Board hubris

Robert Browning places the phrase that “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp” into the mouth of the Italian Renaissance Painter Andrea del Sarto.  Today, I have twice attempted to follow this indirect imperative from Victorian poetry: my primary go-to (or go-sub) resource for advice!

I have for some time possessed a copy of Hanan’s The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises, a book I clearly acquired under false pretenses as I have never exceeded a rather poor Grade 4 standard at the piano.  As part of an attempt to reduce procrastination in at least a few areas of my life, I have decided I had better start making some progress or my death may pre-date my becoming a virtuouso pianist.

Hanon

Soon(ish) this will rightfully be mine!

Prior to today, I had never moved beyond exercise 2.  However, over the weekend I had played exercises 1 and 2 twice, back-to-back on both days.  I won’t say that my performance was entirely error-free, nor that the playing proceeded in line with any constant metronome mark (well, not unless some gravitational waves of unprecedented magnitude passed through my flat) .  It certainly wasn’t achieved without a fair degree of pain from my hands and forearms – but it was achieved!  So, bolstered with this modest degree of “success”, this morning I turned the page to exercise 3.  This starts by telling me that I should be aiming to play exercises 3 to 5 without a break – and not just once, but three or four times.  Each of the exercises contains basically the same number of notes, so this is three-fold increase in the physical endeavour required: I fear there is a whole world of pain to come!

Still, I am determined (at the moment) and a one-off attempt at exercise 3 wasn’t too tricky: so there is hope.  Virtuosity may be within my grasp before whatever replaces the telegram arrives from who (or what) ever replaces the Queen.

In a further attempt to move my piano playing up a level (or, at a minimum, reduce its rate of descent) I am also trying to spend less time watching my fingers and more time looking at the music.  This has the advantage that when something goes wrong I know where I am, the downside is that my fingers don’t always go where I intend.  However, on balance it has worked much better than expected: my fingers generally seem to know more about playing the piano than any higher level executive function available in my brain.

Buoyed by the vaguely success-related feelings arising from moving on with Hanon, I decided to tackle some new exercises on my guitar.  Workouts 1 to 4 were going alright, so I tried workout 5.  This went very well, and hubris may have got the better of me.  In my o’erweening arrogance, I turned to workout 6.  This requires each of my first three fingers (index, middle and ring) to reside on adjacent frets.  My little finger starts on the fret next to its ring brother, but is then expected to move another fret closer to the body of the guitar whilst all its friends remain where they were.  This is clearly physically impossible for any, except (perhaps) a few freaks of nature!  Or I would think that if I hadn’t seen a large number of apparently normal people doing it.  Given these sightings were at gigs, my sample may have been somewhat self-selecting but I think I am forced to conclude that this sort of stretch is possible for a baseline human: just not (current) me.   Somehow, I have to discover the secret to cutting the apron-strings that tie my little finger to my ring finger – Hanon is helping them act independently, but a different sort of independence seems to be needed for the fretboard of my guitar.

Should I be seeking some sort of finger yoga or Pilates for my left hand?  For not only do I have to move my little finger into position once, but I then have to allow my other fingers to join it and then cruelly leave it divorced from its fellows once more – and then repeat this process multiple times.  Once again, I see pain on the horizon – and before then a lot of experimentation with my phalanges to try and achieve the position even once and with the other hand (and possible some gaffer tape) helping!  Still I like to think that what I lack in other personality traits, I make up for in bloody-mindedness so I shall keep going.  How could I not?  Hanging out with young musicians I know just how profitable a career in music can be!

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Duelling deliveries

When I were a lad, I don’t recall there being any option to have hot food delivered to one’s dwelling – well, it might have been available to the aristocracy but, due to an error of fate, I was born into the forelock-tugging classes.  Food was prepared and consumed in the home, except for very rare occasions: I think I now eat out more often in a typical week than I did in a typical year as a child.

I remember when fast food first came, in the form of KFC, to the provincial Kent town where the majority of my childhood was spent.  My mother did not approve; and I suspect still doesn’t!

