The Red Queen

To the extent (disputable) that I have had any conscious control over the man I am today, I might imagine that I have modelled myself on a small range of almost exclusively fictional characters.  I think I like to keep my ‘heroes’, or at least ‘role models’, fictional as one can usually rely on them not to suddenly reveal new, deeply troubling sides to their character.  This is rendered easier if I avoid unnecessary sequels and re-makes: where a turn to the dark appears to have been de rigeur for quite some time now.

A worrying number of these characters came from a handful of movies released between roughly 1985 and 1995, none of which could be considered entirely serious.  Other people have seminal music that still defines them from their teens, I must have been seeking my way in the world as I headed into my twenties: always a late developer…  I think we must also place considerable blame on the Fourth Doctor who entered my life during an earlier impressionable phase.

In practise, I suspect the man I am today, while clearly path-dependent, has been subject to almost no conscious direction and has just involved the accretion of random bits of other people (real, virtual and imaginary) that seem to have stuck: like pocket fluff to a forgotten boiled sweet.  The original sweet is still in there but all anyone (including the conscious me) now encounters is the multiple strata of fluff that have accumulated over the years (this metaphor does pre-suppose a very lax approach to laundry).

In fact, following the unexpected receipt of a meme – and the even more unexpected fact that I understood it – I have realised that in the game of life I have completely stopped pursuing the primary goal: indeed, I can no longer recall what it was or ever having tried to achieve it.  Instead, my life is comprised of an ever more Baroque selection of side quests.  Sometimes a side quest may be parked for a decade (or two) before I return to it, but very few are ever entirely abandoned.  I like to imagine, in the final reckoning, I will have built up a decent score: albeit, not one that will trouble people who have pursued the actual objective of the game.

I recently realised that one fictional character that I have come to resemble is the Red Queen, from Through the Looking Glass.  I tend not to think six impossible things before breakfast – though only because my metabolism requires the prioritisation of victuals and their ingestion pretty promptly upon waking.  I have to save my counter-factual thinking until I have some fuel in the tank.

I certainly share her tendency to derail any serious conversation with wordplay and other such nonsense: though there is no evidence that, if shaken, I will reveal myself to be a black kitten.

My main area of congruence with the Red Queen is in my need to be constantly in high-speed motion (not always of the physical variety: I mostly refuse to run), if only to devote at least some time-slice to my myriad side-quests.  There are always more things that I could be doing if only I could move faster: without hurtling through life at full pelt I will just lose ground to some perceived, if undefined, substrate.  I have the feeling the pace of this movement is accelerating as though my psyche is subject to some analogue of dark energy.: or perhaps, I just lack sufficient psychic dark matter to hold myself together…

Normally, my mad race to fit as much into any given period as possible only involves myself.  Others will see me from time-to-time and,  if they know me, are rarely surprised to see me in almost any location: even if they thought I was in a distant city a few moments previous.  I think some people suspect I have a number of identical siblings (or clones) or access to time travel…

However, on the evening of the Saturday before last, a friend came along for the full ride: I assume they had taken out suitable insurance in advance…  It was one of my finest performances: having started in the Guide Dog for some Bishopstoke courage, we departed for the evening’s musical delights at around 19:40.  At the end of the evening, I was safely in my own bed by midnight but somehow we managed to fit in four musical gigs in four different venues in the intervening time.  Even now, I’m not entirely sure how we achieved this – I am forced to assume that the speed of travel between venues must have led to a degree of relativistic time dilation.  Not only did we fit in four gigs, I also managed to invent a new cocktail: organic whisky with chocolate ice cream – it probably wouldn’t have been my first choice, but the venue was very short of alcohol and had no ice, so I had to extemporise.  It was surprisingly potable, but I don’t think Harry’s will be beating a path to my door in search of the recipe any time soon.

It was a seriously enjoyable evening but I fear it might form the basis of a sustainable life plan: though, to be fair, I have been living it for a few years now.  Could it be time for a change?

