Seeing off 2017

This post was supposed to have been written rather earlier in 2018 but somehow I seem to have become distracted by other matters.  Then again, a man who constructed an entire post around an abandoned loaf of sliced white or, in the early days, the genetic purity of the ruddy duck was probably always going to struggle to stick to the point or, indeed, any over-arching plan for a frivolous blog of his life.

I trust that a few readers are still clinging on to the last tatters of their most recent annual resolutions or have managed to maintain their temporary new dalliance with an absence of ethanol or animal products in their diet.  I expect the country’s gymnasia are quietening down again and many members will already have paid their last visit of 2018: though will continue to pay a direct-debited sacrifice to fitness for many months yet (it certainly satisfies one measure of “losing a few pounds”).  To be honest, a bit of extra post-Christmas carriage has probably been a boon given the rather stormy nature to the start of the year and helped to keep a few feet on the ground, despite Eleanor doing rather more than picking up some discarded rice.

In many ways, I ended 2017 much as I lived through the rest of it and managed to find at least one ‘gig’ for each of those ill-defined days that lurk twixt Christmas and the New Year.  The monthly acoustic (mostly folk) session at the Guide Dog restored much needed live music to my life after a two day absence on the 27th.  It was at this event that the first of two incidents of me being recognised over this period occurred: on this occasion my ‘fan’ explained that she had ‘seen me in pubs’.  She had me bang to rights, I think you’ll agree!

The following evening provides some more music but mostly poetry, the highlight of which was when a friend – who had bought some poems he wrote in the mid 90s just-in-case – found himself headlining the gig (or at least going on last).  Let this be a warning to you all: never carry a poem if you aren’t willing to use it!

On the Friday, feeling that I had unfairly been neglecting the Joiners, I spent my evening at a gig expecting to know none of the bands on offer – but the options were limited and it seemed worth a punt.  This became the second occasion that week for me to be recognised, this time as a member of previous audiences.  It would seem that I have become the Troy McClure of Southampton gig audiences, “You may remember me from such audiences as…”.  I had great fun at the gig: as it turned I had seen one of the supports (Myriad) before, but Eyes to the Skies and The Collision were both new to me and enormous fun.

The bands were all incredibly youthful, leaving me feeling particularly ancient and talentless: what was I doing at their age?  A Levels, I seem to recall and both reading and listening to radio comedy (not much else springs to mind).  The audience were also, mostly, young and so there was a lot more moshing and pogoing than I normally experience at a gig.  I do love this as it gives a wonderful energy to affairs, but I do find myself worrying about the motor control of the young people and the risk of them landing on my relatively unprotected feet.  I think I may acquire a pair of steel toe-capped shoes for such events where I can enjoy the youthful exuberance without fear of a crushing defeat (now, that’s what I call a pun!) style incident.  On these occasions, I usually assume that other people of even roughly my age are either parents (or grandparents! Arghh!) of someone on stage – and can often confirm this: the lovely young lad fronting Eyes to the Skies name-checked his mum in the audience way more often than I imagine happens at the O2, I seem to recall she volunteered to ferry much of the audience round the country when he goes on tour.

On Saturday, I voyaged by posh bus to Winchester to see a friend play in the Oxfam music shop.  It may be slower (usually) and more expensive than the train, but you do get a much broader range of sights from the top deck of a bus as it wends its way towards Alfred’s city.  It was during this gig that I was unable to resist purchasing a second-hand book of 15 keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.  This was an excellent buy and the first example (the D minor Kk.1) is bringing a lot of pleasure into my musical life as I attempt to play it.  The range of second-hand keyboard music available was impressive, though I was left with the impression that children in the nineteenth century were much more gifted at the piano than middle-aged men in the 21st: repertoire for the young written by Schumann looked impossibly difficult to me.  Or does this explain its presence in a charity shop?

I even bumped into my sister (OK, we had arranged this) and, despite the range of excellent pubs that Winchester offers, find myself accompanying her to a local Weatherspoons.  Oh, the shame of it!  The things one does for family, still I suppose I did get a pint of Upham’s Punter out of the deal!

In the evening, I was back at the Talking Heads to send off 2017 in style with three of my favourite local bands in action.  The combined forces of Tenderlore, Jack Francis and Shy Boy provided a perfect musical conclusion to my year.  The evening ended, unexpectedly) with a pilot for an exciting new reality TV series, in that it comprised a relative ordinary activity made dramatic by the injection of unnecessary temporal jeopardy.   It did lack a formal judging panel, though the process was accompanied by a degree of badinage which I feel could have evolved in that direction.