So deprived were we in those far off days that fizzy pop was brought to the children (and adults) of Sittingbourne on the back of a small lorry by a man (or shadowy organisation) known as Mr Bacon, much like van-based ice cream continues to arrive in the summer months.  This seemed entirely normal at the time, but now I wonder if carbonated beverages were truly unavailable from the rather basic supermarkets of those days…

At some stage, the range of fast food increased and some enterprising providers would bring it to your door for a small consideration.  I remember working in Madrid in the 90s where a whole range of firms named teleX (for suitable X) would, in response to a phone call and the promise of some pesetas, deliver X via a young lad on a moped.  X could be any type of meal or snack: from a sandwich up.

The world continued in this way for another decade or two, with individual food providers organising their own delivery service.  But then, in the last few years, Deliveroo has appeared and attempted to consolidate the provision of food delivery and, one assumes, make a shed load of money by doing so.  Food outlets, or those not part of a major chain with the commercial muscle to resist this interloper, were forced to use its services, or risk losing sales to their competitors.  All was good for the shadowy figures pulling the Deliveroo strings, but history teaches us that an empire will often invite an upstart seeking to overthrow the current ruler (or be riven by internal strife).  Into the Deliveroo puppetmasters’ rosy world has come the young pretender: Uber Eats.  BTW: I’m not entirely sure that a brand name which loosely translates to “over eats” is giving quite the right message during a soi-disant obesity epidemic.

I like to imagine that the riders of Deliveroo and Uber Eats are rivals in the style of the Sharks and Jets from West Side Story, though I’ve yet to hear any music of the quality of Bernstein’s arising from this conflict.  In my mind, violence simmers below the surface of every encounter in food outlet or street: with tyres slashed and locks sabotaged.  I see each new rider as a “made man” (or woman or LGBTQIA+ equivalent) learning their lessons from Sean Connery’s unexpectedly Scottish (sorry, Shcottish) cop in The Untouchables, “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

I became convinced that my fantasy may be close to the truth when I saw a rider in Deliveroo uniform carrying an Uber Eats delivery box.  Was he a a Deliveroo rider who had take out a rival and claimed his box as booty?  Or had an Uber Eats rider flayed one of the enemy and was wearing his skin, like a Scythian warrior, to boast of his prowess in battle?

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An Aztec Uber Eats foot soldier (the bicycle had yet to be invented)

Despite the now deadly, if secret, war being waged between the ground troops of the two delivery services, I believe they will still form temporary alliances to tackle the common, four-wheeled foe.  The Domino’s Pizza delivery driver may only be able to offer one type of “food”, but he or she does come armed with a car.  I assume they have orders to pick off any enemy rider that is found separated from the pack – or certainly their driving when I try and cycle past one of their local nests strongly suggests they have standing instructions to eliminate any cyclist (regardless of affiliation)!

Popping my festival cherry

Fear not dear reader, my other cherry (or cherries? – I’ll have to admit that I’m really not fully on top of this US idiom) remain intact and so this post will not veer into unduly racy territory.  However, low level smut is always a risk.

This last weekend, I attended my first proper multi-day, field-based festival.  I suspect that I did the festival-going experience in my own way (or at least, not in the traditional style) and this post will bring together some of the highlights (and the odd lowlight, but I’ll steer clear of tea-lights) of my four days at the Cambridge Folk Festival.  Apologies to those unfortunate enough to have be-friended me on Facebook (though I’d like to point out that nobody forced them to – or so I have been assuming), but some of the content of this post has been up-cycled from that platform: very much in line with the green credentials claimed by the festival.

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Before the crowds!  Not a typeface I’d advise for your dissertation…

I chose the Cambridge Folk Festival partly because I have an interest in folk music, but also because whilst it does take place in some fields, these fields are situated close to a city and one that I know well.  This meant that if the whole festival became too much, I could escape to a relatively safe space.

