Embracing the young

Only with their consent, obviously.  If I’m entirely honest I lack the confidence to initiate a hug and so limit myself to reciprocating when young folk (or even those much older than me) start the process.  While I was alive during the 1970s (yes, all of them), I have no intention of joining many of its stars in jail (or the grave for that mater, but I fear this latter project may ultimately prove beyond me).

Hug

This is the size I need emojis to be, if my fading eyesight is to have any chance of identifying the emotion being expressed.  Otherwise, I am an emoji Vulcan.

Since I arrived in Southampton, nearly four years ago, my life has changed in ways that I never anticipated (despite a career in forecasting).  A surprising amount of this change has been caused by my tendency to talk to people, especially bar staff.  A couple of years back, I was acquiring liquid sustenance at Turner Sims talking to the young chap serving me when he invited me to a free gig his band were playing at the Talking Heads the following night.  In the spirit of adventure, which is such a mark of my life (well, as long as there is no risk of physical danger or getting my hands dirty), I found out where the Talking Heads was located and went to the gig.  How bad could it be?  (Very much my ‘goto’ phrase when offered an opportunity – yes, I know I should be using subroutines).

I am probably now averaging 4-5 gigs per week and spend very few evenings at home (as I have other, non-musical cultural activities to fit in as well).   So, be careful where your spirit of adventure takes you: some adventures can be addictive!  Some of this upswing in activity can be explained by my desire to support the arts in the current financial climate and some from the Talking Heads having moved rather closer to my tiny garret.  However, I suspect the primary drivers are the way I daisy-chain my life and the interaction between my tendency to chat to strangers and to prove oddly memorable to them (then again trauma can lead to particularly vivid memories being laid down).

I’m not entirely sure where my tendency to talk to strangers came from, as I’m fairly sure it was frowned upon when I was a child.  I think some of it may arise from my attempts to simulate empathy (and thus more readily pass as human) but mostly because other people often provide a very cheap form of entertainment if you talk to them (just watching them can also work, but such observation does need to be performed with care and it’s best not to focus for too long on a single target: however funny they may be).

I am even less clear why I should be memorable – though the name must help (but I’ve found it is in no way a necessary condition for others to remember me).  I do tend to sit in the front row in gigs – I claim this is for the legroom and it also obviates the need to wear my glasses (which we can probably put down to vanity) but I suspect a small part of me is always hoping to wangle a part in the show.  However, I’m not sure why this should cause musicians, comedians, actors or bar staff to remember me – they must see far more audience than I see performers and I don’t think I’m that unique looking (so anonymous am I that I frequently fail to recognise myself in reflective surfaces).

Which brings us to the daisy-chaining…  Whenever I see a band or musician I know, I will invariable see a couple of other acts that I don’t on the same bill – and I may well find I enjoy their music.  Added to this, I’ve discovered that most musicians are in more than one band or group in addition to any solo outings.  So my knowledge of the local music scene rose exponentially – well, it did until I ran out of spare evenings!  This may have reached its apogee last Friday when I went to two gigs, but there were at least four others within a few minutes of my home which I also wanted to be at.

I have now reached the point where it is almost impossible to go to any cultural activity in Southampton without meeting people I know: either on stage or in the audience (usually both).  One of the enjoyable oddities of my cultural excursions to London is the strange anonymity they usually offer.

When I see a band or musician I like I tend to follow them on Facebook as this has proved the most efficient way of finding out when and where they are gigging.  However, as I now know a lot of these people to talk to and/or drink with I find myself as Facebook ‘Friends’ with them as well.  While I am still some way off Dunbar’s number, my list of Facebook friends has risen deep into double figures in recent months.  This has enriched my Facebook feed but also had a slightly odd effect on Facebook’s attempts to sell stuff to me.  There are now fewer offers of singles in my area and catheters (hooray!), but more offers of trombone related memorabilia (modified rapture!).  Much as I love the trombone, I fear I lack the room or embouchure to keep one myself.  I also worry about the impact on my poor neighbours were I to take it up.

