Your mother was right…

Well, obviously I can’t guarantee the title’s sentiment.  I get around a bit, but I am still some way from having met everybody’s mother – not even the much smaller set that represents mothers of readers of GofaDM.  Even for those readers whose mother I have met, I am unable to provide supporting evidence for all of their statements: to this day, very few mothers submit their statements to me for fact-checking before sharing them with their offspring.  In fact, if I’m being honest, all I can really say is that my mother was once right: if I transfer her wisdom from one domain to another.

When I was a callow youth (as opposed to the callow, pretend adult I am today) and was feeling under the weather, my mother would tell me that I’d feel better if I went to school.  I don’t think I was really convinced about the veracity of her statement at the time, and can no longer remember if I did feel better at school.  However, the idea has stuck with me over the more than three decades since I last had any reason to go to school: sick or healthy.

I currently have a cold: on Monday it seemed to be cured but by Tuesday afternoon it had returned.  I am forced to assume that on Monday (and Tuesday morning) I was in the “eye of the cold”: an unexpected parallel twixt virus and hurricane.  By late yesterday afternoon, I was feeling like a less-than-fresh corpse and had the energy for few projects more onerous than lying very still on a cold marble slab.  Recalling my mother’s sage advice (and lacking a marble slab), I decided that I would reject the option of spending an evening of couch-based wallowing in self-pity while watching the idiot box.  This is not the sort of positive mental attitude for which the author likes to imagine he is known in his role as the Norman Vincent Peale de nos jours.  No, I would find a gig and go to it: this virus deserved some fresh lebensraum which it was not going to find trapped in my flat (and flesh).  This is, after all, the only sort of occasion when I have a real chance to “go viral”.

The range of local options was limited, but there were a couple of bands on at the Talking Heads and following a quick listen to Spotify I decided I didn’t definitely hate their output and would take a punt: it was only going to set me back £6.60.  Maybe an evening on electronic synth pop would be good for my immune system…

My decision immediately started to prove its worth, the combination of bumping into friends and the evening’s first pint of Red Runner from Long Dog Brewery seem to work marvels on my cold: my throat was rendered less sore and my nose stopped running.  I cannot guarantee that Basingstoke-brewed beer will always work as an alternative to a Vicks inhaler, but it does have the advantage of being legal in Japan!  Gigs are always good for people-watching opportunities and last night one lad had a dragon on his shoulder (a cuddly, rather than a real one) and some very impressive (if rather heavy looking) boots.  I felt slightly under dressed in my low-rent Robin Ince cosplay (OK, I was in a cardigan and hadn’t made much of an effort, dress-wise).  This impression was magnified when the support band, Curxes, took to the stake.  The lead singer’s dress had something of a bride of dracula about it and her guitarist/percussionist/laptop jockey was wearing a voluminous one-piece poncho-esque item, which looked to have been hand-made from his mum’s curtains, and a massive papier-maché dog’s head (well, I think it was a dog – might have been a bear).  His costume was, I presume, home-made but I was pleased to see that he had properly hemmed his curtains: I may have been ill, but I still like to pay attention to detail.  Their set was really enjoyable with strikingly effective lighting at the beginning of one song.

During the interval, I was able to nip to the Maple Leaf Lounge to catch up with some more friends (and sight some fresh merch in the flesh: I can see the sending of postcards making a comeback!).  I also had a chance to catch Charlie Hole for the second time in less than a week and find I have become slightly obsessed by the shape the his fingers when playing G on the guitar: two of them seem to naturally splay in way which mine really do (and can) not.  Is this a modest superpower?  Or am I very mildly disabled?  Perhaps we will never know…

I then headed back to see the headliners, Empathy Trap.  They put on a really good show, mostly in the dark with the lead singer lit from below with lights which rotated in colour.  It was incredibly atmospheric and was a really good fit with the music.  He was also very mobile – which combined with the low light, made capturing images for this blog a real challenge.  Not only did I enjoy the music and the stage show, but the band made the whole audience (~40 of us) feel part of one big family.  We were introduced to Christy on drums – and her additional gifts with lighting and van driving – and Sam on keys and electronics – and his high tolerance for alcohol.  The leader singer never introduced himself but a quick search reveals he’s called Isaac and was wise to ditch the beard.  I also learned about Adam, who doesn’t tour but has some sort of svengali-like producing role in the band.  Rather sweetly, Isaac dedicated songs to both his mum and his nan – who were in the audience.  I think that most (all, other than me?) of the audience (and not just Isaac’s family) already knew the band, but as a rube I found the evening had a really fun, inclusive vibe.