I did not camp either on the festival site itself or on the two other campsites offered as I felt I’d like my digs to offer a contrast to a day in a field and offer better facilities than would be forthcoming from the sort of tent I could carry on the train.  I did not choose to glamp in a luxury yurt (which I presume is a yurt with the scent of yak reduced until it is almost, but not quite, undetectable) but went with my normal choice of accommodation in a university town outside of term-time: student halls of residence.  This was my first time at Murray Edwards College (which normally focuses on young women) which is not the closest college to Cherry Hinton but was definitely the cheapest available.  It was also very comfy, offering en-suite facilities, excellent wifi, a decent breakfast and in-room biscuits: all without even a hint of yak!

The interior of my “tent” and a glimpse of the wider “campsite”!

Its distance from the festival site and the rather erratic weather did mean I made a lot of use of the local buses.  Luckily, my bus skills are second-to-none.  Not for me the slow and crowded (if recommended) Citi 3 from the city centre to the festival, not when the fast and near-empty Citi 2 is available.  BTW: I feel the Citi 2 is an excellent bus route for a pub crawl: it passes within close proximity of several of the city’s finer hostelries and, if you head southbound, ends up at Addenbrooke’s hospital to deal with any incidents related to imbibing not wisely but too well.  The combination of the Citi 2 and Citi 5 provided a near door-to-door service and use of a Megarider kept the costs below that of a single cab ride.

The CFF has much to recommend it.  There was a wide range of music with the idea of folk interpreted fairly broadly and with 3-4 gigs going on at any one time.  The sound, lighting and use of smoke was excellent and the time-keeping unexpectedly Swiss.  There was a very good range of decent cake on offer and, despite my best efforts, I did not manage to sample every possible variety.  There was also a good range of vegetarian eating options and Otter brewery’s finest to wash it all down with.

The festival was oddly secretive about running order, or indeed when the music started on day one (luckily, my years of forecasting came into their own and I correctly guessed the ~5pm start).  They did seem very clear on not bringing glass on to the site (though, as it transpired, were more than willing to sell you some in the form of an £8 commemorative tankard) and also seemed opposed to the bringing of chairs (unless age or disability made them essential).  Given the number of camping chairs on the site, I think I may have been the only person to take this second requirement seriously.

I discovered that around 5 hours at the festival, mostly at gigs, was about my limit.  The discomfort of standing in mud-capable shoes reaches some sort of critical threshold around that point and I decided it was time to do something else.  It would seem that shoes good for the ascent of Cader Idris are not necessarily ideal for standing around in: though speaking to other festival-goers, this would seem to be a tall order for any shoes (and I did see several people barefoot and I was slightly tempted to join them).  I also found that all the standing around caused significant complaint from my right buttock (my left remained happy throughout).  Luckily, I had semi-organised a range of other potential activities to keep myself amused away from the festival, giving my feet and buttocks a rest (or at least some variety).

The weather was very erratic and at times exceedingly wet, which I feel added a degree of authenticity and the mud never became too bad.  Luckily the worst of the rain was focused at times I wasn’t on site, except on Saturday evening (though Saturday night was even worse, and I was particularly glad not to be under canvas).  On these occasions, a lot of people try to squeeze into the stage tents, many of them by this stage several pints into a major session, and I did find my claustrophobia became an issue in Stage 1 (for some reason I was fine in the smaller Stage 2) and had to leave.  Still, my planning had paid off and my wet-weather gear and shoes did sterling work in keeping me dry.

Friday night was also wet, but I had strayed from the world of folk to catch some of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival.  I managed to dodge all of the rain in Trinity College Chapel listening to the glorious choral singing of Tenebrae, seated on an actual chair (I paid the modest supplement to upgrade from a pew).  Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles was particularly stunning.

Saturday morning and early afternoon I also spent in central Cambridge.  I started at the Fitzwilliam Museum where my random wanderings took me past pottery from ancient Greece and 20th century Britain and into a glorious exhibition of 17th century samplers.  I think I may have to add embroidery as a pastime to my long list of desired retirement activities.  While there, I also took in a CSMF concert covering the violin sonatas of Debussy and Strauss: a very different use of the fiddle to that in evidence a couple of miles down the road.

A friend and I then wandered over (I say wandered, more fought our way through the press of language students and tour groups) to the Arts Picturehouse for a fortifying slice of Guinness cake (very fine, and a variety not available from the festival) and to see The Big Sick.  The film is very good and funny, though did also leave me in floods of tears (and not for the last time that weekend).

