Trash Talk

Or, for the more British in the audience, perhaps rubbish rant would retain both the theme and alliteration – though it does lack the advantages conferred by use of a pre-existing phrase.

News today suggests that the recession is over.  It would seem that the NHS, schools and the military are now fully funded.  The days of library closures and arts cuts are behind us.  Surely, only a country in a state of such near-utopia would prioritise £250 million to collect rubbish more frequently.

I accept that I live on the outskirts of almost any Normal distribution you would care to name, but would note that my black bin (the one for waste that can be neither recycled nor composted) has not been collected for 12 months.  I should stress that this is not due to any failure on the part of South Cambs District Council and their excellent (if rather loud and early arriving) bin men – but because, even now, it is only 25% full and it hasn’t seemed worth putting it out for collection.  Given the rate of accumulation of rubbish, I am thinking of only putting out on 29 February (a leap bin)- though that only works if it’s a Monday and I think even I might have filled it before 28 years have elapsed.

Or is this an attempt to jump-start the economy by encouraging us all to up the amount we waste from its current high level to something truly gargantuan?

Today’s other big policy initiative seems to be to increase the speed limit to 80 mph – again, a clear priority in these difficult times.  Going faster on our crowded, dis-integrating roads is clearly the right way to go.  I am unsure if the plan is (a) to boost tax revenue from petrol, diesel and brake pad sales (Do cars still have brake pads?  Or is that just my bike?) as a result of the higher fuel consumption and more extreme braking that will be facilitated or (b) to reduce the size of the soi-disant pensions time-bomb by ensuring that more people are killed on our roads before they are in a position to claim.  In the case of (b) I fear their hopes may be somewhat misplaced as I suspect the new deaths will be disproportionately from the already earlier-dying male population – they really need a policy that will take out those of a distaff persuasion while still in their prime.  Then again, recent reports on the lack of midwives and maternity beds may suggest that the Coalition are already working on this.

If I were to be cynical (Heaven forfend), I might think this was a crude attempt to distract the electorate from the terrible state we are in: can we really have the worst quality of life in Europe?  Are the electorate really that stupid?  You may not have a job, any hope of treatment or even a library to shelter in out of the rain, but at least your bins will be empty and you can race at high speed along our hole-ridden trunk roads in the wee small hours of the morning (at other times, I fear the volume of traffic would thwart any attempt to use the new, higher speed limit).  Are empty bins and high speeds the modern version of Marx’ opium of the people or Marie Antoinette’s brioche?  As regular readers will have guessed, I would take the cake every time!


Metablog: the Flattened Fifth

Or, from a certain point of view, the Augmented Fourth.  Either way, the mental dissonance should leave you craving resolution: a resolution which can only be delivered in the form of the later, fabled, sixth metablog – though, I suspect the real challenge may be reaching number ten (I was thinking by analogy to symphonies, but I suspect Downing Street may also lie beyond my grasp).

I would say, “always leave the public wanting more,” but that would suggest an initial public appetite for weapons-grade inanity (actually, that is probably a safe assumption given even a cursory perusal of the TV schedules or magazine racks of this septic isle) and, having seen my contribution to the stockpile, the continued desire for more.  In my defence, I would ask where else you would see cannibalism, pony-based, young female-reader directed literature of the 1950s and the electrification of the railway to Anglesey sharing a stage – that has to be juxtaposition at an International level!

However, do not fear that I will begin to rest on my laurels, I think I can keep that particular fear at bay for you.  (I do wonder if should I explain the bay is a laurel – Laurus nobilis – here?  Or would explaining the pun in some way diminish it?  Can something that weak be further diminished? I suppose that would depend if pun strength is a continuous variable…)  No, stung by recent criticism, I will be turning over a new (bay) leaf.

In an attempt to keep the hypocrisy below the blog-based critical mass (a hypocrisy melt-down can thus be averted), I have turned off Ratings on the Home page (which has magically removed Liking as well) – but you can still rate by opening each post.  However, this is a personal choice – between each reader and their conscience.