It is possible that my minimal expectations played their part, but I had a really a great evening: it might even end up being one of my top gigs of the year. For three hours, I completely forgot about my cold and I’m forced to tip my cap to my mother’s advice.  It has withstood both the test of time and the change of activity!  My dilemma tonight is:

  • do I take my virus to Romsey to see friends play, for the second time in a week, which will definitely be fun; or
  • do I take a chance on some less familiar music more locally, but limit my infective scope?

If this virus had any gumption, it would be forcing me to Romsey, but I think I still have free will (assuming it exists at all) so where will I go…


An evening of…

As this blog has probably made apparent, I have all the enduring attention span and constancy of a hungry butterfly with ADHD.  This might explain my preference for short plays and musical evenings offering an eclectic range of performers: they allow me to flit from one cultural bloom to another in my endless search for spiritual nectar.  Having said that, this selfsame blog does demonstrate my ability to stick with a project over the long term, despite (until recently) very little encouragement from outside the prison of my own skull.

This post will celebrate my ability to attend, and more importantly enjoy, an artistic monoculture, leaving me with the hope that the gift of attention has not entirely fled.

Long term readers will recall that last year I spent most of an afternoon and evening becoming one with Philip Glass‘s Music in 12 Parts.  Recently, BBC4 has produced a two-part documentary on Minimalism and I was watching the second part on the plane as I flew home from Belfast earlier in the week.  This covered Music in 12 Parts and I was excited (and more than slightly surprised) that I recognised the tone row in the final part: its inclusion an example of Philip’s impish sense of fun.  Clearly, even many hours into the hypnotic musical meditation, some part of my brain was still paying attention: go me!

While I was in Belfast, I was determined to go to a music gig but the options were rather limited.  I had the choice of seeing the “Irish one” out of One Direction or a night of traditional Irish music with three of the giants of the scene (none of which were familiar to me).  I went for the latter, but was nervous about the potential for a whole night of diddly-eye music.  All was well and in ZoDoMo I definitely chose very wisely.  ZoDoMo are Zoë Conway, Donal Lunny and Mairtín O’ Connor: she is a young (by my standards – but I think objectively too) fiddle player and they are a much older bouzouki/guitar and box player respectively.  They were stunningly good musicians – Mairtín, in particular, did things with the melodeon that I had never imagined were possible – and the music covered the folk tradition of Ireland but also of the US, the Scottish Islands, Bulgaria and even a hint of Brazil.  This being an Irish music gig, there were also stories from all the musicians, but Mairtín was the primary offender – and a lot of fun he was too!  I can imagine him entertaining a snow-bound pub full of people for a week (perhaps much longer) with an endless string of entertaining anecdotes and jokes.  It was a gloriously enjoyable evening and despite the claimed 80 minute run time, still managed to finish in just under two hours – and I, for one, would have happily stayed for more!


In this layout (and as performed), DoZoMo.

On Thursday, inspired by my piano teacher who is tackling one of his piano pieces for his own pleasure, I decided to attend an entire evening of Debussy played by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (what a glorious name!).  I knew a small amount of Debussy, the Estampes and La Mer, but not much more and so a whole evening was a slightly daunting prospect.  However, it turned out to be a delight and there is a lot more to Debussy than I had imagined.  He also seems to have been quite a character.  I foolishly thought that his Études might be a good way in for me, but having heard them and read his description that they should be “a warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands” perhaps I’ll seek another point of entry!  It’s not that my hands aren’t remarkable, in their own way, but I’m not sure their best features are on display when applied to the keyboard.  Debussy also seems to enjoy rather eccentric markings of tempo (and more) in his pieces, with distant trumpets called for in one Étude.  Hard though the Études may be, the Book 2 Préludes looked even more of a challenge and I was lost in admiration for JEB’s pedal work and ability to handle sudden changes to (or simultaneous contrasts in) tempo, accent, dynamic and articulation.  JEB was also great fun as my guide to the much wider world of Debussy: his introduction to the Études added to my enjoyment and understanding of the pieces – plus, I’m a sucker for English spoken with a strong French accent.

