A Thousand Words

I am taking this as a target, though I am unwilling to die in a ditch (or even receive a paper cut in a gully) for such an essentially arbitrary goal.  The title was in fact chosen because of its historical in the valuation of a picture – the picture being so valued (and indeed, the words) are left maddeningly unspecific.  Would a Rembrandt be valued using the same 1000 words as my own childish daubings (representing the last time I daubed)?  Have either words or pictures been affected by inflation since this phrase was coined?  Does the language of the words matter?  Certainly some languages seem more compact when it comes to word-count than others…

You may wonder why I should have started a post with these odd musings on the exchange rate between words and pictures – then again, if you are a regular visitor to my digital lair, you may have become resigned to such matters.  The reason comes down to a talk/discussion I attended yesterday as part of the SO: To Speak Festival.  This event was rather cryptically titled How can one be free in the 21st Century? and so I was fully expecting to learn how to use language to stay below the radar of the internet giants seeking to monetise our every action (and inaction).  This was very much not what happened and my afternoon was vastly enriched as a result.

The talk involved two artists Walter van Rijn and Jane Birkin – taking us through their practise which, in very crude terms, explores some of the interstices between language and image.  With Jane we started with her day job at the image archives of Southampton and Winchester universities; with Walter we began with a font he had created as part of the efflorescence of art which characterises Hull’s year as City of Culture.  Unpromising seeds, perhaps, but seeds nonetheless which grew in unexpected ways to create a spreading canopy of intriguing ideas over the next couple of hours.

We were a small audience, only just outnumbering the artists but I think this helped to shape the way the afternoon developed with no barriers to the interplay of ideas between artists and audience.  The artists took the lead, but everyone took part and though I suspect the rest of the audience were far more knowledgeable in the fields of art and poetry, I was never left feeling out of my depth.

I am going to attempt to provide a flavour of the conceptual art created around words and images, while making a futile attempt to avoid parallels with the use of dance to describe architecture (or, indeed, vice versa).

We started with the Being Human font: just like a normal font but embedded in the capital letters were words – in the first instance, each letter contained a key quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  So, everything you write using the font will have human rights built into it – but they are only visible at very large font sizes.  This embedded text could, we theorised, have further text embedded within it and so on all the way down.   This had led Walter to further experimentation with words embedded within words and using the text-to-speech functionality on a modern laptop to render this as speech.  In the extreme, a single word gained (perhaps) random additional letters or phonemes from a limited set of linked words to make patterns of “words” impossible for a human to read, but the computer would still attempt it in a very consistent manner.  This created an extraordinary speech-based artwork with hints of the looping of Steve Reich and the minimalism of Philip Glass.  We also experimented with different computer voices reading the text-art: I thoroughly recommend Xander who will read all words as though they were written in Dutch!

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Moving closer to images, Walter had taken a visual artwork which had been created to represent and support a story from the Australian aboriginal oral tradition.  This was then described as text, where the descriptive text was the same size and shape as the original image with each element of description in the same location as the same element of the image.  This was fascinating as text and the patterns contained therein, but was then converted back to speech: returning to a story.  Further, the soundtrack contained two different tellings of the new “story” overlaid on top of each other recalling the multiplicity of retellings that would occur in the original oral tradition.  It was like a weird meditation on the whole idea of translation and representation of an image through words.

Jane’s day job is reducing images to words to enable their discovery from an archive.  It was really interesting thinking about how you describe an image: what to include or exclude.

Her first artwork took an existing artwork where three images and associated descriptions, embellished by broader discussions, derived from viewing the images.  This text was slowly reduced to a flat description of the images, with sections of undescriptive text slowly fading away one-by-one.  This sounds boring, but was oddly compelling: it reminded me of some ideas from slow TV.

In a second work, she had taken a series of images from the web, each tagged with the same piece of metadata: in this case “island”.  For each image (which we never saw), its flat description appeared, as though being typed word-by-word.  Description is often thought to be the antithesis of narrative, but somehow the gradual appearance created a narrative related to each image.  Somehow, there were even plot-twists in the descriptions.  Further, being storytelling animals, none of us could resist creating a narrative linking the (effectively) unrelated descriptions. I am explaining this so badly, but it was amazing and I think has the seeds of a whole new literature of the fourth dimension.