As part of a potentially dangerous experiment, for which ethical approval has not been sought in the expectation that it would be withheld, I shall be spending this next weekend in a very different way.  Despite a plethora of gigs in both Southampton and Cambridge that I am itching (or Itchen in the case of the local gigs) to attend, I am going to be cast away on a tiny island, like a modern day Robinson Crusoe (though hopefully I will be a little more ‘woke’ than Defoe’s ‘hero’: I do at least have my insomnia to fall back on).

My island will not be of the sand and palm tree variety, but rather a granite rock mostly covered in dry heath moored in the liminal space where the Bristol Channel and North Atlantic meet.  Yes, I am spending a long winter weekend on Lundy: an island without music venue, art gallery or theatre – though I am told there is a pub.  In theory, I shall be deposited there by helicopter on Friday morning and returned to the mainland on Monday morning.  In between, there is no escape!  Indeed, I believe the weather can get quite spicy, so I may find that I am unable to leave on Monday – though, at time of writing, the weather looks to be relatively clement.

The island is some 3 miles by 0.6 miles – so a circumnavigation on foot shouldn’t take long.  According to Wikipedia, the island has a few features of historic and scientific interest and there is some hope of sighting some interesting flora and fauna.

I shall not be there entirely alone as I am going with six friends – and I believe the island has a tiny resident population and may have a small number of other visitors.  I am told there is little or no mobile phone signal and no wifi: so I shall probably have no access to the internet for approaching 72 hours.  Will I cope?  Are the share prices of various social media companies tanking even now?  There is also no power overnight, so this excursion may be good practice for the future of the country as a whole…

All of this means that my life will be required to slow down significantly from its traditional break-neck pace.  There is a worrying risk that my actual thoughts may surface and not been drowned out by the constant stream of incident and moment that normally keeps them nicely out of sight/harm’s way.  What I have I been keeping locked in my mental attic?  Who is the previous Mrs Rochester in this metaphor?  The island has had a turbulent history, is its near future going to involve more of the same at my hands?

The people with whom I am sharing a large classical villa (I’m not slumming it on my island redoubt) all know me, however, we have – heretofor – experienced each other in managed doses with plenty of opportunity for escape, if required.  Since I have lived basically alone for more than 30 years now, I wonder what weird idiosyncrasies I have acquired in all that time that will come to light?  How terrifying am I on a 24/7 basis?

I shall be bringing plenty of reading material and, part of me, is viewing it as a writer’s retreat.  I am certainly planning to keep a Lund(iar)y either to bore you dear readers with upon my return or to act as a partial explanation for the bodies that will eventually be discovered.  It could also be the perfect time to finally write that sestina!  I have some hope that the villa will provide some space for hand balancing practice and I might get in some musical practice too.  Yes, I am already trying to convert an emotionally (if not climatically) tranquil retreat into my normal life.  Either that, I shall I channel Dylan Thomas and never leave the pub…

Will I return with a yen for the life of the hermit?  Will I return in a straight-jacket?  Will the Southampton cultural scene collapse in my absence?

Some of the questions posed in this post may be answered when (if) I return next week: stay tuned…

 

Self-abuse

Fear not, this post will not contain graphic images, or even descriptive passages, of me following in the (presumably rather sticky) footsteps of Onan.  Any reference to the bashing of the holders of a See will be limited to argument on purely theological grounds.

No, the self-abuse to which I will refer can, perhaps, be explained by reference to Edna St Vincent Millay’s splendid (and short) poem: My Candle Burns at Both Ends:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!

This does rather describe the way in which I appear to have chosen to run my life, careless of my body’s wax.  The excessive burning of my personal candle seems to have accelerated in the last few years, but the tendency was always there: especially when on holiday.  Indeed, in some ways I seem to have switched to permanent-holiday-mode in my life.  I can see elements of this metaphorical persoanl auto-da-fé in the differing genetic inheritance from both of my parents, the combination of the two making for a potent mix.

The urge to fill my life with incident and moment, some of it really quite physically and or mentally demanding, is really rather strong and I (mostly) get away with such foolishness with very few ill-effects.  This is despite, I think rather than a cause of, the chronic insomnia which has been my regular companion since my late twenties: easily making it one of my longest maintained relationships!

