Boreas calling…

I have, as is not uncommon, been neglecting this blog of late.  Like a child with a new toy, I only have a modest surplus of time after we account for eating, sleeping, working, learning impractical skills and going to gigs.  I fear I’ve spent rather too much of this expanding the imperial scope of (N)YTMG: annexing new spaces both conceptual and geographical.  In some ways, this blog post is acting as displacement activity from the design of a postcard-format marketing tool/giveaway for my other baby.

This should just be a short entry into the canon, though I have thought that before at this stage in the creative process only to be proved horribly wrong before the end.

As the earth turns its northern face away from the sun, temperatures have started to fall and this morning, for the first time since the Spring, I have closed my windows – despite being at home.  Sadly, my reputation is not yet sufficiently fearsome to leave my windows open when away from home: the need to retain plausible deniability over the fate of those who have crossed me is slowing the process of instilling appropriate levels of terror in the wider public at the mere mention of my name.

Naturally, I have not done anything foolish – like turn on the heating (though I have popped on a cardigan) – but I do find myself still feeling rather chilly.  This is an unfamiliar sensation as I was fairly sure that most of my temperature sensing neurons were burned out years ago thanks to the fruitful conjunction of my mother’s advice and my own bloody-mindedness – as discussed in a very early post.

A few weeks ago, while with friends in the Guide Dog, the conversation took one of those Baroque turns that is all too common (well, it is when I’m there) – though unusually, given my presence, it did not descend into the gutter – and the idea of currying porridge arose.  I no longer recall why, though it seemed an excellent idea at the time and this week, I finally put this project into action.  To my normal porridge, made with a mix of almond milk and water, I added a healthy teaspoon of Madras Curry powder (a mere 5 and a bit years past its Best Before date) as I microwaved the oats.  The ancient curry powder had retained a surprising amount of potency, once again justifying my contempt for the concept of the Best Before Date.  I’ll admit I then muddled my curries by adding my traditional breakfast garnish of chopped nuts and sliced banana: creating something of the vibe of the Anglicised Korma (my cultural appropriation knows no bounds).  I can assure the sceptical reader that my transgressive culinary creation was absolutely delicious and allows the middle-aged chap to start the day with real zip.  I have repeated the process with higher doses of curry powder and, if anything, this improves the dish!

This morning, I reverted to my previous breakfast of uncurried porridge and it is possible that my body is experiencing withdrawal symptoms.  However, I am concerned that this feeling of cold is one of the Seven Signs of Ageing and that I will soon be running the heating through the summer, buying a tartan blanket to adorn my knees and forcing German toffees (with worrying hints of the far right) onto any young people who are foolish enough to visit me.

For now, I am comforting myself with the thought that my current obsession with hand-balancing is to blame.  This is moving along rather well – though I won’t be taking part in competitive b-boying for a few weeks yet – but it does seem to be having an unplanned effect on my body.  It appears to be re-distributing my substance somewhat, mostly upwards (within my torso at least, my head seems no fatter than usual), and, as I discovered earlier this week, also seems to have caused half a stone of former me to leave entirely.  I didn’t notice it leave, but I’m imaging a Great Escape style scenario with my bones’ meaty covering slowly tumbling from my trouser leg as I wander about.  I’m not sure I can really afford to lose this much of my already limited flesh but I’m having too much fun to stop.  I am currently trying to transition elegantly (or at least with slightly less of the vibe of a tower block, with poorly placed demolition charges, collapsing) from a head-stand into a Queda de Rins (QDR).

I am choosing to believe that this conversion of my fat into muscle (well, a chap can dream) and/or thin air has reduced my body’s insulation to abnormally low levels and this is the cause of my current chilling: after all, I barely have time to use Netflix….

Under-achiever

I find myself, I like to think through no fault of my own, a middle-aged, middle-class white male human (or close(ish) approximation thereto).  I live in a society designed to cater to my every whim (or at least those whims that had been anticipated by those that came before me).  I’ll admit that I was educated by the State, but I did go to the longer established of the universities in Oxford and have lived in Cambridge.  I have even been overheard during a pub quiz explain an answer with the phrase “it’s your basic Greek”.  With this level of privilege, I feel that I should be in charge of something important and – probably – destroying it from within through a combination of ignorance, dogma and o’erweening self-regard.

I suppose I would have to admit I have not spent as much time as I might working on my mendacity and nor have I honed the edges of my stupidity to achieve a near Platonic bluntness.  However, I feel that I more than qualify as an idiot: trust me on this, I have to live with me.  I even think I am (sometimes) funny – even if the humour does require quite a lot of background reading to appreciate, reading it rarely justifies – and I have been endorsed for Quips on LinkedIn (OK, I may have that last one up).  I even have a platform (hello!) and produce positively heaps of “unique” content on social media.