The heads of the GofaDM Quality Assurance department have rolled so many times now that they are (a) almost perfectly spherical and (b) now actively repelling moss (if only I could say the latter about the greensward here at Fish Towers).  I can only say that they will try and do better in future – less late-night blogging for me!

There have also been suggestions – not without foundation given my continued failures to deliver – that many promises made within this blog are for purely rhetorical purposes. Well, no more!  Before the week is out, my Twitter novel, which I proposed in the comments to “Staff Room”, will be launched on Condensity.  It will be called “Divine Comedy” for reasons that may become apparent (though it is likely to lie at some distance from the divine – or, indeed, the comic).  Due to the limitations of the medium, this will not entirely follow the model laid out by Charles Dickens – and so characters will not have names like Martin Chuzzlewit or David Copperfield, but will instead have much shorter appellations (not the mountain range in the US).  The story will also mine the near-exhausted theme of detective fiction – with our main protagonist being a gumshoe. Each micro-chapter will start with a special character to indicate that it is not a run-of-the-mill Condensity entry – and the story will develop tweet-by-tweet into a searing examination of the human condition.  Well, it might – I’ve only written the first 5 or 6 micro-chapters so far, so anything could happen!  Quite literally!

Prepare yourselves for the literary sensation of the millenium!  This could be your children (or grandchildren’s) set book in years to come – but you, the lucky few, are in at the beginning…

The Art of Review

It seems increasingly difficult to carry out any sort of transaction on-line without then being asked to proffer a review.  I am now expected to review at least one of the product or service, its delivery or the website itself.  Recently my energy supplier (gas and electric, rather than carbohydrates) asked me to review a recent telephone conversation – sadly, I couldn’t even remember the conversation (obviously I made a bigger impression on them than vice versa – perhaps my dream of celebrity is being realised).

As regular readers will be aware, this blog does make somewhat desultory attempts to review the arts.  I would be the first to admit that this is probably not one of my strengths but practise, as they say, makes perfect – though I would note that they don’t say how long you may have to wait.  Still, patience is supposed to be a virtue (as well as a G&S Operetta and a card game for one) so that would seem to suggest a win-win. Nevertheless, I am always on the look-out for ways to improve my reviewing…

Prior to going to the flicks this afternoon, I popped into the Central library in search of new reading matter.  In this endeavour I was successful, but as I strolled through the Quick Picks section my eye was drawn to one of the offerings displayed therein.  I seem to recall it was entitled Nudge, though whether the meat of the book went on to discuss fruit machines or winks I am uncertain (I suppose nudge may occur in other contexts – but none spring to mind).   Talking of winks, and my frequent battles with insomnia, I wonder if 40 nudges before bedtime would act as a suitable soporific?  Still, let us leave that brief excursus and return to our theme.  On its cover, this tome boasted brief extracts from two reviews – or perhaps the full extent of two very brief reviews.  One of these reviews I have consigned to the Lethe, but the other I can recall: it was from The Guardian and simply said “hugely influential”.  I think we, the viewers of the book cover, were supposed to take this as a recommendation and rush to purchase (or in my case, borrow) the book there and then.  However, it struck me that this word-pairing does not in fact form a recommendation – it is merely a statement about the impact of the book on some wider sphere.  I am sure The Guardian would be forced to admit that Adolf Hitler and the Black Death were both “hugely influential” – though I doubt it would recommend either.  A book may be complete bobbins and yet still have substantial influence.

I think there may be two lessons to be learned here:  (i) be very careful what you write in a review as a brief extract can lead people to infer almost anything, and (ii) with clever use of words you can build a review from apparently wholly positive sentiments, whilst never actually approving of or recommending the object of your regard.  (Yes, I was a sore loss to the Jesuits.)