Sunday morning I also spent with my friend as she demonstrated her new euphonium skills, and we jointly discovered how to properly drain the instrument.  She, along with a horn player I saw a month or so back, insist that the fluid being drained is condensation and not spit: I very nearly believe them…  That evening I also fled the folk (to an extent while the buses were still running) and spent an evening listening to live jazz at the Tram Depot: which as well as jazz offered a good range of bitters (the trams, I’m afraid, are long gone).

My favourite acts at the CFF were Talisk, the Rheingans Sisters, Thom Ashworth, Chris TT and Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente – but I found much to enjoy in everything I saw.  Chris TT was responsible for my second major weeping incident of the weekend.  I think he normally sings punky political songs, but on this occasion brought a punky sung vibe to the poetry of AA Milne – from Now We Are Six (among others).  I am clearly now of a certain age (though NWAS was old even when I was 6) as his rendition of Binker, especially after explaining a little of its context, reduced me to uncontrollable tears.  I had to acquire – and more importantly eat – more cake to recover (lemon and almond, if you’re interested).

I spent most of my time at Stage 2, though did enjoy the music issuing from Stage 1 when I was wandering around or acquiring and consuming victuals and beer: the Eskies seems a lot of fun!  My favourite venue was The Den with its rugs and more chilled, seated (or even more recumbent) vibe – and that’s not just my feet and buttocks talking.  It was also fun occasionally encountering impromptu sessions in the bars and cafes on the site, though there were fewer of these than I expected – perhaps they get going after the main gigs are over and I’d toddled home to my digs?  I most enjoyed the afternoon gigs and the Thursday evening when the site was less busy: I’m quite fond of humanity, but this position is best maintained by it being delivered to my “grill” in relatively small doses.

Overall I had a whale of a time and would definitely go to further festivals: as long as I could do so on my terms, i.e. with alternative, building-based activities and accommodation to allow me to break it into manageable chunks. I also really enjoyed the pseudo live blogging of my experience through Facebook and the feedback from my unwitting audience: I’ll have to see if a more “live” element could be brought to GofaDM…

Without me

This post will enter dangerous new territory to consider a world without the author.  The whole ethos of this blog is structured around the centrality of the author to his own little world and the implicit assumption that this view is shared by a wider demographic.  The unexpected number (i.e. the fact it exceeds zero) of visitors to my digital domain has only worked to reinforce my opinion that my life, ramblings and bad jokes are far more important than could be justified by a more reasonable, objective measure.  The last post (not the Bb bugle call, but the post whose production directly preceded this one when viewed from the light-cone of the author) has proved alarmingly popular: though I would explain this by reference to its sharing be a young(er) person, rather than by ascribing any particular merit to it.

I cannot be alone, among those who have accepted that they are not (and would not wish to be) immortal, in wondering how the world (and indeed, the wider multi-verse) will muddle along without my presence.  I strongly suspect it will be fine (or at least largely unaffected for good or ill – fine might be overstating matters given recent current affairs) when the long awaited decree absolute in the divorce between me and my mortal coil is finally granted.  I have worked hard to ensure (OK, have wandered through life in such a way) that any ripples that I make in the pond of existence have minimal amplitude and soon dissipate.  The odd pub, cake shop and cultural venue may notice a brief dip in income but I like to imagine that they will survive my demise.  Though, frankly, once I’ve paid by obols to Charon and taken my terminal boat trip, you’re on your own folks!  My responsibilities (and insomnia) will be at an end!

Obviously, as part of my departure I shall be establishing a series of amusing (hopefully, flaming) hoops for those who wish to inherit my billions (currency to be confirmed) to jump through.  I fully intend for my will and funeral to be as far from plain vanilla as I can legally accomplish: is a tontine still possible?  I want them to be discussed for years to come as simultaneously a high and low watermark in the art of dying.  I want Hollywood to be fighting over the 18 certificate movie rights!  I want outrage in the Daily Mail and the Socialist Worker!  Actually, I’m making this sound rather good: I may have to fake my own death just to enjoy my funeral and the reading of my will.  I knew there was a good reason for moving closer to the sea!

