Christmas Cards

It is that time of year when any parents of younger children will have the joy of the Nativity Play coming up shortly – or the more culturally-neutral modern equivalent.  The most recent such theatrical presentation I saw (albeit in video form) seemed to have re-focused the traditional story to place the donkey centre-stage.  Rather ass about upside, if you ask me.

This led me to the realisation that cribbage (or crib, if you prefer) would be the perfect card game to enjoy this Yuletide.  Not only do we have the consonance with the ickle baby Jesus, but scoring points for his nob chimes nicely with the spirit of Panto!

Every action has an equal and opposite distraction

Which could well stand as a motto for this blog, or indeed my life.  Many will recognise that I am mis-quoting Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion – though that assumes I am referring to Sir Isaac rather than Kirsty when I mention Newton.  Am I right in thinking that Sir Isaac is the only physicist with a biscuit named after him?  I recognise that the Chocolate Cox could be problematic, but the Lord Kelvin Crunch sounds rather good.

Tuesday night I was in London with what remains of Mitch Benn at the monthly Distraction Club – perhaps a dangerous choice of event for me, given my existing proclivities in that direction.  However, to make the most of my One Day Travelcard before heading towards music and comedy (and, dare I say it, their juxtaposition) I took in some art at the Royal Academy.  I do find that a mixture of Degas, Russian Constructivism and John Maine RA is the perfect aperatif to a night with Mitch and friends, don’t you?

I failed to spot any celebs at the RA this time, but thereafter went to an Italian restaurant, used as the venue for an interview in the RA Magazine, and I think I may have struck pay dirt there.  I say ‘may’ as the chap sitting next to me at the bar (not an alcoholic one nor, as the Degas reference may have suggested, a barre), watching the very ordered running of the kitchen at Bucco di Lupo, seemed very familiar.  Now, that could just mean I’ve seen him in Waitrose or the gym – but I was in Soho and he was intermittently reading a script, so I think he was probably a famous young actor (though I have no idea as to his name).  Still, I think it counts in my attempts to capture some of the Heat “readership” for GofaDM.  You will be pleased to know that the food was excellent – and I believe both very authentic and well-reviewed by the professionals – and suitable fortification for the comedy that was to come.

As a result of the unique way in which our railways have been underfunded for decades, I only caught the first two-thirds of the Distraction Club.  Had I stayed any longer, my journey time back to Cambridgeshire would have extended from around an hour to nearly four – which I think would have made it slower than the days when horses were still the only form of traction  (I know Stagecoach provide the local buses, but I wasn’t expecting the name to be taken quite so literally).  It may be that the NXEA website was wrong, or perhaps we would be pushing the bus replacement from Bishops Stortford, but on a school night I decided against taking the risk.

Nevertheless, the DC was an excellent night out.  I must have seen at least 8 acts (which makes it less than a quid an act) combining music and comedy in the basement of a Cask-Marqued pub a few feet from Oxford Circus.  Even with the rail fare, it was still cheaper than going to see a comic at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge – and with better beer on offer!  And, of course, you get to see Mitch Benn and the Distractions – though I have never seen less of Mitch, not as a result of a pillar or any other obstruction but because he has managed to lose an impressive amount of weight.  He looked positively svelte!  The gig, with its seasonal theme, made even me, a man much taken with both bars and humbugs (though I could be tempted by a mint imperial too), feel a wee bit Christmassy!

It’s no Cricklewood

In this blog, I have tried to give readers brief vignettes of life in the high water mark of early 21st century civilisation that is Sawston.  However, my current reading has brought into sharp focus how far I have yet to go.

I have heard it said (probably via Malcolm Gladwell) that 10,000 hours of commitment is needed before any skill can be considered mastered.  This blog has yet to achieve 10,000 elapsed hours – and only a tiny fraction of those can be considered “CPU time” – so I fear you will have a long wait, but it has also been said (this time by Robert Louis Stevenson) that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive – which may offer some crumb of comfort.  However, I notice that this post seems to have turned into an episode of “Quote, Unquote”, so let me try and wrest it back on track.

I have borrowed The Cricklewood Tapestry by Alan Coren from the Central library.  Avid readers might wonder why I have not turned to Sawston library for my reading matter given my previous writings on the importance of (not just being Ernest, but also) supporting your local facilities: well, I will tell you (and them).  Sawston library was recently closed for a week while it was automated.  No longer do you hand your book or books to a nice lady to have them checked in or out: you now do all of this yourself using a machine (though the nice lady is still there to prevent anarchy).  I presume the machine must have been very successful (at least in its checking-out mode) as the number of books within the library seems to have declined quite dramatically around the time of its installation.  Either that or the heating has failed and the remaining human staff have been forced to burn the books to keep warm.  I suppose I should view the new robot librarian as a positive commitment to the future of Sawston library, though I can’t help feeling that this is somewhat balanced by the disappearance of so many of the books (that many, myself included, would view as a rather critical element of the whole library concept).