Whilst I do go to some gigs with musicians around my age, the vast majority involve musicians who are yet to clock up even half of my own orbits around the sun.  A substantial proportion of the musicians I know are current or recent alumni of the University of Southampton’s music department – and what a fecund department it is!  I am now friends (in some form) with more freelance musicians, peripatetic music teachers and bar staff than I had even imagined.  The creative young have to manage matrix ‘careers’ in a way that I never had to – which I find rather impressive, though I fear it may not prove a workable option far into their thirties.  It has been a real privilege to spend time with such talented young people, though it does cast my own rather more modest achievements – suspended as they have been over a much longer timeframe – into rather deep shade.  Still, it is probably good for my soul (subject to its availability) and is almost certainly keeping my inner old codger at bay (or at least more frequently on the back foot).

 

Journey to the Pole

Not the North or South Poles – these have been done too may times before and I feel any sense of achievement remaining must be very modest.  Plus, I’m not very keen on wearing a jumper – though I am having a modest rapprochement with that particular garment could this be the bony fingers of old age?) – which I believe is considered important if one is to avoid a chill.

No, I chose to visit one of the several Poles of Inaccessibility.  Again, in my desire to the tourist hordes I avoided those listed on Wikipedia in their North, South, Oceanic or various continental flavours.  I tackled a far more challenging Pole.  A place so difficult to reach that an attempt to visit it made up a substantial chunk of a recent More-or-Less episode on the subject of labyrinths and mazes.

My Pole of choice lies in the city of London which I visited yesterday (and, indeed, on Saturday) to defy those whose stock in trade is terror or those who thought I should have been #reeling.  OK, I was going anyway and was not going to allow a small bunch of coins to interfere with my plans.  I lived in London and regularly used London Bridge when folk hoping to kill me where willing to go to the effort of learning a little basic chemistry and constructing explosives.  I will admit I did catch a slightly earlier train to be “on the safe side”, though that decision was probably more strongly influenced by my train into London on the previous which had lost the ability to recognise signals before it reached Micheldever and then limped into Basingstoke before retiring hurt.

Going in early worked like a charm and my train made it all the way to Waterloo without coming down with anything and was even slightly early.  This gave me the chance to have a quite splendid – if artery-challenging (but they do love a challenge!) – brunch (though as I had it at lunch-time, would that make it supper?) at Spuntino.  This was my second time at Spuntino – the best tentacle of the Polpo empire (which I like to imagine has 8 branches) – and it is now very much a favourite.  I love its distressed decor with the ghost of its previous life still visible, the friendly staff and most of all its delicious if often hard to fathom food.  I think it is supposed to exude a Brooklyn vibe – which it does for me, but then I’ve never been to Brooklyn.  Both my courses yesterday were loosely based on the idea of toast, but far tastier and worse for you than any toast I’ve previously consumed.  They also offered the option of having a Dutch Baby for dessert: but I drew the line at this: Brexit may mean Brexit, but I feel one can go too far.  (I believe that no youthful Netherlanders were harmed in the making of brunch, though a pancake or two may have lost their lives.)

After this filling lunch, I strolled in a rather leisurely fashion towards my goal.  I find it’s best not to approach it too directly or to let it see you coming.  In my perambulations (no, I was not wheeling a Dutch baby around London), I found myself in the delightful and almost empty (which it might not been on a weekday lunchtime) Postman’s Park which contains the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice.  This does not limit itself to those members of the Royal Mail who have valiantly lost their lives trying to ensure that the post gets through – not a single mention of a vicious dog – but instead mostly relates to fire or drowning.  Slightly frustratingly, the memorial does not reveal if the sacrifice was in vain or not – part of me likes to imagine that it was (but, as previously discussed, I am a Terrible Human Being).

IMG_20170604_141453414

The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

With this inspiration, I continued on my heroic quest hoping that it would not end in my own self-sacrifice.  Tracing part of the much depleted London Wall (sadly not a patch on its Southampton counterpart – our city fathers might not have retained much of the historic centre, but our wall is surprisingly complete), it was not too long before I reached my goal: St Giles-without-Cripplegate.

