03. September 2009 · Comments Off on Test Page · Categories: Uncategorized

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We went to Whipsnade Zoo at the weekend, because it's fairly close by (surprisingly so – only took 25 mins from St Albans) and we've been meaning to for a while. A two-for-one voucher from a cereal box was the clincher, saving us £17 on the entry price. We did exactly the same for London Zoo a couple of months back. With Whipsnade being run by ZSL it's a sort of outpost of London Zoo and so we couldn't help but compare and contrast the two.

The first thing we noticed is that it's a lot colder, windier and greyer. But that could just have been autumn arriving with full force. It's certainly a lot more open, with some really huge paddocks of green grass, trees, hummocks etc. with animals dotted about within them, almost Safari park like. That does mean there's less variety overall and it's a bit of a walk to get around, but it's pleasant and you feel the animals are probably happier with the extra space. At least some of them. One medium sized oak was home to this delightful red panda. It was easily the cutest thing we saw all day, beating the otters into second place.

RedPanda

It struck me that all it had to do to escape was walk to the end of a branch and jump past the fence. Presumably it isn't so inclined. I always seem to end up figuring out escape plans for the animals, and it often looks like it wouldn't be so hard. If the chimpanzees simply got together and dragged a branch into the right place they could be up and over the fence, tall as it is, in a jiffy.

We caught a sealion show, which was quite impressive. Three out of the four of them provided accomplished routines, whilst the fourth (Dominic, the youngest) played the fool, which added to the charm.

SealionsGroup

I took my big Nikon 80-400mm VR lens and was glad I did as it really helped to get in close, especially given the large enclosures often meant the animals were far away. It's not that great for action, being a bit slow, but I got a half-reasonable jumping sealion.

SealionJump

I rate the zoo quite highly and would recommend allocating a whole day to visit, though it's a shame it doesn't have a bit more dense indoor stuff (insects, reptiles, fish etc.) to counter-balance the wide-open spaces. It has just the one very cramped Discovery Centre which is decent, if a bit MDF heavy, but the zoo could do with more of the same, spread about the place and implemented in a slicker fashion. There's a bit of a crumbling feel in a few places and the signage to tell you what you're looking at is woeful for most of the outdoor stuff.

I took a great many pictures, as usual, but I'll finish with an obligatory tiger – grrrrr!

TigerSleepy (1)

Taken in Dorset near Lulworth Cove when we went down for a long weekend last summer. I love the way the seagull is camouflaged against the rock.

Seagull

I’ve been looking to buy a piano accordion. Why? I just love the sound, they’re an intriguing and mysterious instrument to most people and I have a growing habit of buying interesting instruments then failing to learn to play them. Still, a lot of the fun is in the chase, and I’m maximising my enjoyment of this one!

To that end, I’ve been devouring information about piano accordions online, though I’m still yet to actually touch one! Hopefully I’ll manage that later this week with a visit to a London music shop, but for now, here’s my ultra-condensed guide to what I think I need to know about accordions in order to make an informed purchasing decision. We’ll see if I was actually right.

  • Piano accordions can have different numbers of piano keys (right-hand) and bass buttons (left-hand). The ‘full’ set is 41 piano keys and 120 bass buttons.

  • The bass buttons (in a 120 bass at least) are laid out in 6 rows, with top two rows being single note counter-bass and bass, the the remaining four playing chords rooted on their associated bass note. So the left hand can play individual notes and chords. This is known as a Stradella bass system.

  • A free bass system just has lots of individual notes, so you must form chords manually with multiple presses at once. This is considered by some to be a more purist approach and allows greater musical flexibility, especially for the classical scene.

  • Some ‘converter’ accordions can switch between Stradella and free bass. I’d like one of those (I want the moon on a stick) but I get the impression they’re not so common and probably not cheap.

  • Speaking of cheap, though you can get small accordions (e.g. with only as few as eight bass buttons) for less than £100, it looks like you need to spend £400 or more to get a 120 bass accordion from a cheap Chinese manufacturer. £1500 will buy a half-decent Italian model, but the options just get more expensive from there.

  • Accordions are heavy – think 8Kg or more. They come with shoulder straps as a rule.

  • There is more than one way to tune an accordion, giving quite different types of sound. Tuning is a job for an expert (requires tweaking metal reeds) and probably done every five years or more, so best buy one that’s tuned well to start with!

  • It doesn’t matter how hard you press the piano keys or buttons – volume is controlled by your pressure on the bellows. Apparently this can be hard for a pianist to get to grips with, being more akin to bowing a cello.

I repeat: this is just what I think is true – I stand to be corrected, and will post an update as the story unfolds.