A young guitarist due to travel back to Leicester the following day for an important party starts the attempt to purchase his advance rail ticket at 23:50, before the prices go up at midnight, using his mobile phone (I find the young often embrace the Japanese concept of Kanban to a greater extent than is strictly necessary).  As a musician, this attempt was made using an account with £0.01 in it, and so also required a money transfer from an account which probably contained slightly more money.  As the last few minutes of the day ticked over, tension mounted.  Would he make it before the prices went up?  Midnight came and went, and prices seemed not to rise but still the abortive attempts continued.  Sadly, I was forced to leave before discovering the outcome – did Matt make it to Leicester?  A future blog post may reveal the answer, if I ever discover…

On New Year’s Eve itself, I followed my own tradition of spending it with friends: eating, drinking and in wide-ranging conversation.  This year was an away fixture for me, so I was able to eat like a king (actually, I suspect way better than any king and with less emphasis on swans and too many lamphreys) without having taken much part in the preparation.  I did lend a hand beating a couple of egg whites into stiff peaks, but that was mostly to try out my friend’s rather excellent balloon whisk (it contained a contra-acting internal element I had never seen before, but did stiffen my peaks in record time).  I was also inspired to make my own pasta as it was made to look both easy and fun.  I have already bought the OO flour (I decided N-gauge would be too fiddly) and will soon start scouring charity shops for unwanted pasta makers going cheap.

IMG_20171231_185313

The cryptically named ‘agog’, cruelly dropped from the Septuagint, was very tasty!

At times during the evening, background music was provided from various programmes my friends had recorded from Radio 3.  An unexpected number of these seemed to be music written for coronations – perhaps to remind me that I was dining royally – and many by William Walton.  “Crown Imperial” seemed an obvious enough title for such a piece, but I was foxed for an embarrassingly long time by his piece “Auburn Sceptre”.  This frankly sounded more like a piece to written to accompany saucy movies for (or about) the strawberry blonde than for a formal state occasion.  It was eventually pointed out that the piece was called “Orb and Sceptre”, however, I am still hoping to use it to choreograph some adult “dance” using a ginger friend or two (or more, I’ll admit my knowledge of adult dance is quite basic).

Reading back through this post, I wonder if I am less aiming at becoming official blogger to the Southampton cultural scene and more the scriptwriter for a new batch of Carry-On films.  Still, it is always good to have some achievable goals for the new year!

Advertisements

The return of the Ethenyl Group

I was taught chemistry in the late 70s and early 80s and so defer to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) when it comes to chemical nomenclature.  If you are going to chlorinate ethene (please don’t, it makes for a very unpleasant compound which is highly inimical to life) and then polymerise the results you will produce polychloroethene.  Sadly, I would seem to be in the minority and people insist on calling it PVC, or vinyl for short, for which we must blame a wine-obsessed German who first coined the term in a footnote, of all places.  I dream that one day I too will coin a neologism in a footnote that will still be in regular use 167 years later!

Vinyl, in the form of a rigid circular disk bearing music carved into a spiral groove, is making a major comeback.  It no longer seems to be limited to those who regard the Victorian butcher or lumberjack as their paragon of style, but has broken into the zeitgeist.  I continue to resist its lure on two main grounds: (i) I can remember vinyl records the first time round and just how annoying and impractical they were and (ii) they require hugely more physical storage space than either CD or MP3 and, despite physicists suggesting that it is being created at an accelerating rate, I am rather short of space.  In researching this post, I can now point to the very unpleasant nature of its constituent monomers as a third reason to avoid it.

Despite this resistance, I do find myself in vinyl record shops on a rather regular basis having visited examples in Romsey (Hundred Records), Winchester (Elephant Independent Record Shop) and (last night) Southampton (Vinilo Records). Each of these visits has been prompted not by the presence of vinyl but because the shops were playing host to live acoustic music sets.  These have always been absolutely glorious sessions despite the spaces always being small and rather cramped.

Though I have only a very limited interest in vinyl, I find that I am rather fond of vinyl record shops (or at least the local examplars).  This fondness must derive from an element of nostalgia, though I was never an habitué of record shops in my youth.  I think a larger element can be explained by the appeal of the visual aesthetic of these stores.  In these days when it so easy to buy stuff on-line (well, right up until the delivery) there is probably a need for shops to provide something that the internet cannot.  Book and record shops both provide the opportunity to stumble on something as a result of an unexpected juxtaposition, which on-line stores seem incapable of replicating.  Perhaps they also offer a secular meeting space where slow browsing and a form of contemplation is encouraged.  For me, there is also something very comforting about a bookshop: probably something about being surrounded by words, many of them in a form which I have yet to read.  There is probably some of that feeling in a record shop, but I think there is also something about the artwork of vinyl LPs.  The LP has a scale – and so a certain majesty – that a CD lacks and when a few are displayed on the wall they give a record shop something of the feel of a rather intimate art gallery.  They also tend to offer more interesting background music – even when not hosting a session – than many stores.  As a result, I tend to feel guilty that I cannot support these shops – though if they do offer CDs, I can (and try to) make a direct financial contribution via that route.