This week has proved that there is joy to be had in sticking to a single theme for an extended period, even if that theme is (as it was late on Wednesday evening) trying to mine as much humour and, frankly, filth from the difference in the structure of the competing cream teas of Devon and Cornwall.  Sometimes leaving my preferred shallows and plumbing the some actual depth (though I’m probably still only snorkelling, to over extend this briny metaphor) brings its own rewards!

Gecko echo

Geckos, and indeed lizards of any kind, are not a regular part of my life in Southampton.  Despite being on the south coast, the climate here – and, indeed, in my flat – is not well suited to the thriving of members of infraorder Gekkota.  Too many frosts for a start – and there are more on the way, if the Met Office know their onions.  Despite this potentially ominous background, last week two quite different geckos formed the spine of my cultural week.

The first Gecko was the theatre company with their production The Wedding at NST Campus.  It must be said that the evening started rather well in the re-painted cafe of the theatre which is now offering Raiona from Red Cat‘s Untamed range of bottled beer.  At 6% ABV, this is rather stronger than I would normally consume pre-gig, but it was a smallish bottle and so I took a punt.  It was a very fine tipple and, in common with several of Red Cat‘s less mainstream offerings, the bottle label boasted particularly fine graphic design.  It suggests a slightly uncommon degree of care in their business. The whole thing was rather a work of art: covering at least four of the standard five senses.


Imbibing the arts!


When I collected my ticket that evening, I discovered that the ‘play’ would be over in 80 minutes, no interval.  As I’ve said before, I do approve of any production where I’m home at a sensible time – or can catch a subsequent late gig.  Whenever I see that a play is much more than two hours, my heart sinks and I start thinking that, regardless of the excellence of any reviews, there is probably a better use (or uses) of my time.  I do feel that the role of the editor is foolishly over-looked in many areas of the arts: indeed, this very blog is clearly crying out for some attention from a whole team of editors but sadly the budget does not allow.  Not knowing of the lack of an interval, I had already acquired an ice-cream voucher (it reduces the cost) for use (and sustenance, once it had undergone a secular trans-substantiation) in the now non-existent interval.  So, the evening started with one of the less well-renowned pairings of foodstuffs: beer and ice-cream.  It is possible that the Raiona had gone to my head, or perhaps the sense of uncharacteristic adventure arose elsewhere, but I decided to sample salted caramel ice-cream for the first time: well, my heart has frankly been taking it easy for far too long and there is nothing like the combination of saturated fat, salt and sugar to force it from its comfortable lethargy.  While I can’t speak for my heart (though it still seems to be working), my taste-buds certainly enjoyed the sweet-and-salty treat and it seemed to sit very comfortably with the pale ale.

The ‘play’ itself was an extraordinarily original production.  It contained a lot of dance and physical theatre and the ‘text’ was in multiple languages – at least eight that I managed to identify.  The text was not translated, though I could follow the English and some of a couple of other European languages, but the acting and dance still managed to carry the narrative(s).  I cannot claim to understand everything that was going on – and I’ve spoken to a few other people how had the good fortune to see it, and neither can they (and we don’t really want anyone to explain it: some mystery in life is good) – but it was a truly amazing and entertaining evening.  It used a wider range of theatrical ideas – many I’d not seen before – than anything I have previously seen on stage.  For the second time in a month, I found myself slack-jawed in astonishment at the creativity of others.  I’d say it was about the importance of coming together, rather than allowing ourselves to be divided, and perhaps about over-throwing unjust rulers: so, not without a certain topical resonance.

The second Gecko was a young chap (not his real name, which is rather more mundane) who sings and plays the guitar – and provides some patter in-between.  I’d wanted to see him for a while, deducing he might be to my taste given that he had toured with Harry and Chris: the UK’s foremost proponents of comedy-jazz rap, who I discovered when they visited Southampton as part of the bi-monthly 451 poetry event at NST a couple of years ago.  My extrapolation proved accurate and the young lad provided a very entertaining, funny evening at the Art House.  He is very fine musician and a consummate and witty wordsmith – putting my own efforts in both areas to shame.