You may wonder why GofdDM has suddenly taken a turn to the macabre or morbid. Others may, long ago, have decided that beneath the shallow veneer of self-obsessed whimsy it is darkness all the way down.  I couldn’t possibly comment on this theory, but am quite pleased that you might imagine that anything at all lies below intellectual shallows displayed in this forum.  However, there have been a couple of recent events which have made me realise that elements of my life continue without me.  Also, the previous post considered my position if a huge proportion of humanity were to be wiped out, so it only seemed fair to consider the position of the rest of humanity if it should (contrary to all natural justice) be that me that bites the bullet!

earth without me

The earth without me – spot the difference!

A much earlier post established that one of my nicknames appeared to by living an existence independent of me – and I like to imagine that this has continued.  However, this was merely a world 2 object (to mis-use the work of Karl Popper) and recent events relate to world 1 objects.

Of late, the National Blood Service has started to send me texts identifying where my blood goes after it has been donated.  To be honest, I’d prefer a postcard – but I will admit that their budget is probably better spend on their core business of blood collection and distribution.  When I say where it goes, they don’t send me the name, address and vital statistics of the recipient, merely the hospital where it was returned to a human host (or, depending on your point of view, first introduced to a human host).  Donation 92 went to Frimley Park – I place the rest of me has never visited – and donation 93 to Stafford (which I have visited but once).  It has been good to see that once it has left its fleshy prison (something which it seems increasingly keen to do given the rapidity with which my lie-down is overtaken by lemon squash and biscuits), my blood is getting out and about and exploring the country.  If only it retained some psychic link to its original home, I could deal with the challenge of too many gigs to attend and only one body to do the attending.  Equally, were it to be given to an EU national (something I would encourage, it would be nice to think a small part of me is living in Paris or Barcelona), could I reverse-inherit an EU passport?  Would any of the new host’s skills somehow rub off on me?  I fear I may have jumped the Lamarkian shark here and will stop before my scientific credentials are completed destroyed.

I am (tomorrow) going off to the Cambridge Folk Festival.  This will be my first, real multi-day festival which is likely to involve a field and mud: though I do feel a muddy field makes a more appropriate substrate for folk music than it does for grime or emo (to name but two).  Wish me luck, I may need it!  I am not camping, but staying in the relative luxury of student halls – and if it all gets too much for me, I can easily retreat into the city and its own cultural delights.  So, I like to think this is very much a halfway house to full festival-going and an approach commensurate with the dignity of a man of my advanced years (though clearly not to me, I have largely outlived both my dignity and my shame by this point.  They have very much played the same sacrificial role in my life that a painting did in that of Dorian Gray).

While I am away, my guitar will be gigging without me.  Interestingly, it has never gigged with me – though today I did use a capo for the first time (and my capo is very fine, a real capo di tutti capi) and learned to bend.  Nevertheless, I am far from ready to take to the stage – unless you wish to clear a venue – so I am leaving it the hands of a far more capable performer.  I feel that it is good for my instrument to get some proper gig experience in -well before its owner.  It’s probably best if we don’t both have first gig nerves at the same time – and I’m pretty sure I can internalise enough stress for the both of us.

So, even while I’m very much alive (or am I?) my possessions and even my very substance are already learning to live without me.  I suspect there is an important lesson here about our own unimportance – even in our own home and as its sole resident.  But I shall leave that for my readers to draw, I’m having fun here in the shallows!

Lord of the Dance

A title that even I wouldn’t have the bare-faced cheek to claim.  For me to justify the epithet, the human race would have to face an extinction-level event which would make the plague needed to raise me to the position of king of these isles look like a mild case of the sniffles.  Nevertheless, these past few days did raise the faintest glimmer of hope: of my mastering some form of dance rather than of the extinction of the species (the latter task I feel I can safely leave to our leaders – both foolishly elected and otherwise).