Last night was my first trip to Vinilo Records, central Southampton’s take on the vinyl record shop.  I went to see a mixed bill of music and poetry, but may well return for the vegan hot chocolate – made with almond milk and tasting rather different to dairy hot chocolate, but still delicious – and excellent ginger cake which the store offers.  They also offer coffee and tea and a modest range of other sweet treats.  It was while drinking their green tea that a thought about that particular beverage finally crystallised in my mind.  On its own, green tea always has a slight hint of sardine about it: there, I’ve said it.  Normally, I drink it as ‘green tea with lemon’ which removes the fishy element, but as a pure green tea that piscine under-note is always there.  Is it just me that feels this way, or can others detect a hint of the ocean in green tea?  Should I be seeking medical help?

Anyway, I seem to have digressed, how unlike me!  Vinilo is sited in an unprepossessing building in the city centre and you can easily walk past and miss it (as I have).  The interior decor is simple and slightly distressed, but does contain a very fine cactus (see below).  For the gig, most of the windows were shuttered which created a wonderfully intimate setting.  The evening alternated between poetry and music, with decent gaps in between for conversation and refreshments.  It was a near perfectly constructed evening and we were done by 9pm – so no need for a late night!  Sometimes in US TV or film dramas set in New York, characters will go to Brooklyn for some sort of amazing cultural event and I would once have wished that such delights were available closer to home.  With events like last night’s, I need wish no more: Southampton offers an extraordinary range of cultural events of a range that (in some areas) would probably put a city, allegedly so good that it was twice-named, to shame.

Last night started with the very affecting poetry of Chloë Beihaut, followed by the chilled musical vibe of Kitty O’Neal and her band in fully acoustic mode.

IMG_20180111_185843

What a glorious cactus!  Tempted to have one chez nous… (Don’t think the band would fit in my tiny flat though, sadly)

Then followed the amazing vocal delivery of Joshua Jones with powerful poetry from a Llanelli youth and life on the oft-ignored, more difficult side of 21st century Britain.   Finally, Joe Booley finished the evening with his elegiac songs and guitar harmonies (which later in the evening soothed me to sleep via the miracle of Spotify).

I particularly love the photo of Joshua on the left: nothing to do with my skill with a camera (if you take enough photos, a few are bound to turn out OK), but because it captures something of the magic of the evening and the space.  I feel Southampton should be using such images to promote itself as the truly great place to live that it can be.  It is not just home to a million traffic lights, a similar number of alarmingly brazen rats, some dreadful road surfaces and West Quay: there is an amazingly vibrant arts scene which I am still discovering.

Conversation with friends, three interesting new voices, great words and music and delicious cake in a lovely, welcoming space: what more could a chap ask from an evening!   It might even re-start my career as a tennis ace (in a game where aces are low, obviously).  A very fine investment of £3.

Mumm’s the word

My life since moving to Southampton a little more than 4 years ago has moved, and continues to lurch, in unexpected directions.  I would like to claim that this is not my doing and that it has just “happened” but, in my more honest moments (catch them while you can), I might admit that I have at least (unintentionally) facilitated some of the change.  Much blame may adhere to my willingness to talk to people and (far worse) occasionally listen to them as well.  Further fault may lie with my use of “going out” as a defence against the acquisition of more physical “stuff” which I do not have the room to store.

I shall use my day to illustrate the curious nature of my life, lest any readers be tempted to follow in my footsteps.  The snow may indeed there lay dinted, subject to its availability (I struggle to dint the rain, deep and damp and even though it may lie), but my goodness is debatable (at best) and I lack crown or eponymous square in Prague (I’m sure these last two are mere oversights and will shortly be brought to a satisfactory resolution).

I woke – always a plus at my age – and having hawked up the worst of the fluid to have collected in my lungs overnight (I’m a martyr to cattarh at the moment) dressed, performed my ablutions and tidied away the laundry.  So far, so mundane I think we can agree.  I then put in a solid stint practicing at the piano and like to feel some progress was made.  Adding in the trills to my Scarlatti did have the useful effect of forcing me to assume the correct fingering at several points: it’s also a lot of fun to trill.

