The piano tuner visits.

“It is the Piano Tuner!!!” I explain to the Toddler, as I spot a car drawing into the drive.

It is, indeed, the Piano Tuner. I throw open the door and greet him effusively, before leading him through the narrow passage to the room with the piano in it.

“This is the piano,” I explain.

He looks grateful for my assistance, and gets his tools out, opening the top lid to reach in for the pegs. ‘Ting!’ goes his fork tunefully, as he plinks on a note and listens hard to ascertain its pitch.

“It’s quite an old historic one,” I continue. “From about 1910 or a bit earlier.”

“1906, I’d say,” he replies, looking up, before doing another ‘ting’ and starting his careful listening again.

“What’s the man doing, daddy?” asks the Toddler.

“He is making a noise with his fork, and then listening very hard to see what sound it makes,” I explain. “It’s very difficult. Would you like a cup of tea?” I ask him.

The piano tuner puts down his fork and looks up again. “Yes. I would,” he replies. He makes to start another ‘ting’ but holds off until I have left the room, so not to interrupt our conversation.

Two hours later, he announces that his work is done. I am extremely pleased, as the piano has not been tuned for a couple of years, and was sounding a bit wobbly.

“It’s a fine instrument,” he affirms. Sitting at the piano stool, he takes a deep breath and launches into an array of pieces, demonstrating the incredible warmth of the sound. He plays ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, then ‘Maple Leaf Rag’, then a couple of classical pieces that are probably by Rachmaninov or somebody else from the past. It is amazing. The room fills with sound – wonderful, incredible music. The Toddler stands transfixed and spellbound, a broad smile beaming across her face as if this is the most fantastic thing that she has ever heard in her life.

I am a bit pissed off by this. I play her the piano all the time, and she has never once stood transfixed or spellbound or with a broad beaming smile. He has probably slipped her some sweets or something. I wait for him to finish and then shoo him out the door.

When he has gone, I pull the Toddler back into the piano room. I play all my specialities, the theme tune from ‘Minder’ and the song that Iggle Piggle sings. But there is no beaming smile. The kid is tone deaf and it is a disappointment to me.

Election 2008.

It is the US election!!!

I have received hundreds of messages and emails frantic to know which candidate I endorse. But I do not think it right to unfairly influence the outcome of a foreign election. I am sorry – you must choose the candidate that you think is right for you without any specific direction from me.

It used to be easy to recognise politicians, via the ham sandwich system. This puts you in a village in the third world, after a horrible disaster. Miraculously, an aid convoy has distributed food and water to all – apart from to one man, who missed out. He struggles towards you, desperate for food. All you have on you is a ham sandwich, the difference – for this man – between life and death.

A right-winger would not give the man his ham sandwich. To give him his ham sandwich would force him to become dependent on aid, this removing his chance to better himself out of poverty. You may as well be killing him.

A left-winger would not give the man his ham sandwich. Instead, he would cut the ham sandwich into tiny fragments, distributing them equally between the man, everybody else in the village, the Land Rover driver and the BBC’s Orla Guerin. That is fair, and to do it any other way would be back to the bad old days of means testing.

I am not sure how this helps in the current US election. As far as I can work out, the difference between the candidates’ policies is subtle, and would involve, before any ham sandwich is handed over, ascertaining the starving man’s position on gay marriage and arguing over exactly how much of the bread to return to hardworking Joe the Baker.

In Britain it is even more complicated, as we have so many options to choose from.

The Labours would give the man the ham sandwich, whilst introducing a new ham sandwich tax and then subtly briefing the newspapers that it is cheese.

The Conservatives would generously give the man the ham sandwich, and a hug, because it might get them elected. After which they would take the ham sandwich back, beat him up and close down the ham sandwich industry.

The Libdems would promise the man the ham sandwich, and promise everybody else in the village one as well, and some pickle.

The Liberals would request a vegetarian option; the BNP would not give the foreigner the ham sandwich, as then they would be able to give every indigenous Briton a free ham sandwich each; the Socialist Workers would set a date to pass a resolution applauding the rights of the man to his ham sandwich; the Greens would be concerned with the rights of the ham sandwich itself; the Scottish Nationalists would give the man two ham sandwiches if only it wasn’t for the English; the Scottish Socialists ditto, deep-fried; the Welsh Nationalists would be able to talk about giving the man a ham sandwich but have no powers to actually do so; the English Nationalists would not hand over the ham sandwich when there are so many more important things to discuss like unsightly wind farms; the Libertarians would do what they liked, but want to know what little overpaid fuck from the state dictated that the filling must be ham; the MEP’s from any party would gladly hand over the ham sandwich, only for it to be subsequently discovered that the sandwich had been paid for five times over and three-quarters of the ham had been eaten.

I do not know what to make of it all. What I DO know is that the LTLP agreed to go on the Parish Council, when drunk. She was a bit mortified the next day, and there is not yet a vacancy – but posters have already started appearing in Short Tony’s window.

I do not know yet whether she will be our Obama or our McCain; our Palin or our other one. But whatever happens, it is exciting to see the great democracies at work. I will be getting up early to watch the results on my Sky TV. To all our American readers – I wish you all the very best for this momentous day.

Canada 4.

There is an Ominous Noise.

