Fuelling up for performance

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp is well known for what he calls a pressing style. Opponents of the football team know what they are up against in theory. The Liverpool defenders will play what is known as a high line, so as to limit the progress of the opposing team’s strikers. But the high line does not merely do that. It means there are more players within a remaining space, the playing area is more compressed, which is where the action happens. The team continues to pressure the opposing players into giving up possession of the ball through making a mistake, and then then suddenly their opponents half is crammed with loads of players.

The pressing style requires a lot of sprints from the players to put the ball player under pressure, and certainly in order to do that you would have to expect they fill up and have the right amount of nutrition. What kind of food is the right kind?
Traditionally food high in carbohydrates such as pasta have been favourites. Like distance runners from Somali also swear by ughali, a kind of food that is high carb. But high carb must be balanced. Carbohydrates take a long time to break down, and the resources required by the body to do so can cause its performance to be impaired. Ever experienced the post lunch slump? What is happening is that your body is hungry because it needs calories. You feed your body by eating, but the problem is that in order to break down the food you have just eaten, your body needs calories – so for a spell it is running on empty, which is why you experience the slump. And what can you do about it? Quite simply, don’t eat when you’re really hungry, eat before you get to that stage.

If you were ever in a music band, you know that concerts can last for over two or three hours and before you get on stage you have to fuel up, and then during the break also fuel up as well in order to finish the concert on a high. But don’t be like one of the members of the band The Drifters (Rudy Lewis), who ended up binge-eating to his death! (You can read more about The Dfiters from the Piano Lessons N8 website.)

So here’s a lesson to take away – stay fuelled up for the activities in your life, but don’t binge! Just eat enough for what you need to do. And the timing is important!

Balancing, as told by a classical music composer

If you see someone on the street that requires help – perhaps that person displays some sort of behaviour that draws your attention, or is homeless – would you stop to help? There are some people who think this: why would you stop though? Why would you set aside all your evening downtime after a long day at work simply to take on more responsibilities by getting involved in a situation that doesn’t directly concern you? These are not even work responsibilities that would benefit you financially or help you career wise, these are areas where someone might think it is a matter for social services to deal with.

Fair enough – you can imagine why they would consider that thought, wouldn’t you? After all, you pay taxes to the government to cover these sort of social responsibilities that, if accounted for individually, would be to cumbersome to manage. If all that you were liable for was divided up and individually tabulated – for example, the amount to pay to binmen for clearing away your rubbish, the amount due to police for policing – the whole process would be too overwhelming, both for you and for the person due. The bin man would have to have separate invoices and accounts for all the houses on the street!

There are many that feel that because they pay taxes, and under these taxes there is the provision for social services, then whenever there is a social situation that needs addressing it is the job of the council or local authority to deal with it. For example, when you see homeless people sitting under railway bridges, you may offer them some loose change from time to time, but feel that, long-term, it is the job of the local authority to find housing, short-term accommodation or some other form of alleviation for those in need.

The problem we have is that our inner being, the compassionate one, feels we need to offer assistance, yet our head tells us we have to steel ourselves from helping, because otherwise we would have to keep offering financial assistance, get too involved, take responsibility on behalf of the local council – and all other reasons. In this way we breed a sort of social disconnect, which can cause mental problems in the long term.

How can we bridge these two parts? We can take a leaf out of the book of the classical composer George Gershwin. He successfully bridged the two and in this modern day is seen as introducing jazz influences into classical music, blending the elements of one into the other, until the mix was a bit of both. And so it is with our society – every one has to find a level of equilibrium that allows you to balance social obligations with practicality. Your level may not be the same as someone else’s, but you have to find one that gives you some form of inner peace, so that when we are older and flashbacks to the past, we can live with our own history.

The role of Music in life

What role does music play in your life? Is it just commute fodder? In bygone times it was used for more than just that.