Anyway, I have allowed myself to, once again, become distracted (and to split an infinitive in a most egregious manner).  The late, great Mr Coren wrote extensively throughout his career about the North London suburb of Cricklewood.  As a result, Cricklewood looms large in my (and probably the collective) unconscious – a stature it shares with, for example, Mornington Crescent – but which is probably quite at odds with the reality “on the ground”.  This is down to the skill and wit of the sainted Alan’s writings, and reading them has made me realise just how far I have to go if Sawston is ever to take its rightful place in the British psyche.  I suppose The Times may also have given him access to a rather larger readership than I suspect this blog is yet achieving – but I’m not looking for excuses.  While I have found it safest to read The Cricklewood Tapestry at home, as the outbursts of spontaneous laughter it engenders can cause one to be viewed askance if they occur “in public”, I doubt public perusal of GofaDM would give any such cause of concern.

Still, perhaps fresh exposure to a master of the genre of spinning the minor events of quotidien existence into comedy gold will lead to some improvement, so that I might achieve an incondign mastery of the blog-form before the last of my un-dyed hair turns grey.  Either that, or you should come back in a couple of decades and hope that Mr Gladwell was right!

Oh, Roger!

I am well known as a tennis pundit – well, I am to those lucky listeners to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire one afternoon 3 or 4 years ago who heard me correctly predict the results of both Wimbledon Singles Finals.  Sadly, I didn’t have sufficient confidence in my punditry to back it financially, so I’m still “working” for “the man”.  It is in my role as a tennis expert that I have noticed, with the exception of the recent ATP Masters, Roger Federer seems to have become somewhat estranged from his winning ways of late.  Younger, more poorly dressed whipper-snappers have kept him from winning tournaments – or even reaching the finals.

Given the fairly generous prize money paid out for winning major tennis tournaments, and his extraordinarily successful career, I had assumed that Mr F would not be short of a bob or two.  Certainly, I am always mystified by those who go on to earn their second (or, indeed, nth million for any n>1) – as I’d be quite happy to stop and take life easy after (or, if I’m being honest, probably well before) making my first million (be it in GBP, USD or EUR).  However, recent events suggest that Roger may be on his uppers.

Over the weekend, I happened to see some sort of advertisement broadcast by one of our many commercial television providers (I never hear these presentations, well not while I am within easy reach of the Mute button).  This starred the Swiss tennis ace, who seemed to be leaving on a jet plane to destination unknown.  The little vignette focused on the scanning of his hand luggage prior to moving on to the departure gate.  His hand luggage was a rather large sports bag (rather larger than I would try and sneak through as hand luggage) and the X-ray scan results showed it to be puzzlingly packed with small spheres.  On visual inspection, his only item of hand luggage was discovered to be packed with small spherical chocolates from one of Switzerland’s larger commercial chocolatiers.

Now, I will admit that my hand luggage is usually partly filled with food – in case I become peckish mid-flight – but I would normally have a greater variety of healthier options and would also have at least a book and MP3 player to keep myself amused during my confinement.  Perhaps, Mr F was expecting a very serious case of the munchies?  Though frankly, I think he has gone beyond the munchies and moved into the territory of serious addiction – and were he to consume the lot, he would not be moving around the court with his customary grace in future.  No, I am forced to assume that he has taken to chocolate smuggling to make ends meet.  Indeed, he used some of his contraband to “bribe” the two female customs officials to allow him to proceed.

Have other tennis stars of yesteryear also been forced to turn to a life of crime?  Certainly, no others have been foolish enough to be filmed “in the act” to my knowledge.  Will Andy Murray be caught smuggling haggis to the USA (where it is banned) in the future?  Aren’t we failing as a society if our über-rich tennis players are reduced to the role of food mules to keep the wolf from the door?  Some sort of appeal or bail-out is surely in order?  We found the money to keep our bankers in champagne and Porsches (not at the same time, this blog does not encourage drink-driving), surely we can do the same for tennis players?  After all, they’ve provided a lot more entertainment and pleasure.

Talking of financial rescues, I wondered if the French, Belgian (subject to its availability) or UK governments would help Stena Line if it found itself in trouble.  The idea of bailing out the ferries is rather pleasing.