So where are my laurels and attendant lictors?

Clearly, I need to up my game to avoid going to my eternal reward having failed to live high-on-the-hog of my privilege.

Last week, I did – unintentionally – work on broadening my appeal to extend beyond the demographic of the merely human.  I awoke one morning and, hurling aside my duvet in my eagerness to tackle the new day, I discovered that I had been sharing my bed with a pretty hefty arachnid.  It was no tarantula but was more than large enough to grace any bathtub or nightmare.  I’ll admit that I did emit a startled cry as I exited my bed with more than my usual alacrity.  My companion made a dash for the door, eschewing breakfast or even a post-coital cigarette, as they commenced their 8-legged walk of shame back to their own digs (or perhaps straight back to the office to continue their career in web development).  After the initial surprise ebbed, I found my first stint as a trans-species gigolo very amusing and started the day laughing.  As a side note, I do wonder if this response to sharing my bed with another lifeform explains my long-running single status?

I thought this would represent the end of the incident, until I returned home from the pub that evening to find my 8-limbed paramour in bed, waiting for me and keen to get at least some of their legs over once more.  As the newest member of the oldest profession, I felt it was important to retain some emotional distance between myself and my clientele and so decided it was wisest to send my prospective partner on their way to get jiggy elsewhere.  Still, I was secretly rather pleased that my services were sufficiently compelling to command such a swift return.  Spiders substantially out-number the human population of the planet and could, allegedly, eat us all within a year: if they put their tiny minds to it.  Not a bad basis for an army of conquest, and I’d never want for silk…

My second recent wheeze to raise myself to my rightful position of power and influence is linked to more ruthless exploitation of (N)YTMG.  I already like to think of this as a cult with myself as its charismatic leader (luckily, I do have a very active imagination – it’s how I stay in such good physical shape).  Musing over a pack of Mini Cheddars, I pondered upgrading (N)YTMG to a full-blown religion.  As I was munching, I couldn’t help feeling that my savoury treat had more than a hint of the Eucharist host about it and would go very nicely with red wine.  Subsequent research revealed that the Bible barely mentions cheese at all – depending on your source it rates but a single or at most a pair of mentions – which leads me to believe that there is a gap in the market for a deity (or perhaps a whole pantheon), and associated written works, that give coagulated casein its proper due.   I realise a religion would require a little fleshing-out from this basic premise, for a start, would the Cheeselet also be considered a blessed food?  I think it’s time to plan 40 days of leave from work to head out into the wilderness, or on a zoo-based cruise, to be tempted and then return in triumph with my full Revelation.  I like to imagine that I can convert my role as the first (and only) prophet of a new religion into an actual profit: or at least, a decent wedge of free cheese…  I suppose I’ll probably need to appoint some disciples to help me manage my, soon-to-be vast, army of fanatical followers: if any readers feel themselves to be suitably qualified, feel free to bang in a CV.

Look back over this post, and indeed the entirety of GofaDM, I think I might be able to catch a hint of why I have failed to rise to power and prominence.  I am certainly full of ideas, albeit most of them stupid (though recent evidence from the corridors of Westminster suggests there is no reason for this fact to hold me back), but I seem to lack the follow-through to make any of them a reality.  Last night, a friend and I spent a constructive early evening in a local salon brainstorming some new creative ideas (well, if we stretch the definitions of ‘brainstorming’ and ‘salon’ just a little).  Despite the excellent products of the brewer’s art that acted as accompaniment to the dizzying intellects on display, I seem to recall taking a few notes which means that, unusually, some of the gems of last night’s discourse may be capable of reconstruction and – more seriously – implementation.  My days of powerless, relative anonymity may be drawing to a close…

Digit shortfall by 2030?

Fear not, there is no imminent prospect of running out of numbers.  To the best of my knowledge, there are no immediate plans to cut eight from the available digits as a cost-saving measure nor to sell nine to a shady Russian billionaire to keep the economy afloat for a few more milliseconds.  Then again, looking at the current government and the roster of pantomime villains vying to become its titular head, you may have heard it here first: the future is bright, the future is octal!

J Alfred Prufrock, or at least his chronicler (on his behalf), counted out his life in coffee spoons.  I don’t drink coffee and so have little use for such single purpose cutlery.  Worse, due to what I am forced to assume is an administrative error, I have been forced to chronicle my own life.  So, I use a range of alternative metrics to count out my life (briefly ignoring the possibility that it is a continuous process and so intrinsically uncountable) but this post will focus on just one of these.

