Growing uncertainty

Yesterday, I had my hair cut (I know, my life is almost too exciting!)- and more importantly dyed.  Whilst I can accept that my body is subject to the same processes of entropy and decay that are immanent throughout the universe, I see no reason why I should take this fact lying down (one of the rare exceptions to my preference for the most supine position feasible at any given moment).  I have no intention of growing old gracefully – though given my singular lack of grace in any of my other activities, this may be less a choice than an acceptance of extant reality.  However, I seem to have wandered off-topic (other hazelnut- and nougat-based chocolate is available).

It was five weeks since my locks had last been cut, but they had barely grown at all – in marked contrast to the previous trim when they had grown quite considerably over a mere lunar month.  Curiously, my grass (I feel the word ‘lawn’ would require a little too much artistic license – the HGV of artistic licenses, if you will) showed exactly the opposite growth behaviour.  Both my vine and beech hedge grew apace during the whole period – so much so that both needed some fairly serious trimming lest Fish Towers start to resemble the castle in Sleeping Beauty (and I have no desire to be awoken from my slumbers by the osculatory efforts of junior royalty).  In the case of the grass, I think its variation in growth rate can be explained by the drought followed by more recent plentiful precipitation – however, explaining my hair is more of a challenge…

My hair is normally washed in water from the mains, which as previously discussed has a calcium content on a par with cow’s milk.  However, in recent weeks it has been fairly regularly doused in rain-water as well as I have been about my business à pied or a-wheel.   Does softer water inhibit hair growth?  If so, should I start shaving using the water collected from my roof?

Then again, perhaps the water is a distraction and the rate of hair growth is driven by diet.  I tend to eat those fruits and vegetables that are in season in this country – supplemented with quite a lot of cheese, nuts, dried fruit and the occasional fish.  Over the period in question my diet will have shifted from a very heavy focus on asparagus and rhubarb, to a broader range of items from the plant kingdom including gooseberries, courgettes and aubergines. Perhaps asparagus or rhubarb promotes hair growth?  Given the vast sums spent by men on the products of the hair restoration industry, I think further experimentation is called for!  If a simple preparation of spring vegetables can restore a luxuriant head of hair to the follically-challenged then my fortune would be made.  I could then retire whilst enjoying the sort of luxury to which I have no objection to becoming accustomed.



The Bard of Avon truly said that “summer’s lease hath all too short a date” in sonnet number 18.

On Sunday, I found myself in Brighton in a heat wave (neither of which came as a surprise as I had journeyed in a purposive manner to the south coast and the heat had been forecast by the Met Office: I merely used the verb “to find” in a futile attempt to leaven my leaden prose) – despite the best efforts of London underground to seal Victoria station off from the rest of the city.  Whilst in Brighton, I enjoyed a rather sparsely attended gig by the Esterházy Chamber Choir entitled Summer Romance followed by a sun-drenched picnic in Preston Park.  Yesterday, summer continued with the temperature and humidity in Sawston soaring and trains in the east delayed by the wrong sort of heat on the line (the catenaries in this case) for the first time in 2011.

Today, the lease expired in spectacular fashion – thunderbolts and lightning galore reminding those d’un certain âge of Bohemia and the persecuted populariser of the heliocentric universe who so kindly contributed our title.

Unlike the recent heat, the Met Office did not forecast today’s thunderstorms – well, not until after the event and as a professional in the field of divination, I can assure you working ex-post makes it much easier.  As a consequence, I went out on my bicycle well-prepared for heavy rain but not for electric death to descend from the heavens.  To be honest, beyond an up-to-date will and recent confession, I’m not sure there is much the cyclist can do to prepare for a lightning strike.  In this field, the car is definitely the superior form of transport providing, as it does, a Faraday Cage which keeps the charge away from the user.  The inch of insulation which the rubber of my tyres offers (and even the 3 layers of Kevlar contained within) would, I fear, do little to dissuade an errant bolt from selecting me and my steed as a viable route to earth.  Back in my schooldays, a simple silk net was sufficient to provide the Faraday Cage effect – but I will admit that this was challenged with little more than the static generated from a polythene rod rubbed with some fur (real or faux I never asked).  I somehow doubt that a silk net would protect me from the fury unleashed by a cumulonimbus in its pomp.