This has been an interesting (if largely failed) experiment: at best a faded palimpsest of a wonderful afternoon.  Language, or at least my facility therewith, has proven insufficient.

 

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No sign of an organ-grinder

(Though there was an appearance by a pianist, plucked from the audience).

Yesterday was the third Friday of the month which, for lovers of the music scene in Southampton, means the Three Monkeys Showcase at the Art House.  Last night’s event took place under the umbrella of SO: To Speak (just as well given the rain!), Southampton’s annual festival of words.  Fear not, word-lovers, there are still plenty more festival events to catch before the festival ends on 28 October!

Regular readers may have wondered about the reduction in quantity (and possibly quality) of updates to this blog, particularly those of a more diary-like nature.  There are a couple of main factors involved: (i) I am going out a lot more often which (a) restricts my time for writing this sort of nonsense and would (b) try the patience of even the most loyal reader if I immortalised them all through GofaDM and (ii) I’ve started using Facebook to memorialise the more quotidian details of my existence.  I may be slightly(!) over-using Facebook but, despite the underlying sensation of abiding evil which seeps from the platform, it is very handy way to share my life and bad jokes in real (or near real) time with people who are more likely to be interested (or willing to feign such interest) and it seems to provide better audience interaction than WordPress.  This more Pepysian instalment of GofaDM (though despite intimations of imminent apocalypse, I have not yet started burying my cheese in the garden) reflects the author being commissioned to produce a few words about last night’s gig (well, I say commissioned – I don’t think the person who asked for a few words had this in mind!).

The Three Monkeys has a deceptively simple premise: there are three performers (sometimes a performer may be comprised of more than one person) who perform one song each in sequence.  They do this three times followed by an interval and then a further round of three songs each.  While simple, the concept is rather brilliant, which coupled with the friendly and inclusive nature of the Art House, creates an (almost) unique vibe for the gigs.  Having all the musicians on “stage” throughout the gig gives them more chance to interact with each other and the audience.  It also means the audience don’t just turn up for their favoured act but get to see the whole gig which must help with music discovery, even for those normally reluctant to sample the new.

The Three Monkeys Showcases are always good and some have been really special, but even given this very high historic bar (limbo was much easier in the past) last night was particularly great.  Our Monkeys last night were Jack Dale, Charlie Hole (and if no-one has already done so, I shall be writing a series of children’s books with him as the principal character – what a name!) and the Real Raj (or Rat as he was introduced thanks to some dodgy typing).

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A Simian Trilogy!

I won’t attempt to assign a musical genre to each monkey – partly because I don’t really approve of pigeon-holing (even for pigeons) but mostly because I don’t really understand genres except at the Phylum level.  In each case, we had a chap with a guitar producing glorious music with mouth and strings – and, in the case of Jack joined for one number by a random audience member (aka his ex-stablemate Patrick Ytting) on the piano.  Perhaps in honour of the SO:To Speak Festival, the verbal interplay and trade in quips between the songs: both intra-monkey and with the audience were a much larger feature of the gig than is traditional – and the gig was all the better for it.  I fear it will be impossible to explain here the importance to the evening’s merriment of such topics as heavy breathing, wedding singing, radio racism, rule breaking and the importance – and competitive nature – of capo position, nor indeed the major role played by the absent Tom Dale!  Suffice it to say, I doubt any members of Genus homo will have had more fun last night than the near capacity crowd at the Art House did.  St Crispian’s day may still be four days away, but I feel more than 7 billion people will be counting their manhoods (or alternative gender appropriate head coverings) cheap this morning.

Music in the city

Strap in people, this is going to be a long one!

I have found Southampton to be a surprisingly musical city, since I made my fateful move here a little more than 4 years ago.  I knew there would be some music as the presence of the Turner Sims concert hall was one of the factors which led me to choose Southampton as my domicile.  I had imagined it as the local equivalent of West Road in Cambridge – but now know that it is a fish of an altogether different feather: with a broader range of music of higher quality, but fewer student orchestras and classical ensembles that its East Anglian counterpart.