Southampton and its environs offers quite the cultural mix to the diligent seeker after divertissement.  On Wednesday, feeling exhausted after a night wrestling with the jazz-status of a range of vegetables, I did bestir myself to go see the launch of Huddlehood.  This is a new (temporary) public artwork which I will struggle to explain: it involves two ‘shells’ painted in a very cheerful shade of yellow containing a range of hoodies and hats designed to be shared by a number of people from 2-12 (in number, the age range could be somewhat greater).  There were also some ‘benches’ decorated in highly magnified images of carpet.  I cannot claim to understand it – despite talking to the artist – but I left feeling re-energised with my joie-de-vivre topped-up.

Huddlehood from afar and in amongst it!

Brimming with positivity, on Thursday I went to Bournemouth to see the sea and undergo mild exfoliation as the fine sand of its beaches was hurled against my body by the bracing wind.  I rather fear this might have been the last of the summer as since then Southampton has fallen into a rather premature autumn.

Upon my return, I headed to the Guide Dog (a particularly fine public house but a short stroll from my rude shack) to watch the Wickham Morris and Red Stags Morris perform a range of dances involving both sticks and handkerchiefs (not at the same time).  I think this was to celebrate a new mural of the Earl of Peterborough (the third of that name) – one time resident of the area – but it was gloriously entertaining.  Late in the performance, the audience were invited (even encouraged) to participate and I somehow found myself in formation, clutching two brightly coloured hankies in my nervous hands.  I’d been hoping for sticks, but I think the morris-folk were right to go with the less dangerous dance implements in my inexperienced mitts.  I will own that my willingness to participate may have been enhanced my my earlier consumption of several pints of the Red Cat brewery’s excellent Kairos.

I have to say that I think I’ve found my terpsichorean métier!  I feel I was noticeably less terrible at Morris than at any other style of dance I have previously attempted.  I think with the expenditure of very modest effort I could acquire a working mastery of the art!

Morris and Me

Grace in motion!

I had been thinking for a while that a flip-flop wearing serial killer could be a very effective plot device.  The sinister flip-flop sound in the dark would be very atmospheric.  However, I now think a killer morris man (or woman) would be even better: the sound of the bells emerging from the fog would be truly terrifying!

After the dance, many of the dancers and all of the musicians (plus some extra musicians) retired to the Dog House (the back room of the Guide Dog) for an impromptu folk gig.  This was wildly enjoyable and I have never seen so many accordions and melodeons in action in a single room before – plus a flute, several fiddles, a hammer dulcimer and a couple of bodhráns.  I am now fighting the urge to buy an accordion: I can play the piano (somewhat), so how hard could it be?  I feel the instrument also offers the player a cardiovascular workout, so in many ways it would represent an investment in my future health!

Friday I wandered as far as Winchester to see Jero Ferec and friends (and/or colleagues) staging a masterclass in flamenco.  My companions, based wholly on the length of my legs and general lack of excess weight, felt I would make a natural flamenco dancer.  Based on my own observations (and some limited self-knowledge), there seem to be rather a lot of skills required for flamenco, beyond vaguely appropriate body shape, all of which I lack.  So, I think I shall stick with morris for the time being.  Perhaps, if I am cursed with immortality, I may have the time to tackle flamenco, but for now I can’t even click my fingers in the required style.

I finished the evening watching the Sea Slugs and their take on afrobeat in a pub too cramped to permit dancing, which was probably just as well.  Still, very enjoyable and my first time in the Cricketers – which was rather a decent pub and even closer to home than the Guide Dog.  I choose far better than I knew when I moved to Southampton!

Close Enough 4

The frankly disappointing follow-up to Close Enough 3.  By this stage, all the principle cast and characters have left the sinking ship and the cinematic release was extremely limited.  If we’re honest, Close Enough was (at best) mediocre and the attempts of Hollywood to defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics with increasingly desperate sequels have not been a great success.  Entropy has an inevitability that even death and taxes have to look on with a degree of envy.

However, all of that introduction was nonsense – though represents a worryingly large share of the reason for putting fingers to keyboard.  I have, for many years, used the phrase ‘close enough for jazz’ when further precision was unnecessary (or I was too lazy to continue with a task).  As this post will go on to explain (well, it might), I now spend a lot more time in proximity to the jazz community and so worry that (a) this phrase might be offensive to that community (LGBTQIA+J anyone?) and (b) jazz seems to require significantly more precision than I have previously believed.  I may be forced to retire the phrase from my rather threadbare wardrobe of idiom.