However, from time-to-time my mind does continue to write extravagant cheques long after my body’s ability to cash them has expired.  If this is coupled with a lack of sleep (not uncommon) and should the black dog also happen to have returned from fetching that stick that I had hurled from me in an attempt to keep it occupied, then I find it harder to maintain the social ‘construct’ which passes for my personality.  So that the reader does not concern themselves unduly, I should be clear that I do not suffer from depression (nor particularly enjoy it) but am sometimes less naturally ‘up’ than at others and a I am naturally a worrier (perhaps also a warrior, but this has not really been put to a proper test) .

Mostly, I get to deal with these situation where my mind heavily overdraws on its account with my body ‘off-stage’  However, last night my body did decide to forcibly remind me that I was not, in fact, a superhuman of infinite resources but was an all-too-finite middle-aged man while in public.  This reminder was issued quite early in the thoroughly enjoyable, Halloween-themed – and very busy – folk and acoustic session at the Steam Town Brewco.  Frank(enstein)ly, I have only myself to blame for this situation as I have been sleeping badly, was rather busy at work and did contrive to fit in two hour-long – and rather strenuous – hand-balancing sessions before going out for the night.  I think we might also blame a combination of clock change and the accompanying cold grey days and dark evenings for a slight drop in my normal unnatural ebullience.

Anyway, to maintain my monstrous leitmotif, it became necessary to make an early bolt for the door.  Just as well, as I barely managed to maintain consciousness on the short train ride home from Eastleigh before collapsing at home onto my ancient mattress.  However, this did disrupt my plans to mash a monster, a tune and the assembled ears at Steam Town at a single stroke (don’t you just love a chance to use zeugma!).  The world will have to wait to see whether I would have been a graveyard smash and whether the denizens of Eastleigh were ready for my pelvic thrust, or would have been driven insane (an increased risk given the increased hip mobility arising from all this hand balancing)…  Some clues may be gleaned from the unfortunates gathered in the Dog House on Monday night and who experienced a trial run (with the emphasis on the ‘trial’).

What I did discover, when my batteries are deep in the red zone, and my ego-depletion is at its maximum, is that I revert to a previous (presumably more primal) personality.  A version of me that I had assumed long dead appears to be used as a battery saver: the psychological equivalent of minimising screen brightness, shutting down non-essential apps and only allowing emergency calls.  This reduced operating mode (which used to be my only mode for social interaction in a crowd) is as a wall-flower alien observer preparing a report on the planet’s dominant lifeform, while suffering from an odd form of hiraeth for its long forgotten home (oh yes, even as an alien I’m keeping those Welsh roots!).

Still, a night with at least some sleep has restored me to more normal function and early 20s me is safely back in his bottle and I shall shortly be heading off into social media purdah.  This has nothing to do with the election or last night, but because I am visiting my parents’ house and will not be returning until the morrow.  For my whole adult life, they have chosen to both live, and holiday, in locations where any mobile phone signal is a distant dream.  This is coupled with my dad having his wifi secured more tightly than anything the used by the NSA: I can only wonder what he is getting up to on-line that requires this degree of electronic prophylaxis…

I had always assumed the lack of access to the marvel of wireless communication was the result of a conscious choice by my parents.  However, earlier this week I started to wonder if my dad just naturally jams a certain portion of the EM spectrum: he is, after all, the common factor in the wide range of afflicted locations.  I may be able to put this theory to the test later today…

Should I stay, or should I go…

Now, this is going to be a very different sort of post to the usual nonsense that appears on GofaDM.  It will be unusually serious and some of the protagonists will be readily identifiable – so it may not stay “up” for very long (like me, GofaDM is no longer in the first flush of youth, or even of middle-age).

It is “on brand” in that it is about me (obvs) and an attempt to use a blog post to work an idea through: though usually the destination is something that can only very loosely be defined as a conclusion (but is more normally a weak, over-worked pun).