Since the second half of the 1980s, I have been giving blood on a somewhat regular basis.  If I’m honest, it is the only one of the fluids produced by my body for which I have found a ready market: others are available and are priced (I like to think) competitively.  There have been gaps in my donations caused by my own organisational failures, a few caused by illness and, in more recent years, those caused by the slower pace at which my body seems able (or at least willing – I fear my laziness is very deep-rooted) to replenish its stocks of haemoglobin.  I’m not sure if this last is down to age, lifestyle or the greater frequency with which I am now permitted to donate: and I do like a lie-down and free bikkies (especially if I can convince myself that these activities are somehow selfless).

Last week, a year’s worth of low-haemoglobin-related time on the bench came to an end and I made my triumphant return to the first XI: my blood falling confidently through the copper sulphate (aq) to ensure my recall.  As a result, I was able to take my place on the reclining blue throne and a proportion of my blood was able to escape – via a needle – in the hope of a better life in a new host.  As I lay back ex-sanguinating, I had a few scant minutes of recumbency to consider the changes I’ve seen over the past 30+ years to the system that are set up around the giving of blood.  Much has changed over the years: I can remember the days of loose biscuits, being allowed a full lie down and (maybe) my arm being given nothing more than a quick wipe with an oily rag before the needle was inserted.  These days there are much stronger systems in place, with even the wiping of the arm timed electronically to ensure it is properly clean (or at least is two minutes worth of clean).

When, after five minutes or so, the needle is removed, the donor is expected to press down a small cotton pad on his fresh perforation as he waits for fibrin, platelets and their fellow surfers of the crimson canal to do their work and coagulate to seal the breach.  I’m sure in the early days, this involved one finger and am confident that this became two fingers and then three fingers.  Last week, I was required to use three fingers and my thumb to apply suitable pressure.  At the current rate of escalation, all my available fingers will be fully committed to preventing me from bleeding-out by 2026.  By the early 2030s, I will need a friend, small Dutch boy or suitable robot companion, to lend their phalanges to guarantee sanguinary containment.

Despite the risky practices of the early years, I have survived – and last week marked my 98th time in the chair.  In the absence of any stronger drivers, I found myself with a strong incentive to remain among the quick for the next eight months (or thereabouts) to enable me to hit my century and bask in the polite applause of the audience and from my team-mates back in the pavilion (and a telegram from Nimue?).

While one is lying back and thinking of a geopolitical entity of one’s choice, my thoughts turned to the short-lived Septinsular Republic, screens relay the horrors of daytime television to the captive audience.  As I bled into a bag last week, it was one of these shows where a wealthy couple are shown round very expensive houses in a rural setting in a form of filmed estate agency which I will freely admit I would not have predicted.  This appeared to follow all the usual tropes of such a programme – so far as I could tell via five minutes of inattention – but was rather local, the search being conducted near Lymington.  I was struck that I had never visited Lymington, nor its environs, and probably ought to do something about this at some stage: as they are (by timetable at least) less than 30 minutes away by train.

Normally, we could now all go off and live our lives for a couple of decades before I brought this tiny blastocyst of a plan to term and was in a position to report back.  However, in an unexpected development – which perhaps gives a modicum of hope to procrastinators everywhere (though I lost interest in crastination once it lost its amateur status and big money started pouring into the game from questionable sources) – I actually went to Lymington on Saturday.  The town itself is nice enough and certainly boasts houses only available to the very rich.  Interestingly, it also exists in a super-position of being both over- and under-provisioned with car parking.  However, it is as one strolls away from the town and along the sea defences towards Keyhaven that the true beauty of it as a destination are revealed.  Glorious views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight are granted to the idle saunterer, while the adjacent marshes played host to a greater variety of birds than I have had the joy of seeing and hearing for many years.  They also played host to my first, definite sighting of an avocet (and my second).