I then went off to have brunch with a friend at Mettricks Guildhall.  Yes, I have become someone who brunches: something I never saw coming, as while I have often inserted meals in the long stretch between breakfast and lunch I have always done so somewhat surreptitiously and left them unnamed.  However, this has become a roughly monthly Sunday ritual which is great fun – who could complain at the felicitous conjunction of good conversation and good food?  Given the nature of the vegetarian options on the menu, I generally find myself enjoying avocado toast which also offers the vague chance of being mistaken for a millennial (albeit one with a long paper round).  The concept of the millennial seems a flexible one, but including me within it would move beyond flexibility into bursting.  However, I may be having some success as in the last couple of weeks I have been described as both forty and a handsome young man.  As a result, I am expecting to be appointed as ambassador plenipotentiary for SpecSavers at any moment.

Usually, I follow my millennial toast (grilled bread is all to ready to see an imminent apocalypse) with some cake but today Mettricks was woefully short of cake, so I returned to an old habit and had a toasted teacake.  This used to be my cafe staple and after today, I believe abandonment of the earthy virtues of the teacake for the flight charms of cake may have been a mistake.  My teacake my have been bifurcated inexpertly (or at least asymmetrically) but it was buttery deliciousness incarnate.  The teacake revival starts here! (Though, I shall not be giving up cake – merely augmenting its consumption with yeasty treats).

From brunch I flew – or at least walked briskly – to St Michael’s Square to a Mummer’s Play.  This was an enormous amount of fun with modern references blending seamlessly into ancient tradition.  A decent crowd could almost forget the biting wind as St George, Father Christmas, Jack Finney(?) and all played out scenes of battle, death and resurrection and the ability of folk of good spirit to put Beelzebub and his dripping pan to flight.  In fact, the devil was not the only thing put to flight – a new £5 note was tugged free of the dripping pan and danced around the square in the gusting wind – watched by all (who needs fireworks?).  At one point, it looked to be seeking sanctuary in the church but at the last minute the age-old enmity twixt God and Mammon saw it leap salmon-like back up into the air.  It was finally caught with extraordinary (one might say cat-like!) grace by a friend of mine to cheers from the assembled throng: it seemed somehow to bode well for the year to come!

IMG_20180107_130726

The crowd tries not to see a stricken St George in need of urgent medical attention as a metaphor!

It is a tradition of the Mummer’s to retire to the Old Red Lion pub in the High Street after their labours and it seemed churlish not to join them.  I had never visited this particular hostelry before, though I have now learned it is the oldest pub in the city.  It is a very Southampton historic building in that (a) you would never know it was there (I must have walked past it dozens of time) and (b) whilst it has an amazingly historic interior this is counter-balanced by a giant screen showing Sky Sports obscucing a goodly chunk of it.  If one ascends the stairs to the gallery area, one can peep behind the screen to see a full suit of armour ‘displayed’ for almost none to see.  This seems a metaphor for Southampton and its cultural jewels – of which it has a myriad – in that unlike, other brahser cities, we do not boast about them but instead often do our best to hide them.  The city gives up its cultural bounty reluctantly and only to the determined.

IMG_20180107_133341

Hidden heritage, crouching armour (not shown, the reader must discover it for themselves)!

Having toasted my discovery with a little ale, I returned home to attempt to move my corporate email over to its new server.  This should be simple enough: export the old emails from Outlook, connect to the new server and import the old emails.  A doodle one might think, well one might think that if one had spent the last 50 years in a coma and had never experienced the work of Microsoft and its ilk.  I exported my old emails, all 2GB worth: fine.  I changed server: fine.  I imported my old emails: not so fine.   When I attempt to look at my old emails Outlook just says, “nothing to see here, move along” (I paraphrase).  This must count as the last efficient storage of nothing in the history of computing, using 2GB to store the sweetest of Fanny Adams!  It is as well I am not possessed of god-like powers, or the entire western seaboard of North America would have been destroyed in an expression of my divine wrath that would make the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah look like a walk in the park (nothing mentioned in the news, so far)….  Still, I have two half-solutions which might eventually form a whole – and can now view long millennia in Purgatory as a well-deserved rest.

I am shortly off to enjoy some keyboard-based jazz, which should bring my blood pressure back to the sort of levels which preclude diamond formation, and so shall bid you, dear reader, adieu!

Taking the scenic route to my ears

We truly live in an age of technological marvels and I’m not just talking about sliced bread or the fact that our every thought – at least as expressed in the physical realm through movement or word (spoken or typed) – can be sucked into a vast database which spits out an almost (but not quite) entirely irrelevant marketing message to accompany it: often while sodium ions are still crawling across the synaptic gap to generate the next thought.