I suppose the omens were good.  On my first evening in the city, staying in the most budget of the city’s Ibis hotels, I came across live music sheltering against the side of The Cellar (as it then was) and sat a while and forgot about the stresses of moving.  In that same first week, my neighbours and friends staged some live music in the little courtyard garden behind my flat.

However, initially the city’s musical offerings seemed rather weak compared to Cambridge.  As I now know my focus was far too narrow in terms of both venues and genres.  Before coming to the city, almost all my experience of live music had been classical – with just very rare forays off-piste in a somewhat desultory attempt to broaden my musical palate.  With classical music, I knew what I was doing: you get a named seat and a start time which will be pretty rigidly adhered to.  During the concert itself, you sit down and shut up and applaud only when a piece has come to a complete stop and any batons or bows have clearly moved out of use.  I am led to believe that this somewhat rigid regime puts off many folk – and is considered elitist – whereas, the lapsed mathematician in me appreciates the order provided.  Other genres with their less structured approach to attendance and applause, their patchy provision of chairs and somewhat medieval approach to time-keeping (I presume most favour sundial, candle or clepsydra rather the piezoelectric qualities of quartz) always seemed rather daunting.  I think we can safely say that I have mostly overcome any diffidence I may once have felt about turning up at a venue for some live music and now just brazen it out: the broad principle of finding someone who seems to know what they are doing and generalising from their behaviour seems to work fine.  It also helps to bring a good book and some way to read it in poor light (or a friend) to cope with the rather optimistic approach to timing employed by many music venues.

Southampton seems to has been fortunate to retain, for now at least, a decent number of dedicated mid–scale music venues along with a number of spaces, pubs and cafes, which stage regular smaller scale gigs. My experience has been with live music, but I get the impression that the student population also supports a range of venues offering dead (or recorded) music with DJs and the like – though cannot speak to the range of musical tastes these cater to.

The city itself seems to have a rather ambivalent approach to its musical riches.  I feel that at some level it does appreciate them, but does rather tend to the “all help short of actual assistance approach”.  It does hold intermittent, relatively major events which have music at their core or as a major component – but these always seem slightly divorced from the city’s music scene and I’m not convinced do much to strengthen that scene away from these flagship events.  There doesn’t seem any coherent attempt to sell the city both to its residents or the wider world as a truly great place for live (and/or other) music.

Over the summer, the city organised a major series of cultural events – including a range of gigs – in Guildhall Square under the tagline Summer in the Square.  I enjoyed a significant number of these, but I go to a lot of events anyway and am reasonably good at hunting out the cities cultural riches (however vast the bushel that may be concealing their light).  Most events I was at were rather thinly attended by the general public: a group I will define here as people I don’t recognise (which suggests they probably aren’t regular gig-goers – or are mistresses of disguise).  So, while it provided some musicians with a paid gig and a chance of a very modest new audience, I fear it may have left only a de minimis legacy for music in the city.

Last weekend was Music in the City, where multiple gigs take place in unusual places across the city on Saturday (and to a lesser extent, Sunday).  This is my third year going to MitC and it is a lot of fun and does seem to attract a significant audience.  It can be a joy going to a gig in a space which isn’t normally open to the public, and the city is lucky to have several vaults (from its days as a major wine importer, but I’m trying to cut down) and other historic spaces which make very atmospheric places to enjoy live music.  This year, I felt there was more focus on pubs and cafes as venues: often those which don’t host music for the rest of the year and which really didn’t make very successful venues due to layout or acoustics.  I worry that as much fun as MitC can be, it creates the impression that music in the city is something that only happens once (or perhaps half-a-dozen times) a year as part of some centrally-planned event.  It is also largely separate from the places where music actually occurs nearly 365 days of the year in the city – there may be some practical reasons for this given the dispersal of venues a little way from the central core of the city, but the event already runs free bus services between venues (one of which was at the docks) so this doesn’t feel like an insuperable obstacle.  I’m sure the commercial venues did decent business during MitC, but I suspect the musicians weren’t particularly well-paid (if paid at all) and I think that value of “exposure” is massively over-estimated by those offering it.  To paraphrase an old boss, “exposure and 50p will get you a cup of tea” (this was the 90s, so a chap could realistically expect a 50p cuppa): clearly, in those halcyon days, 50p would also get you a cup of builders without the exposure.