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Needles that don’t require a trigger warning (but may require magnification)…

So, an unexpected bonus to counting out my life in major ex-sanguination events: activity ideas!  Even better, given my desire to find thematic unity,  n experience with a needle led to me enjoying a view of the Needles!  Now, I just need to get a version of (N)YTMG screened to those needle-tethered to their chairs and maybe we can get some people to donate their whole bodies to the city’s cultural riches…

Living ridiculously

I sometimes worry that my approach to life lacks a certain seriousness – and, more recently, that I may be passing this deep inner frivolousness onto others.  This blog is clearly one vehicle for such transmission but I fear that the contagion hazard is far higher if one is directly, physically exposed to the author on a regular basis.  At the time of writing, there is no known vaccine to protect against such exposure – but I like to hope that in a laboratory (somewhere) scientists are developing weaker versions of the author that can be used to inoculate those at particularly high risk.  In the remainder of this post, I will use yesterday to illustrate the potential scale of the problem to act as a spur to funding agencies and government to take the issue seriously…

The day started seriously enough with an update on my mother’s condition: which is unclear but does not seem at all good.  I suppose this event might give some explanatory context to the rest of the day: though, I’m not aware of it having any direct bearing on my foolishness.

In the morning, I (or, more accurately, my robotic assistant) prepared the dough to make a batch of bread rolls.  These needed to be left to prove around lunch-time and I used this opportunity – and my desire to impose meaningless thematic unity on my life – to go and see an actual Rolls.  This rather fine, if impractically large, motor from the early 90s was delivering a version of the Queen to NST City as part of the build-up to their staging of The Audience which starts later this week.  This was a gloriously surreal experience as the actor playing the Queen arrived in fine style to be greeted by a class of primary school children and staff from NST waving Union Jacks accompanied by a few bemused passers-by.  The Rolls itself is was somewhat famous having had a starring role delivering other ersatz Queens on both our cinema and TV screens.  On this occasion, “Her Majesty” was accompanied not just by a chauffeur, an equerry and a footman but also by a stuffed, plush corgi: this final arrival, if I’m honest, rather upstaged its human companions.  She also came equipped with a rather modest sceptre, which I believe was sourced from Ann Summers: who, as yet, lack a Royal Warrant of Appointment – I assume the royals must be looking elsewhere for their expertise in sexual innovation…

The afternoon was spent relatively sensibly, though on bumping into a friend while enjoying the sunshine on the Common I did somehow become embroiled on a conversation on Fleming’s Left (or Right) Hand Grip Rule.  As a result, I did feel compelled to remind myself of the details: something I had last covered in the early eighties.

The early evening was spend at a Pint of Science event, among other things having my first experience of virtual reality in a fabricated Alpine landscape designed to create a safe space for cancer patients where they can improve their abilities at self-compassion.  After this, I wandered over to the Guide Dog to continue with the pint theme, but transition from science to music.  This is where matters started to spiral out of control and draw in, relatively, innocent bystanders.

The musical gathering I was attending is known as the Southampton Swing Steady Session: a reference to the swing-style of music being played.  In attempting to post about the fun on Facebook, I attempted to “check-in” to the event and in doing so entered the character stream “southampton swing”.  At this point, I did not find the desired event but did find the Southampton Swingers Association.  This, of itself, was enough to make me giggle (look, I did grow up – if at all – in the seventies) but Facebook provided further information which transmuted my titters into guffaws.  The SSA has not been the rip-roaring success that its founders might have hoped, as Facebook reported that only two people had ever checked-in.  I can’t help feeling that this is not enough for a successful night of swinging: you may throw your keys into a bowl but you will still find yourself driving home with the person you came with.  I was sorely tempted to check-in, just to give the other two members hope – but then decided that this was just too cruel…  Trying to put a more positive spin on matters, perhaps the SSA’s members are so busy swinging that they are just too sweaty, or lack the time or free hand(s), to update their social media presence with all their gene-flow high jinx.

It was not long after the swinging incident, during a break in the music, that a friend – and member of the musical throng – announced a plan to leverage his possession of an Instagram account to eschew traditional, pensionable employ in favour of becoming an influencer.  So far, so 2019 (or at least 2017) you may think.  However, his choice of the domain on which he was going to bring his influence to bear came as something of a surprise: cockles.  Far be it from me to malign the economic analysis of another, but I am far from convinced that ‘big cockle’ has the financial mussel (sorry, muscle), or marketing budget, to support an influencer in the manner to which he might wish to become accustomed.  Cockles themselves certainly have no head for business: or indeed for anything else.

His choice has the advantage that competition on Instagram will be limited (though more than 10,000 posts do somewhat give the lie to my theory): so the mantle of the world’s premier cockle influence is very much his oyster!  However, as a regular visitor to Dublin, I am all too aware that reliance on big cockle (even with additional support from big mussel) for your income does not always end happily: just ask poor Molly Malone.  She may have been immortalised in busty bronze (known to the locals as ‘The Tart with the Cart’) but neither her embrace of the seafood business nor her sweetness were enough to save her from an untimely death.