You will, no doubt, expect me to apply this new learning to an evaluation of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”.  I fear that I will disappoint – though I can say that after the first 15 minutes, I did finally stop being reminded of “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” (which says more about me than it does about the film).  OK, I’ll admit that the film is very good – though not a date movie or for those either of a nervous disposition or in search of a bright colour palette – and does provide an opportunity to see much of the UK’s finest acting talent in one place (the 1970s).

The Wheelbarrow of Temptation

On Friday night I found myself at a film premiere – only the UK premiere I’ll admit, but a premiere nonetheless.  I say ‘found’ as I didn’t know I was going to a premiere and failed to spot any celebrities or added red carpet (though, the place could have been heaving with soi-disant celebs without me being any the wiser – however, I do like to think I might have noticed extra red carpet).  I only discovered the first-ness of my viewing experience when a short announcement was made just before the film started.  I have subsequently discovered that the film I went to see last Sunday was also a UK premiere.  It would seem that unlike the easily excited folk of London, the people of Cambridge take a much more measured approach to the first viewing of a film – as I have just learned, you can go to a premiere without even knowing.

You might wonder as to (a) this rash of UK premieres in the relative cinematic backwater of Cambridge and (b) the sudden surge in cinema-going by yours truly.  Luckily, the same short clause (no, not a diminutive Santa) will explain both incidents: the last 10 days have been the Cambridge Film Festival (the 31st such, in fact).  As part of my strategy to keep the arts in the UK going, single-handedly if necessary, I felt it was my duty to attend a smattering of the festival’s filmic offerings and consume some artisan ice-cream, though it quickly became clear that I would not have to carry out either of these plans on my tod (apparently rhymed for a fin-de-siècle American jockey) as the cinema was packed on each occasion and many of the flavours of over-priced ice-cream ran out well before the festival did!

Cinema going has the advantage that the audience are, on the whole, significantly younger and more attractive than accompany my more regular dalliances with the Arts, but this is coupled with the downside that the auditorium is much darker and so you can’t see them as well (the Lord giveth, and He taketh away).   The Cambridge Arts Picturehouse also allows you to take a drink (alcoholic, if such is your heart’s desire) into the auditorium – and even to take real glasses (of the drinking as well as vision-correcting variety) with you and they offer a range of rather decent cakes.  All very civilised, though sadly they do still feel the need to offer the more traditional cinema-fare of popcorn – a noisy, odiferous snack which I had always thought lacked any redeeming features.  However, on my recent visit to the Gilbert Scott, they provided sea-salt and black-pepper flavoured popcorn as a bar snack and this ‘gourmet’ popcorn was decidedly moreish, so I have subsequently found myself unable to tackle the subject of popcorn via blanket condemnation (though I still so treat blankets – I refuse to have them in the house, and view them as an obsolete bedding technology since the development of the duvet).

I took in three films during the festival – each of which had at least one of France or Time Travel as a theme. I also maintained this thematic unity in this week’s visit to the theatre – a little Molière for anyone keeping track (though I have no pr0of that Network Rail are regular readers).

My first premiere (which feels like something is being squared) was the French comedy “Romantics Anonymous” which was extremely funny – I have rarely laughed as much during a film.  It was also pleasingly brief – the viewer is provided with a decent amount of change out of 90 minutes – rather than being padded out as so many films (and, indeed, blog posts) are.  However, as is becoming a bit of a leitmotif of GofaDM, I did feel the subtitles were slightly dumbed down – and I last studied French in 1982, so I would hardly be considered a fluent French hearer.

My second film had a start time of 2230, and so I found myself in the curious (and very unusual) position of leaving the house at 2145 to go out for the ‘evening’.  This just feels wrong!  A feeling which may have been compounded by the fact that I had earlier been to a matinée performance at the theatre (the aforementioned Tartuffe).  This movie was the second UK showing of “Dimensions” (the first was the day before), a microbudget movie set (and largely made) in Cambridge.  The lack of budget was not particularly obvious (I’m also not sure quite how small microbudget might be) and certainly the credits were as long as with a normal film, though an awful lot of the people mentioned did share the same surname (which might explain some of the budget savings).  The film was interesting and entertaining – and I notice that the folk of Cambridge in the 20s and 30s were significantly more attractive and better-dressed than they are today – though I did manage to guess most of the major plot twists rather early on (I feel the opening credits give too much away).

