Five Years Of Language Learning

Sipping Claret Bordeaux and thinking.

Nearly five ago, I went to my local library and borrowed a French course. Five years on, I can speak the language conversationally, along with two more languages I’ve picked up along the way – German and Russian. The Russian, in particular, needs more work, especially in regards to accent and pronunciation, but I feel the French and German are going to plan.

Personally, I regard speaking and understanding as more important than reading and writing, and I devote my time to translating sections back into English and listening to foreign language recordings without the text in front of me. Speed and accent are also important, although a person learns best by making lots of mistakes, then returning at a later date to the task in hand and mastering it.

Grammar plays a role too, but mostly in connection to my French studies. German and Russian grammars are particularly difficult.

I believe that anyone can learn to speak a language using modern teach yourself methods (often at little cost), and I would certainly recommend it.

If planning to learn two or more languages, allow at least six months before each new language, choose a language from a different language group (French and Italian or Spanish could cause confusion/French and German works better), and devote the bulk of the studies to the first language (for example, forty-five minutes of French, ten minutes of German).

Just a few of my thoughts.


A Couple Of Good Reads – Historical Fiction, Easily Told

I recently had the opportunity to read a couple of novels, both of which made a lasting impression on me.

The first novel – Street Child by Berlie Doherty (published 1993) – tells the story of a boy, Jim Jarvis, who grows up in the slums of London in the 1860s. The story, based on fact, provides thrilling moments of danger for the young protagonist, and presents shrewd insight into the characters and the psychology of greed.

The narrative moves along at a fast pace, eventually culminating in a moving conclusion. I don’t want to spoil the plot by mentioning any well known names – but as I said, the story is based on fact.

The second book – No Way Back by Valerie Wilding – adopts a diary layout and centres on the plight of a ten-year-old girl from London, Mary Wade, who is sentenced to death in 1789 for her part in the theft of a younger girl’s petticoat.

A pardon from King George allows Mary to accept the lesser punishment of banishment to Australia and much of the narrative focuses on the perilous ship journey there, along with the friendships formed.

Again, the author highlights the various characters, as well as presenting keen psychological insight into the various situations, and there are a number of surprises along the way. An extremely moving read. This book, too, focuses on a real person and historical events, with an astonishing outcome.

Happy reading.

The Local Author, And A High Street Bookstore

Bank Holiday Monday, but many major stores open.

Today, I visited the nearest branch of Waterstones to collect a couple of copies of my latest book My Musical Journey by Lawrence Estrey, an autobiography.

I found it a strange experience. On the one hand, I left the store with a book officially published that is listed in the British Library and available from many bookstores.

On the other hand, I left, aware that I’d published the book as a Print On Demand, meaning I face all the marketing obstacles that self-published authors face. Although major bookstores can and generally will order Print On Demand titles for customers, they will not stock them.

A couple of hours later, I sold a copy.

Pros And Cons

Having gone down the Print On Demand route three times, I feel qualified to offer some advice on the subject.

  • Print On Demand almost certainly guarantees an official publication. Crucial in an industry where competition is rife. Anyone can publish.
  • Print On Demand rarely costs much, although the author may choose to pay for additional services.
  • Requires marketing skills, determination.
  • Mainstream publishers seldom take on Print On Demand books; if they do, they may ask for a re-edit.
  • Dealing with the often unspoken question, “if your book’s that good, then why wasn’t it accepted by a publishing house?”

As you can see, Print On Demand has advantages and disadvantages.

To sum up – if you’re passionate about seeing your voice in print and sharing with readers, go for it. As the old saying goes, the sky’s your limit. (Just don’t expect to get rich.)

Just some of my thoughts.

Nearly Six Years Without A Cigarette

Summer is approaching – and with, it the anniversary of a major decision I made in the summer of 2012: the decision to quit smoking after more than two decades.

I made the decision purely for health reasons. I enjoyed smoking, but a true lung age test indicated a significant loss of lung function that placed me as a person thirty years older. Shortly after that, I gave up.

In this article, I wish to share several lessons learnt along the way. I should add that I have not smoked a single cigarette since quitting, so I feel qualified to share the advice. I would also regard the fifth point as particularly crucial.

First, smokers differ. At one time, lots of people started and gave up without difficulty. Social smoking. For instance, many nurses in the 1960’s smoked for a few years before quitting when they got married or started families. Others, however, have found it impossible to stop smoking and have continued smoking during serious illnesses (like myself in 1999 when I developed pneumonia but continued to smoke).