You may find this an unimpressive feat, but let me tell you that while it can be glimpsed from many a vantage point within the Barbican complex few indeed are the travellers who are able to reach its once hallowed environs.  Once I had arrived, I could look across the water to the crowds in front of the Barbican centre reclining from a choice of a myriad of benches within the empty churchyard empty: well, but for one other hardy explorer.  However, as he had used dogs and oxygen, I feel the laurels were very much mine to claim having travelled unsupported and with minimal equipment (a good book and a pair of glasses).

To briefly leave today’s conceit behind, I was actually travelling to the Barbican centre itself – but it is always good to invoke the spirit of Scott or Livingstone on any trip to the theatre.  In keeping with their spirit, I have decided to claim the area around the church and name it the Ffoulkes isthmus.  I know the locals probably already had a name for it, but I’m British and that sort of nonsense has never stopped us in the past!

I went to see a truly amazing theatrical “event” called 887 by Ex Machina (which I think is basically Robert Lepage and friends).  Last year, I saw their (his?) Needles and Opium which was incredible with its use of a rotating cube and projections: if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.  I think 887 made N&O look like a walk in the park.  887 was incredibly technically complex and involved a huge range of styles of theatrical story-telling.   During the two hours you only see Robert Lepage on stage, but during the applause it did become clear that it used at least seven stage-hands (ASMs?) to make it work and there were three people sitting near me that also seemed to be controlling aspects of the show.  It is not just very clever, it was also a great afternoon of theatre and entertainment.  I even joined in the standing ovation – and not just to give my knees and buttocks a slightly earlier stretch.  If you ever have a chance to go to one of his shows, I’d strongly recommend you don’t let it pass you by.

I would not, however, advise the inexperienced to attempt to reach St Giles-without-Cripplegate.  I have been training for this sort of expedition for years and I would not want to have any reader’s blood on my hands following a failed attempt to emulate your hero.

Pub theatre

The Guardian recently ran an article about the resurgence of pub theatre, demonstrating that once again our author is well-ahead of the curve (in some areas, in others he can’t even find the curve and is uncertain whether one even exists).  I have been an habitué of pub theatres for more than 4 years now.  [Is it just me, or do any other (male or equivalent) readers feel cheated when typing (or writing) a French adjective formed from a past participle that they cannot correctly add the second ‘e’ for feminine agreement?]

What is not to love?  The title clearly illustrates the two key attributes for any potential visitor: there is a theatre “in” (or usually above) a pub!  Not only that, but it is usually a small, intimate theatre producing new writing and the pub is generally a good one with a fine range of well-kept cask ales.

The Guardian article included a production still (look at me, using industry jargon!) from the play that, in many ways, started it all.  It was a shot from Luke Owen‘s Unscorched which was the first time I visited the Finborough Theatre (a place where I am now often recognised by the team), was almost my first visit to a pub theatre and was the play which started my obsession with new writing in the theatre.  Since that day, my visits to the West End have declined to zero and my theatre-going has become increasingly dominated by new plays.  My attendance of the classics has become limited to those staged by the Nuffield Theatre – but a short walk or bus-ride from my door – or at the cinema via NT Live (similarly physically proximate).  This switch has also had the benefit of making my theatre-going budget stretch a lot further.

My visits to pub theatre – which are mostly in London (though I am tempted to try and set one up myself nearer to home) – have been somewhat restricted by the pain of getting to them from Southampton (and more significantly getting home again) by public transport.  They tend to be located away from the centre of London on underground lines not served from Waterloo.  However, on the Sunday before last I made a major transport breakthrough.  I discovered that, via the magic of the Overground, I can be delivered from Clapham Junction via a very frequent service to West Brompton in less than 10 minutes.  From there it is but a short walk to the Finborough.  This knocks 45-60 minutes off my previous route via Waterloo and the Jubilee and District Lines and saves me nearly a fiver on my train ticket!  This same little arc of the Overground also takes in Theatre 503 (another pub theatre) and the Bush Theatre (not in a pub, but still a small theatre producing new writing).  I also have the feeling that the Overground is largely unknown to tourists, which eliminates a whole range of frustrations which plague its subterranean sibling.  All hail the London Overground!  Your rolling stock was not named Capitalstar in vain!