My final film was “Midnight in Paris” – Woody Allen’s latest offering – which I absolutely loved.  The film was great fun, everything ended as it should and the music was wonderful.  I was also left with a very strong need to visit Paris again – and overheard conversations on leaving the cinema suggest the Paris tourist industry will do rather well out of the movie – though I think I may wait for the Spring-time (yes, I am a slave to cliché).

I must say that I rather enjoyed my flick-fest – and have resolved to see the inside of the cinema more often in future.  This coming week I think I shall go to see the new take on Tinker, Tailor etc – and I hope that the cinema will be offering stoned fruit (by which I mean fruit that bears a stone, rather than a drug-addled homosexual) so that the audience can join in – or perhaps I should bring my own plums to be sure.

Ah, I suppose you’ll be wondering about the title.

** Spoiler Alert **

The phrase came to me while watching Dimensions in a scene involving a wheelbarrow (and temptation) and I loved it so much that I just had to use it.  I think it may be the title for my much anticipated autobiography – a searing exposé of my life and loves.  It is only waiting on the 6+ figure advance – and, for the avoidance of doubt, all of those figures should lie to the left of the decimal point and should be in base 10 (or higher).

One Man’s Meat

I found myself musing on the subject of anthropophagy.  It is normally opined, I trust by those who have not attempted the practice, that people taste somewhat like pork – or perhaps chicken (as all unsampled or unusual meats are posited to share that particular flavour).  On my, thankfully, rare visits to crematoria, the bereaved have never been assaulted by the aroma of roasting pork – but I put this down to the very high temperatures used in the process or to well designed ventilation systems, rather than taking this as evidence to contradict the common view.

It struck me, though, that if one were to sample the lower leg – and in particular the gastrocnemius and/or soleus – then it should more properly taste like veal.

To save you recourse to Google (NRTB) – and the risk of providing further aggrandisement to that corporation – I should point out that the gastroc and soleus are the two main muscles of the human calf.

If anyone is unfamiliar with NRTB (hard to believe perhaps, but like St Luke’s gospel this blog aims for universality), may I refer you to the housekeeper in Jill’s Gymkhana (and subsequent tales about young Ms Crewe – at whom you no longer need to change for Holyhead, ever since electrification back in 1974).

Hand waving

As I must have alluded to at least once, I am a lapsed pure mathematician – or, if not lapsed, then certainly very rusty.  When I was a proper mathematician (i.e. my numerator was smaller than my denominator), we used the phrase “hand waving” to describe the sort of proofs that other lesser disciplines (i.e. all of them) present to justify their theorems and pronouncements.  I think the idea is that if they wave their hands about enough, they will distract the audience who will then fail to notice the logical flaws, hidden assumptions and wild guesswork upon which they are relying (a form of logical legerdemain).

One of the reasons for my choice of mathematics as a degree subject (possibly the most significant reason) was the absence of any need to write essays or the like.  With maths, either you can produce the answer or you can’t – there is no point (or indeed, way) to write a 40 page essay dancing around the fact that you don’t know the answer in the hope of bamboozling whoever set the question.  As a result, I find it particularly distressing that a bunch of very senior mathematicians have been forced to put pen to paper (rather than chalk to board, or pencil to paper) and write an open letter to the PM bemoaning the current funding of mathematics at the post-doctoral level.

It would seem that the EPSRC – the main funding body – is only providing support to two areas of study (of which more later) which may lead to many young mathematicians fleeing the country to more supportive domains (perhaps those that permit unique factorisation?).  These decisions would also seem to have been made without consulting the maths community – so were presumably made entirely on the basis of hand waving (at best).  I do wonder if those poor unfortunates who run the EPSRC, and who failed to make it in the highest of all disciplines, are seeking revenge on their betters.