Second, health is the greatest incentive to stop, but a person still has to have a reason for quitting. A large number of patients who require the chronic use of oxygen for illnesses caused by excessive smoking will continue to smoke, regardless of their conditions.

Third, when a person stops smoking, they will almost always find the third day the most challenging. Therefore, if the quitter takes up smoking again on the third day, they will only have to face another “third day” at a later stage.

Fourth, nicotine replacement products work for many. I believe that any ex-smoker entering an environment where others may be smoking (e.g a party or after work drinks where colleagues go out for a quick cigarette) should keep a supply of nicorette close to hand, regardless of how long ago they gave up smoking. Personally speaking, I could not have managed without nicorette.

Fifth, and perhaps most important of all, accepting “just one cigarette” often leads the ex-smoker back to regular smoking. People will rationalise the situation and think they can smoke on important occasions, but social smoking rarely works for a person who has smoked heavily in the past.

Obviously, other ex-smokers will have different opinions, but the advice offered in this article has kept me off cigarettes since the day I stopped and I believe it could steer others away from smoking too.

Till next time.

North Finchley Festival

Live music in the local community. Bars. Cafes. Pubs.

Yesterday, I played live piano at M’S Place on the High Road, N12, as part of the North Finchley Festival (known also as the North Finchley Fest).

An internet television channel interviewed me before I began and later recorded coverage of me playing Clair de Lune by Debussy. It was a strange moment and I felt both nervous and confident as I concentrated on my breathing and the idea of the breath anchoring me, in order to remain calm and focused.

I played for about forty minutes, a mixture of classical piano, ragtime and lighter songs from the shows.

I look forward to more opportunities for taking part in events like these, participating in the local community, and gaining invaluable experience in gigging.

Till next time.

A Stand Up Musician, Sort Of

We’ve all seen or heard stand up comedians. They get up and do a slot in venues, gaining valuable experience and exposure.

In the past few months, I’ve been working on an equivalent in small settings in suburban north London, UK. Generally, I do a mixture of classical piano and ragtime, lasting between seven and thirteen minutes.

If the mood is right, I’ll start with the third movement from Beethoven’s fourth Sonata in E-flat, then follow with the Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin. I might end with a popular like I Love Paris by Cole Porter or add another short classical piece (time permitting). Chopin works sometimes, but not always. Each audience is different.

I enjoy these opportunities to share my piano playing with others and I value the chance to begin with a technically challenging Beethoven movement, which people always seem to appreciate.

Till next time.

Hay Fever Season – Again

The title sums it up. Scratchy throat and itching, like a summer cold.

Since quitting smoking nearly six years ago, I’ve taken a key interest in health issues, particularly relaxation and breathing practices.

Opinions vary on how to breathe correctly. As I don’t hold any qualifications in health science, I don’t feel I can recommend specific breathing exercises. Incorrect practise leads to problems. A person with uncontrolled high blood pressure, for example, should not hold their breath as part of a breathing technique.

Nevertheless, slow and relaxed breathing with an emphasis on the exhale should not create problems. I attach sole importance to the exhale and regard the inhale as unimportant (although breathing, clearly, includes both an inhale and an exhale).

For me, it’s a question of mental focus (as opposed to not breathing in) and I believe that a person must comfortably get as much air out before drawing a breath in. The person must remain calm and always listen to their own body – in other words, no striving or panicking during the exercise.

Just a few of my thoughts.

An Encouraging Moment Along The Way

Indie authors can often feel discouraged. They have no major publishing house backing them and they have to do all the promotional work, including the selling.

This morning, I visited my local bookshop, Muswell Hill Bookshop, to pick up a couple of copies of my latest book, My Musical Journey by Lawrence Estrey, an autobiography. The paperback had arrived at last.

As the title suggests, the narrative centres around my musical studies and Indie career ( although pianist Ashkenazy gets a mention and I win a scholarship shortly after arriving in London, plus give lots of piano recitals).

I think I will need to do a great deal of further work in promoting this book, but seeing my own work in print today gave me an unexpected boost and I think it’s a case of just getting on with things, no matter how easy or difficult.

Meanwhile, readers in many parts of the world can now get the book online or order through major bookshops.

Till next time.

A Poetry Blog?

Words convey magic. They rhyme, some sentences sing. Changing the position of a preposition can add a poetic feel to a sentence. Having recently completed my third book ( an autobiography), I miss the act of writing on a daily basis, and wonder whether I should start a poetry blog.

I would create the blog under the same username for this blog and the sister blog MyPianoBio and would use a similar calming template for fewer distractions.

I need to give it some thought, but possibly a new blog will emerge in the summer.

Till next time.