Music had many functions and purposes. In times gone by it was used to accompany religious rites or religious worship. Think of tribes drumming or singing while dancing to an unknown god in a trance, or religious blessings within dignified ceremonies (such as temple blessings). In the Western world, the majority of music was written and used for religious purposes. The Catholic church’s preference was for sung texts whose words glorified God, instead of the instrumental music played by the heathen, for whom music was used for social, non-religious entertainment. The texts of the latter songs spoke of courtship, chivalry, and other themes of love, sometimes in rather vulgar terms, or were used as political satire.

This practice of music for religious worship, social entertainment or political commentary has continued over the centuries, even though styles may have diverged or overlapped and new genres may have sprouted.

In the 1960s, folk rock – a lighter sort of rock – was a vehicle for social protest. Songs such as “Blowin’ In the Wind”, “I Ain’t Marching Any More”, and “A Change is Gonna Come” gained popularity in America because they voiced sentiments to the issues of the time such as America’s participation in the Vietnam War, and the lack of civil rights of African Americans. Closer to England, punk rock songs such as “God Save the Queen” demonstrated opposition to the monarchy.

But it is not necessarily the words to music that can serve as a form of protest. Protest need not manifest itself in the lyrics. The performance of music in itself can serve as a form of opposition. Think the words of Verdi’s Requiem Mass. The Latin text to the Mass setting has nothing that screams “protest”. But in 1942, the score was smuggled into a Nazi concentration camp in the Czech Republic and the prisoners of war, learning the music under the guidance of the former composer and conductor Rafael Shachter, continually came together to perform the music in an act of spiritual resistance, immersing themselves in the art and forgetting temporarily the harsh realities of ghetto life and deportations. For the 150 or so prisoners of war, coming together to learn the music and perform it allowed them to find the strength to cope with the loss of freedom. And even as the numbers dwindled with deportations to Auschwitz, the Requiem was performed sixteen times. “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say,” one prisoner-of-war remarked. (One wonders if they tried the revolutionary arias of Verdi or Rossini operas.)

In war-torn Yugoslavia, the ethnic struggles in Sarajevo in 1992 and the innocent killing of 22 civilians by a mortar round as they waited in a food queue prompted cellist Vedran Smailovic to play Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor for twenty-two days, one day for each member of the dead, as a silent mark of respect, in the vicinity of ruined buildings and in full defiance of the snipers with their crosshairs fixed on him. The Sarajevo String Quartet, would likewise present the city with 206 concert during the siege which lasted four years, continually uplifting the inhabitants of the city, even though the two original violinists lost their lives. It was a statement of defiance, not just to the oppresors, but a resolute stand to continue to live with dignity despite the circumstances.

The French composer Olivier Messiaen, who died in 1992, was thirty-one and a prisoner of war when he wrote his Quatuor pour la fin du temps – Quartet for the End of Time. When France fell to the Germans in 1940 he had been rounded up and deported to a German camp located some seventy miles east of Dresden, where his fellow prisoners in Stalag VIII-A included a clarinettist, Henri Akoka; a violinist, Jean le Boulaire; and a cellist, Étienne Pasquier.

Messiaen somehow managed to procure some paper and a small pencil from a sympathetic German guard and put together a work that features an unusual quartet – clarinet, violin, piano, cello – which presents challenges in blending sounds and balance. But those were the instruments at Messiaen’s disposal in the camp. Playing battered, makeshift and out-of-tune instruments outdoors in the falling rain and the snow on the ground, the musicians premiered the work on the evening of 15 January 1941 for fellow prisoners of war, which included French, German, Polish and Czech men from all strata of society, huddled together in their threadbare uniforms, on which was stitched ‘K. G.’ or ‘Kriegsgefangene’ (meaning prisoner of war) in a silent demonstration of hope against their current circumstances.

Does looking at music this context give it more life than mere mindless entertainment while on your commute?

Perhaps you can give more meaning to music in your life through learning a music instrument and making it more relevant. For piano lessons in N4, get in touch with the pianoWorks website and give your life a fresh direction.

The Blue Line turns 50!