I suppose mathematics must be seen as a pretty soft target for cuts.  It seems unlikely that the public will rise as one (or if so, quite literally in that only one will rise) to fight for maths in the way they might for libraries, hospitals or the countryside.  I fear too many harbour traumatic experiences with maths from their schooldays, and never made it to the sunlit uplands of higher mathematics where there is beauty and elegance to rival any work of art or landscape.  Marcus de Sautoy has been doing his best – but he just doesn’t have the flowing locks of Brian Cox (yes, I promised you poetry – and, here at last is a bit of rhyme!).

What’s that Sooty?  Which two areas are still being funded?  Well, as you asked so nicely I’ll tell you;  the EPSRC is only funding the areas of statistics and applied probability.  I sense a, not very well, hidden agenda here.

  • Statistics is the primary method by which our government seeks to communicate its ‘successes’ to (and hide its failures from) the public.  It looks as though we are continuing to fund new ways for our masters to lie more effectively to us – to paraphrase Benjamin Disraeli rather freely and let’s face it, I think politicians passed beyond damned lies some time ago (though there is no proof that BD ever made his most famous quote).
  • I would paraphrase applied probability as the study of gambling.  So I assume that George Osborne is planning to put a pretty big wager on the gee-gees, or perhaps on a spin of the roulette wheel, as his only hope of reducing the deficit. Perhaps I should share with him my long-held thought that, if probability theorists are that good and really know how to gamble successfully, why do they still need grant funding?

So, I am unconvinced that the funding of lying and gambling is where I’d place my mathematical priorities  – but I can certainly see the appeal to the political elite.  Or, perhaps being more charitable (which given the cuts we will all need to be) they are not hand waving but drowning.

All loves excelling

A week or so back, I had the pleasure of being invited to a friend’s solo exhibition at an art gallery in Deptford (feel free to view her website).  Amazing, huh? I have somehow managed to acquire and maintain friends who have real talent.  Sadly for you, none of them has proved willing to ghost write this blog and so you are stuck with me.

Over the course of the evening, I bought a couple more artworks – to grace the walls at Fish Towers and give the, entirely inaccurate, impression that I am a man of taste (and not just any taste, but good taste) and discernment – and also partook of some wine, some (OK, lots of) delicious Indian nibbles and lashings of conversation (it is high time the word ‘lashings’ was freed from its bondage to ‘ginger beer’ and allowed to associate with a wider circle of nouns).

One of my many conversations was with a young classicist – and what a joy that such people exist in this day and age!  I’m not sure what it will do for his job prospects, but just knowing he exists makes me feel the world is a slightly better place.  The conversation taught me that I had read rather more of the output of the classical world than is required to complete a degree in classics, but that my selections were from the rather duller canon of ancient Greece and Rome.  There was also, it would seem, no shame to reading them in translation.  So, I must add Homer (d’oh – still not a female deer, what was Julie Andrews thinking?) and Virgil (of the Aeniad rather than Thunderbird 2 fame) to my reading list.

I think the combination of wine, spicy food and ancient Greece must have had a rather curious effect on my sub- or un-conscious.  The following day, I found my mind wandering to the rather poor husband that Almighty Zeus made for his long-suffering wife – or at least poor in respect to marital fidelity, he may have been great with the toilet seat and DIY for all I know (though I don’t recall any mention of Olympus being wall-to-wall MDF and rag-rolling).  There is plenty of mention of his penchant for a bit of mortal ‘skirt’ and his wooing methods were far from commonplace.  With Europa and Leda, it was more animal husbandry than a traditional date – arriving as he did in the form of a white bull and swan respectively.  I can only assume he was possessed of some serious divine charm to overcome such an unpromising start to a tryst – or perhaps he tackled Europa as he might a china shop (I suppose it may be hard to say No to the King of the Gods).  Danaë though faced the strangest seduction, tackled by Zeus while in the form of a shower of gold – real gold I think, rather than the less pleasant (though admittedly cheaper) liquid used in the more modern take on golden showers.  Still, it seemed to work as a while later Perseus was brought forth into the world; his conception is still remembered through the naming of the Perseid shower of meteors which strike the earth each summer (or so I fondly imagine).