On the plus side, our proto-influencer did recognise that not everyone is ready to accept cockles into their lives (and more importantly mouths and digestive tracts) for reasons of health, religion or morality and so was also willing to act as a mouthpiece for the cockle’s more vegetative counterpart/stunt double: the chickpea.  However, I fear that the chickpea already possesses a range of cheerleaders celebrating its many merits across social media and the message about its use as a cockle-substitute may be lost.  Perhaps if each chickpea were given a pair of artificial ‘shells’ – ribbed (and possibly branded) for your viewing pleasure – it would allow it to stand out from the hordes of naked chickpeas not being touted as a cockle-ternative?  (BTW: I am claiming the intellectual property rights on the neologism cockle-ternative:  I suspect it may have applications beyond seafood.)

The evening’s final foolishness was the elaboration of a marketing plan for (N)YTMG originally developed on Saturday thanks to the ministrations of the Steam Town and Red Cat breweries (though remembered by only one of its parents, viz me).  In addition to the red rotating light, tea tray and guerrilla film crew (or at least camera operator) originally envisaged, this project now also requires a substantial cast of extras and at least one (preferably two) brass bands.  If we manage to pull this ambitious – and completely ridiculous – project off, I have hopes that it could go pandemically viral and eclipse any level of influence big cockle could hope for in its most fevered of dreams.  I like to think it could put Southampton and its music scene on the map (or at least a map and/or watch-list).

I think we can now all agree that the concerns expressed in the opening paragraph are totally overblown and it is entirely safe to associate with the author: both through this blog and in person…

Ship-shape

It may appear to the casual reader that I rarely stray more than a score of miles from my home, unless forced by the exigencies of work and the need to earn a crust: or even, the sweet, soft centre of the loaf!  There is a certain degree (or π/180 radians) of truth to this view, though I should point out that I do occasionally visit friends in Sussex, Edinburgh and Cambridge.

However, on occasion, I break with tradition and over the May bank holiday weekend I finally heeded the advice of the Pet Shop Boys and went west.  Even more out-of-character, I went with a friend and I did the driving: I even prepared a playlist for the journey should the art of conversation desert us at any stage.  Given that the car had last been used on Boxing Day, this did require a little help from the AA to give the kiss of life to the battery (no actual osculation was performed, even in its depleted state I could not recommend making lip-on-terminal contact with a car battery) but otherwise the drive to Bristol on the Friday was a breeze.

Thanks to my skills at the wheel, and the navigational advice of an app called ‘Here’ (a name that might not immediately inspire confidence when one is trying to reach ‘there’), we made it to Clifton, the rather upmarket suburb of Bristol, well within two hours and failed to get lost at any stage (though one choice of lane at a junction was sub-optimal).  At no stage did my companion have obvious recourse to a nerve tonic, or stronger medication, to cope with the rigours of the journey: so I think I still qualify as a somewhat competent driver.

We had travelled to Bristol primarily to enjoy its Folk Festival, but one of the many advantages of city-based festivals – over and above the ease with which can avoid relying on canvas to provide a roof over your head – is that when you fancy something different a whole city is at your disposal.  The Bristol Folk Festival was an absolute joy: spread across two venue and a pub on Friday and Saturday and switching to a third on Sunday, it was a wonderfully welcoming event of just the right scale.  There wasn’t so much going on to be overwhelming and its scale didn’t dominate the city.  It has had a slightly stop-start history in recent years, but I do hope it continues as I’d love to go again.

We saw a lovely range of folk musicians and picking one musical highlight from each day, I’d go with the following:

On Friday evening, we saw Spiro, who came highly recommended by more than one Southampton friend: they mixed some classical influences into their folk music and made wonderful musical close to our first day in Bristol.

On Saturday afternoon, we saw Sid Goldsmith and Jimmy Aldridge in St Stephen’s Church and really enjoyed them.  So, we completely changed our plans for the rest of the evening and pursued them to a packed Three Tuns for a glorious singaround session.  Sometimes spontaneous decisions are the best – and one of the many advantages to bringing a decision maker, other than idiot I live with, on an excursion!  My companion was also the reason we followed the singing with a fiery, late dinner of Sri Lankan street food at the Coconut Tree.  I think I may need to add some Sri Lankan dishes to spice up my own cooking…