As I ate my breakfast this morning, I was listening to James McVinnie (a chap with whom I have shared a beer which, according to the customs of my tribe, makes him my brother) playing Mad Rush by Philip Glass on the organ (no sniggering at the back, please!).  Unremarkable – if slightly pretentious – you may think but until relatively recently this would have been impossible except for those at the very top of their local monarchical or imperial court.  However, even more astonishing was how this music came to my arrive at my ears.

I was listening to the concert on Radio 3: not ‘live’ but using the iPlayer.  So the original sound of the concert had been digitised and its data compressed to make its way, via cable and thence luminiferous æther, to my laptop.  It then took to the æther once more to cross my lounge by Bluetooth – involving further data compression – before my DAC attempted to reinstate some of what had been lost and produce a richer, analogue signal to reproduce through my corner reflex cabinet (OK, my hifi).  From there it made its way as vibrations through the congested airspace of my modest apartment into my thoroughly immodest ears.

However, this already complex journey was only a part of its rather roundabout route to my auricular apparatus.  The concert was original recorded by the good folk of Radio 3 at LSO St Luke’s: a rather fine Hawksmoor church, but one which does not boast an organ (and this is not false modesty on its part, it was removed – along with its font – in 1959 to allow it to spend some time as a dramatic ruin: very much a career path I’m considering myself).  This does render an organ recital a bit of a challenge as the full church organ may be the least portable of musical instruments: unless a reader know better?  Luckily, James came armed with two MIDI keyboards, a pedal board and a laptop (and I assume some sort of amp).  The laptop contained the sampled sound of the organ of a Dutch church: one which unlike LSO St Luke’s has retained its organ and, I like to imagine, can still generate a full 12 inches of “Stifflute” and bring its “Choir to Swell” when the occasion calls for it (the organ console is truly the gift that keeps on giving!).  Through a miracle of modern computation (and I’m assuming some reliance on the work of Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier) this sampled organ had been be-housed into the acoustic space of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and it was this chimeric sound which the ‘organ’ produced.  This already geographically complex sound then interacted with the acoustics of St Luke’s before being recorded by Radio 3.  As a result, my breakfast listening was a sonic palimpsest of a church in the Netherlands, King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, St Luke’s in London and my front room.  This struck me as such a remarkable and miraculous conjunction of sound and place that I felt compelled to write a blog post about it.  It didn’t hurt that it allowed me to use the word ‘palimpsest’ without it appearing too contrived.

The sheer volume of computation that must have been needed to bring Philip Glass’ musical vision to my ears is almost beyond imagining: not to mention the key- and pedal-board skills (both by James and a myriad of unsung programmers).  The audio purist might imagine that interposing all this mathematics and these approximating algorithms between the music and the listener would ensure that nothing musical could possibly survive – how very long far from the truth the strawmen (and I’m assuming they would mostly be men) they would be.  As I masticated my way through my porridge, the music retained a significant emotional punch and my day was not allowed to continue until the piece had finished.  My eyes may have moistened a little: partly in response to the music but also to the near miraculous method by which it came to my ears.  An almost unremarked upon feat (if we ignore my own current logorrhea) that would have been impossible at any time prior to the last handful of years.  We live in a veritable age of miracles…  and stupidity…  and horrors… (so, pretty much like any other ages then).

It’s over!

I trust that everyone sang the title using their best impression of Roy Orbison.  However, fear not, no-one’s baby has moved onto romantic pastures new (well, obviously I can’t guarantee that, but it is not the subject of today’s post).  The title refers to the end of Christmas proper – though those with an inappropriately generous true love may continue receiving deliveries of miscellaneous birds and people for some days yet – but the rest of us are now in that liminal space that lies twist the supposed birth of the ickle Baby Jesus and the start of the New Year.  After weeks of build-up (or in my case, an hour or two), Christmas joins us for a few brief hours and then is gone.

I thought I’d share some vignettes from my own Christmas while the remain relatively fresh in my alcohol-addled brain.