Using this new knowledge, I found myself in the Finborough Arms enjoying a very fine pint of Luppol (not a new high-performance lubricant for your engine, but an unfiltered ale by Clouded Minds brewery) a mere 90 minutes after leaving Southampton Central.  I then enjoyed the drama of Late Company by the ridiculously young and talented Jordan Tannahill (he was 23 when he wrote it, and still hasn’t reached 30) another stunning Canadian play brought across the Atlantic by the Finborough team.  If the opportunity arises, go see Late Company – it is an uncomfortable experience at times, but is wonderful, thoughtful writing.  I then wended my way home via Theatre 503 and the excellent Sharp Teeth, starring inter alia The Greeners and Ben Norris.

Sharp Teeth is a cross-genre night taking in music and spoken word along the way which is usually resident in Bristol, but this was its first outing in London.  Bristol is, in theory, closer and easier to get to than London – but the operators of our rail companies find it inconceivable that the resident of a provisional UK city should wish to visit a nearby provincial city for an evening of fun.  Whether it be Salisbury, Bath, Chichester, Brighton or Bristol the last train back to Southampton is cunningly timed to ensure that any visit to the theatre (or similar cultural activity) will cause you to miss it.  Is ATOC in the pocket of big B&B?  Or is it just that the denizens of Southampton have a particularly lairy reputation?

Returning to Late Company, this is the fourth stunning play by a Canadian playwright I have seen in the last couple of years: two at the Finborough (the other being Proud by Michael Healey) and two at the Nuffield Theatre.  This latter pair were performed by the Nuffield Youth Theatre, Girls like that and Consensual, both written by Evan Placey.  These were both stunningly good productions but Consensual, in particular, never made you think about the word “youth” in “youth theatre”.  For my money (and as paying audience, it was my money), it could stand with any professional production I’ve seen in recent years.  The ambition of the NYT over recent years has been extraordinary.  I’d never been to youth theatre before I moved to Southampton and only went the first time as I had a free ticket and figured “how bad can it be?”.  I now book early for all their productions to make sure I get a seat: the performances are always worth seeing and they can tackle repertoire which the main theatre would struggle to programme economically.

I fear this post has wandered from its original theme of pub theatre, as many members of the NYT could not be legally served in a pub, but I like to feel there is a (tenuous) thread leading the reader through my rant: if not, can we agree to call it Joycean?  It is also becoming increasingly clear that if I am forced to flee this country as an economic migrant, Canada is looking an increasingly attractive option.  So I like to think we’ve all learned something today.

Mayday

Do not worry, I am not in immediate need of rescue – or at least no more so than usual.  I shall be discursing on the traditional holiday rather than the cry for help (or the deadly butterfly-toting Bond villain).  Wordpress does not like me using the word ‘discursing’, but it is a perfectly valid word, if archaic: so I shall raise a small number of fingers to ‘the man’ and continue.

People make a wide range of choices for their May Day celebrations.  The psychotic supreme leader or gerontocracy that traditionally run totalitarian states seem to prefer having a large proportion of their military forces paraded in front of them: usually sporting both silly hats and walks.  I know one chap who by 5am was not only up, but about and in town performing (I assume with other like-minded folk) in a bout of Morris dancing.  The lone Morris dancer is a very sad and lonely sight: even if there is no-one there to observe him.  Do his bells make a sound?

At 5am on May 1, I was still safely nestled neath my duvet: I may be a fool, but I’m an old fool and time in bed sleeping is rarely wasted or later regretted (which is more than can be said for many of a chap’s waking hours).  I did eventually stir and after a light luncheon took the train up to London to visit the Barbican Centre.  This is my fourth visit in the last 12 months or so, and for the first time managed to walk from Moorgate tube station to the Barbican and back (later) without going the wrong way or becoming hopelessly lost.  For my next trip, I think I can safely leave behind the reel of cotton and the 800g sliced loaf and rely on my own navigational ability to brave the heart of the labyrinth and then later emerge unscathed.  For any of you who were worrying. no man-bull hybrids were harmed in the making of this post.