On Sunday afternoon, we went to the wonderful venue that is St George’s: it really does so much right as a venue, including offering really good and well chosen food in the extension to the side.  We were there for my second chance to see The Drystones on their recent tour – and it was through this tour that I had discovered the existence of the Bristol Folk Festival in the first place.  I know the boys are my friends, but they have massively stepped it up for their new album (Apparitions) and to bring that experience to the tour: I frankly lost count of the number of instruments, pedals and mics they played/used between them.  At one point, Ford is forced to sit down so that he can simultaneously use both feet and both hands to play/control different instruments and effects.  I can see why the tour took so much rehearsal and they travel with their own sound engineer (and someone’s mother’s best tablecloth) to set the whole thing up.  It is clearly an incredible feat of concentration as well as musicianship to bring it altogether for the live show: they must be exhausted afterwards.  It is folk music, but so much more besides: as but one example, Oscar’s Ghost is just so hauntingly atmospheric that it sends shivers up my spine whenever I hear it.  I’m not sure where they are planning to go next: I’m expecting full pyrotechnics and a laser show which still somehow only exists only to serve the music…

As well as the music, we also had a chance to enjoy the Georgian architectural splendours of Clifton, no doubt funded by some of the more unsavoury practices of our mercantile past, and a lot of (probably) less morally compromised wisteria.  I think this was also my first visit to the engineering glory of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.  I suppose I may have been as a child, though I have no recollection – then again, I had no memory of just how hilly Bristol was either and I’m pretty sure it does not boast sufficient geological activity for the hills to have appeared since my childhood (despite my antiquity).  My calves were extremely taut (you could bounce a marble off them) by Saturday evening from going down hill (my body was fine with the ascents) and I feel I gained a small insight into the suffering high heels must cause their users.

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I had a lovely few days in Bristol (see a brief highlights reel above) and will return , if only because I have barely made a start on its museums and galleries: let alone its music scene.  However, after the end of the Drystones set, I had a mere 135 minutes to return to my car, drive back to Southampton and drop off my friend and make it to Turner Sims to attend a gig I had booked long before I even knew about the Bristol Folk Festival.  Somehow, I managed to do this with almost 60 seconds to spare and the laws of the land unbroken. SYJO and Phronesis were well worth the slightly unrealistic combination of gigs that I had chosen for myself and did illustrate that possession of a car does, sometimes, allow the achievement of goals that would be entirely impossible relying on public transport.

As I am insane (though I remain undiagnosed and so am free to wander wheree’er I will), I had also arranged to visit the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on the Monday.  This excursion, I did by train but could still recognise the irony of changing at Bristol Temple Meads a mere 17 hours after last leaving its vicinity.  I did feel very Plebian, not to say non-U, in the genteel surroundings of Cheltenham – but it was well-worth the excursion to see the Lydian Collective for the second time and this time I was sober and they had the nyckelharpa that had been mentioned in Cambridge back in November.  I found the signage at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival rather puzzling, especially the sign pointing to the “Jazz Puddle”.  I am a brave soul, not easily frightened, so I walked in the direction indicated but failed to discover its mysterious object.  Can any readers advise as to the nature of a jazz puddle?  Should I be glad that I never encountered it?

I also managed to stumble upon an excellent pub which was holding a beer festival.  I can thoroughly recommend the Beehive in Montepellier (which appears to be a part of Cheltenham, as well as more famously a city in the Pays d’Oc) which very much felt like my Cheltenham home.  I feel it is important that I should know a decent pub and a decent source of cake in every town and city in the UK: a project that very much remains live…

I feel I should organise more excursions away from home, even ones involving use of my car, to sample the beer, cake and culture of further cities.  It’s just so hard to tear myself away from all that Southampton offers: still, I must face the fact that until my clones are fully up and, if not running, at least shuffling, I cannot do everything…

Glib and a contradiction in terms

My life might appear a predictable round of gig going, interspersed with trips to experience diverse other art forms. I suppose there is also my continuing need to work to fund these outings and my various, increasingly improbable range of, what I shall call, hobbies – and you might call grounds for future interventions. However, every so often I either surprise myself or am myself surprised by what my life delivers.

Only this past week, I was shown photographic evidence that a quote from this very blog will appear in a PhD thesis. I never expected this nonsense to appear in an academic work, well not outside of a psychiatric case study. I trust its inclusion will not adversely affect the granting of a doctorate or otherwise bring to a premature close a potentially glowing career in the tenured echelons of one of our most prestigious halls of learning.

The regular reader will have noticed that the topic of sport is rarely covered in these pages. I have, at times, in my life been able to maintain periods of interest in a few sports (usually serially, rather than in parallel): but, generally the tendency of everything to be reset annually (or every four years in some cases) has allowed my interest to wane after a couple of seasons. I seem to have a similar issue with most TV series and fear both may be a sign of the ever diminishing nature of my (a) attention span and (b) time on earth.

