Saturday, 17 November 2012

Piano week

This time last week I was rushing from a wedding gig in a marquee.  We were chilly until the hot air machine was switched on and then baking as it was pointing at the band. Then it was switched back off and the sweat cooled on our backs.

 So it was good to go from there to a bonfire-and-firework birthday party on a friend's farm. He had been storing school pianos for a tuner and four of them had been condemned, after having all useful parts removed. These pianos formed the heart of the bonfire and, surrounded by pallets, they made a fine fire.

 My own piano gets little use, I'm afraid. I like to bash out carols at Christmas but the children have stopped playing and during recent and continuing building work it has been almost inaccessible behind boxes and papers. So it was good that the piano tuner came last week, forcing me to tidy the room and rediscover the instrument. Hopefully it will be some years before it ends up on a bonfire, although it would be an effective cure for the woodworm with which it is afflicted.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Success story

It's always a pleasure to blow my own trumpet but last week two of my students did the blowing for me.  They took the Associated Board's Jazz Saxophone Grade 5 exam.  Usually the results take an age to come through but this time it took just over a week.  And great news!  They were each awarded 'Distinction' (which is the highest band, being better than a merit which in turn is better than a pass).  Whoopee!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Three Colours

On Friday I went to Polka Theatre in Wimbledon to help Joy Haynes hold an audition for a puppeteer/performer to work alongside dancer Jasmiina Sipila in a new production.  The piece will be a collaboration between Polka Theatre and Norwich Puppet Theatre and is aimed at children aged between two and four years.  My part was to provide some musical accompaniment while the applicants worked individually and then in pairs.  They were all very strong and I love improvising, especially with artists and dancers, so I was in clover.

We did some research and development on the show last year and I'm looking forward to developing it further in the New Year.  Below is an edit of last year's R&D.  I improvised with Jasmiina and shadow puppeteer Zannie Fraser and brought in some pre-recorded sequences for them to work with.  Joy Haynes directed proceedings and James Gibbon made a great job of editing a three days' worth of material into ten minutes.  The show is about the three primary light colours and we spent a day each on Blue, Red and Green.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Body Land Movement

Life just gets better.  I had a wonderful day on Saturday playing for a dance workshop led by Celia Little and Filipa Pereira Stubbs in woods west of Cambridge.  Called Body Land Movement, it facilitated expressive dance in nature and my role was to support people musically in their exploration.  As they improvised dance, so I improvised music.  It is very hard to convey, in words, just how magical an event this was for teachers, dancers and musician alike.  I won't even try.  At the end of the day we ate soup together and then made use of a sauna in the woods built from huge pieces of oak.  And that gave me a chance to practise, with an audience, the story I plan to tell at Tales from the Undercroft in Norwich tomorrow evening.

The Cambridgeshire site has not one but two covered dance floors without walls.  We used the larger one (pictured) as well as the woods around it.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Farewell, Monster

A rainy Monday is the perfect time to make a long-overdue blog entry.  The eight weeks since my last entry seem have passed in a blur.  For at least the last fortnight I have been completely submerged in 'There's a Monster in My Piano' which is the new show from Garlic Theatre.  The title says it all really.  The story features a toy piano from the famous (in toy piano circles at least) Michelsonne factory in Paris which burnt down in 1970.  These pianos are now rare and sort after.  You may laugh but know this: Yann Tiersen, composer of the Amélie soundtrack, plays a Michelsonne piano.

Being a show about a piano, and not being a pianist myself, I enlisted the help of Norwich piano teacher and jazz musician Simon Brown (pictured with Monster).  He covered the Chopin, ragtime and boogie woogie piano elements.  However, I'm rather pleased with this little piece, half of which we used in the show, which shows off the toy piano while simultaneously demonstrating why you won't often hear it national radio.

It's a waltz followed by a march.  The march bears a very close resemblance to a famous classical piece of music which I'll leave you to identify.

The show was a monster in more ways than one.  As well as involving the sampling of the piano, there are three animated sequences that needed music, foley and scripts recorded and applied.  And the show as a whole is almost never silent.  So it was a relief to declare it 'in the can' at the dress rehearsal on Friday afternoon and kick off the weekend on a high.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Beverley Puppet Festival 2012

A mini tour performing The Chalk Giants and Claytime took in Beverley Puppet Festival.  The weather plays a big part in any event using outdoor spaces but I think this would have been a great event even without the sunshine.  The highlight for me was Sockobauno's Little Fawn Caravan.  Not just because it is a wonderfully intimate space in which to view a performance.  Shane Connolly's two shows were masterpieces: tragic, comic and totally riveting, adults and children came out raving about them.