I was visiting the Barbican Centre to listen to Philip Glass’ Music in Twelve Parts: a four hour extravaganza of musical minimalism suspended over 5.5 hours once the (3) intervals were included.  I have heard a small amount of Mr Glass’ percussion music in the past and some of his film soundtrack work, in particular to the film Koyaanisqatsi, but this was going to be something of a leap into the musical dark.  Still, I somewhat knew the chap organising and directing (from the keyboard) the gig (having twice shared a pint or two with him: which I think in many cultures would make us brothers) and follow the viola da gamba player on Twitter (surely, everyone must follow at least one viola da gamba player on Twitter, or how do they sleep at night?) so I figured it would be worth a punt.  Also, in purely economic terms, it was one of the cheapest concerts I’ve ever been to in terms of a pence per minute rate.

You will be pleased to know that my punt paid off handsomely: I had a glorious afternoon and evening.  It quickly became weirdly engrossing in a way that I imagine meditation or mindfulness is supposed to.  I felt oddly cocooned in music and it was slightly shocking once each segment came to an end and I was forced to face the real world again for the upcoming interval.  For perhaps obvious reasons, the piece is rarely played (despite being shorter and less stressful than most of Wagner’s output) and this was the first time it hadn’t been played by the Philip Glass Ensemble: so it was also  a fairly[sic] unique  – or at least once in a generation – experience.  I did find myself wondering how the musicians maintain their concentration and remember which ‘repeat’ they are in: I become confused/lost within even a couple of repeated phrases in a piece of music so would have been entirely at sea in the hypnotic soundscape of Philip Glass.

The intervals were also quite stressful as it was in these brief interludes that the audience had to attempt to refuel with the victuals needed to make it through the next three parts (of the twelve).  The Barbican did not make this easy of us: the Members’ Lounge was closed all day and the centre has few eateries.  I booked at table at one of these for the long interval (1 hour) only to be told when I arrived to eat that they had stopped serving food two hours before.  Not a welcome message I can tell you!  I had to make do with a merely adequate wrap and brownie combination from a snack bar in the basement.  The Barbican really isn’t very accommodating to the tapeworm-infested or merely hungry visitor: it has very limited options and going “off-site” to find and eat food in an interval of only an hour is quite a challenge.   It would really require a native guide and access to motorised transport.  In this respect it contrasts rather unfavourably with the Southbank Centre which has a huge range of dining options within a short walk and a vastly lower chance of becoming lost on the way.

Still, it did expunge some of the blot from its copybook in the short intervals.  The Jude’s brown butter pecan ice cream I had in interval one – continuing with the sense of adventure that characterised the day – was very tasty and the elderflower and ginger martini I had in interval three was divine (if rather too expensive for everyday – or even every year).

Overall, I had a brilliant time and must take my hat off (sadly left behind on the train on my way home, please don’t blame the martini) to James McVinnie for organising such a wonderful gig.  I eagerly await his next offering…

The King and I

Writers are often asked where their ideas come from.  Oddly, I have yet to be asked this particular question: I am forced to assume that my public persona is too forbidding and people are afraid to approach me to raise such an inquiry.

Extrapolating from my huge sample size of one (viz me), still more evidence than will be supporting most of the claims we’ll hear between now and early June, I would imagine that writers find this question almost impossible to answer.  I have no idea where my inspiration comes from or fails to come from (as the case may be).  In general, it comes from doing stuff and being out in the world, rather than staring into space in my tiny garret – but beyond that the affairs of the muse are subtle and thrillingly mysterious.

Last night I enjoyed a very entertaining evening of storytelling at the Art House.  This was far from my first experience of storytelling.  Many years ago, an unfortunate Argentine, who had the misfortune to look to me as his line manager, claimed I was unable to say anything without turning into a narrative: he probably had a point.  Back in the mists of time (ok the mid-nineties), I was an habitué of the Cumberland Arms in Byker to enjoy the regular storytelling evenings run by A Bit Craic.  On a couple of occasions, I even summoned up sufficient pluck to tell a story myself.

As well as the traditional elements of such an evening, the two storytellers last night (Jason Buck and Mike Rogers) filled in the space before the performance and during the intermission by playing a game of chess: well, after a fashion.  As I arrived, there were hints of Det sjunde inseglet, though it quickly became apparent that there would be more laughs on offer than are traditionally associated with the work of Ingmar Bergman (I can’t speak to his private life, which may have been a complete laugh riot).  