Until recently, jazz did not play a large role in my musical life (or, indeed, my non-musical life).  It really only figured in me occasionally hurling myself across the room to hit the off switch should I turn on Radio 3 to find jazz emerging from the wireless.  However, over the last year or so things have been changing as I pass through some sort of ‘jazz-puberty’.  Somewhere in my 30s olives became acceptable – and even desirable – to my palate (having previously brought nothing but revulsion) and it would seem that my 50s has unexpectedly delivered a love of jazz.

I’m not sure exactly where it started, it may have been going to a Southampton Youth Jazz Orchestra concert with friends (their choice) or experimentation on my part with the Norwegian jazz of the Daniel Herskedal trio (one has to try new things to avoid stagnation).  It started innocently enough, with the odd jazz gig every couple of months: it seemed under control.  I felt there was some modest subset of the world of jazz which I seemed to enjoy live, but I retained my loathing for recorded jazz in all its forms.

Then, early in 2017, I was sat at home early one Sunday evening wondering if there was some nearby culture I could attend to sooth the transition from weekend into working week.  I noticed that the Talking Heads had a free (to enter) gig courtesy of the Southampton Modern Jazz Club (SMJC) in their front bar.  This was less than 10 minutes stroll from my abode and I figured “how bad can it be?” – if it was just too awful, I could just slip away in a convenient break and still have most of the evening to myself: mayhap a little tatting would provide purposeful employ for my my idle hands?

As it transpired, it was the jazz some way from awful (certainly not practically walkable) and the Sunday evening SMJC gig has become a regular feature of my weekends.  I’ve also been going to other jazz gigs locally and enjoying myself – I’ve even started buying CD on jazz (argh!).  What has happened to me?  I was expecting the deteriorating eyesight, greying hair and annexation of my flesh by wrinkles as the years performed their ineluctable dance – but no-one warmed me about this love of jazz!  Should I have taken Oil of U/Olay more seriously?

I think this process reached some kind of watershed last weekend when I went up to Edinburgh to visit a friend, but primarily to attend the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival.

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One of the 7 signs of ageing?

I had a brilliant time with a wide range of jazz from young and old with practitioners from Scotland, Scandinavia and the US.  It also helped me to realise that jazz takes place in the sort of venues I associate with all the best culture: small, dark and sweaty (and, if possible, underground!).  My two favourite gigs (in a very strong field) both occurred in such spaces: the Alan Benzie Trio in the basement of the Rose Theatre and the Fraser Urquhart Quintet in the Jazz Bar.  The Festival also taught me that if an old jazzer invites a younger colleague over, it may be to jam but is more likely to relate to a need to fix their wifi or TV.

In an attempt to boost the appeal of the GofaDM, this post will now be offering scope for audience participation: oh yes it will!  At a gypsy jazz gig at the the Talking Heads on Tuesday, I confidently stated that the cucumber was not a jazz vegetable (this was not apropos of nothing, but made sense – of a form – in a conversation I was engaged in at the time).  This then raised the question, “so what is a jazz vegetable?”.  Clearly the currently popular supermarket apple is not a jazz fruit, despite its nomenclature.  Cavolo nero is musical but clearly operatic, as I demonstrated to the horror of those present.  I eventually proposed that celeriac was a jazz vegetable and subsequently think that the Jerusalem artichoke and okra might be.  It is here, dear reader, where you come in: what do you consider to be a jazz vegetable?

The early bird

According to received wisdom, catches the worm.  I must admit that I am unaware of any research by vermicologists that would suggest worms are especially early risers – and it strikes me that the presence of early birds would place some evolutionary pressure on the worm massive to enjoy a lie-in.  I suppose it may be that worms love a rave and are returning to the earth in the early morn, fuddled by drugs and dance, and fall prey to their feathered foe – but again, evidence to support this hypothesis is scant (at best).