Other images I captured included the hurdy gurdy man playing for a dancing cow.  And I wish I'd caught the giant Punch a moment sooner as he waved from the railway bridge. But I like the juxtaposition with the booth in the foreground.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Birds of prey

The recent news item about Rufus the vanishing, and reappearing, Wimbledon hawk reminded me of some workshops I ran last month.  These are a relatively new departure for me, about which more later, mixing 'found' and 'junk' instruments with storytelling. They took place in a marquee at Holt Hall and I was sharing the billing with friend, author and performance poet David Mason.  

At the other end of the marquee a mandala making workshop was to take place. Nice and quiet.  But the bird drawing workshop leaders didn't like the space they had been given in a nearby gazebo - too windy for both the birds and the paper, apparently. And then the cuddly toy store felt they'd been left out on a limb so they moved in too.  Finally, when it rained, we had an influx of people looking for somewhere dry to eat their lunch. 

All this gave David a captive, if somewhat 'we'll-talk-amongst-ourselves', audience to try and out-shout.  For me focussing the children on the activity, especially the part where I tell a story, was challenging.  But somehow having the birds at such close hand made it all worthwhile.

Apologies for the qulaity of the pics.  Not for the first time, I left my camera at home and had to rely on my phone.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

At last - The Tomb of Spirits

All the rewrites and timing alterations are complete and 'The Tomb of Spirits' opens at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge at 2pm today.  Here are some photos from the last rehearsal I attended, which featured half a dozen or so students coming in to photograph the proceedings.

The three cues are all very long, the third over16 minutes, but I will post an extract or two in the near future.

Teaching and performance commitments in Norfolk make it impossible to attend but I shall be thinking of Sally Brown, Anthony Best and director Steve Tiplady at two o'clock this afternoon.

Friday, 25 May 2012

A very old flute indeed

Another from the BBC: Apparently archaeologists have discovered flutes made from bird and mammoth bone. The flutes, from a cave close to the River Danube in southern Germany, are about 45,000 years old.  The BBC article is here while the source article is from The Journal of Human Evolution.

The picture, of one of the flutes from two angles, suggests a swannee whistle but I'm pretty sure that what appears to be a stick protruding from the bottom of the instrument is just a label.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Why the British talk about the weather

My first real brush with the outdoors this year involved a weekend at what will be this year's Midsummer Camp venue.  The last weekend in April and, although not especially cold, it never really stopped raining.  Blind optimism, poor judgement and bad luck caused me to turn up with a strange tent and no car to retreat (or escape in).  And I quickly discovered that my tent had no fly-sheet.

The following weekend was to be the Body Land Movement dance event in Cambridgeshire (see recent post).  I was looking forward to this but confess I didn't fancy another wet camping experience, even though we had been allocated a yurt and the site boasts a kick-ass sauna. And there was another reason why I was apprehensive.

A highlight of the wet weekend in Suffolk was watching a mediaeval band, in costume, playing wonderful music. An experience made all the sweeter by the knowledge that I was about to be rescued from a second wet night in a horse shelter.  One of the players complained of cold hands so, in a fit of mediaeval chivalry, I proffered my hand-warmers.  These garments, a gift from my daughter, make playing outside possible at all times of year.  And now I'll be without them until I return to Suffolk in mid-June.

But just as it looked like the rain would hold off, in spite of near-zero temperatures, and the dance weekend would go ahead, news reached us from Cambridgeshire.  The river had burst its banks, flooding the woodland where we were to camp and hold the workshops. The dance floor and the main infrastructure was unaffected but parking, camping and walking about would be impossible.

Now, only two or three weeks later, we have blazing sunshine and temperatures in the mid twenties.  And who knows what it will be like in September when the re-scheduled event takes place? So, if there's nothing else to talk about in Britain, there's always the weather.

That's the kitchen on the right.  Drinks by the pool, anyone?

Friday, 18 May 2012


It's about time I posted.  It's been a busy week with three shows on the go, two in rehearsal and a 'show and tell' session about the R&D (research and development) for Pied Piper.  But I'm a firm believer in procrastination; it allows time for assimilation and for fresh ideas to appear.