In three weeks time, I should be on the island of Lundy with a bunch of friends.  It is a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years – though have discovered that it lies rather further to the west than I had imagined –  and my accommodation is already paid for.  I’m sure that I will have an amazing time if I go and am only slightly nervous that people who are used to seeing me in small doses will be trapped with me for a long weekend in a single building on a small island: however, I think we can be reasonable sure that I will not run amok with a blade (there are no certainties…).  As regular readers may have surmised, I seem to have developed some sort of fear of missing out and not going does feel like I may miss out on an important episode in the continuing drama of my life.  However, once I arrive on the island on Friday morning there is literally no way off until Monday morning.

Over the summer, both of my parents had fairly serious strokes  – in one case, the hospital had the R or DNR conversation with my sister – and have been rather regular visitors to their local hospitals ever since: finally getting some serious value for money from all their NI and tax contributions over the years.  I have no reason to believe that either are likely to have a serious or terminal incident in the weekend that I am planning to be away.  There is also very little that I can do if such an incident were to occur: let’s face it, I dropped biology in the third form and struggle to successfully apply a plaster to my own fingers.  However, it is not impossible that a window might exist, had I remained on the mainland UK, whereby I could make back it between the start of an incident and its terminal conclusion: possibly by use of an expensive taxi ride through the night.  This would clearly not be an option from Lundy: I am not that strong a swimmer…

I generally think of myself as a cold-hearted monster with the emotional maturity of a child.  I have managed to fake my way through adulthood by learning how to emulate (to a somewhat convincing degree) the appearance of the emotional functioning of a normal (albeit perhaps towards one edge of that distribution) human adult.  Nevertheless, I suspect that should I fail to be present to say goodbye purely because I’m off on an island having fun then there might be a degree of regret occasioned.  Life does not have an Undo function (though I am planning to re-spawn) and some errors are unrecoverable.

This is one of an annoying class of problems that also affect my working life in modelling: of electricity wholesale markets rather than sexy kecks (though for some reason, the vast majority of ads being shown to me by the Facebook algorithm at present are of sexy kecks: I’m not sure who it thinks I am or why it has decided this is an area of interest, perhaps it is trying to suggest a change of career?).  These are known as High Impact Low Probability (HILP) events and are a real pain to take into account: how high a cost should one incur to avoid something of very low (and generally impossible to accurately estimate) likelihood.  At work, the stakes are generally measured in (somebody else’s) money but, in the case at hand, we are playing with potential higher and much harder to measure stakes.  How robust am I emotionally?  Will my mild(?) psycho/socio-pathy protect me?

Lundy and my friends will continue to exist into future years, I fondly like to imagine: though in the world’s current politically febrile climate one can no longer take these things for granted.  Equally, my parents health is likely to remain uncertain and may continue to decline for many years yet.  Is it reasonable or even practical, given that I do have to leave the mainland UK for work, for me to remain within a taxi ride of an East Sussex hospital on an indefinite basis?   I am in life, generally, very risk averse which is probably impacting my thinking, possibly in an unhelpful way.

I have until Friday to decide or I shall experience a “no deal” option of my own, whereby the chance to go to Lundy will lapse.  I am currently vacillating wildly between the two options: last night I had decided absolutely and irrevocably that I would not go to Lundy.  Writing this post, I am sensing that my internal quorum has shifted significantly towards going.

To try and break this deadlock, I have fished Gerd Gigerenzer down from my bookshelf in the hope that he, or perhaps learning some more of the key statistically techniques to use when evaluating HILPs will provide the insight I need (I’m starting with the Blackett Review).  A decision will be made and time will tell how easy it is to live with…

Area SO51?

Today I bring you an unreported tale worthy of Fox Mulder, finally exposing a cover-up that goes all the way to the very highest echelons of government.

I refer not to the infamous Bitterne Triangle, a storied location where so many hopes and dreams are alleged to have disappeared.  I visited that area on Wednesday and can report that it is entirely free of unearthly happenings:  conk-heavy crooner Barry Manilow was wise to focus his musical memorial on another, more temperate triangle.  I’ll admit that one of my preferred (or most used) local chippies has vanished, but I believe this can be explained by commercial forces and does not require any recourse to the paranormal.