Say what you like about Zeus as a lover, at least the girls knew they’d been tupped by a god.   He could also bring his own white, feathered wings to the party when required – just ask Leda.  Since their glory days in the years BCE, Zeus and his kin have been dethroned and a new God has taken over responsibility for the Greeks (and many others besides) – but the new boy is no match for Zeus between the sheets.  My limited grasp of theology suggests that the current God serving Greece has only put one lass in the ‘family way’ and she didn’t even know she’d been tupped until he sent a winged lackey to let her know after the ‘event’.  Loath as I am to say this, God does seem to be a lousy lay – it’s hard to argue with the evidence, though perhaps the fact he is cursed with omnipresence might be considered extenuating circumstances.  The poor chap is not just in bed with his chosen paramour but with everyone else too – and stuck on the delayed 1517 to Norwich, in the canned goods aisle in Tesco in Rotherham and everywhere else for that matter.  I have always felt sorry for the poor Queen stuck watching the Royal Variety Performance (among other arcane forms of torture we inflict on our monarchy) but that’s as nothing to the tedium the omnipresent face.  So, let’s all spare a thought for the omnipresent – the poor wretches are having to watch me type (and edit) this nonsense for a start (and you thought it was bad just reading it!).

The title, whilst perhaps being more obviously linked to Zeus in the context of this post, was in fact written about his successor by Charles Wesley – who, I suspect, was taking a rather broader view of what is represented by ‘love divine’.

The Great Fire of Sawston

Evidence over the last 24 hours has once again demonstrated that I would make a very poor witness – unless my feet committed the crime (and they are generally pretty law abiding, so far as I know).

Yesterday evening I went to the theatre (again! What am I like?) in darkest W11 (and not the WW1 seaplane of that name).  ‘Twas a bit of a challenge reaching London as, for the second of three attempted journeys to the capital by our hero in the last month, the overhead lines were down in the vicinity of Sawbridgeworth (I’m still unsure why that particular Hertfordshire town is so inimical to the survival of catenary power lines).  Foolishly, after the departure of Hurricane Katia, I had failed to check that the power was still on – and so arrived at the station en vélo to discover a distinct dearth of trains.  I cycled back home to discover, from the NXEA website, that trains were about to re-start, so pedalled back to the station again (this rail travel certainly keeps you fit!).  A train did, indeed, arrive but the driver was very unsure how far south he would be able to go – and initially only promised Audley End.  However, fortune favours the brave and we did in fact make it all the way – if a little slower than timetabled.

The play, “Wittenberg”, at the Gate Theatre was very good – and my second play of the summer to include Dr Faustus (though no-one has suggested that last night’s playwright had penned any of the works usually attributed to Shakespeare: possibly as he is still in his 40s).  The Gate is slightly basic as a theatre – and so no ice cream (or anything else) on offer in the interval and whilst it is directly above a good pub, the pub was closed for refurbishment (a chap could start to think that it’s not his day!).  A tarte au citron flavoured yoghurt from M&S made a somewhat acceptable substitute – and its 225 calories ensured that my blood-sugar levels did not fall dangerously low during the second half (or should that be act?).

NXEA did mange to return me home – through the badlands of Sawbridgeworth – with only a relatively mild delay so I could collect my bicycle and return home.  I did notice that an area of the road outside the police station and another a little beyond my house were rather wet – though it didn’t seem to have rained elsewhere – but thought nothing of it and, after parking my trusty steed, went to bed (oddly, that mention of steed does make me realise that the bowler hat would make a rather fine choice of millinery for the stylish cyclist).