I think they started with a plan to play chess to the rules of Monopoly, but this quickly morphed under the influence of the audience.  Elements of Mornington Crescent, Connect Four and Play Your Cards Right soon arrived and then my surprisingly extensive knowledge of the back catalogue of the band Queen came to the fore: gained not through direct experience, but spending a lot of time in the podcast company of John Robins (and Elis James, Prods D and V).

It was at some point during this interplay between the audience, the storytellers, a chess board, the streets and stations of London et al that we we found ourselves led to Kennington Oval. From nowhere, my subconscious decided that I should sing this (out loud to the assembled minitude – like a multitude, only smaller) to the tune of Getting to Know You:

🎶 Kennington Oval

🎶 Kennington Ov-all about you etc.

[I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine me singing this with the look of a frock-begirt Deborah Kerr but the angelic voice of Marni Nixon.  Quite a stretch I fear, but at least I have discovered how to insert notes into a post: so that’s a major step forward for GofaDM!]

This is a terribly insidious earworm which I have now infected you with as well.  A trouble shared is a trouble doubled!  I fear none of you will be able to use the southern reaches of the Northern Line or the home of Surrey county cricket (the club with the fringe on top) without bringing to mind a little of Richard Rodgers work in the King and I.  Luckily for us, and unhappily for the estate of the late RR, there is no PRS to pay as long as the tune stays inside safely your head.

Oval

All together now: “Kennington Oval…”

 

 

The Uncarved Block

I know little about either Zen or motorcycle maintenance.  Though, if push came to shove, you’d probably prefer me to strip down your Harley than guide you on your way to enlightenment.  To me, Zen will always be the Liberator’s master computer voiced by the late Peter Tuddenham.  This probably indicates my spiritual poverty and certainly does explain why I still sometimes say “Confirmed” in a somewhat emotionless way.

So little do I know of Zen (the spiritual one) that I shall wilfully confusing it with Taoist philosophy in this post.  This will set it apart from the traditional western confusion of these concepts in that I shall be doing it in a state of decreased ignorance and with malice aforethought.  The one small fig leaf of intellectual integrity that I can offer for my approach is that Taoist philosophy provides some of the key underpinning for Zen Buddhism: well, that and the fact that this blog freely admits that it indulges in juxtaposition.

Taoists have the concept of the “uncarved” block as an idealised state for the mind, uncomplicated by experience.  My mind, on the other hand, has been subject to the attentions of obsessive whittlers for so long that I fear little remains but a pile of sawdust.  But, that’s entropy man!

Despite barely having placed my first step on the eight-fold path (does a right-angle count?), I have nevertheless been a living illustration of at least one Zen koan for the last few weeks.  Since injuring my wrist, it has been impossible to provide applause in the traditional way (for the hearing community, at least).  Striking my hands together to generate the sound of two hands clapping has been too painful to contemplate and so I have been forced to find my own solution to the Oriental riddle.  My answer to the sound of one hand clapping has been to press my right leg into service as a sound board and resonator: when struck by my right (undamaged) hand it simulates the concept of applause with a reasonable degree of fidelity.  I fear my solution to the age-old question would not pass muster and would illustrate once again the long journey ahead of me before I achieve Nirvana.  However, as it offered an effective, sonic alternative to more traditional applause, I stuck with it.

Yesterday, during an enjoyable afternoon of music at Dolfest (named for its location, the nearby Dolphin Inn) I briefly forgot my pain and applauded in the classic way (consumption of a few pints of  Spitfire Gold may have been implicated in this small act of forgetting).  There was no pain!  Even without the cushioning numbness of ethanol, I can now applaud pain-free!  My recovery is clearly proceeding apace, but those seeking self-awakening will have to look elsewhere for future inspiration.  Meanwhile, I shall return to whittling the sawdust of my mind into ever smaller particles.

 

Capital ambivalence

fear not, i shall not be continuing in the style of e e cummins or of archy (cockroach friend of mehitabel, the moth): i have no real objection to capitalisation of text.  THOUGH I PREFER TO AVOID SHOUTING!

This post will instead explore my ambivalence about visiting (or indeed residing) in the capital city of these diminished isles.