Gecko, as viewed from the jealous author’s knee.

The guitar skills are coming slowly as I attempt to re-train my fingers at this late stage in their existence, but at least I am practicing them regularly.  Any efforts at the word-forge to improve my prosody are being far less diligently applied: I have vague plans to write a roundel and a nonet.  I am also developing my own form of poem based on the ideas of Oulipo and inspired by my attempt at a univocalic.  I want to try and write a poem where you can use all the vowels, but they must be used in order, i.e. AEIOU, after you have used U you must return to A.  I think this also has links with the ideas of the musical serialists of the first half of the 20th century.  Whilst this started as a wizard wheeze to develop a certain (admittedly low level of) fame, my new verse form is fiendishly difficult to write and places some very challenging restrictions on word choice.  I think I may have to allow the letter Y to be used whenever you wish (or need).

If I’m serious about the poetry, at some point I may have to write a second poem in a form previously attempted.  However, I’m not sure that I’m ready to tackle the difficult sophomore sonnet: at this stage, I’m still relying on beginner’s luck for significant input into my verse but fear this approach my be unsustainable.  Another challenge is finding suitable subject matter to explore through verse, the tightly defined form helps overcome the challenge of the blank sheet of paper (or screen) to an extent but you still need a topic and, in my case, some way of reining in may natural loquacity.   I have also started to worry that actual poets have access to my attempts (this being a public space) and I may be causing them actual pain.  I do encounter poets on a regular basis and there is a risk that they will wish to remonstrate with me for parking my poorly formed tanks on their lawn.  I may have to transfer the editing budget to personal protection…

In around 90 minutes, I am off to a Maple Leaf Lounge Session which, like ancient Gaul, is divided into three parts (albeit two sets thereof) and it strikes me this could work rather nicely with the structure of the roundel.  (I have a feeling that young Gecko singing in the background – from his latest album Volcano – might have brought much needed inspiration to my tired brain.)  Any lovers of Algernon Charles Swinburne may wish to start bracing themselves now…

Whim away

Yesterday, I was away from Southampton and its environs for most of the day.  There were at least two interesting events in the city and a very tempting option on the Isle of Purbeck – which would also have enabled a triumphant return to the site of my fourth-form geography field trip – which I missed out on.  I can only hope that I can still keep up with the missed plot threads of my extended life story.

This choice to abandon my adopted home for the day came about after I was struck by a whim (fortunately without injury) as I was cycling home from the cinema on Saturday afternoon.  As I write this, I have come to realise (as I did not then) that the whim may have been prompted by the film I had been watching – Ladybird – with its primary theme of the coming-of-age of a teenage girl.  The parallels with the author’s own life will be clear to all, but to keep the word count up I shall mansplain them anyway.  Certainly, I will admit that the attraction to our heroine of one male character, who spends most of the time with his head in a book, did not speak to my own teenage experience: then again, it must be admitted that I did not then (nor now) look much like Timothée Chalamet.  Perhaps more relevant, was the conflict between the heroine and her mother which is threaded through the film.  Again, I don’t recall that much of that sort of conflict in my own teenage years, but it may have prompted me to consider what a terrible son I am.  As a result, I decided that I should use the stimulus of Mother’s Day to return to the bosom of my family and thus provide my mother with a gift she might actually want, viz my physical presence (there’s no accounting for taste!).

Having ascertained that my sister could handle an extra mouth at the lunch table, I then looked with mild horror at the impact of rail-replacement bus services on my planned route (or any even remotely feasible rail-based alternatives).  I could have driven, but I was already feeling rather tired and driving really takes it out of me – which I think we can blame on lack of practice – so I decided to persevere with the public transport option.  This did mean devoting almost five hours to travel a mere 100 miles, which does not speak well of the UK’s transport infrastructure (Southern, we are looking at you) but, as I noted during the journey, is still well ahead of anything achievable by my Paleolithic ancestors with their (allegedly) faddy diet.  The journey worked as advertised – including a longish layover in Brighton giving me a chance to wander its Laines to snigger at its more hipster denizens (and discover the existence of the bongo cahon – which I suspect is a marriage made in regions infernal) – and my rail-replacement bus was a very comfy coach which took me on the final leg of my epic voyage through south coast sunshine.