No, even the most ardent conspiracy theorist will have been lucky to have heard even the remotest of oriental whispers about the scandal I am planning to reveal.  I am only posting this in a public forum in the hope that it will deter shadowy forces from having me ‘disappeared’ following my shocking discovery.

Last night marked the start of the SHOCC ceilidh season, and I offered to give a friend a lift in my car from Bishopstoke – a modest hamlet, attested to in the Domesday Book –  to the Hilt in Hiltingbury.  The latter is much less exciting than its name might suggest, it’s basically a sports hall and is not connected to the Sword nor, indeed, to the Mailed Fist.

It was while making this apparently simple journey that I discovered the shocking truth that the Eastleight/Bishopstoke conurbation marks the site of an alien battlefield.   It quickly became clear that a powerful alien weapon, of a nature beyond the ken of current human science, had been deployed there.  The locals appear to be entirely unaware of the appalling damage wrought to local spacetime by this doomsday device – but the impact is all too obvious to the visitor from outside the blast zone.

As I drove from Bishopstoke to the Hilt, and again when I drove back, something of the order of 90% of the many turns that I was required to make, as I navigated the lanes of this part of Hampshire, were right turns.  As any competent geometer can tell you, this is not possible in anything that approximates to Euclidean 3-Space: unless travelling in some form of spiral.  While we have known, following the sterling work of one Albert Einstein, that we do not live in a Euclidean space, the curvature is quite modest at the scale of a few miles and in the relatively modest gravity well of the Earth.  The only way this excess of right turns could be accommodated is if the very fabric of spacetime has been fractured across this whole region by the detonation of some form of dimensional bomb.  Shards of unrelated space are now pressed together and my car was skipping across these boundaries: with the excess of right turns suggesting that the underlying spatial geometry is strongly chiral.  This opens up the intriguing possibility that we could identify the epicentre of the original blast…

While the primary impact appears to have been to create spatial distortion, there was some weaker evidence for an effect on local time.  On my own short journey, I did feel that time was skipping by small amounts – just a few tens of seconds or a minute or two here and there – but never quite enough to be sure of the effect: I will also admit that my instrumentation (the clock built into a Ford Fiesta) was not ideal for taking precision readings.  When, oh when, will the car manufacturers listen to my pleas and produce a car with a decent atomic clock (and, indeed, engine) to properly measure relativistic effects?  However, the political complexion of the local area does suggest that ideas from the past (including the distant past) may be leaking through into the present day.  I would not be wholly surprised to encounter a Megaloceros wandering the Bishopstoke Woods, living on a diet of leaves and discarded takeaways…

I suppose some readers my question my veracity as a source, though regular readers will be aware that GofaDM is a beacon of truth and journalistic integrity in these de-based times.  In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit that my own body is currently a battlefield between a cold virus, that has been working its way through my friendship group, and the plucky T- and B-cells of my immune system.  The forces are evenly matched, with neither side yet able to achieve a decisive victory.  Vicious fighting is now occurring house-to-house (or cell-to-cell) and, at this moment, the good guys appear to be in the ascendant.  I think the virus may have been so shocked by my Terpsichorean grace on the dance floor that it has been forced into retreat.   However, I can assure you that this infection was not interfering with my critical faculties or perception.  The Bishopstoke spatial anomaly is real, sheeple!

While I know that many will will be tempted, I would caution readers against trying to visit the anomaly themselves.  I had the advantage of a local guide, but there were still times when I felt that we might become trapped forever in the liminal space between our universe and somewhere else.  If you insist on making the voyage, I might suggest setting up a base of operations at the Steam Town Brewery which lies at the edge of the abyss and fortify your spirits with a pint of their excellent Road Trip (as a stranger, they may try and sell you something calling itself Hop Party – but you will know better).  For the price of a carry-out (or two), you may even be able to procure the services of a local guide…

Those with access to Google may complain that Bishopstoke is in the SO50 postcode area and dispute the validity of the title to his post.  I would counter that this is merely further evidence to support my spatial disruption hypothesis and how deep the cover-up runs!