So I've been doodling. I first came across Norwich based artist Sarah Beare when I saw an animation of hers at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. It had been made for an exhibition called 'Unearthed' which featured Japanese and European figurines from the early Stone Age. Sarah's animated figure was a response to that.

More recently she has been making small silver figures, a mere 31mm long, called Dolossies.  Last year Sarah made an animation to illustrate and explore their potential.  The animation was silent but, we agreed, crying out for sound.  So I took Sarah's starting point - hitting a bunch of keys - and had a go.  And, as it is such a short piece, I had two more attempts. My intention was to take a very different approach each time but somehow I kept mining the same vein.

If you're interested in the figures, and other larger figures being specially manufactured in China to Sarah's specifications, then she has a website. And Sarah's blog, which tells the story of the figures as it unfolds, is at

Each clip is only 35 seconds long.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Playing outdoors

So much to write about. A new piece of kit, a malfunctioning microphone, selecting tin whistles and, in respect of the whistles, the start of the R&D (research and development) week for The Pied Piper tomorrow.

But all that in good time.  Today I drove across to a piece of woodland south-west of Cambridge where I'll playing for a weekend of expressive dance over the first weekend in May.  It takes place in beautiful woodland with a dance floor in the trees, roofed but not walled, and involves the participants camping in clearings.  Most importantly, the site has a spacious and very effective sauna.

Today's meeting was primarily to connect with the space.  Much as I enjoy playing jazz in gardens for weddings, there is nothing quite like improvising in response to the environment and the moving human body. The Romans used to leave offerings to the genii loci, meaning the spirits of the place.  It is curious that the music I play on this site is completely different from that which comes to me at other sites.  Everywhere has a different  vibe.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The strap

I consider it a successful term, by the standard of recent years, at the academy (formerly the high school). My goals were modest.  I wanted to correct the bad fingering technique of two eleven year old clarinettists by prevailing upon them to use a strap to hold the instrument.  The weight of the instrument means that young players invariably take the pressure off their right thumb by resting the side Eb/Bb key on the first knuckle of their index finger.  Not only does this prevent them from using this key, it also means that they can't reach the keys operated by the little finger of the right hand.

Their previous teacher, no doubt a pragmatist in search of a short-term solution, had taught them to play bottom F with the left hand. This is fine until the pupil needs to progress to playing bottom E and, dare I say it, cross the break into the clarino register. It took a while but now both girls use a clarinet strap and, optimist that I am, their index fingers will soon be employed to play, rather than support, the instrument.

The danger of straps is that children rely on them to hold the instrument unaided.  The site of a clarinet swinging from the thumbrest is unsettling to say the least.  And on the last day of term disaster struck.

I had told a young saxophonist on numerous occasions to 1. Put the strap around his neck before attaching the sax and 2. never let the instrument dangle.  While putting the strap, instrument attached, over his head the saxophone suddenly fell to the ground.  He was surprised that, in spite of having broken its fall with his foot, the instrument no longer played.  But not as surprised as he'll be when he gets the repair bill.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Tomb of Spirits

Another show for the Fitzwilliam Museum is coming together nicely. Last Friday I went over to Cambridge to see how The Tomb of Spirits was developing and to discuss the audio requirements. The exhibition which runs alongside the show is of Han dynasty tomb goods from two tombs: a minor king and an emperor's brother.

Since I got back I've been recording dew drops falling into a jade bowl, entombed to make sure the deceased did not go thirsty in the afterlife. Not having a jade bowl to hand I tried a singing bowl and a pyrex dish before settling on an IKEA soup bowl. The challenge is to get the quiet drips recorded above the 'noise floor', the background hiss of the recording gear.

There will be plenty of scope for bamboo flute, dulcimer and Chinese percussion. A search for Chinese music on YouTube yielded some disappointingly cheesy results until I remembered The Guo Brothers who set the bar very high. If I can recreate even a flavour of what they have done I shall be very happy.

Monday, 19 March 2012

A workshop, a show but no camera

On Saturday I went to a music workshop run by PuppetCraft where I learnt a little about mbira technique by watching master musician Chartwell Dutiro play. I understood immediately why he doesn't use the name 'thumb piano' for his instrument. He uses the forefinger of his right hand, playing the keys from underneath, as well as his thumbs. I have yet to try this myself but somehow I don't think I'll come close to emulating Chartwell's technique.
The picture is of his mbira in a gourd which is used to amplify the sound. Both mbira and gourd have shells attached which buzz, like radio static, with the vibrations. This isn't to everyone's taste and the first thing I do with any mbira that comes into my possession is disable this feature.