Christmas Eve

A new tradition began and an old one was resurrected…  I think last Sunday was my first Christmas Eve at a gig – and what a gig!  It was a jazz session at the Talking Heads with a Christmas theme, produced by the Fathers of Christmas (a name the quartet will probably not be using at other gigs).  The musicians were joined by a singer – who was the only member of the ensemble to make a serious effort when it comes to dress – for several of the numbers and who, based on his youth, must have been a son or grandson of Christmas.  As well as jacket and shoes in red and black, alluding to the season, he also appeared to have spent more effort on his hair for the gig than I have on mine over the whole of the last decade.  I’m probably at least as vain as the next man, but am just too lazy to act on it: especially when it comes to hair.  The whole gig was so enjoyable, I’d rather like to spend every Christmas Eve with live festive jazz and friends – however, the timing of that particular gig means this would only happen every 7 years (on average).

It was also at the Heads that I was given my first Christmas stocking for rather more than three decades.  This might suggest that I am spending too much time at gigs or am excessively childish and I did wonder if it was a form of intervention: though if it was, I am unclear as to its nature.  The stocking was a festive “sock”, embroidered with my name, rather than one of my father’s unadorned seaman’s socks (he never went to sea, but he did have the socks ready) which served throughout my childhood.  I opened the parcels on Christmas Day, and there was one item in common with my childhood stockings: the tangerine!  The other gifts seemed a step up from their 1970s counterparts: I can now be musical in miniature, massage my aching muscles and study to be rock star with a Ladybird.  I consumed the very fine bottle of Duet from Alpine Beer on my return to Southampton, which slipped down worryingly easily for a non-session 7% ale!  Finally, the Lindt reindeer allowed me to test my theory that it is just a re-badged Easter Bunny: it wasn’t!

Christmas jazz and (slightly deformed) stocking

Christmas Day

On Christmas morning, I drove back to see my family through pleasantly quiet roads: something of a throwback to the road conditions of my youth (albeit with bigger and safer cars).  After a brief stop-off with my parents, the bulk of the day was spent at my sister’s with my nephew: the only readily available familial child (as measured by age, at least).  I ate a frankly infeasible volume of food and was a very bad vegetarian indeed!  I danced to Queen (thanks to a videogame, which frankly only monitors my right hand) and on the third attempt proved triumphant at Exploding Kittens (a card game: no actual kittens were harmed or – more importantly – harmed me!).  By dint of refusing to play again, I retain my hard-fought crown to this day!

I learned that you can buy your giant rabbit (he’s called Starby, if you want to correspond with him directly) a house made from carrots (compressed into a more practical building material) which the owner will slowly consume.  It became all to clear that my whole family (including me) is useless at Guess Who – the version where you must guess the name written on a post-it note placed on your forehead (top tip: this works much better if you attach the post-it note to a paper hat obtained from a cracker).  To be honest, given how bad we were I’m surprised that the game is not still underway (some three days later).  I can also commend my sister’s gentleman caller on the excellent quality of his light fruit cake: quite the best example of its genre I have had the pleasure of eating in many years.  It was when attempting to light a (Roman) candle on this very cake that I discovered how poor my family are at matters incendiary.  After recourse to a gas lighter, several matches and a tea light ignition was finally achieved.  I think parliament is safe from any repeat of the gunpowder plot instigated by my clan: I shall have to stick with the military option when I sweep to power…

The true meaning of Christmas: Easter and Guy Fawkes (no relation!)

Boxing Day

Boxing Day was spent at my parents and as has become traditional, a modest constitutional took place in a futile attempt to burn off a few of the million (or so) calories consumed on the previous day.  In older times (and better weather), this used to involve a hike to the nearby supergrid point circling home via the Christmas Tree farm but in more recent years we have limited ourselves to a stroll along the prom at Bexhill.  This was glorious, if bracing, but gathering storm clouds led me to forego the traditional Boxing Day ice cream.  A wise decision, as it rained pretty vigorously on the drive back to Ninfield: though this did provide a glorious double rainbow as we headed north from Sidley.

The day’s other major excitement was my father’s decision to cook me a vegetarian lunch.  His chosen meal required a very large amount of grating: something I would only have attempted with a food processor.  My parents could only field a manual grater and a rather feeble stick blender so I think my father and I burned off far more calories grating root vegetables than we did on our walk.  Despite some misgivings, the galette proved more than edible and, with some minor tweaks to the recipe (and better equipment), could well be worth making again.  In the evening I drove back home through heavy rain and traffic, leaving Christmas behind me in the east.

Building and sating an appetite!

Post-Christmas

Christmas itself was the first time I had spent two evenings not at a gig of some form or other for several weeks (possibly even months) and there was some concern about how well I would cope.  I can reassure readers that the sheer volume of food and alcohol consumed did mitigate against me running amok.  Still, to minimise the growing risk I did go out last night to see some live music: so I think you’re probably safe (for now).  Life should now return to a more normal footing, though gigs in early January do look slightly sparse at the moment.