I was so glad that I made the journey as I had a really lovely time with my family, even though I did discover that several of them had been hiding a rather worrying Homes under the Hammer habit (you think you know people…).  I don’t see them – or any friends outside the Southampton area – as often as I should.  This failure is probably down to the sheer number of local friends and obligations to support them and my local scene more generally.  There is also, as recently diagnosed by one friend, a fear of missing out – or FOMO as I believe the young people would say.  Finally, I think there is the inconvenience of travelling any extended distance (and the scope for it to go horribly wrong) and the love of a short walk home to my own bed after any excursion.  Still, I am sneaking up to Edinburgh at Easter to see my friends up there – so I just need to try and fit in a visit to Cambridge to assuage the few surviving tatters of my conscience.

The journey did also enable me to collect my birthday present from my sister who knows my rather better than I though (or hoped!).  While wrapped, the size and weight suggested she had bought me a house brick but when I opened my gift back at home I discovered it was very “on brand”.  It was Cards Against Humanity – which I have been vaguely feeling I needed to own for a while – and describes itself as ‘A party game for horrible people’: so ideal for me!

I was offered a lift back to Polegate on my return, thus cutting out rail-replacement buses (or coaches) and speeding my return home significantly.  As a result, I was able to catch some jazz with the Sound of Blue Note at the Talking Heads by stopping off on my walk home from the station in the pouring rain (I did hope the sky might run out of water during the gig, but that hope was in vain).  Initially, I didn’t expect to stay: I was feeling very tired and had been watching a BBC4 documentary on west-coast minimalism on the train and the jazz just felt odd after it.  However, the chilled jazz tunes quickly worked their magic on me and by the second set I was totally under their spell. One should never under-estimate the reviving power of culture and its ability to convert a dozy drone back into a productive member of society!


Rejuvenating jazz!


Sharing the sound

I am rushing this post to press while you, dear readers (or at least those within a reasonable commute of Southampton) have a chance to act upon it.  Well, some of it – other parts should remain valid for rather longer…

Yesterday evening I spent at the Talking Heads at an annual event called Share the Sound (is this the earliest a title has ever been explained, I wonder?).  I think this grew out of the music department at the University of Southampton but is not limited to its alumni: either as performers or audience (though I like to imagine I could pass as a mature student – in terms of physical, if not mental, age – if pressed).  It gives some sixteen local (and youthful) ensembles a showcase over two nights each March and the music is of a frankly annoyingly high quality.  Last night was the first night of this year’s extravaganza and so there is still a chance to see tonight’s line-up which holds more established acts (or at least more acts which I can confidently say I have seen before and can thus recommend).

Yesterday evening’s gig was really well attended, especially given that the weather in Southampton would have suggested to most people that it was time to gather animals in pairs and start loading them onto a boat in the hope of re-populating the earth some time in late April.  The level of attendance was not solely a function of the number of members in each ensemble: though many were quite numerous and this does help (especially if any come from large families).  The size of many of the ensembles did lead me to worry that our universities are not teaching young musicians some fairly basic economics: if there are six of you on stage, that modest gig fee has to be stretched awfully thin!  I did notice that a number of musicians appeared in multiple ensembles, which is certainly one way to improve their earning potential.  I believe that one Ben Lester wins the prize for membership of the most ensembles last night, drumming in three separate groupings.  He is some way from the record, so there is still all to play for tonight.

I was only expecting to know the headliners last night – and they had new tunes to sate the music-hungry throng – but I was royally entertained for the full four-and-a-half hours of the gig (a sample of the acts – basically the one’s captured mostly in focus – can be seen on the slideshow below). My favourite “new” band was Slate/Sound, composed of a trio of musicians I knew from other contexts, playing some truly glorious jazz funk.  I would encourage you to seek them out, but they technically don’t exist and have zero on-line or social media presence.  It’s a refreshingly bold approach to marketing: I shall be interested to see how it works out for them.  In the brief gaps between bands, the Heads was full of friends to chat to and share the latest chapters of our respective soap opera (or sitcom) lives.  Sadly, far too many of them to do proper justice to – how do other people with more than three friends cope?  This is a new problem for me and I fear that I am still adapting.