Boreas calling…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warm woollen mittens

Despite the title, I do not bear much love for any form of hand-sheath – despite some of my ancestors making their living from glove making (the “g” is, to the best of my knowledge, not silent: though late Georgian Chester may have been a hotbed of licentiousness…).  I would prefer a world in which gloves and mittens could be completely replaced by the firm stuffing of my hands into my pockets: which, as a man, I can reliably anticipate having available, unless sailing rather closer to nudity than is generally considered acceptable in a public space.  Sadly, there are occasions when I need to use my hands – and I suppose my even older ancestors did embrace bipedalism, at least in part, to free their hands and may not appreciate my attempts to turn back the evolutionary clock when its a bit nippy out.  My greatest need to use the glove maker’s art is when cycling, as I am not one of the cool kids who can operate a bicycle ‘hands-free’, but need to have both hands firmly on their bars where wind chill further reduces the temperatures being experienced by my out-of-pocket fingers.

No, I am alluding to the librettical output of Oscar Hammerstein II (“This Time Its Lyrical) but popularised by Julie Andrews during a thunderstorm.  What I had failed to realise, until researching this post, is that old Oscar had a rather fine collection of middle names: between the “Oscar” and the “Hammerstein” his parents managed to fit the words “Greeley Clendenning Ritter von“: which may have been partial compensation for otherwise having named him as a sequel to his grandfather.  The mittens were just one of a rather eclectic litany of favourite things which Maria seems to have accumulated during her time at the convent but I thought “doorbells” might be too obscure a reference, even for me!  To be fair, I’m not sure it was Oscar’s finest hour poetically but it did have a catchy tune…

Having finally dealt with the important business of the introductory remarks, we can now move, safely and smoothly, into the main body of the symposium…

This blog, despite my somewhat erratic commitment to its continued growth, exists thanks to a return to a favourite thing from the early 90s: the writing of mildly amusing skits using pointlessly obscure vocabulary and references.  In those halcyon days, I was applying my muse to the minutes of team meetings and spoof eulogies for departing colleagues: now, of course, no topic is out of bounds.  This post also marks a return to a favourite thing from my past (from much the same era): baking.  In the distant days of the late 80s and early 90s, I would bake for birthdays and attempted moderately complex icing regimes.  I was also briefly paid (at cost) by a colleague to make bread pudding for her.

I realise baking has become rather popular of late, as a result of many folk spending their evenings staring at the haunted goldfish bowl to watch other people doing it in a tent (by “it” I mean baking – well I assume I do, I’ve not watched the show).  This televisual pimping, to the best of my knowledge, had nothing to do with my own return to the form.  Instead, as with so many activities, my return was sparked by an alcohol and Thai-curry fuelled conversation in the Guide Dog.  This blog has already mentioned the development of curried porridge which continues to be a regular staple of my breakfast table.

Anyway, it was while reporting back on the success of this culinary enterprise to the chap who bears significant responsibility for its existence as co-author for the original idea (and many of the other more foolish ideas generated in like manner) that the idea of creating hot flapjack arose.  I seem to recall he was somewhat sceptical about my porridge but felt that flapjack would be the more natural marriage bed for oats and chilli to consummate their long-standing, if until recently unrequited, love.  Never one to reject a foolish idea without putting it to the test, I spent some time researching flapjack recipes which I felt could form the basis for my new creation.  Given its origins in the Americas, I decided to marry the chilli with chocolate to honour the Maya and added in some dried cherries to provide a thin veneer of “health” to my creation: it was also, entirely accidentally, vegan.  I have to say that chilli, chocolate flapjack has proven a huge success and I am now onto the fourth generation product.  As well as chilli flakes, I have experimented with chilli chocolate (which I’m afraid lacked the necessary cocoa content and was purged in generation three) and chilli-infused olive oil to create triple-chilli flapjack.