I also came across an instrument I had never seen before and this is always a pleasure. It consists of a small iron cowbell (but no clapper, of course) and a ring. The cowbell is worn around the thumb and the ring around a finger. Striking the ring against the bell makes a a sound something like a metallic castanet. Another of these sets, with a different pitch, is worn on the other hand.

 Having somehow overlooked the fact that a puppet show was attached to the workshop, and having an appointment to make elsewhere, I didn't see the show 'Circle of Tales' until the follwoing day. Exquisite puppets, expertly manipulated. A real treat. I just wish I had remembered my camera. A cheap phone is no substitute when it comes to taking pictures in low light.

Monday, 12 March 2012

AM Drum

I ran into a friend of mine at a gathering yesterday who had just returned from south-west France.  He had brought back this wonderful instrument which he described as a poor man's Hang drum.  I had a brief play on it and was entranced.  It was more than sitting outside, post-sauna, in the sunshine on a warm Spring-like day.  There was nothing impoverished about this drum, reminiscent of a steel pan but with a more rounded, bell-like tone.

Made from two gas bottle bases welded together it is one of the best pieces of recycling I have ever come across. The tongues are cut by hand with a hacksaw.  Apparently the makers tried using machine tools but it ruined the tone of the instrument.

There is a Facebook page for the drum.  You don't need to sign in or have a Facebook account to view it: 

There are also some clips on Youtube such as the one below.  In this clip the drum is tuned to what they call 'Oriental'. (I can't think why but I'm not letting that bother me.)  Anyway, it's the scale to which the drum in the picture is tuned.

I suspect that in the current economic climate schools won't be investing in these at about 120 euros a pop but they appear to be virtually indestructible and so represent very good value.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Natural Fibre

Thanks to BBC news for this gem about making violin strings from spider silk.  I'm not sure when, or if, they'll be available to the average punter but I wouldn't bet against it.

The spiders used are different from this garden spider, being  Nephila maculata.  The article also has an audio clip.  I must say, I rather like the sound.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Tamil Festival Music

We arrived in Munnar on December 23rd to find the hotels full.  It was the Christmas period and the Indian middle class were on holiday. We'd met a family from Assam on the train from Madurai, spending a couple of weeks touring a mix of holy and secular attractions. Arriving in the mountains we discovered that hill stations were particularly favoured by Indians for short breaks. Most were from other parts of Kerala and neighbouring Karnataka.  Had the border with Tamil Nadu not been closed because of the dam dispute, we may not have found a room at all.

I spent the night in the worst room I can remember, right off reception and with a damp, smelly en-suite and a window with a view of a brick wall less than three feet away.  The manager and the sweeper, an old smoker, slept on the floor of reception. Somehow, this being India, it felt perfectly natural and as a by-product the 10.30 curfew was rigidly enforced.  The most memorable sound was that of the sweeper coughing, hawking and spitting at regular intervals through the night.

On Christmas Eve, while our bags were moved to a better room (in fact the best in the hotel had become available), we went out on a set tour. Exhaustion had allowed the manager to talk us into taking a Jeep tour with his friend, Rajeesh.  This was very pleasant, and took in tiger and elephant hunting (with cameras).  We saw neither but the fresh elephant dung was particularly impressive.

We were well behind schedule on the return journey and Rajeesh, who had been taking a leisurely pace, sped up in response to a phone call.  So I was surprised when, two minutes from the hotel, he pulled over.
"Would you like to see this?" he asked.

'This' was a patch of waste ground and people standing around a fire.  It was cold in the Jeep - the temperature had plummeted when the sun went down - and the fire was attractive. Rajeesh killed the engine and then I heard music.  We walked closer and saw a band of three drummers and two horn players, a priest/MC, a sadhu (holy man), three men doing something with fire and a group of women dancing in a manner I associate with sub-Saharan Africa. ( They did not come across as demur Hindu women.)  And around them all was a small crowd.

We had happened on a ceremony of some kind and I quickly decided not to take our my camera.  This was partly to avoid causing offence but mostly because the sound was so amazing I wanted to record some.  In my back-pack was my handy Zoom H4 and the clip contains that audio. The way the rhythm shifts back and forth is of particular interest. (You may want to roll off the bass a little.)