Can you believe that the London Underground Victoria line is going to be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year? That’s right, the celebrated blue line will have been running for five decades since construction was undertaken between the first section from Walthamstow Central to Highbury and Islington. (The later stations to Brixton were gradually added as the station line was extended.) So what are the treasures you can see if you decide to take the line southwards?

One of the treasures you can see at Walthamstow Central is Vestry House Museum. Just a short walk away from the station itself, you can have a look inside the museum itself, which used to be a workhouse. The building, which was built in the eighteenth century, is a rich display of local history. There is a costume gallery and you can have a taste of what Victorian life was like. The best thing of all is that it’s free! This is a wonderful place to take the kids.

For those of us that are older – well, young adults really – Tottenham Hale might be your place to be. If you are into the nightlife, you might want to head up to Styx. Up sticks to Styx as they say! It has a good music scene, and has been described as an edgy music venue. Certainly not boring! You are guaranteed a good night out there. They run different club nights and also has alternative theatre shows. And just what exactly is an alternative theatre show? Not spoiling it, you’ll just have to head down to see it. And while you’re there, get down and munch on their tasty pizzas. The entry price depends on the night, so check it out before you head there.

A few stops down the line from Tottenham Hale is Finsbury Park. Finsbury Park was formerly known as Brownswood Park and is a great place to bring the kids when the sun is out. Thee are many playgrounds for them to enjoy playing at and when they get tired, you can take them to the cafe for a tasty snack. But what if the weather is not so good? There are many things to do around the area too. You can visit the theatre around the station, or Seven Sisters Road contains a wide array of shops guaranteed to tickle your fancy.

You are indeed blessed if you live around the Finsbury Park area – it is one of the established places with good transport links. There are places for artistic and health development. Gyms, theatre classes and music classes abound.. And if you are looking to start music lessons like learning the piano, why not get in touch with pianoWorks? A tutor visits your house and you get to play music suitably adapted, and music you like. Get in touch via the above link and learn a skill for life!

What food advertisements may reveal to us

You see lots of things advertised on public transport. Step into a London underground tube carriage and what do you see? Ads for musicals, food, places to go, money – and whatever you think of the advertisments, you can’t disagree that there is a captive audience. Bored people will glance up and take note of the advertisements, and even if you don’t commit to buy, the ads will have made an impression on your mind, that may induce you at a later stage to a purchase by a somewhat circuituous route.

But if you consider that advertisements are placed where they can have the most result, then their target market exists within the boundaries. Simply to say, if a tube carriage contains certain types of advertisements, then the advertisers must believe that their clientele exists there. You wouldn’t advertise a pregnancy test kit in a senior citizens’ magazine.

So what can the advertisements on tube carriages tell us?

Some believe that the ads can tell us various things. One of them is our relationship to food. Where in the past, people used to believe that sitting down to dinner was a daily affair, not it is believed that it is okay to sit up alone and indulge yourself in front of the TV and social media catchup. In other words, the number of takeaway ads suggest that the social side to eating is gone. People no longer sit at a table together to talk. Eating is lesson of a social expereience than belore.

Some suggest that the elimination of a social experience of dining is more further advanced that before. Eating is that annoying thing you have to do to stay alive. It is almost like eating gets in the way of work and going home. Considering the number of hours that people now work, the advertising of a takeaway meal to solven life’s annoying need to have to eat to say alive is symptomatic of that fact we work really long hours nowadays.

So that is what food ads on the tube can tell you. Sitting down at a table is too long, and gets in the way of work. It tells us we are working longer hours overall.

But bear in mind that what you see only tells one side of the story. The following is a case in point. The music composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was always thought to be an extrovert. But it turns out that he was depressed, and prone to bouts of introspection too. (You can read more about Mozart from the Piano Teacher N8 website using this link.

Perhaps tube advertisements about food only tell us one side of the story, and a closer examination of other things around might yield a better picture. Still worth a thought though!

Success spoils: Staying Hungry

As we come to the conclusion of the World Cup, and a final involving a French and Croatian team, it is a good time to ponder over questions such as the following:

How did a team with a big national population and established football league and facilities, lose to a team from a small country and poor facilities? The majority of the Croatian team play outside of their own country and for those that remain, they have to train in ramshackle facilities and in harsher conditions. You can argue that these inbreed greater will to succeed, instead of the footballing teens who haven’t quite made it yet but are on high salaries.

Ever heard of Ainsley Maitland-Niles? Arsenal’s young player has played in a few games this season, but is on thirty-thousand pounds a week. If that is the salary of a fringe player, it is quite a cushy life, compared to what other people in normal jobs take home. A person’s annual salary in one week? You can see why some make the accusation that the hunger is lacking. Grown men in other European leagues have to fight to succeed to get anywhere near that.

The problem when you get too much, too soon, is that you go soft. You start to think about doing as little as possible to coast your salary. If you look at Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, he has been a peripheral figure for much of the seasons; only when it was contract renewal time did he put in an extra shift. But now that he has signed his new contract, and will be banking every week more than people make in a year, as long as he can ignore the criticism of fans, he will be fine.

The NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf was only fresh out of college when he signed a multi-million pound contract. But he only played a few years – totalling a few games – too much money too soon. Success spoils.

Is it the truth that too much too soon is too much to handle? Leaf’s contract was $31.25 million over 4 years. He ended playing 25 games in his NFL career, which is what most pros do in just over two seasons. The music composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was identified as a child prodigy, but throughout his life had money problems and could not cope, dying penniless. (You can read more about Mozart from the Piano Teacher N15 blog.)

Success spoils – that is why Cristiano Ronaldo, fresh off his world cup exploits, sought a new move from Real Madrid to Juventus. After a few years of winning everything there is to win, staying hungry by moving to a less winning team is the only way to keep striving and improving!

Being two-faced (or more)

Do you have many faces? You might need more makeup.

Seriously though, when I say we have many faces, what I mean is that we have different sides to us. The face we show at home is different to the face we show at work. The face we show at home in front of our kids is different to the face that we show when they are not around. No one person is the same in different situations.

Take for example, this fellow Tom. In the office he is mild-mannered and agreeable, but on Saturdays when he goes to the football stadium he turns into a different person, disagreeing with refereeing decisions against his team, chanting taunts at opposing players, vociferously slagging them off. Tom goes home, kisses his wife and kids hello, reads the little ones the bedtime stories, and after that he goes out with his mates where they take turns badmouthing their other halves and complaining about women.

Stella works as a PA and is pretty much her boss’s runner, meekly taking orders, but after work she goes home and decides to go out with her friends, whereupon she tears up the dance floor.

When the people in various parts of their lives come together, they are surprised that the Tom or Stella they know is different from the other ones people know.

Is it good to have many sides to you? Yes. Your work may require you to be forceful, strong and opinionated, but maybe your children don’t need to see that side of you. Your children may think of you as generally sweet and cuddly, but they should know you can be capable of being forceful if they cross the line. Some sides of us may be less appealing than others, and we may try to suppress them, but there is no advantage in maintaining only one side to ourselves. If we refuse to acknowledge the darker side of us, we may find ourselves taken advantage of by people who bully us for trying to be to nice.

According to a Finsbury Park piano teacher, the composer and pianist Mozart had many sides to him. While he is recognised for being somewhat of an outlandish extrovert, no one saw the depressed side to him, the one he reverted to in private. Did he come under pressure to maintain the happy extrovert face at all times? Perhaps when he was down in the dumps the expectation by others that he should be positive and not feel sad might have even been a bit oppressive.

We all have different sides to ourselves, and the glimpses of others we come across may not represent them as a whole. That’s just how it is.

Get rid of disposable cups? Or the idea?

Is it a case of more being seen to be doing the right thing, than actually doing the right thing?

I’m talking about the ban in coffee cups.

I admit, I’m biased – I love my caffeine fix in the morning, in the mid-morning and in the afternoon. In fact, I have it as a nightcap.

The coffee industry accounts for billions of paper cups being disposed of each year, most of which ends up in landfill.

Currently there are only 5 centres in the whole of the UK where disposable plastic cups can be recycled.

The problem with disposable plastic cups is that they are single-use only, and the plastic coating that lines each cup to stop the liquid leaking through is what causes the cup – despite being made of paper – to end up in landfill instead of in recycling facilities.

The ban on disposable plastic cups is great, despite its inconvenience. Various coffee chains are already incentivising schemes where customers bring their own mugs, by giving them reductions, but this is usually paid for by charging over the odds for products.

The corner cafe where I live charges a pound for a cup of tea. Starbucks tea costs nearly twice that. You have to be amazed at the profits and the difference in price.

But coffee chains have to be seen to be encouraging recycling, because being sustainable is a perceived plus point. So when chains purport to be environmentally-friendly, and have a social conscience either by being Fairtrade or building schools in deprived areas, don’t be hoodwinked into thinking they care, they have to be seen as caring so as to attract customers.

Part of me wonders, shouldn’t we be trying to tackle wastage elsewhere in products where plastic plays a major role? I’m thinking, instead of tackling the coffee cup, tackle the plastic water bottle first. You get a few uses out of it, true, but certainly the amount of plastic in a water bottle is greater than the number of uses you get out of it.

Maybe we should spend more into researching thinly glass-lined cups that are more recycleable? Or design flasks that are more sleek and more easily washable?

The problem with carry-flasks and mugs is they have a hole in the lid – plastic, I may add – to allow the hot air to escape, which means they are not leakproof. Flasks are hard to clean, which is why people don’t use them. Maybe a plastic, folding cup like campers use are better for the environment?

In short, I can’t think that the spotlight on coffee cups is misdirected.

In the early days of film music, people merely used to sit with their food and drinks in the movie theatre to watch a silent movie. What cups did they use then? Everyone merely brought a mug or flask with them in their picnic basket.

If you want to help environment, target the behaviour, not the symptoms. We have to focus on the disposable culture of society, instead of the cups itself.

In other words, if you have poor skin conditions like acne because you eat too much oily food, getting pimple cream is a waste of time; you need to address the consumption of oily food first.

What are they going to do at music festivals? When you are bopping to the dance music or rocking to punk rock music, will you have a mug in your hand instead of paper cups?

The whole strategy seems rather confused.

New Beginnings

A new beginning causes disruption to the status quo. It causes change. And sometimes the change is welcome. Sometimes it is not. Sometimes it causes uncertainty and stress because we have not grapsed the situation fully yet and our minds go crazy at the lack of control.

To be human is to want control. While control varies from different people, ultimately control gives us a sense of confidence, of certainty that things are going right and that we are in charge. It is being in charge of our lives that we ultimately seek.

But change is not necessarily bad because it throws control into havoc, however mildly. It pushes us out of our comfort zone so that we find that when we have adapted, we are in greater control because we have adjusted to and assimilated the thing that we were fearing the most.

So while it may be difficult for us to realise this, embracing change and new things is necessary. It opens up new avenues and mindsets. It gives us more awareness of the things around us instead of trapping us in daily routine.

SO let’s embrace change for what it is.

Gender inequalities in the workplace are perpetuated from childhood

Women’s careers aren’t just in the ether, they’re on the front pages of newspapers, inside glossy magazines, on the radio, across the internet and they’re being discussed on a daily basis in governments all around the world. It’s amazing that there’s so much buzz around women and careers; people are really talking about women’s rights at work, and attitudes are changing.

Things are getting really exciting for women at work. Sure, if you look at gender-split job statistics, the situation is pretty much as depressing as it’s ever been. But – BIG BUT – the John stat doesn’t account for what’s swirling around the media, and is inside the meeting rooms and minds of career folk (women and men) across the globe. Women have been legally entitled to the same respect, pay and job titles as our male friends and peers for many years and slowly but surely the reality is catching up with the legal framework. We want equality, but we want something more than that too: we want to stay uniquely and wonderfully female. The same pay, yes, opportunities, of course, but we don’t want to have to abandon our femininity at the office revolving door. For us, gender parity does not imply gender uniformity.

While everyone deserves to be received and treated equally at work, women must do it their own way, because being a woman is part of what makes you, you. The side-by-side vision of a naked female and a naked male validates the simple fact of life: we are different versions of the same species. There’s the obvious stuff and then there are the mysterious workings inside our heads. Our brain is arguably the most important thing about us. It makes us human and is the instigator of everything that we think and do. It’s our life control centre, and science tells us that for men and women there are brain wiring variations.

In the past, we’ve been wedded to the notion that men have better connectivity within each hemisphere, whilst women have better connectivity between the hemispheres. In an everyday sense, this explained why men excelled at spatial awareness and women at social cognition and multitasking. Neuroscience is notoriously complex but the latest large-scale research shows that gender brain differences may not be as clear-cut as we were led to believe. While some recent studies suggest no significant difference in crucial parts of the brain at all, the most recent research leads to the centre of the brain – the hippocampus, the part associated with emotion and memory. This is usually larger in men than women, but, without wanting to get too technical, some women have a larger, more male-style hippocampus and some men have one that is smaller and more female in style. This suggests the idea of a continuum of femaleness to maleness for the entire brain. Scientists found that the majority of the brains studied were a mosaic of male and female structures, meaning there is no one type of male or female brain.

I like this because it validates our own stance of overlap. The most successful person in the workplace, research says, is the woman who retains her female brain but who isn’t afraid to borrow some stereotypically male traits when the opportunity requires it. Success isn’t about pitting yourself against a man, it’s about learning to be your best – it’s about finding your place on the continuum and making it rock. Interestingly, brains aren’t fixed organs, they are constantly evolving and changing as we age, depending on how we use them. Neuroplasticity, as it is called, in part explains why little girls end up studying languages and the arts and little boys get filtered into STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects that frequently lead to more lucrative careers. Repetition reinforces the networks within our brains: baby girls and baby boys might start off with exactly the same brain software, but over time, as we unwittingly encourage boys towards Lego and trucks and girls into social situations that require capable communication skills, the map of association in our childhood brains is sculpted so that the function of the hardware is constantly altered by experience. We lead our girls to dolls and our boys to the top of trees, and then we wonder why society ends up treating women and men differently.

Hormones also play a part in this lifelong divide, as does parental nurture. More interestingly, though, this has a much more subtle impact – it defines what we believe about ourselves. We self-stereotype against ourselves as women, and then we live up to these restrictions.

There is a recent study using Asian-American women that perfectly illustrates the point. The group was divided and set a maths test. Just before the test commenced, half of the group were reminded that they were Asian, invoking the stereotype of Asians having a high maths ability. This half did better in the test. However, when they were reminded of being female (which invokes the stereotype of poor maths performance), they scored lower on the test than the control group. The point is that while men do tend to outperform women in assessments of mathematic ability, for example using the test results of American SATs exams, in reality women aren’t actually worse at maths (see here), we’re just stereotyped into thinking that way.

In the workplace, this presents as women not reaching for leadership positions, or being too conservative in their entrepreneurial expectations for the simple reason that we believe that we don’t belong at the top. We aren’t all professors in waiting, but we should all be able to imagine ourselves where we really want to be at work. Not where society or our stereotyped brains expect us to land. Your career brain, the one you rely on to muster confidence, the one that assists you in awkward networking situations, pay negotiations and everything else in between, may not currently be on your side and thats in part due to stereotyping and nurture. When you know the reasoning behind where your brain is at, it allows you to make positive changes to redirect those channels – to change the hardware, so that your brain (your unconscious thinking) is aligned to your reach-for-the-stars career dreams.