While the flapjacks have been a taste sensation, they have been a little lacking in the structural integrity department.  Generation four was the most friable, indicating that the problem was the need for a wetter (rather than a drier) mix for improved cohesion: the base recipe was rather unclear on the addition of water.  This slightly crumbly nature is not normally an issue except that in the conversation that led to its creation, the flapjack was supposed to act as the tasty, load-bearing substrate for some 38 candles to mark my friend’s impending natal day.

I was clearly in need of a Plan B and so decided to make a birthday cake which would more reliably provide the necessary load-bearing structure.  I then began to worry about the ability of a single cake to safely bear 38 candles without the cake, audience and venue being destroyed in an almighty conflagration.  So, I decided to make two birthday cakes to spread the fire hazard and vitiate the need to have a bucket of wet sand on hand.  As it was boring to make two of the same cake, I ended up making two different cakes, though both retaining the Mayan theme of dark chocolate and chilli: a chocolate brownie cake and a dark chocolate mousse cake.  I had a grand time spending an otherwise dreary Sunday morning baking away in my tiny kitchen creating cakes from recipes I had never used before and which I was adapting (a) to include chilli and (b) to use ingredients I had to hand and was looking to use up (rather than attempt to fit yet more one-off ingredients into my tiny larder).

I was then left with the challenge of how to store and then transport, on foot, two cakes (plus a box of hot flapjack: I am never knowingly under-catered) to the Guide Dog to celebrate the milestone birthday.  I came up with a complex system involving cake tins, very old paper plates, slings of baking parchment, a fair amount of tin foil and a rucksack which worked surprisingly well.

Come the fateful day, I transported my cakes and enough candles to burn down much of Bevois Valley to the Guide Dog: which seemed to be tempting fate in a location named after a chap famed for dealing with a dragon.  As it was the evening of the Swing Steady Session, I did feel some pressure to participate and justify my presence with quite so much non-musical luggage.  So I attempted to play a piece entitled Joseph, Joseph on the house guitar.  On the plus side the song only uses five chords, though I did only know 40% of them at the start of the piece.  It also required some use of swing in my strumming while madly attempting to encourage the recalcitrant fingers of my left hand to form unfamiliar shapes across the frets of the guitar.  I believe I can report that it wasn’t a total debacle: there were no fatalities and I am unaware of anyone embarking on a new course of therapy as a result of my playing.

At the interval, I inserted the candles into their little mounts – from which they indolently lolled rather than standing proudly to attention as I recall the candles of my childhood doing.  A whole team of people then attempted to light them and it became clear that that my instinct not to place all 38 candles onto a single cake was wise.  Even spread across two cakes, there was quite a decent blaze going and I did wonder whether I should have found a little wicker figurine to sacrifice: maybe just a tiny wicker heart to keep a rather disturbing Mayan vibe going.  We settled for extinguishing the inferno fairly rapidly to avoid reducing one of the world’s finest pubs (it may be the finest, but I have yet to try them all and I’d hate to be premature) to a fine ash.

Burn baby burn

Danger illustrated…

We could then tuck into the cakes to discover if they were edible and whether my chilli dosing had been broadly appropriate.  I believe the cakes were something of a success: I certainly enjoyed the leftovers over the next few days and no-one has reported any ill effects from their consumption…

So much fun did I have, that in today’s less than lovely weather – I think even the ducks are starting to mutter that they’ve had enough rain now – I’ve returned to baking the chocolate mousse cake to enjoy at home: without the fig leaf of a celebration to cover the gentleman’s agreement of my hedonism.

Given my desire to support my entire body weight in various improbable configurations using at most two hands, I shall have to keep this restored habit of baking for self-consumption to a relatively infrequent pleasure: maybe once per lunar month.  While I was rather lazy today, not having the desire to get drenched acquiring ingredients not currently in stock, I think I may create a plan to bake at least one new (perhaps experimental) cake per month.  I could be persuaded to share the results of my applied chemistry, but you will have to come to me…

Under-achiever

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

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

So where are my laurels and attendant lictors?

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

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

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

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

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