Now we are six

Well, we are as long as you consider our age modulo n (for suitable n) then we are six (obviously I am using the royal, or authorial, we here; there will be no republican micturition on this blog).

That’s right, yesterday the earth returned to broadly the same position relative to the sun as was the case on my release date (or “impact” date, as I believe it is now known in the music industry).  Given that this has now occurred on more occasions than I have fingers, I tend to largely ignore it – as evidence of which, I spent the whole of yesterday evening in a committee meeting (oh yes, I know how to have fun – I just chose not to).

The rest of yesterday was more fun (well, it would more-or-less have to be): a trip to the gym, a singing lesson in the Georgian splendour of New Square and a period instrument-based, baroque lunchtime concert from the Collegium Musicum under its leader, Maggie Faultless (which always strikes me as a very challenging name to live with).

As I cycled around, spring was in the air: snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils in bloom, and the birdies singing in the hope of love (though the skylarks seem to have been providing musical accompaniment to my peregrinations through most of the winter).  As well as the usual avian suspects, my inner twitcher was happy to spot a redwing and a yellowhammer.  My journeys to and from Cambridge now pass a brand new duck pond: complete with a growing complement of ducks.  I think this pond must be one of the more counter-intuitive consequences of the current severe drought: according to the local paper, even worse than 1976.

The fields to the east of Trumpington are being redeveloped to permit the construction of  an entire city’s worth of new housing.  A huge swathe has been stripped of vegetation and levelled (rather badly it would seem), and are now permanently covered in vast, shallow lakes of water (presumably from all the rain we aren’t receiving).  Potential buyers in Trumpington Meadows beware: I’d insist my new house was built on stilts, if I were you (if the site is this wet in what is alleged to be the driest year ever recorded, how deep will the water be in a normal year?).

In another field, a new lake or reservoir has been deliberately created by man – and this just about manages to maintain a little water in the bottom.  In the corner of the field next to this purpose-built lake, is a dip in the ground.  This has been permanently filled with deep water for months, and is now home to a thriving community of mallards.

It does make me wonder if the human race has even the vaguest idea how to collect rain water (or, indeed, to prevent its collection).  Perhaps the water companies should start hiring a few ducks…

Theology for today’s world

As many will know, I am quite the amateur theologian: boasting as I do a decent pass at “O” Level Religious Studies (and with some upcoming RS content in my OU course).  The “O” level focused on the gospel according to St Luke – and we were, of course, a good 1.5% closer to the events described back then.  It also covered sex and marriage – but as I have little practical interest in either exercise, I fear this knowledge may have somewhat withered over the years (I do have a vague recollection that the sequencing of the two activities was considered quite important).

Anyway, to return to the stories of the well-known first century (AD or CE, as you prefer) conjurer and raconteur.  I seem to recall that he instructed his top followers to become “fishers of men” – and earlier today, I did find myself wondering how well this would play to a modern-day, European audience.  Would they expect the disciples to be required to adhere to strict quotas?  Worse, would they have to throw the small ones back?  And, as a fan of both the albatross and dolphin, what about the bycatch?

I think modern translations should either avoid the fishing metaphor altogether, or be very clear about the importance of “line and pole” sustainable techniques in the harvesting of humanity.

Platinoids

I realise the International Year of Chemistry is now over but, after hearing several programmes with Professors Tony Ryan and/or Andrea Sella in recent weeks, it is my considered opinion that every year should be both international and about chemistry.  As my modest contribution, I thought I’d introduce a couple of the members of the Platinoids to a wider audience.

The Saturday before last, I visited the Gallery of the Courtauld Institute, home to one of the largest collections of Cézanne’s work in the UK, which allowed me to do a little bit of homework for my Open University course.  Oh yes, I have managed to convert part of my OU coursework into the I-Spy Book of Cézanne and so am educating myself and dumbing down at one and the same time!   Splendidly, my membership of the Art Fund allowed me to enter the gallery for nowt.  Less splendidly, my mobile phone tried to auto-correct nowt to Moët when I tried to update my Facebook status with this breaking news – clearly a soft, southern device with champagne tastes.

To reach the gallery, I had to walk from Embankment tube station (as a result of planned engineering work) and passed along the side of Somerset House facing the river.  This was a bit of a struggle as the whole area had been taken over by London Fashion Week.  The place was heaving with people who looked as though they had dressed in the dark, surrounded by more normally dressed men carrying vast quantities of photographic equipment (and, in many cases, short step-ladders – it’s tragic how many ladders come from broken homes).  I have never been “papped” so often over the space of 5 minutes – though I’m sure I will be cropped from all the pictures, quick and lively.