This made for a nervous journey home from Cambridge.  Luck, or more likely random happenstance, was my friend.  I had a stop-off to make on my return journey and reached that temporary sanctuary just as the first thunder shook the skies over Cambridge.  By the time I came to depart, the vanguard of the storm had passed and I was granted just enough time to return home before its full force arrived.  And what a storm it was!   Even without the electric content I was jolly glad not to be caught outside during it – being British I have been drenched before and will, no doubt, be again (unless carried off rather suddenly to my eternal reward) but it is always very pleasing to dodge that particular bullet.  It somehow puts a positive spin on the whole day which is, of course, the same spin as would be offered by two electrons – though I never find a Cooper Pair quite as satisfying somehow.  On the plus side (something an electron would find rather attractive), portable super-conduction might one day protect the cyclist from an unwanted discharge (and lightning strikes!).

The Face of Youth?

The final part of my cultural olympiad on Wednesday was a trip to the Wigmore Hall for some string quartet action.  However, prior to that a quick trip to the Meson Don Felipe for some tapas and a carafe of Toledan red wine – slightly alarmingly, I realised I’ve been going to the MDP for 21 years and it has barely changed in all that time (I think the walls may be a slightly different shade of red) whilst I’ve become raddled with age.

The Škampa quartet concert at the Wigmore was being broadcast on Radio 3, so to add to my growing roster of celebrity encounters I did have an excellent view of the back of Petroc Trelawny’s head (though his ears were concealed by his ‘cans’).   The concert was jolly good – and the Shostakovich Quartet No. 3 particularly affecting, which might be down to the performance by the Škampa, cultural overload on my part or the effect of consuming a carafe of red wine (or some combination of the above).

As well as the radio recording, the concert was also being photographed for internal publicity material for the Wigmore Hall.  This photographic record seemed to be entirely of the audience – and, so far as I could tell, mostly of me.  Chatting to the photographer and his assistant in the interval, it would seem that I was selected because they needed pictures of someone young – and in common with many classical music audiences, there were slim pickings.  I did point out to him that I wasn’t that young, but he was willing to take ‘relatively’ (an indication of just how ancient the rest of the audience were).  His oppo even asked what someone like me was doing there.  I’m not quite sure to what aspect of me he was alluding: my youth perhaps, my lowly social class or the fact that I was particularly stylishly dressed (as I like to think, but I have many of these illusions – entirely unsupported by any evidence whatsoever).  Even as I was heading off down Wigmore Street after the concert, I was ‘papped’ once again.

So, for current and future employees of the Wigmore Hall, it would seem that I will be the “face of youth” (and possibly the body as well).  A proud boast I’m sure you’ll agree – and the main driver for this post!


As a young lad, I seem to recall going to the Marlowe theatre in Canterbury to see a pantomime.  All I can remember, after all these years, is that a very angry Christmas pudding had a major (or at least memorable) role.  The theatre is named after local lad Christopher Marlowe and yesterday afternoon at Shakespeare’s Globe I finally saw some of his own work (I believe the panto was penned by another), “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus”.

As previously mentioned, I had invested in a seat and cushion – and a very sound investment they proved.  Whilst sitting down in comfort was good, even better was the protection provided by the thatched roof that we ‘nobs’ enjoyed during the reign (and I use that word deliberately) of old Queen Bess.  Just before the play began, the light rain we had been “enjoying” was replaced by thunder, lightning and really heavy rain – in some ways, rather appropriate for the subject matter (if slightly mis-timed) – but not much fun for the groundlings or those actors who had to emerge from the shelter of the stage canopy.  My day-job predicting the future once again proving its worth – it’s Wimbledon week and Glastonbury starts today, heavy rain was almost inevitable!  The sun did arrive by the interval – so I could enjoy my rather fine (if London-priced) tub of ice cream in its warming rays.