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Watching the young folk, I feel there were some lessons that I can share (to add to the sounds):

Firstly, I noted that there seems to be a fashion among young front men to wear frighteningly tight slacks.  I favour a skinny jean myself – partly for their practicality on a bicycle and partly to show off my rather shapely pins – however, by comparison to many a young singer last night I wear parachute pants.  Their jeans were so tight that while I cannot imagine how they either put them on or remove them – I assume they were sewn into them before going out and would be cut out of them at the end of the evening – little else was left to the imagination.  The risk of deep vein thrombosis must have been minimal, but an awful lot of blood must have been forced into their upper bodies.  They would surely also have suffered from much reduced mobility around the hips: bending over looked if not impossible then very ill-advised, I’d guess a friend would be needed to assist with shoes and their lacing.  On the basis of last night’s trews, I think Malthusian concerns about the world’s population reaching 10 billion by mid-century are probably over-stated: I don’t think most of the current crop of young blades will be in any position to carry on their genetic lineage. Their hopes of siring issue will have been, quite literally, crushed.

The second lesson relates to stagecraft when playing the guitar or bass.  However, slimming the colour or patterning of your top, if you stand edge-on to the audience the resting position of your instrument will make all too obvious any additional ‘timber’ you may be carrying around the midriff.  It is always going to be the better option to face your audience and, where possible, to avoid the use of a thrust stage.  I myself, plan to perform from a seated position as benefits my advanced age and to avoid any such issues arising.

(By the way, readers should not assume these two lessons cannot apply to the same person.)

I shall only be able to catch the end of tonight’s sonic sharing (another gig to attend), but I will have my spies at the full gig to harvest any further lessons.  Should this post have inspired you to join us, feel free to say ‘hi’ and/or stand me a pint!

A pain in the hand…

…is worth two in the bush.  Or so the old saw (almost) goes, however, I should point out that I am not medically (or arboreally) qualified and if you have even a single pain in your bush you may wish to seek a medical (or horticultural) opinion.

My lifestyle does place quite a lot of pressure on my hands, involving as it does hanging from rings and bars in various improbable configurations, and learning to play both the piano and guitar (not all at the same time, yet…).  So, I initially assumed that it was something I had done when I noticed an odd subcutaneous lump in the palm of my right hand a couple of weeks ago.  Well, either that or I’d been abducted by aliens (or the CIA) and they had implanted some sort of ‘device’: it was only a matter of time before this blog came to the notice of an alien (and/or foreign) intelligence.

Icing the lump had little effect, other than making my hand very cold, suggesting it may not have been soft-tissue damage caused by my unorthodox response to the mid-life crisis.  Given an impending blood donation, I decided to see my doctor to discover if it would have an adverse effect on the quality of my blood: I have my reputation for a quality product to protect!  The diagnosis was pretty swift and, as it turns out, it was not my fault: assuming we excuse me of blame for being a man in his fifties (I blame biology, my parents and time – plus my failure to die).  It would seem that I have Dupuytren’s Contracture which sounds like a Robert Ludlum novel, but is actually some sort of thickening of a tendon in my hand.  This may grow worse – in which case there are some options involving radiation, needles or knives – or stay the same or go away (but seems unlikely to hatch and lay waste humanity).  However, for now I should continue to act as normal – including hanging upside-down as much as I want – though I can massage it, if that would give me pleasure (though there was no suggestion that this would do any good).

The contracture is named after a Napoleonic surgeon – Guillaume Dupuytren– famed for two things, in addition to diagnosing an ancestor of my lumpy palm.  He treated Napoleon for his piles and published the Treatise on Artificial Anus.  What a man to be associated with!  For the avoidance of doubt, I would like to stress that the southern exit of my alimentary canal is still the factory issue.