I am pushing the Toddler in her snazzy pink buggy, down Montreal High Street. The sounds of the street are all there – cars, chatter, roadworks, Ominous Noise. The Toddler gazes up at me from her carriage, with a fearful look in her eye.

“What’s that Ominous Noise, daddy?” she asks. (I paraphrase, as I cannot remember the exact words).

I am a bit stumped by this, and am a bit hesitant to bring up the monster that lives in the ice-cream store one more time. The fact is that I do not know, which is an odd feeling for me. I know the answer to every question she asks me, or can be quite convincing, but even I am starting to feel a little uneasy. This could be that poignant moment for her when she finally discovers that her father is not the infallible, reliable, unerring rock that she takes him for (if you do not count the time when I walked into the glass doors on the way out of the delivery room).

We turn the corner and are confronted by some people.

It is a demonstration!!! There are people demonstrating, and marching, and carrying placards, and waving, and shouting. Before we know, we are mixed up in it. I sort of try to pull over to the side of the pavement, but I keep getting in peoples’ way, so I get sucked in further to the morass. I look round in some alarm, for the 1000000th time wishing that I’d paid more attention in French lessons.

I know that they are not shouting ‘Open the Window’, or ‘Mr Marsaud is in the Garden with the Dog’ or reciting the lyrics to the second verse of ‘Sunday Girl’ by Blondie. I search my mind frantically to try to work out what ‘Death to America’ would be in French, as demonstrators who shout ‘Death to America’ tend to be ill-disposed towards English people as well, even though I am a bit Australian and my grandmother was possibly sourced via the Irish Catholics.

For all I know, they could be shouting ‘Death to Slightly Portly Blokes Pushing Buggies’, in which case I am stuffed. I do not want to die on the whim of demonstrating Canadians. I could be the only person in history to meet his end at the hands of a reasonable mob.

As they flow past me, I notice one thing – many of the demonstrators have re-used their placards from previous events, simply reversing them, badly painting out the old slogan or poster, and daubing a fresh one on the other side. This reassures me. They are clearly general demonstrators, with nothing particularly personal against me or my ilk. After a while, I quite get into all the drumming and stuff. We demonstrate with them for a while, to show our solidarity with whatever is going on.

I am pleased with our participation. If anything major changes in the next year or so (end of global warming, no more poverty, reprieve for baby seals etc) then I will be able to hold my head high and say ‘I was there’.

Until then, it is time to go. I have greatly enjoyed my holiday, and would like to go back one day, perhaps with a different airline. For all that you have given me, Canada – I thank you. Please come and visit the Village some time.

Canada 3.

I meet a French-Canadian.

“I think the thing that gets me is,” I slur, “The French thing.”

He blinks at this, so I elaborate on my thoughts. “I mean, I didn’t sort of realise about the French thing. I mean, I knew that there was some French, and all that, but didn’t think it was quite so important. I mean (again), I thought it was a bit like Cornwall, where a few people speak Cornish an’ all that, but nobody really does. If you see what I mean.”

He blinks at me again.

“I do recognise that is a reflection of my own ignorance rather than a particularly accurate state of affairs,” I concede, in the sort of tailing off fashion that one does in the circumstances.

“Yes,” he nods evenly. But you will notice that he didn’t say “oui,” – so I was right after all.

It is true, however, and is a shameful reflection of my lack of geopolitical nous. I should have been warned when I went to withdraw some money to find that First Direct was blocking my card because their fraud people were alarmed that it was being used outside Norfolk. Sometimes, however, I can be too honest for my own good and say unnecessary things that could just have well been left unsaid, going into too much detail when all it does is ruin people’s illusions of me.

“What has been the best thing about our great country?” he asked – or probably would have, had he been gallantly trying to change the subject but didn’t – me artificially inserting that line in order to provide a bridge between parts one and two of what were essentially separate conversations within the course of one evening in order to shoe-horn them into a single blog post.

I ponder this for a minute.

“Probably the attitude of breakfast-providers,” I conclude, praising the system of giving you a plate, pointing you towards lots of food and essentially leaving you to it, not charging you much at the end.

Warming to my subject, I try to explain the English way. “You see – you get a plate, and a tray, and a long counter with things drying out, and there is a sign up saying ‘four items, seven quid; six items, ten quid’, and you have to go and say exactly what items you want as you move along, and toast counts as an item and so does a baked bean, and then you take it to a till and the woman there peers hard at your items and counts them twice and pokes them around to ensure that you haven’t hidden an extra small rasher of bacon under the toast, and then you pay extra for your coffee, and then there is a man who stops you at the end and counts again, and checks in your pockets and fists you, fists you, to check for any more contraband fried items,  before you’re allowed to go to a table and look miserably at your meagre, expensive plate and read a free Daily Mail.”

“Oh, and the mountains and stuff, and forests,” I add, catching his expression.

I enjoyed meeting a local person. That is my joy in going abroad – the little and interesting differences between places and how ordinary people live their lives. Later on, it transpires that us national representatives share an interest in British progressive rock music from 1973-1976, so the major language/breakfast differences etc. are forgotten.

There is more that unites us than divides us – English, Canadian, French-speaking, normal-speaking. We are all human beings, living together on this one globe, sharing the planet and our joys and frustrations, we are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving.