Saturday, March 08, 2008

We shall have music wherever we go

A few Christmases ago Mrs D received a wonderful present from her loving spouse: a waterproof radio/CD player of the sort that you can hang in the shower. Once it's been attached to the wall, the idea is that you can enjoy all your favourite tunes as you attempt to scrape yourself clean under the icy dribble.

And after an episode of Dixon's Extreme DIY Challenge involving a power drill, ceramic tiles and a whole lot of swearing, the radio was indeed installed semi-securely to the shower wall and ready for action.

In theory it's quite a cunning device: not only does it work in a steamy atmosphere, but it also offers long wave, medium wave and FM, and the top of the CD tray doubles as a mirror so you can face up to the evidence of your own over-indulgence even as you scrub yourself rosy-cheeked and fresh.

In practice, though, if you do ever try to load up a CD, it slips from your fingers and tumbles into the swirling torrent below, where it is rendered unplayable by the same invigorating blend of natural oils and herbs you've just been slathering all over your torso.

Powerful stuff, that Lynx body wash.

On long wave there are four or five European stations which would probably be quite informative if you had actually ever got round to doing those Serbo-Croat evening classes you always promised yourself.

On medium wave you have a choice of hiss, crackle or pop.

And on FM there is just one station: Classic FM.

All the other stations: Radios 1 through 4, Kiss FM, Cuddle FM, MakeUp FM and even "local" stations like Bath FM, just bounce off the outside of the bathroom wall and scatter harmlessly into the troposphere.

But for some reason Classic FM has super-powers which let it refresh the parts other radio stations cannot reach.

The most likely explanation for this is that the Look No Nails glue which was used to fix the tiles back onto the bathroom wall - during the concluding spasm of the original DIY extravaganza - was in fact a technological spin-off from the B-2 stealth bomber project, and that it blocks out all radio frequencies with the exception of 100-102 FM.

It does rather leave you wondering, though, what a USAF pilot would make of a sudden blast of Flight of the Bumble Bee as he focused his targeting computer on some unsuspecting Third World state.

Be that as it may, it leaves the abluting Dixon with something of a problem: turn it on or leave it off?

Because the trouble with Classic FM is that it brings so much blandness into your life that if you listen to it too much you'll end up blander than Mr Bland of Bland Street, Blandford Forum.

Presenters like Jane Jones and Simon Bates appear to be under strict instructions to d-r-a-g o-u-t t-h-e-i-r v-o-w-e-l s-o-u-n-d-s in order to make the listeners feel more relaxed. In fact, the effect is rather like Mogadon.

The adverts, for products like All Bran and Nytol, are targeted at those who need easing into the day (literally) and then easing out at night.

Audio compression makes the quiet bits and the loud bits all sound nice and average, not dynamic. And during the day they only play the well-known bits: single-movement extracts from their Hall of Fame playlist, or film themes of the classical kind. Think Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings...

Not the sort of intellectually challenging soundscape you would hope to enjoy while you're having your morning shave, moisturise and floss.

But in our bathroom there is no alternative: any attempt to fiddle with the dial on the radio leads to the generation of the sound you get when you drag a cat tail-first through a thorn hedge (don't try it at home, readers).

So it looks like we're stuck with washing to the accompaniment of Music for the Royal Fireworks, Pachelbel's Canon and Ravel's Bolero. Marvellous in themselves, but rather done to death on Classic FM.

This column was first published in The Bath Chronicle on March 6 2008. Copyright Bath News & Media 2008.