Some might think my Christmas odd, but five people on each of the two main days chose to spend some of their time consulting this august instrument.  One can scarcely imagine how badly their days must have been going that they came here, nor what succour they took from their visit…

 

 

 

Trivial pursuit

Christmas is still a time for board games, right?  Certainly, broadcasters seem concerned that we are not watching enough television over Christmas (and so losing one of the season’s myriad meanings) and this time must be going somewhere…  However, this post will not be about games of general knowledge: instead the title will stand as a reproach to the author’s life.

For a little less than 24 hours, I have wanted to think of this blog as a modern day take on the feuilleton of old (this began when I discovered the word and concept of feuilleton yesterday).  This is very much of a piece with the delusional portion of me that likes to imagine I am an intellectual.  Sadly, these self-delusions rarely long survive exposure to my actual passage though this veil of tears.

I do read serious books and go to enjoy serious music and theatre.  To my mild horror, I both saw and enjoyed The Guardian’s No. 1 Film of 2017 – though pleasingly had seen only four other films in their top 50, the vast majority of them safely in the 40s (so I am still – mostly – a maverick!).  However, my last two trips to London have confirmed the essential triviality of my nature.

A couple of weeks ago I popped up to town to see some folk music and in order to obtain better value from my train ticket took in a matinée during the afternoon.  This had been recommended to me by friends of a friend on a previous train journey home to Southampton: one of the many joys of public transport that the car driver misses out on.  I shall pass on their recommendation for Romantics Anonymous at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in the Shakespeare’s Globe complex which is as heartwarming a theatrical confection as you could ever hope to see.  It is such a joy and so beautifully put together, right from the start and even includes the cast and musicians entertaining the audience (and any stray, confused visitors to the Globe) during the interval.  It didn’t make any lists of top theatre of 2017 that I saw – perhaps insufficiently serious – but it certainly made mine.

Yesterday, I returned to the capital once more for a couple of frivolous, festive theatrical treats.  The first of these was the first time I have ever been expected to peel a potato as a member of a theatrical audience: like to think I made a decent fist of it (despite the porr quality of the peeler provided).  The piece also offered a serious indictment on the lack of diversity in the world of nog: basically there is only ‘egg’ and ‘Noggin the’ (and he and his Northmen weren’t even mentioned).  I fear the solutions proposed were always doomed to failure, but did give me some ‘sensible’ ideas…

Before the second piece, I had some four hours to kill in London.  I chose the obvious option and took myself to the British Museum.  The plan was to see the Scythian exhibition, but apparently I had mis-read the museum’s website and arrived too late (though not as late as the Scythians) to be allowed entry.  So, I fell back on my traditional plan when faced with the vastness of the BM and wandered randomly around and seeing what caught my eye.  I wandered through North America and into Mexico finding much to enjoy, but then stumbled into what may now be my favourite room: appropriately called Room 1.  It is a long room, laid out somewhat like a library with display cases down the centre, which (along with some of the bookcases) appear to contain an enormous range of random historic ‘tat’ we have plundered from around the world and across a huge span of time.  On the museum plan, this room is labelled “Enlightenment” but seemed to contain semantically themed collections of stuff.  It was such a joy, so much to delight the eye and brain!  I only managed to tear myself away when I was forcibly ejected by museum staff wanting to close up for the night.  I reckon I could have spent a day in that room alone (assuming, some kindly souls plied me with food).

However, it was while perusing the delights of this room that I cam to realise just how hopelessly trivial I have become.  As well as marvelling at the skill, artistry and imagination of generations past, a substantial portion of my brain was trying to develop brief, alternative histories for each of the things I saw.  These new histories seem to be some form of memetic metastasis from this blog and the more foolish content I supply in an attempt to bolster Mark Zuckerberg’s flagging fortune.

I think my brain finally jumped the triviality shark when it developed a whole back story after seeing an abandoned loaf of sliced white in a park near my home (at some from any ducks).  I’m not sure why this happened, though am weirdly proud of the pointless genius¹ of it.

IMG_20171222_142443

Since losing its position as ‘best thing’ sliced bread has entered a downward spiral and is now living rough on the streets…

Part of me seems to have decided that I have finally found my métier and so about 20 minutes into my visit to the BM, I found myself specifically seeking out historical artifacts and artworks around which I could weave my own version of Flash Fiction. A version even briefer than the usual 1000 words that I was going to call Flashier Fiction, but which the internet suggests may already have been named micro or sudden fiction: I still prefer my name!