Despite this, yesterday I found myself on a bus heading into a previously unvisited eastern portion of the city (or I may have strayed into Eastleigh) to see the cricket (or at least a cricket). It is scarcely twenty-five years since I last went to a cricket match and people may ponder as to the cause of such an urgent return to the game. More astonishingly still, for the first time in my life I actually paid real money to attend! I can only blame peer pressure, curiosity and, perhaps, an eye to some fresh content. Whatever the cause, I found myself seated mid-wicket to see England and Pakistan battle it out in a One Day International at the aptly named Ageas Bowl (I never found the Ageas Bat nor Ageas Field).

The view from the cheap seats!

In an attempt to fit into a cricketing crowd – of some 25,000 people! – I decided to wear white trousers: and let me say, such a choice does add considerable excitement, jeopardy even, to any day (or it does if you wish them to remain white and not be sentenced to an immediate return to the laundry). I quickly learned that cricketers no longer wear white: England were in in shades of blue and Pakistan in a rather natty green, so my hopes of a last minute call-up were dashed (my complete lack of ability at any aspect of the game might also have counted against me, I suppose). Initially, my memory of the rules of cricket was decidedly rusty: though I found – as at music events – if you only applaud when a decent number of the rest of the audience are doing the same, you rarely come unstuck. However, over time, I discovered that I did retain a surprising amount of basic cricketing knowledge from the last millennium: the fielding restrictions rather grandly referred to as ‘power play’ had clearly been added more recently.

I am forced to admit that I rather enjoyed my time in the sun, watching other people work. There were a decent number of boundaries (one Jos Buttler seemed to connect his bat rather solidly with the ball and produced a rich harvest of sixes), a smattering of wickets and only a very brief stop for rain. The game was competitive and went to the wire – though I did have to leave before the end to make it to a later engagement. The seating was more comfy than it appeared, though I was a little disappointed by the selection of beer and food on offer: I was expecting something more upmarket somehow. Still, I did discover an unexpected ability to carry three pints in very flimsy plastic vessels through a crowd and down a flight of stairs without spillage: big hands have their uses!

I may return to a sporting arena, in a purely observational capacity, before another quarter of a century elapses: than again, I’ve made that sort of rash promise before…

However, the week’s most unexpected occurrence took place on Thursday evening. I’d been invited to NST City to a rather undefined event linked to the fact that they will shortly be staging The Audience by Peter Morgan. I had previously been lucky enough to go tothe first read-through: which, if I’m honest, suggested they didn’t have much more to do. The play was already very funny, well acted and left me weeping: not something I had ever expected to be caused by a fictional portrayal of Harold Wilson. I strongly suspect it is going to be very good on stage and will take the risk of recommending it before seeing it properly made flesh.

I think I was expecting to see the model box and perhaps a little talk about their plans for the staging and to be out in half-an-hour. I did indeed see the model box, but the evening was (mostly) about the process of directing the play, the extensive background research, decisions on design and staging and the like: this was all very interesting. Towards the end of the presentation, there was a need for two ‘volunteers’ to act out a scene and be directed, to further help the audience to understand the process. As someone well-known to the staff at NST (and in many other places), I had been primed to ‘volunteer’ if the rest of the audience were proving a little reticent (FGF rather than FHB). As a result, I found myself on the main stage of NST City playing the role of Margaret Thatcher to a small, but all too attentive, audience. My fellow ‘volunteer’ played the part of the Queen. I think this must rank as the strangest thing I have done in my 53+ years on this planet.

We were provided with the script and not expected to perform in costume, but after the first read-through were given some direction before a second run through. I would have to admit that I enjoyed myself immoderately, but then I believe it is always more fun to play the villain and I managed to channel considerable venom into my performance. As we returned to our seats, my co-star noted that our ‘ordeal’ had gone rather well: though observed that it helped that I was a professional. While, there are some am-dram genes in my ancestry (a polygenic trait, if ever there was one), the only acting I have ever done is in the creation and delivery of what I like to call my personality in a range of social settings: I could hardly claim that any of these many performances could be classed as professional. Still, my experience of public speaking probably did help (as did the print size of the script as I had not brought my reading glasses!).

In the bar after the performance, people were very kind about my stage debut – and did not (so far as I could tell) resort to any of the cunning, double-edged phrases used by actors to apparently compliment the terrible performance of a friend. I fear I have acquired a certain fame in Southampton for my portrayal of our first female PM: while I don’t think there is any video evidence out there, there are some photos….