Still, I think that’s enough from ornithology corner as this post is less about birds (or even worms) and more about me: your feeble attempts to feign surprise are fooling no-one!

As July burst forth into 2017, I was in London to enjoy the Actually Rather Good Comedy Festival (or ARGCOMFEST as it is more punchily known).  This offers me the chance to see 16 Edinburgh previews (from a set of 48) over the course of a single a weekend (and without eating into the mornings).  I think I am growing in maturity when it comes to visiting such events: no longer do I attempt to make use of 100% of the opportunities on offer and leave exhausted with my brain reduced to a barely functional paste.  This year, I limited myself to a mere 11 previews and arrived back home in Southampton on the Sunday evening in a sufficiently viable state to enjoy some modern jazz in the latter part of the evening.  One of the joys of ARGCOMFEST is that of the 48 acts on offer over the weekend, exactly 50% can boast a substantially higher proportion of X-chromosomes than can the author – thus closely modelling the population as a whole.  Somehow, despite this highly unusual situation, the world failed to implode.  Still, it would clearly be dangerous to draw any conclusions from this one event and the industry (which doesn’t exist) should continue to apply the precautionary principles and treat female comedians like plutonium, i.e. enforce decent physical and temporal separation between them for fear of critical mass being achieved and dangerous amounts of energy (and/or laughter) being liberated.  I had a great time and my buttocks have almost recovered from the seating provided.

To make for a more relaxed experience, I stayed in London on the Saturday night and once again used my standard choice of accommodation when I’m paying (and sometimes when I’m not): student halls of residence.  This time, I stayed a stone’s throw from Waterloo in a shabby, but perfectly serviceable room which provide a decent night’s sleep, a hot and vigorous en-suite shower and even breakfast.  Having the morning to myself, I took the bus up to Piccadilly Circus to sample the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.  As I was the sole passenger, I viewed this journey as being chauffeur-driven in a particularly large, red limo.  Central London is surprisingly civilised before 10am on a Sunday morning!

So swift was my transport that I arrived at the RA a good 10 minutes before it opened.  This might have been considered slightly annoying, but as part of the exhibition the quad in front of the building was furnished with giant, ‘arty’ beanbags.  I have never been terribly impressed by the beanbag as furniture in the past, but I have now realised the error of my ways.  I had several giant, stripy beanbags to myself and reclining in the summer sunshine surrounded by beautiful architecture, with arts and comedy on the cards, may well have been the highlight of a very enjoyable weekend.

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The author’s skill with the selfie shows little sign of improvement!

Somehow, I did summon the energy to leave my perch – though it was oh-so tempting to stay – and enter the exhibition proper.  The RA was a revelation at 10am: I had the Summer Exhibition largely to myself – only a few other early risers had made it – which made for a much more relaxed viewing of the art.  It also struck me as delivering a particularly fine crop of artworks this year, particular snaps must go to the room hung by Yinka Shonibare for its many delights.  A giant photograph of three presumably Muslim women astride scooters with a couple of friends, all wearing niqab, is one of the most joyous images it has ever been my pleasure to encounter.  Even thinking about it to write this post, I can’t help smiling.

Leaving the RA, I wondered up towards the horrors of Oxford Street to catch my bus to Shoreditch for ARGCOMFEST part 2.  This would normally be a pain fighting past people and traffic, but it wasn’t.  Regent Street had been closed to traffic for some sort of street event – which involved fake grass and a gazebo (probably other things as well, but this is all I can attest to) – which also took out several side streets.  What a joy London is with the traffic removed!  That part of the city was in a state only normally glimpsed in post-apocalypse movies (but without the near mandatory zombies) or in car ads (the urban variety, rather than the empty twisty mountain road variety).  Surely, we can find some way to do this more often in more cities: think of the reduced stress and the happier city dwellers and visitors and the improvement in air quality and reduction is noise.

I think my forthcoming dictatorship (my bid for world domination will start with the UK, taking advantage of Brexit chaos and the clear incompetence of both government and opposition) has a new objective.  Traffic-free city centres!  I might sweeten the pill by providing free urban beanbags, in lieu of the rather hostile benches which tend to be provided by the current authorities.