Over recent months it has become clear that many of the city’s music venues are struggling financially, needing to run crowd-funding appeals to carry out basic maintenance and just tide themselves over the quieter summer months, when the students are away.  I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, when I was treasurer for an organisation putting on classical music concerts in Cambridge we thought ourselves lucky if ticket sales covered 50% of our costs: and to reach 50% you had to have bums significantly outnumbering bum-less seats.  For classical music (and a lot of theatre), the shortfall is made up from grants, for example for Arts Council England or the Lottery, by corporate sponsorship or by fund raising.  Most music venues don’t seem to receive grants; ACE, for example, seems to have a somewhat narrow definition of the Arts and declining resources.  I suspect that all but the largest venues struggle to obtain significant corporate sponsorship: companies seem willing to splash more cash on taking clients to the opera or ballet than to see some live music in a more ‘spit-and-sawdust’ venue (this may be because the former are considered more high-brow, but more likely that they have better access to the traditional trappings of corporate hospitality).  Finally, I suspect that the donors answering fund-raising pleas from small-to-medium venues are not as wealthy as those supporting, say the Royal Opera House or Chichester Festival Theatre.  So, many venues rely on bar sales to square the impossible circle.  I know it’s tough and none of us want to do it, but I think we all have a civic duty to drink – and drink reasonably heavily – whenever we go to see live music.  I am selflessly sacrificing my liver that live music may live on!  (I suppose I could consume soft drinks, but whilst I am a monster I’m not an animal!)

I love the theatre and have visited the ballet this week and will be going to the opera next week, but the city and our culture will be hugely impoverished if we lose our live music venues.  They seem very vulnerable at the moment as arts funding and people’s budgets are squeezed and business rates for many are rising.  Many are at risk of being redeveloped (these days, it seems, to be replaced by student flats) or find their activities curtailed by noise complaints from nearby new developments which appeared long after the music started.  I worry that on-demand TV is meaning more people stay at home, slouched like a bag of spuds in front of haunted goldfish bowl or laptop.  So, live music is a pubic health issue!  Going to seem some music and enjoying a bit of moshing – or even more gentle swaying or foot-tapping – would boost activity levels and the health of the nation.

This has been rather longer than planned and a tad preachy – but I always felt I’d make rather a good vicar (and I think belief in God is largely optional in the modern Church of England) – but live music is important and is one of the few things we don’t yet import from China and where the human element is unlikely to be replaced by robots.  To keep (and maintain) a vibrant music scene you first need musicians – but I feel any even modestly-sized city will throw these up.  To develop they need a good range of paid, local gigs and this means we need venues and an audience.  Yes, we the audience, need to recognise the vital role we play in developing new musicians and music, in supporting venues and keeping them open.  You probably don’t have to go quite as far as I have: mostly people won’t have the time (or inclination) to attempt to spend “no evening in” or to try and fit multiple gigs into a night – though by all means feel free to follow in my footsteps, it is a huge amount of fun!  I also suspect relatively few readers will want to support their local music scene by hiring local talent to teach them how to play their previously neglected cache of musical instruments – though again, I can thoroughly recommend it.  Still, I think most of us can go to a gig a bit more often and try something new occasionally!  Drag a friend or relative (or enemy – we all know how critical it is to keep such people close) to join you!  Have a drink! Have several!  If you like the band, buy a record!  Chuck a couple of quid at a venue or band fundraiser!  Let’s keep the UK a great place for live music, and especially Southampton as I love being able to walk home from a gig with a smile on my face and music ringing in my ears (and I really can’t face dealing with estate agents for a while yet!).