This morning I wandered about the house as usual, nipped into the garden to gather some herbs, and later passed through the garden again to un-park my bike ready to go into town.  My errands completed, I returned home some hours later – and the mystery of the wet patches of road was explained to me by a neighbour.

Last night as I was travelling home, my neighbour noticed a dim orange glow in one of the gardens that lie behind the extensive parklands that gird Fish Towers.  This was originally thought to be a garden lantern, but luckily she noticed that it had waxed somewhat brighter a little later in the evening.  This led to the discovery that the glow came from a large fir tree that was burning with some vigour – and within a very few minutes had transformed into the arboreal equivalent of a towering inferno.  You may think that I exaggerate, but the Fire Brigade (called in from Cambridge) could see it from several miles away as they raced towards Sawston in a bid to save the village from destruction (OK, maybe I am over-egging the risk to the village a tad).  It could not be determined in which garden the tree resided, and so the fire brigade climbed over my neighbour’s back fence with their hoses – hence one area of wet road, and the police station is the nearest hydrant which explains the other.  It would seem that I had missed the departing fire engine by only seconds as I regained my home.  Still, the excitement did help to put train trouble, pub closure and lack of an ice-cream in perspective – with hind-sight (nothing to do with a deer, a female deer: apparently), I chose a jolly good evening to be away from home.

How I failed to notice the massive, charred and blackened skeleton of the tree on the many occasions I looked in its direction during the morning is somewhat of a mystery to me (I can just about be excused last night as it was dark).  I have only recently visited an optician and my prescription is fully up-to-date – so I can only conclude that my powers of observation are virtually nil.  As a result, I would strongly recommend that no-one ever tries to call me as an eye-witness or invite me to join their team in a competitive match of Kim’s Game (not yet, so far as I know, an Olympic sport – but surely it can only be a matter of time).

I do wonder if this was a message from on high – He does have form with burning vegetation as a method of communication.  Just to be on the safe side, I am going to make a determined effort to pay slightly more attention to my surroundings in future – and will try to tear my eyes away from my feet (gorgeous though they may be), though this could lead to an increased trip hazard, every once in a while.

For any doubters, I shall try and obtain a photo of the conflagration and add it to this post…

Staff room

I passed a (relatively) smart hotel in Cambridge earlier today and noticed an advertisement for one of its services.  It seems that when you stay at this particular hostelry, there is a safe place to leave your gentleman’s gentleman (or manservant, if you will) when you do not require his services.

However, if you have also brought a more menial servant with you, there seems no equivalent stabling option.  Presumably, your more lowly staff must fend for themselves, 0r run amok through the streets of the city.  When will a hotel finally offer varlet parking for their wealthier (and somewhat archaic) clientele?

I know!  But it wouldn’t fit within 142 characters…

Character investment

I could so easily use this title as an excuse to rant about the soul-less corporations (though, that may be tautology as my limited theology would suggest that all corporations lack souls) that buy up the rights to much loved characters from book, stage or screen.  This process seems particularly prevalent with those characters that we first meet in childhood – perhaps because in this arena we are must vulnerable to the limited wiles of the commercially obsessed.  The characters once sold into corporate slavery are then ruthlessly de-based and re-purposed to meet the imputed tastes or needs of a modern audience.  It is perhaps ironic that such ruthless exploitation produces such a ruthful result.