For now the lump is only very rarely a problem, though it is mildly annoying both when mixing with a wooden spoon and vacuuming: I think I just need to make a minor adjustment to how I hold the relevant equipment.  However, earlier his week my hands – especially the right one – were complaining to their line management through the medium of pain (it is probably time I provided them with a suggestions box).  As my skill with the piano grows, I can practice for longer and am playing more complex repertoire.  Some combination of Bach’s Invention in A Minor and Scarlatti’s Keyboard Sonata Kk.1 has been making my right hand actually do some real work for the first time in years (perhaps ever).  Some of this increased workload occurs while the fingers are somewhat stretched – especially given my dreadful (or heroic, even maverick, as I like to think of it) fingering.  There is a lot of stretch available twixt thumb and index finger, but the other fingers do like to hang out as a tight-knit little gang.  I think that over time they will learn to cope better with these brief periods of separation but for now their anxiety is expressed through aching.

Exploring a little deeper into today’s theme, as part of an attempt to shake-up my regular meal options earlier this week I decided to replace the traditional fruit sponge with a fruit crumble (baby steps!).  For fruit I went with some gooseberries, harvested fresh from my parents’ garden in 2015 before being plunged into a series cryogenic chambers (OK, my parents’ freezer and then mine).  Once defrosted these formed rather a liquid substrate on which to float the usual mixture (which, via the miracle of heat and chemistry, would become sponge) and it struck me that the smaller particle size of a crumble would be easier to apply and less likely to sink.  As I am generally a manual cook, I rubbed the cold butter into the flour and sugar mix using my hands (rather than using some sort of electric mixing device or domestic servant – not even an electric domestic servant).  This is not a long process but apparently uses the musculature of my hands in a novel manner, leading to a flood of pain-based complaints to the neural equivalent of HR (the thalamus?).  I am hoping that if the crumble becomes a more common feature of my home dining – which it might given the scrumptious success of this attempt – that the rubbing-in will strengthen my hands for even the most challenging piano piece!

In the final piece of hand-related news, my left hand is finally starting to find chord shapes somewhat successfully on the neck of the guitar.  It is also able to produce a range of barre chords without requiring enormous – neck-snapping – force to be applied to the unfortunate instrument.  There is, for now, still quite a substantial delay in moving from an open chord to a barre chord, so I will still need some sort of diversion to distract the audience at these times: perhaps this is where my comedy stylings or poetry could be brought into play?  Still, I am confident that practice will deliver mastery as it has for the skills recently acquired.  For a long time nothing seemed to happen or improve and then, suddenly, I discovered that I could “just do it” as if by magic (but in fact by moderately diligent application: sometimes you can just wear the universe down!).

Based on yesterday’s guitar lesson my new skills have opened up huge new vistas for my guitar playing: frankly, almost too many.  I had to take hurried notes when I arrived back home in an attempt to remember all the possibilities.  This is the second music lesson in the past week where I have felt like Hannibal Smith, in that I have been loving it when a plan comes together.  I am also unkeen on flying and as mad as a box of frogs, so I can – in a single person – cover 75% of the A-Team.  As a consultant, I do – from a certain point of view – survive as a soldier of fortune: battling in my case against a range of Microsoft products and my own stupidity.  So, if you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find me (not too hard, just start going to gigs in the Southampton area) maybe you can hire the F/2-Team!  (GofaDM welcomes careful readers to the exciting world of hexadecimal fractions.)

A new light

As the last post revealed, Southampton has recently been covered by a blanket of snow.  The combination of rising temperatures and (a bumper crop of) falling rain have cleared it from even the best protected of natural pockets (though, for all I know, some may have been preserved in the freezers of the city’s more eccentric residents).  While it lasts, and before it is transformed to filthy black slush by the action of salt and tyres, it rather transforms the landscape. Many of the city’s imperfections and the litter and detritus of daily life are hidden from view. Larger objects, and especially buildings, that remain unburied are garnished with snow: highlighting features that the eye might fail to notice under more normal conditions.

A good layer of snow changes the soundscape of the city too.  Traffic was much lighter than usual, leading me to wonder if there was a snow-related boost in local air quality: though, oddly, it made my sneeze more than normal (my natural cussedness revealing itself once again!).  The traffic which remains leaves a very different sonic trace as do pedestrians with their footsteps crunching through the crystalline white.  Snow acts as the city’s soft furnishings, smoothing the harsh edges off sounds.  I feel someone should have developed a filter or effect to apply to electronically reproduced sound, so that music (or anything else) gives the acoustic impression of being listened to while surrounded by snow.  A project for any sound engineers with time on their hands…

A covering of snow also presents everything in a more literal new light, with objects lit from both above and below.  I suspect this is a great time for those with a double chin to capture an al fresco selfie: though as a man with barely one chin, I have been unable to test this theory myself.  Also, I’m not sure any lighting (other than total darkness) would overcome the terribly awkward appearance that overtakes my face whenever I attempt to capture a selfie.