This post will now attempt to hang a sharp left, and try a little bit of theatrical review – though I suspect the late Sheridan Morley has little to fear.  Once upon a time, I used to see the RSC pretty regularly, but have fallen out of the habit of theatre-going in recent years and as a result was strangely over-excited as the curtain of rain came down over the stage (no fabric curtain for the Globe – too anachronistic).  I think the play provided everything one should expect from Elizabethan entertainment – and probably more. Bawdy comedy – and some of it seriously bawdy, with the expected knob and fart jokes joined by at least one clear allusion to what stand-ups call the C-bomb (but which James Naughtie calls the Culture Secretary), tragedy, music on period instruments, poetry, dance, a bit of rather out-dated astronomy (Marlowe was no Brian Cox) and even puppetry.

For someone who usually experiences drama via television, cinema or the book some elements of the live theatre seem quite weak – but others were a revelation.  The fight scenes and special effects cannot compete with modern filming and CGI – or even my imagination (which I should probably have been exercising).  On the screen you get used to seeing actors very close-up and with them talking quite quietly, which does make the theatre – especially in the rather loud weather of the first act – initially a rather different experience which takes a little while to adjust to.  The costume though was easily the equal of other media (and some of the changes seemed inhumanly fast – or at least one pair of unadvertised twins was involved) and the music not only extremely well suited to the mood and action but was only added where appropriate – most of the time the audience was trusted to find the correct emotional response unaided!  Some elements would never work on a screen, but were truly brilliant on stage – the dance and puppetry were very effective and Lucifer having the damned demonstrate the Seven Deadly Sins was incredible as was Hell itself at the end.

The acting seemed good to me – and you do get full 3D without wearing silly glasses as the action comes out into the audience (as did at least one thrown stick of celery and the odd grape!).  Paul Hilton as Faustus does make you believe in the man, despite his rather foolish and inconsistent actions.  Arthur Darvill (who always seemed so nice in the past) as Mephistopheles was really quite frightening when suddenly switching from Fautus’ servant/accomplice/confidant to his true nature as the demon with a soul to collect. Not only did these two get the main parts, but they were the only characters who get a chance to snack on stage – an important consideration for yours truly if he is ever to tread the boards.  The supporting cast were great and had to play several, widely varied parts each and I think part of the fun is trying to spot who they were last – I never did recognise Lucifer in his other roles (though I did see an awful lot of him in one of these).

The underlying story of Faustus does suffer the same defect as most tales involving a character with enormous occult powers – they don’t really do very much with them.  In Fautus case, he does little more than a few practical jokes and a bit of historical re-enactment.  If I were given all the power of Hell (not, I would suggest a very wise thing for anyone to give me) I’d like to think I’d get something done.  Then again, Marlowe did have to operate given the constraints on special effects in the late 1580s – so he has more excuse than more contemporary scribes who tend to allow a bunch of American teens to prevail over the massed forces of darkness.

To conclude, the whole thing was amazingly entertaining – though it’s hard to pin down exactly why.  I think there must just be something about the live theatre that means it is greater than the sum of its parts (a bit like live music) – that’s synergy, man.  Certainly, based on this experience, other trips to “proper” theatre could well be on the cards, and so could make their way into this blog if we aren’t all very careful…

Strange Postmark

My mail has just been delivered, and one item has been franked with the rather curious legend “believe in children”.  Are there a lot of child-sceptics out there?

Or is it that “Every time a fairy says, ‘I don’t believe in children,’ there’s a little child somewhere that falls down dead”?  Rather the converse of the famous quote from J M Barrie, and if true something that may need more serious action from the authorities than a postmark.   It does also lead to the worrying conclusion that the Post Office think I am one of the sidhe.  I can assure you that it is just poor posture, I do not have wings concealed ‘neath this shirt – or, more’s-the-pity, magical powers.

But, is it art?

Yesterday I had a day off – a proper day off: no working and limited thinking about work, no running of errands or loafing around at home, but a day out in that London.

In the course of the day, I think I managed to cover the full pantheon of muses – I bagged the lot!  I took in two art galleries, serious(ish) theatre and chamber music.  My theatrical and musical experiences I will cover in later posts, so this post will just have to cover the art.