9781288-london-city-skyline-Stock-Photo

Neither to scale nor an actual vista

Readers may wonder why I have included an extremely dodgy image of the London skyline, which at best bears a passing topological similarity to the actual city and suggests an entirely unrealistic calm and clarity to the River Thames.  Well, I am now using a WordPress feature whereby these posts automatically appear on my Facebook feed and have discovered that unless a post includes an image, my Facebook massive are exposed to a giant image of my crumbling visage: and nobody wants that…

On Easter Monday – a concept which Biblical scholars, theologians and those from outside the British Isles may find hard to understand – I went up to London after lunch for an afternoon and evening of “fun”.  This reminded me of both what I love and find really irritating about visiting the big smoke.

The inbound journey is generally fine as one is filled with hope and excitement for the activities to come.  This feeling survived reasonably well until I reached the British Museum.  New security arrangements mean a long queue to enter that august repository of stolen goods.  Once through the security cordon, the museum was heaving with other people – which makes me wonder just how good the security can have been.  I love the concept of other people, but the reality of them en masse and dawdling around does rather test this love.  I was at the BM to see the American Dream exhibition of 20th century prints.  This had much to enjoy and a fair chunk of works which struck me as a waste of materials: my taste in the visual arts definitely has limits, even if I’d be entirely unable to describe where they are.  I also strongly suspect that my taste in more modern art is an expanding (or at least morphing) envelope: today’s waste of wall space may be tomorrow’s masterpiece.  I think I’d feel cheated if I went to an exhibition and loved everything, there would be something important missing.

From the BM, I headed over to Islington to the Bill Murray (from one BM to another!  I don’t just through my time together you know): a pub which is now (mostly) a comedy venue.  It is still a small pub and offered a very potable pint of Marston’s 61 Deep – albeit at a price I would associate with drinking in Scandinavia (but that’s London for you).  I had not journeyed just to enjoy over-priced pale ale, but to see the comic stylings of young Ivo Graham.  Don’t tell the lad this, lest he lose the run of himself, but he was the “hook” on which the cultural coat of my day was hung.   He was very funny, even if I did form rather more of the act than I’d expected or than he had intended: I provided rather more filler to his work-in-progress hour than necessary.  I even had a brief chance to chat to him after the gig – before he had to race to Hatfield (not to the world-famous poly but to watch a netball match).  I am pleased to report he is as charming a chap in person as I had imagined having seen and heard him (from a distance – and in his professional capacity, I am not stalking the young lad) over the last 3.5 years.  As a further bonus, he provided an opportunity for me to use the phrase “vespine foe” in a tweeted reply later that evening as I sat on a bus passing St Paul’s: for which I remain in his debt.

I too had to leave the BM(2) reasonably promptly to head over to Dalston, for a quick bite of supper and a play at the Arcola.  I supped at Café Route which offered a splendid selection of vegetarian (and even vegan) friendly salads and small plates coupled with a huge range of cakes.  Reader, I rather over-indulged as not only were things very reasonably priced but the slices of cakes were pleasingly generous: consuming two might have been verging on gluttony.

Suitably stuffed, I then waddled the short distance to the Arcola Theatre to see The Plague, based on Albert Camus‘ 1947 novel.  Well, I do like to mix light and shade on an evening out.  The play was very well done and only mildly harrowing.  I’ve been meaning to read some Camus for years, and this was probably a good substitute and takes some of the pressure off me for a while.

The bus ride back to Waterloo was fun, traversing parts of London I’ve never visited and offering an excellent view of St Paul’s.  I always find that it is the journey home which is the key downside of going out in London.  If I go out in Southampton – which I do no more than five times in a typical week – when the fun comes to an end, it is a mere 10-15 minutes before I’m home enjoying a herbal tea before being tucked up in my trundle bed.  If I go out in London, there is 2-3 hours of post-fun time-wasting before I am reunited with my straw palliasse.  This is too long at my advanced age and it somehow takes some of the gilding off the earlier fun.  I think this is why I find myself going to London less and less often – though there is also the sheer number of reasons to stay in Southampton for my culture and the desire to support the local product.  Still, I fear unless there is significant progress on the transmat in the near future, my visits to the capital may remain a rare “treat”.