Having now justified the title in a literal (as opposite to literate or literary) sense, I can now neatly segue into the land of metaphor (or, if you prefer, wander off topic).  The past few days have caused me to see a few other things in a new light.  Even as I sit here, I can see that my music stand is branded “Tiger”: nothing unusual there (if any animal springs to mind when seeing a music stand, it is clearly the tiger) except that I have owned this music stand for many years but only noticed its link to Frosties  about 48 hours ago.  I would make a terrible eye witness!

There was something of a dearth of gigs while the snow lay deep and thick and even (well, lay at least) at the end of last week.  This was bad news for me, I had to fall back on Netflix and staying in, but also for a lot of musicians and music venues (and I suspect other small businesses) that lost out on expected revenue and, which given the generally parlous financial state of such bodies, could be catastrophic.

As well as offering my couch some unplanned quality time with my buttocks, I used some of the time released for an especially long piano lesson.  In general, the hour-long length of my lessons is more of a notional concept than a reality but even by our standards this was a marathon session.  I’ll admit that I did arrive a few minutes late as I was distracted by a pair of long-tailed tits playing in a tree on the way over (I think the long-tailed tit is the most charming of all the local wildlife and it is always comedically pleasing seeing a brace of them).  There is something of the mountain climb (or more hike – I’m not using ropes and pitons) about learning the piano.  At each stage when I feel I am approaching mastery of a set of skills, I discover that what I have been seen laboriously ascending is not the main peak but a very minor foothill and a whole vista of far higher peaks is suddenly revealed.  This happened again on Friday and I am now trying to play a series of chords in a more legato fashion, involving exceeding cunning application of different amounts of pressure and speed of movement from adjacent fingers on the same hand.  I may also wish to start ‘feathering’ the pedal.  The acquisition of these skills is complicated by the relative poor haptic simulacrum of a grand piano which I use for practice while at home.  I am contemplating applying my gymnastic skills to the career of a cat burglar: however, rather than stealing jewels I will use my ability to slip into buildings containing a grand piano for a little practice.  Juxtaposing my hobbies, if you will.

Saturday afternoon, witnessing three virtuoso guitarists in action at the Art House, also suggested that my hard fought ability to mostly play the chord sequence G C Am G D G broadly correctly (if not necessarily quickly) has left me mere millimetres above the valley floor.  Will McNicol, Steve Picken and Clive Carroll were doing things with their fingers that I’m not convinced mine will ever be able to replicate.  Nevertheless, and in common with improving on the piano, it is going to be a lot of fun trying and if recent years have taught my anything it is that an old dog can (eventually) learn new tricks.

The final use of the shoehorn to fit an ugly sister’s foot of an idea into the glass slipper of the title will turn to my blood.  Just before the snow descended, I cycled the steep hill to the General Hospital to give of my corpuscles (and associated fluids) for the greater good (and a mint Club).  In the last year or so, NHS Blood and Transport have begun to text me a few days after each donation to say where my blood had been used.  It is always interesting to imagine a little bit of me living a new life in another town or city, but the text over the weekend was particularly exciting.  My armful has been issued to Birmingham Women’s Hospital and so a small part of me is now living as a woman!  This may have happened before, but this is the first time I can be certain that some of my cells are properly in touch with their feminine side.  In our unequal society, their earning potential and life opportunities have probably taken a bit of a hit, but they will probably feel this to be a small price to pay for escaping my company.  Some of me is experiencing the world in a new light (at least for a few weeks until it is replaced by the new host’s own cells) which is lovely reminder of how much we have in common.  It is oddly miraculous that we can share such an essential (personal, even) part of ourselves to help another – and be rewarded with biscuits from my childhood for the privilege.  It’s nice to know I have some vague utility in this world, even if it is provided by the entirely autonomous operation of my body.

A quick pre-lunch pint and its reward!