As I result, I ‘discovered’ that the ancient Egyptians invented the electric guitar much earlier than previously realised but tragically never came up with the amp (which had to wait for a good couple of millennia to pass).  Subsequent on-line discussion also led to the revelation that this invention pre-dated the capo, and so Egyptian musicians had to use slaves to hold down the strings.

There would have been more new ‘discoveries’ from my visit, but the display bookcases had oddly reflective glass which I hardly noticed when using my unaided vision, but when viewed through the lenses of my smartphone camera produced amazingly strong reflections of the room’s lights.  I’m not quite sure how this works, but would seem to suggest my eyes (or brain) or doing substantial processing of images before they reach what passes for my consciousness – but don’t bother when looking at a screen.  I feel my subconscious may be trying to teach me something about enjoying the world ‘live’, rather than via a screen.  Frankly, this seems a bit rich as I do rather more live experiencing than many and I feel my subconscious might do better to direct its ‘hints’ at other, more deserving, targets.  Or maybe it is just that my eyes/brain have some sort of abilities relating to the polarisation of light and use this to manage glare: though I’ve never heard of such a thing.  Have I just out-evolved the rest of you ‘norms’?

I shall now be visiting obscure museums and seeking out unloved elements of the urban landscape to feed my need to tell short, silly stories to an indifferent world.  Consider this warning a Christmas gift to you, dear readers!

________________________________________________________________________________________

¹Not genius

 

Les croyances populaires

I have become part of an annual tradition with a friend (and a selection of her friends, which varies from year-to-year), whereby we visit Brasserie Zédel, ranged deep beneath Piccadilly Circus, for a pre-Christmas lunch.  Well, I say lunch but it is more an excuse to drink and talk which is occasionally interrupted by food.  This event starts at lunch time, but often goes on for quite some time and often adjourns to the adjacent Bar Américain where any food-related pretense is dropped.

Both brasserie and bar have a very strong Art Déco vibe, dating back to their original opening as part of the Regent Palace Hotel in 1915.  I feel that the bar, in particular, is (or was) used to a rather better class of clientele than the author.  When, I was there on Sunday, I couldn’t help feeling that Cruella de Vil would have fitted right in and so I shall be trying to channel my experience when sat at the piano (it is either that or some very dodgy interaction with – and the risk of being outwitted by – a sizeable pack of spotted dogs).

This year’s gathering had a particularly international vibe but, as the title might hint, this post will focus on the French member of our party.  Rather gloriously, he attended clad in a Primark sweater adorned with a less-than-zoologically accurate representation of a reindeer and a range of flashing coloured lights.  He was trying it out in London – where it proved very popular with those partaking of lunch – before inflicting it on his French mother (who once modelled for Chanel): where it is likely to receive a less positive reception.

He it was who revealed a couple of French alcohol-based superstitions with which I had previously been aware.  I cannot speak to how widely these beliefs are held or to their antiquity but felt I should share them just in case any readers should happen to find themselves drinking with our friends from across the Channel.

Apparently, when saying ‘Cheers’ to another in France it is important to look them in the eyes as you say it, otherwise you will be cursed with seven years of bad sex.  While this would be a major upgrade for me and my own participation in the world of gland games, for the broader public it does seem rather a severe response to (at worse) a minor social faux pas.

It would also seem to be a French belief that whosoever completes a communal bottle of wind, by dint of the waiter placing the last of the bottle into their glass, will marry in that year the year.  As a form of augury, this does avoid the unpleasantness of animal entrails and is more compatible with a (mostly) vegetarian lifestyle – even if it can only be used for a rather limited from of prophecy.  I’m also not sure the marriage statistics, even in la belle France, entirely support the hypothesis – particularly, when considered in conjunction of the number of bottles of wind consumed in company.  Nevertheless, I am somewhat concerned to report that the Norns may have determined my fate and that I am to marry in the next 12 days.  This strikes me as something of a logistical nightmare to organise – I suspect both the church (busy elsewhere) and the civil authorities (on holiday) may be reluctant to formalise any knot-tying on my part at this late stage in the year – even if we discount the challenge of finding a third party willing to participate in the process on a longer-term basis.

No evidence was offered by our French companion to support either of these beliefs, but any prospective spouse should probably be aware that seven years of bedroom (and indeed more general “room”) disappointment may be on the cards.  I can’t say I really place much credence in either of these croyances populaires (and they do rather speak to stereotypical French preoccupations) but come the beginning of 2018 my mockery may look particularly ill-advised.  Still, it is probably my best bet for freedom of movement in the EU and, should Clotho have decided to spin my life in that direction, I shall try and accept her decision with good grace.  You heard it here first and may wish to start looking for your hat now, just in case…