Momma didn’t raise no fool

Despite the title, this will be about the author – though, as will become clear, any lack of foolishness only applies to a very limited arena.

When I was a wee lad, of only some 5 or 6 summers, my parents sent me to have piano lessons with one Mrs Heath – who at the time seemed an unbelievably elderly crone and I now hope was not in her forties (I’m fairly sure she was actually old).  This did not take and I swiftly gave up the piano for many years.

In the mid 1990s, I returned to the piano having watched the film Groundhog Day and been inspired by Bill Murray’s fictional progress with the instrument.  I took regular lessons and even practiced between them on somewhat regular basis.  I have some reason to believe that I reached the dizzy heights of a poor Grade 4 (without any theory) at this time.  However, I then moved and a 200+ mile commute for piano lessons seemed impractical.  It was clearly time to find a new piano teacher!

At this stage, some time passed.  A mere two decades or so seem to have elapsed.  In this hiatus between teachers, I will admit that my application to regular practice has been less than exemplary and I would have to further own that my skills have at best stagnated – and, if I’m honest, deteriorated.   However, I think even my harshest critic would struggle to claim that, like a fool, I had rushed into selecting a new master to take me as his disciple.

As those unfortunate enough to have befriended me on Facebook – or, worse, had my friendship thrust upon them – will know, this past Tuesday I finally had my first piano lesson of the bright new/only mildly tarnished millennium. Many lessons were learned!  Some of which I will share with you gentle readers…

To avoid annoying the neighbours (and more publicly embarrassing myself) with the relative poor and repetitive nature of my piano practice, I have for many years listened to my piano playing only through headphones.  The instrument sounds rather different when its vibrations are allowed to interact with a whole room before hitting my ears.  I say this not to excuse my performance, merely as an interesting side note.

It has also been many years since I have had an audience for my piano playing.  It would appear that, much like events in the quantum domain, my piano playing is affected by the presence of an observer.  Were I to know the precise location of any finger, I would have absolutely no idea as to which note it should have been playing and vice versa: curse you Heisenberg!  There was also a small issue of my left-hand, in particular, coming down with a nasty case of the hippy hippy shake – to the extent that my teacher inquired whether this was a pre-existing condition.  Luckily, that evening I bumped into a friend who is also learning the piano later in life and who suffers from exactly the same symptoms – in her case, her teacher thought she had Parkinson’s – so I am not alone.  I do not have this problem with the guitar – perhaps because from the start I have played it to a small audience (my guitar teacher) – so I have some hope that I can recover from this nasty attack of shy competence.

Despite the prolonged car crash – as I perceived it – that characterised my performance during my first lesson, my teacher was surprisingly positive about my skills.  I think at one stage he accused me of demonstrating some musicality – or at the very least following the marked phrasing and dynamics.  This may, of course, by a cunning teacher’s trick to boost a pupil’s self-worth and if so, it has worked like a charm.

It was, frankly, amazing how much I learned in the course of this first 21st century lesson.  A lot of bad, or at best marginal behaviour, can become ingrained over two decades.  As can a worrying degree of blindness: I discovered the importance of the note D to a piece I have been playing – on and off – for 22 years.  Suddenly, the chords make so much more sense – rather than just being random jumps of the left-hand across the keyboard.  In recent blog-related news Hanon is out!  My route to the world of the virtuous pianist will not involve his sixty exercises – yay!  In their place come interesting new scale-based exercise that my fingers are itching to get to grips with (gratification has been delayed by travelling for work and the absence of a practice piano for guests at the Premier Inn).  I even have a couple of pieces to prepare for my next lesson: an actual, externally-set objective!  In bad news for my neighbours, I have decided to start practicing without headphones.  I feel this ups the ante for my concentration and may help with the audience issue: summary eviction will be small price to pay!

So, let’s raise a toast to old dogs revisiting old tricks and then (whisper it quietly) learning new ones!

Board hubris

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

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

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Soon(ish) this will rightfully be mine!

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

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

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

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

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

Duelling deliveries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popping my festival cherry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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