I started by visiting the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.  I’m a friend of the RA (not the cheapest of my friendships, I’ll admit) and so can get in for free – or at least at zero incremental cost.  At one point, I went to the Summer Exhibition previews every year – but stopped as I was (a) finding them very samey and (b) kept forgetting the date and/or mis-laying my ticket.  After a break, this year’s seemed rather different and significantly more interesting than before (to me at least).  There was the usual packed crowd in the Small Weston room viewing the non-threatening art (NTA) which always seems to sell the best (and would make excellent lid-art for a biscuit tin), but whilst often “pretty” isn’t all that interesting.  Elsewhere, there seemed rather more room to manoeuvre and more stimulating stuff than in previous years (perhaps my taste is coming into fashion?  Well, it could happen…), as well as the usual less explicable efforts (or complete messes as I would call them – or perhaps this is where the art crosses my NTA-threshold?).

In the occasional celebrity encounter thread for which this blog is justly famed, whilst at the RA I kept bumping into Andrew Marr (which I think is as close to Heat magazine as I’ve yet achieved).  In line with previous experience, he’s rather smaller than I expected and his ears were, frankly, a disappointment (I am forced to wonder if he wears false ears for his TV appearances).

After the excitement of the theatre, it was but a hop, a skip and a jump (though I walked, briskly) to pop into Tate Modern.  In the early nineties, I used to work in an office overlooking the Bankside power station (as it was then).  It would seem that Bankside House (or National Grid House as it was briefly known) is now student accommodation for the LSE but, out of term-time, the general public can stay there too (at very reasonable rates!).  Sadly, the facilities promised for guests no longer include the tube-stile that was such a feature of my time there.  Nevertheless, it would be quite amusing to spend the night at the site of my old desk, just to see if anything survives from the days of NGC Settlements and to wallow in nostalgia (pigs prefer mud, but give me nostalgia any day).

I’ve been to the power station a few times since the turbines left, and so am fairly familiar with the collection.  However, as a treat this time there was a new Kandinsky (new to me – though, as Kandinsky has been buried ‘neath the clay for a while, not new in any absolute sense ) and one from the period when you could still (just about) tell what he was trying to represent.  This makes me think it is an early painting, however, this does lead us to identify another type of expert with whom you should not confuse the writer: an art historian.  I also spotted rather an exciting painting of a corridor by a female Portuguese artist, with way too many names for me to remember, which I didn’t recall and which is well worth a peek.  However, the primary reason for the trip was to visit the Rothko room (which I find very calming – and got to myself for a couple of minutes, bliss) which I felt would help to cleanse my cultural palette before the evening’s concert.  I’m not sure Mr Rothko would be at all keen for his art to be viewed as a sort of cultural sorbet – but, that is the danger of placing your art out into the world, you can never control how it affects the audience – even if it is such a lowly artform as this blog…


Today’s title refers to members of the Hymenoptera, sub-order Apocrita – and not to the many other meanings of the word wasp (including any link to Marineville).

Yesterday afternoon, I once again found myself quaffing champagne – this time at a garden party in a rather exclusive area of Cambridge (I’m quite surprised I was allowed in!).  To accompany the champagne, there were very fine local strawberries (apparently sourced from a farm close to Milton sewage works – though I’m not sure if there is a link between the works and the quality of the Fragaria) and I think it was these that attracted the first wasp of the new year (well, my first wasp anyway).  Not as commonly reported as the first cuckoo or swallow perhaps but nonetheless, in my role as the Gilbert White de nos jours, I feel it is my duty to report the sighting.  As wasp is a rather generic term for an entire sub-order of stinging critters, I should make clear that it was the yellow-and-black striped common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) that I saw.