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Toy Piano

In Garlic Theatre's new show, There's A Monster In My Piano, there is a toy piano.  It's a wonderful little thing with a wooden body and beaters with an 'old-fashioned' plastic look.  It's French made and, without knowing the make and model off hand, I'd guess it was built in the 1950s.    The 'strings' are metal rods and there are no dampers.

I have been sampling the instrument, note by note, with varying attack and collecting various sounds for use as effects. Playing the piano softly is a challenge as too little force fails to throw the hammers against the rods. My favourite sound effect is created by tipping the piano backwards so the hammers fall against the rods in a random fashion.

To give a flavour of the instrument I recorded a snatch of Bach (I ran out of notes with which to play further) and a 12-Bar.  Perhaps I should have picked it up off the floor first; my piano playing is generally bad but seldom this awful  The battery on top of the piano in one of the pictures is AA, just to give some idea of scale.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

I would have liked to have stayed longer than the 21 hours I spent in the spectacular temple city of Madurai.  A number of factors, including a dispute between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu over a dam, made us get on a train to Trivandrum in the small hours.

Another British cock-up, although not on the scale of Partition, is reverberating down the centuries.  In the late 19th century the British oversaw the building of a dam in the kingdom of Travancore (modern day Kerala) for the irrigation of the lands to the east of the Western Ghats (then the Madras Presidency, now Tamil Nadu).  The Mullaperiyar was bequeathed to Madras for a thousand years. In a nutshell, the Keralans think the dam is in need of repair but don't want to pay for it as it's not their dam and they don't benefit from it.  The Tamils believe the dam is in good condition and don't want to pay for unnecessary repairs.  Obviously, a burst dam would be catastrophic for the Keralans and things have become rather heated.  There have been border skirmishes and all the roads were closed.  The only way in and out was by train.

I took a picture of this intriguing machine but had no time to enquire further.  Since I've returned I found clip on Youtube (where else?) featuring a demonstration. Predictably, but wonderfully, there are a number of similar clips.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Poole Puppet Festival

You learn something new every day, as the saying goes.  On Saturday I took part in two performances of The Chalk Giants at the Lighthouse in Poole and discovered that it was the first day of Poole Puppet Festival.  It included a display of some particularly fine puppets, workshops for children and 'have-a-go' puppets too.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Two more from the natural world

Whales: Apparently their stress levels increase in line with engine noises from shipping.  It interferes with their communication with other whales.  Hardly surprising, really, but still good to have some firm evidence.  Time to revert to sail?

Monkeys: The 'silent' Tarsier monkey from the Philippines is actually very talkative.  It just speaks at a frequency far above the limit of human hearing. It's worth clicking the link just to look at their eyes.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Insect asides

A couple of insect related items caught my ear recently, courtesy of BBC radio.  The first concerned bees and one Huw Evans, an electronic engineer turned bee-keeper.  He has been recording the sound inside his hives and analysing it in an attempt to predict swarming.  He can also monitor the health of his bees in a non-invasive manner.  Looking inside the hives to check on the bees just upsets them, unsurprisingly, and has a negative effect on honey yield.  The full article, with audio clip, is at

The piece of news was the recreation of the sound made by crickets 165 million years ago in the Jurassic period.  The radio piece gave us a few chirps but the on-line article at is silent.   The researchers recreated the sound by examining a fossilised cricket. What is particularly interesting is that they believe they can use the sounds to make further assumptions about the other sounds in the forest.  This is because the insects would have to make their sound cut through the rest of the jungle noise to reach their prospective mate.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The first lesson

When I bought my flute from Vunugoptal I tried to teach him a tune and he tried to teach one to me.  Neither of us had much success.  I had wanted to play The Lark in the Morning - a particular favourite - but could neither remember it nor conjure it out of the Keralan air.  I settled for The Maids of Mitchelstown.

I don't know what tune he tried to teach me but I distracted myself by trying to mimic the sighing quality of his playing.  I was taught to cover the holes of the flute with the pads the last phalange of each finger.  This is a very western, classical style of playing but it makes impossible the kind of glissando that Venugoptal achieved with such grace and lack of effort.  He did this by using the pads under the second phalange of the fingers on his right hand.