My own personal bugbear (not intended as a pun but I’ll take what I can get!) is the Disney corporation’s treatment of the works of A A Milne.  For me, Winnie the Pooh and his limited circle of friends will always be as they appear in the books, illustrated in pen-and-ink by E H Shepard – or perhaps as water-coloured (though for me, still in black and white) for Jackanory in the Willie Rushton narration of my youth (though, for younger readers, Mr Rushton may be replaced by Alan Bennett).  I have even been to the bridge in the Ashdown Forest and cast my own wooden offering upon the waters (must be a -mancy of some sort I’m sure.  Lignomancy?).  However, these whimsical tales were not enough for their new corporate masters – they must be transposed to North America with a lurid colour-palette (our poor hero is forced to wear a bright red jacket at all times: I presume that naked bears would be too much for the delicate sensibilities of our American cousins – though they don’t seem to clothe their own indigenous members of the family Ursidae).  It would also seem that Mr Milne wrote far too few stories, with an inadequate cast, and those he did write lack the excitement and drama which modern youth are being programmed to crave – but luckily this can all be fixed too.

There!  Told you it would be easy!

Equally, I could alude to the basis of the writing systems common in eastern Asia.  Many of these countries are described as having tiger economies, which I presume does not refer to their imminent risk of extinction but to some other aspect of tigerness (stripes?).  I could then segue from the writing to the suggestion that the associated economies are ripe for investment – or would be if they didn’t already have all our money (which we have swapped for the stuff we seem to need, but no longer make ourselves).

But no, that would just be another red herring or perhaps a smokescreen – or perhaps both, which would yield a red kipper or bloater given time.  No, at almost 500 words in, we finally reach the meat (and two veg) of the matter.

Over the weekend I was musing on what it is about certain characters in print, stage or screen which causes us (well, more specifically me – as I was the only one in the room at the time) to “invest” in them.  There are plenty of characters whose activities, thoughts or speech is entertaining, stimulating or interesting – and plenty more who drive you up the wall, fictitious though they may be.  Sometimes, it is the interactions between characters that excite the audience: for example, Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado.  While 400+ years have passed since the play was written, these two still seem to act as the archetypes for so many (much more poorly written) romantic comedies – though, if we all stopped writing if we couldn’t match the dazzling dialogue of old Bill S, then this blog for one would be an awful lot shorter!  I’m pretty sure I can’t write believable dialogue, I’m fairly sure I don’t even speak using it.  But there are a few characters where one goes further, and starts to care to a perhaps immoderate extent about them.   As I “met” two such characters over the weekend, I was set to wondering what it was about them that has this effect?  Could I identify any common elements or themes linking them?  At the risk of rendering the rest of this post redundant, you should prepare yourselves for disappointment now (look, I’m a consultant – I need to manage your expectations ahead of delivery.  By the way, that last sentence does yield a previously unrecognised link between my job and that of a midwife).

The first was the un-named (well, he probably is named, but his name is never revealed) principal protagonist of Mystery Man.  He does suffer from a wide range of mental and physical issues (only a few of which I share), has some pretty strong views (only some of which I might admit to supporting) and runs a bookshop (whereas I’m rather reluctant to let books go).  The second is Rory Williams, who travels in the Tardis as a sidekick (I think assistant may be the preferred nomenclature) to the Doctor, who is a nurse (but I dropped biology in the 3rd form) and sometime (plastic) Roman centurion (I’m way too young and my Latin too limited) and who seems a thoroughly decent (if slightly put-upon) chap married to a dishy red-head (aha – at last some common ground.  No, I am not secretly married to a dishy red-head before the rumours start – but I do appreciate the Titian-haired and am clearly a decent cove).  Why do these two characters appeal I wondered?  I was hoping to make some sort of reference to solipsism, and claim that they must (more than most fictional characters) represent some aspects of myself.  Rory is quite well-provided for nasally and the Mystery Man does have quite an obsession with books – but it’s not really looking a terribly water-tight case at this stage.  Perhaps instead they represent some sort of Platonic ideal to which I am aspiring.  Does this mean I should go and open a bookshop for Roman nurses (whilst trying to augment my current physical and mental frailties)?  It is all most perplexing.  I feel there is an important lesson to be learned here – but any insight remains (frustratingly) entirely out of sight.

I think it is time to broaden my scholarship.  I always quite fancied the trivium or quadrivium of the classical era and perhaps now is the time to tackle one or both (or should that be all seven?).