping it up on skyscraper-sized twisters; Legoland is great for five-year-olds. Expensive but accessible, Legoland is a rite of passage. In Orpington, not taking your kid to Legoland incurs the worried frown and indrawn breath. Euro-Disney is an option but Legoland is inescapable, and Rachel's best friend Serena was gone all last week at Euro-Disney, and I thought I'd never hear the end of it. Simon's ideas on Euro-Disney being unprintable in a family magazine, you will just have to take it from me when I tell you that hell will freeze over before he takes Rachel to Euro-Disney.

Thus we rashly promised Rachel Legoland.

Now here I must briefly digress in order to moan about the Queen, so those ardent royalists among you should just wander off, make a cup of coffee, do your fingernails, whatever, and pop back after a paragraph or two.

Now, what is my beef with the Queen?

Well, in addition to her being perenially gloomy and possessing the world's most diabolical taste (in clothes and in consorts), guess what the Queen just did? The Queen had to pick this week of all weeks -- the week of the absent Serena and the rash promise to Rachel, to go to Legoland herself!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I heard she actually bestirred herself sufficiently to smile twice on the occasion, but I missed the broadcast personally so I still don't believe it.)

Whereupon every red-blooded kid in the southern half of England said, hey that Legoland looks cool, and bullied their parents (weak, very weak, but then so was I) into taking them to Legoland -- you guessed it -- yesterday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And Legoland was heaving. Legoland was a writhing, spewing mass of toddler, youth and baby humanity. Legoland was screaming kids, queues forty-five minutes long for a tedious ride with no leg room. Legoland was a wait of twenty-five minutes for a mouldy beanburger with over-cooked onion rings, because it hadn't occurred to even one of the bright sparks reaping in around 65 for two adults and a five-year-old that people might want (what next????) to eat in the middle of the day, so they only had four long-suffering and remarkably good-natured girls rushing around in the so-called fast-food. Legoland was a series of unimpressive mini-sites such as Big Ben created -- and this was the unamazing bit -- entirely of Lego!!!!! which could in fact have been knocked up in a couple of hours by a roomful of teenagers. Legoland was a series of unconvincing dinosaurs created out of (yes, you're ahead of me) out-sized Lego pieces that pretended to roar, and a country band (ditto) actually pretending to play (wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I somehow don't hear you say.)

But surely there were some good bits? you ask. Surely the Queen must not have smiled (allegedly) in vain???????????

Well, the loos were clean and many. There were lots of bins. And I liked the flowers; somebody had done some good work there. The enchanted forest, which (as it was entirely natural and Legoless) was deserted was lovely, and, if you overlooked the unconvincing Little Red Riding Hood etc mucking up the fairy tale ride, the scenery was pleasant. And, er, that's it!!!!!!!!!!

Rachel adored it. She adored the silly helicopter that just went up and down on poles. She adored the rat-run, which was a clever sort of wooden Adventure Kingdom-like structure which would have been great with about 90% of the kids removed (a sort of running leit-motif of this bit, as of so much of Legoland, was that of a mother screaming at her partner, 'I left her/him with you!!!!!!!!!!! Where is he/she?????????? Oh God s/he's dead. Amber, Amber/Michael, Michael!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!') So at least many spouses and partners were enjoying the chance to really commune with each other for once while another merry sound was that of fathers objecting, in stentorian tones, to not being allowed to imperil the well-being of their babies -- and I do mean babies -- in a height-restricted ride with every potential to crack their tiny weeny heads open.

But what Rachel really really loved was the waterspouts This was an idea clearly cribbed from the waterparks of the Algarve etc, but it never fails. Kids just love climbing along and jumping into water spouts, especially if the spouts are sometimes unpredictable. The number of happy faces in this bit of the park (the only feature sans queues!!!!!!!!!!!) almost made up the rest, though there was naturally neither shade nor anywhere to sit provided, while the sounds of happy childish laughter resounded around us. ('Put him down!!!!!!!! Don't you dare splash your cousin!!!!!!!! If I hear one more fuss out of you it's hometime!!!!!!!!! Michael, where are you????????????? Amber!!!!!!!!!!!!')

But Rachel could only be parted from the water sprays with the assistance of heavy machinery, and, as we gratefully departed from that horrible place, she looked up at Simon and me with a lovely smile in her blue blue eyes and said, 'We will come back to Legoland, again, won't we?'

Rachel McVeigh. Photo © Simon McVeigh

Whereupon I looked at Simon and he looked at me and I'm here to tell you that hell can freeze over.

Legoland has singlehandedly achieved what good judges considered to be impossible.

Euro-Disney, here we come!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Copyright © 27 June 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

[Note from Keith to Alice: You realise you have just done in any chance you ever had of being made Dame Alice, don't you?]

[Note from Alice to Keith: That is probably true!!!!!!!!!!!! ]

WRITE NOW TO 'ASK ALICE'

WHO IS ALICE McVEIGH?

LARSEN STRINGS

HELICORE STRINGS

THE BRITISH MONARCHY

LEGOLAND

EURODISNEY

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