I was also confused by the fact that he took his root note from the middle of the instrument - the top three holes being open, the bottom three closed.  He maintained that his flute was in C while to my mind it was in G.  This caused me some problems in our next meeting, my first 'formal' lesson.

Venugoptal's teaching involved me learning and transcribing tunes.  The first one uses a scale:
D Eb F# G A Bb C# D

Just to give you a sense of my own confusion, the first note of lines 3 and 4 of the transcription should be a G, the second F# etc. Venugopal demonstrates the tune in the clip. His playing is rather stilted but he wouldn't let me record him just 'playing', only demonstrating the tunes. The accompanying pictures are completely gratuitous but I haven't found a way of posting audio without pictures. My apologies for the noise caused wind hitting the microphone - we were outside.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

A voice project

As part of my work on the soundtrack for 'There's a Monster in My Piano' for Garlic Theatre I am collecting true stories about, and people's early impressions of,  pianos.  This has involved sticking a microphone in front of my interviewees and so I am learning the knack of helping them relax while keeping my own mouth shut. An excellent discipline.

I didn't have much to do with pianos as a child myself.  I was just getting interested in the unplayed instrument in our sitting room when we moved abroad and left it behind.  But one teenage episode sticks in my mind.  I was a boarder at a minor public school (private school, if you live across the pond) and weekends could really drag.  So I had plenty of time to walk up the steps onto the stage in the memorial hall.  But the lid of the grand piano was closed and this was the most direct route:

Step 1: the piano stool
Step 2: the top of the piano
Step 3: the stage 

The music teacher, also a boarding master, was young and keen and when he saw a chalky footprint on the top of his pride and joy he was livid.  He determined the shoe size and print pattern (basketball boots were the 'trainer' of the day) and went on a Cinderella-style hunt for the perpetrator. Fortunately the story doesn't have a fairy tale ending. It was a nervous time but I was never caught because:

Step 1: I hid the offending boots at the first rumour of trouble
Step 2: Though tall for the times, I had taken the precaution of growing feet small enough to pass for those of a much younger boy 
Step 3: I had had the foresight to be made a prefect and so, as part of the establishment and old enough to know better, I had placed myself beyond suspicion

I have met a number of non-players with piano related tales to tell.  If you have a tale to tell, as a pianist or not, do let me know.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Keralan flute bag

On the way to my first Dravidian flute lesson I was hailed by the tailor whose hut, a corrugated iron-roofed structure with a view out over the Arabian Sea, was en route to the Juice Shack where I had first met Venugoptal.  I had visited him the previous afternoon to choose material and have my flute measured for a bag.  I had arranged to collect it later in the day but, although it would make me late, I responded to the tailor's enthusiasm in the only way I could.  The bag wasn't quite finished so I watched the final stages and specified the length of the draw-string while the proprietor tried hard to persuade me to have some shirts made - a sure sign I had paid too much for the bag.

I hadn't haggled on this occasion for two reasons.  Firstly, the man had refused to budge on the cost of a dress one of my daughters was keen on but didn't buy.  And secondly, I had recently read the story of V.S. Naipaul and the cobbler in 'An Area of Darkness'.

The author had a pair of shoes in need of some stitching and took them to a cobbler in Bombay.  He haggled aggressively over the cost of the repair and beat the man down to a very low price.  The cobbler took one of the shoes, picked up a four inch nail and promptly drove it through the sole with a hammer. He only returned the shoe with a struggle.  I wanted the tailor to make me a quality product.

In the end the bag was certainly fit for purpose, although I think my presence distracted him and he let his machine get the better of him.  There are a number of unnecessary black stitches near the mouth.

When I explained the delay to my teacher, the first thing he asked was the price I had paid for the bag.
"One hundred and eighty rupees," I said. (About £2.25 sterling)
"Ah," he replied. "You should not have paid more than a hundred rupees for a bag like this."
I immediately thought about the sum I had paid him for the flute.

However, he assured me the bag was a good idea, and not for the reasons I had supposed.  Apparently he had twice been bitten on the lips by insects that had crawled into the warm, damp, dark space inside his flute.  The creatures had taken exception when he put the instrument to his lips to blow and inflicted an injury that made it impossible to play for a couple of days, such was the swelling of his lip. This is  not a problem I have ever experienced in the UK.

And then we went up the rickety stairs to the covered part of the juice bar and got down to musical business.