This lady’s not for turning!

I have always assumed that the only role I could even slightly convincingly play on stage would be myself and it would be tricky to turn this into a career, despite the precedent set by Sean Connery. I am now wondering if I have greater range than previously imagined and am expecting my Equity card to arrive in the post any day now. I’m sure the offers from auteurs of film and stage can’t be far behind…

Staying Agile

Obviously important for all of us, and especially those of us navigating the unwanted stiffening than can come with middle age (this is quite different to the unwanted stiffening that I seem to recall was a feature of my teenage years). However, my top tips for flexibility into your sixth decade will have to wait for another post: this is all about my new baby: (Not) Your Trusted Music Guide – or (N)YTMG for short (which I think we have decided will be pronounced “nutmeg”).

Apologies to those of you who lack the good fortune to be resident in (or near) Southampton but, if we’re honest, a lot of content on GofaDM was already very me-centric and so somewhat focused on those places that I am most often found (which does tend to be the former Hamwic and principle gem in southern England’s diadem). And, there is always the possibility of moving to Southampton: property is more sensibly priced than in many places…

(N)YTMG is not a destination but a journey: for you, it should be the start of many journeys to see live music, poetry, theatre dance and more; for me and the coding demon that is gawpertron, it is a journey to make it ever more useful and useable (I promise to stop using the word ‘journey’ now, I’m not a contestant on ‘Strictly Come Great Britain’s Got X Factor on Ice Off’ and nor do I wish to be one). As (N)YTMG develops, I’m using its proud parent (GofaDM) as one way to announce the new features: yes, you are correct, he is just boasting about his other website. These will all be tagged (N)YTMG to make them (a) easy to find and (b) easy to avoid.

We have been using Agile development to build and enhance (N)YTMG and, in a marked contrast to any other experiences of that phrase in my working life, it has more than lived up to its name: it has proven more nimble than low calorie bread! The vast majority (for which read, all) of the credit for this must rest with gawpertron: I merely try and explain how I think people will use the site (I’m in charge of stories), attempt to answer any questions in a broadly sensible manner (while also being as childish as you would expect) and (sometimes) provide clear priorities.

We were keen that (N)TYMG should be accessible to as wide a range of users as possible. The design was chosen to make this a reality, but as both gawpertron and I possess relatively functional eyes (if we ignore my exciting combination of myopia, astigmatism and presbyopia) I wanted to get some feedback from a blind user. Many thanks to the excellent Jim O’Sullivan (a regular gig-goer himself) for reviewing the site and providing some suggestions for improving its navigability. These have now been implemented: a fact, which in a delicious reversal of the normal state of affairs, will be largely invisible to sighted users but will be “seen” by the blind and partially sighted.

We’ve also introduced alternative “themes” to change the look of the site. Classic retains the original look which is based on the GofaDM we all know and love (or are forced to tolerate), but we have added Night for those who prefer a more restful vibe (or are vampires). We have also added a High Contrast theme aimed at those who are colour-blind or who have other difficulties differentiating colours when navigating websites: as a bonus, it also works well if your screen is filthy or you are yomping across the Sahara desert!

Night has fallen!

Following user feedback, the date now also shows the day of the week: useful for those with a regular appointment that prevents them from going out (no more missed appointments with your Probation Officer!). We have also improved the interaction of the Search function and accented characters: a vowel (and even a consonant) will now find any of its brethren, even if they are wearing a hat or spurs!

Finally, I have the ability to add (invisible) tags to events which will add extra discrimination to the search function, e.g. I could tag a Music gig as ‘Jazz’ or ‘Opera’. I think there may be a period of experimentation here, as I try and find tags that are useful rather than merely annoying…

For now, GofaDM and its (N)YTMG posts will probably act as the main conduit for any feedback on the site. I am loath to put contact details on the website as I do not wish to see my (or the site’s) Inbox flooded with get-rich quick schemes from minor West African royalty and offers to improve my effectiveness in potential future gene transfer events. All feedback will be considered, though my opinion is final (if subject to arbitrary change without notice), however wrong it may be.

I’m really chuffed with how (N)YTMG has turned out: it has exceeded my wildest dreams by a country mile! I actually use it myself, as it is generally the quickest way to buy tickets for an event without wading through venue websites with their heavy graphic load and multiple clicks between a desire and its satisfaction. Trying to find things to do in Cambridge later in the month, I found myself frustrated that it lacked an equivalent tool (though the author will be there, which might count). One day, maybe the gradual geographical creep which has already begun will see me reunite Wessex and Anglia under a single ruler…