Seeing the wasp reminded me of the one personal act of (mild) physical bravery which I can recall from my many years on this earth.  (Normally, I’d go to quite considerable trouble to avoid having to even contemplate an act of physical bravery.)  The incident occurred a few years back on a packed, rush hour Victoria line train running southbound from Finsbury Park.  Along with the merry throng of commuters (OK, I’ll admit that phrase requires a degree of artistic license) my carriage also played host to a common wasp.  The other commuters reacted in much the way I imagine they might had a Bengal tiger or Piers Morgan been loosed in the carriage – desperate attempts to get of the way of the interloper accompanied by shrieking and useless flapping of the hands.  I was standing with a couple of friends at one end of the carriage (the north end for anyone planning a reconstruction) and remarked on the over-reaction of our fellow passengers in a somewhat mocking fashion.  Fate, or karma, was swift to respond: the wasp landed on the hand rail next to the point at which I was hanging-on.  She then proceeded to walk towards the back of my hand in a determined manner.  Given my earlier remarks, I was unable to squeal like a girl (or man in his mid-thirties) and/or whisk my hand to safety – I decided that a sting would be substantially less painful than the loss of face such actions would incur.  As a result, I allowed the wasp to wander across my hand whilst I stoically continued my conversation as though nothing was happening.  Gratifyingly, the wasp continued her journey without attacking my hand – and the other passengers who observed this feat of derring-do were suitably impressed by my sang-froid.

Despite the positive feedback from the audience, I decided against touring theatres with my wasp act.  I fear the days of the music hall and such “spesh” acts are long over, though I believe Simon Cowell does good business with the same basic idea on ITV on a Saturday night (I’m surprised old Chuffer Dandridge or some of his many friends haven’t given BGT a go!).

But let it whistle as it will

Another poet describing the wind, but from here Sir Walter Scott goes on to strike a festive note – well, it’s never too early to start thinking about Yuletide, especially with the days starting to shorten next week.  However, as I’m sure all but the very slowest of students will have guessed by now, I digress.

On my way into Cambridge this very e’en, my bicycle (one of the four – hereineafter referred to as the workhorse) decided to start whistling – much as butcher’s boys did in days of yore.  The note varies with speed, but is very far from tuneful – tunempty, if you will.  Yes, whilst the workhorse carries me in a degree of comfort and style – and with its rack and suitable panniers can carry a surprising amount of cargo – it cannot carry a tune.

Fortunately, upon arriving in Cambridge, I found that CUMS I and the CUMS Chorus were very much able to carry a tune (several in fact) at the May Week (yes, I know – in Cambridge May Week is in June, but with weather from April) concert in King’s College Chapel.

Prior to the gig, I partook of a couple of flutes of champagne with some of the local glitterati – oh, it’s a gay social whirl as a patron of the arts!  I don’t like to name drop, but I was chatting with the opera correspondent of the Daily Express (yes, I didn’t know they had one either) who looked the very spit of the man who taught me how to play chess as a boy (via the media of TV and print).  A little research upon my return showed it was indeed the very same man, William Hartston, who looked barely older than when I was a boy – the combination of opera and chess must be better than a painting in the attic!  As the moisturiser is proving of rather limited benefit in holding back the ravages of time (think King Knut and the incoming tide), I think I should go fetch my chess set down from the loft and pop the Ring cycle into the hi-fi…

Travelling Light

I am known for a number of things – some of which readers of GofaDM may been starting to work out for themselves by now.  One of my rather feeble claims to fame is my tendency to travel light when I leave Fish Towers – and as previously established, much of what I do carry is nourishment for the journey.

The most obvious reason for travelling light is that I have to carry any stuff I wish to take with me – and as a chap who tends to use public transport, this can involve portage over some distance including the ascending of manual (pedal?) staircases.  Being rather lazy, I prefer to limit the amount of luggage I have to lug – and frequently find myself astonished by the volume and weight of baggage other people are both willing and able to carry when they travel.  I don’t know how they do it – I fear it would be beyond me, despite the weight-training.

I am aided in my desire to travel light by my relative resilience in the face of cooler weather deriving from my time living among the Geordies, by the wearing of dark, often drab colours and by the use of layering in the clothes I do choose to take.

When travelling by air, I am even more keen to travel light as I do not trust airlines not to lose any luggage I commit to their care and the hold.  I’m also quite keen on missing the wait and the scrum surrounding the luggage carousel – which is much less entertaining than its cousins at the fairground.  As a result, I have been around the world in 4 weeks (80 days is so 19th century) using only carry-on hand luggage on more than one occasion.

Probably as a result of my nervousness about flight, I tend to be somewhat paranoid to ensure that my hand luggage lies well within the quoted size and weight limits issued by the airlines.  As a result, I usually have the smallest, lightest bag being taken onto the aircraft – I also only have one bag as required (but as never enforced or obeyed by other passengers).  As a result, I am extremely irritated when, on busy flights, I am not allowed to put my very modest valise into the overhead locker, but forced to place it under the seat in front which further reduces the already limited leg room (and I am quite generously provided for in the leg department – well, in terms of length anyway).  Why do I have to do this?  So that other passengers carrying multiple, vast, time-dilating (i.e. high mass) cases can place them in the overhead locker.  Why am I punished for travelling light?  I’d force the oversize luggage brigade to put their bags in the hold – but I suppose I may be biased here.

The final straw came yesterday when an officious orange polyester-clad discount (may not actually be very cheap) airline employee also wanted me to put my suit jacket on the floor under my feet – the airline being so cheap, that the seats lacked the coat hooks provided on more traditional (theoretically, higher cost) airlines.  This I refused point blank to do, on the grounds that Easyjet were highly unlikely to offer to pay to have it dry-cleaned at the end of the journey.  No, I made her put it in the overhead locker in a rare act of defiance in the face of authority.

The worm may, finally, have turned – at least a little bit.  (And a good rant always helps!)

Locker Room Tales

As I have mentioned in the past, I spend a certain chunk of my time at the gymnasium. Before entering the business end of the gym, the visitor must navigate reception and then the locker room to change from my cycling gear (probably much lighter on the lycra front than the more fevered imaginings of some readers would suppose) into my work-out kit.

On one rare occasion in the distant past, the male and female changing rooms in the gym I was then using were swapped for a short period of time (due to maintenance).  As a result, we mere men were able to survey the palatial surroundings in which the ladies change – while it is dangerous to generalise from a single example, I must admit I continue to imagine that the distaff changing facilities put those of the weaker sex to shame.

However, that was very much the exception and my normal experience is of the male locker room, an experience which has always been shared with my fellow Y-chromosome carriers.  One does see some extraordinary sights in the mens’ locker room, but normally I am able to recover from the trauma with only relatively modest psychiatric intervention.  I would perhaps suggest to my fellow lads that if your keks were black when new, and are now off-white and more hole than fabric, then perhaps its time to consider replacement?  I would cautiously extend the same advice to other articles of clothing – even if it is your favourite T-shirt, sometimes you just have to let it go to the great laundry basket in the sky (assuming it’s been good – otherwise, send it to the fires below).

I have belonged to several gymnasia in my time in Cambridge and the locker rooms of all have exhibited the same slightly mysterious behaviour.  There are many scores of lockers, and at the times I tend to visit barely a dozen men in the gymnasium.  We could perhaps add another dozen using the pool or showers – but there should be a huge number of free lockers available when I arrive to change.  However, I often struggle to find a single free locker – though I must admit that I do spurn the floor-level lockers as I am now of an age where I try and avoid unnecessary bending down.  Who is using the all the lockers?  Have people confused the gym with Big Yellow Storage?  What is a Big Yellow and why does it need storing?  Or do the apparently used lockers conceal entrances to Narnia or other fairy-tale realms?  The gym claims it empties the lockers every night, so are the denizens of Cambridge getting up at the crack of dawn to store something in the lockers during the day and then retrieving it every evening?  What could it possibly be?  I know I’m intrigued.

The other thing which often puzzles me is the clothing people choose to wear in the gym. I find that a work-out is quite warming and so tend to wear a vest and shorts – and even then, I tend to get rather too hot on most occasions but modesty forbids any further reduction in my habilement.  However, I have seen others wearing thick, fleecy tracksuit bottoms and matching top and even a woolly hat whilst training.  How do they cope?  I know my years in the north-east may have thickened my blood, but how thin would your blood have to be – or dilatory your workout – to need clothing that warm in a well- (to my taste, over-) heated gym?  Still, I suppose I prefer those needlessly warmly covered up to those choosing to wear little more than a Y-shaped piece of string over their torso coupled with shorts that could only be described as minuscule – and I’m just talking about the fellas.  For my money, almost everyone looks better covered up (even those generally accepted to be beautiful) and in most cases, the more that’s covered the better. I like to think this is one cover-up we can all agree on!