Amidst this hurly-burly was a temporary structure, which I presume contained a catwalk (or similar), that proudly claimed to be sponsored by the International Palladium Board. As I’m sure you all know, the group 10 metal has its primary use in the catalytic converters fitted to motor vehicles – important for pollution control, but hardly high fashion.  I was thus at a loss to know how the IPB hoped to benefit from their largesse.  Upon my return from town, I was forced to seek out the IPB website to try and discover their angle: apparently, platinum jewellery is so last year and the well dressed fashionista should be wearing palladium (well, according to the IPB – who may not be entirely reliable as a source).   It may also help that palladium is only a fraction of the cost of platinum (or, indeed, gold) at present – however, I should warn you that as it can discolour above 400ºC and reacts with concentrated nitric acid it may not be the ideal choice for the chemistry teacher in your life (though, I suspect that chemistry lessons today are much less exciting than in the days of my youth).

Whilst listening to the triumphant return of Shaun W Keaveny from his break, I heard a name check for another platinoid in the music news.  Mineral extraction has not been a major theme of the rock or pop world in recent years (only Clementine and Big Bad John sprang to my mind – both of which are recent only in the geological sense), but the latest release from the Arctic Monkeys may be set to rectify this lack.  I believe their new song is about quarrying for Ruthenium – or so I assume as is is entitled Ru mine.  I’ll be interested to find what they’ve found to rhyme with Ruthenium – if you exclude other chemical elements, my rhyming dictionary only offers proscenium, so I’d be looking to introduce a theatrical reference myself (palladium would have made this so much easier…).

I bet we all wish I could have found a way to fit the RU Mine “gag” into 140 characters, but as I couldn’t we all had to endure more than 600 words.  Perhaps I should launch an appeal to fund a course in précis for the author?

Give us this day our daily…

No, not the Telegraph but bread.  Though perhaps given the Torygraph’s increasingly surreal campaign to rescue the country from unbelievers (I’m not entirely sure how a distant ancestor’s transgression against the morality of today – though, not curiously of the Bible, which is somewhat pro-slavery in some of its older tracts – should affect anyone’s authority) perhaps the Lord’s Prayer will be adjusted in gratitude.

I had a guest staying at Fish Towers last night and, under these circumstances, I offer a very full service, including dinner, bed and breakfast and full use of wifi (though, I do lack cruet or a trouser press, which I fear would rob me of that all important fifth star).  As part of this award-winning package (warning: may not have won an award), I offered to provide fresh bread for breakfast this morning to be produced by my Panasonic Bread Machine (famed in song and story, or at least in GofaDM posts).  A vote was taken, and it was decided to produce ciabatta – permitting the first ever use of the Italian “programme”.  We arose this morning to extract the results, and then consume them – however, we were in for quite a surprise!

It doesn’t look like any ciabatta I’ve ever seen before!  It was also dramatically larger than any previous loaf made with the same quantity of ingredients – so might would be quite a good option for those on a diet, as presumably a significant proportion of each slice is zero-calorie air.  It tasted perfectly good, though I can’t say it hugely reminded me of Italy…

After breakfast, a little singing practice for me – with my guest providing piano accompaniment.  This led to a discussion about my future singing career, and the inadvisability of joining a male voice choir.  Given my Welsh ancestry and our earlier breakfast loaf, this talk reminded me of that fine hymn which is popularly known as “Bread of Heaven”, and which I have always thought of as hailing from the Principality (and, so indeed it does, being penned by one William Williams in Welsh).  To check both the words (English) and its more traditional title of “Guide me, O Though great Jehovah”, I grabbed my Hymn Book from its place in the bookcase.  Worryingly, I could remember that it was hymn number 410 which we were interested in – quite impressive as the book was commissioned on 27 January 1981 (I know as it says so on the inside cover)and has not been used since 1984.

“Hymns of Faith” offers an interesting window into the thinking of the teenaged Fish (late of 4 Swale).  It would seem that the early 1980s were dark times, with hymn book theft rife in north Kent.  As a result, my name is inscribed along the bottom and right-hand edges, the inside covers (both front and back) and a number of other places throughout the work.  Indeed, so often does my name appear that it threatens to out-number the references to the Lord Him- (or Her-) self contained with its 659 hymns.  Still, my security conscious approach (along with its covers being protected by clear sticky-backed plastic applied by my mother) have paid off, as I still have the book in near mint condition some 31 years later!

The book is also stamped “Property of Borden School” (though a mere twice) which does leave me to wonder if I was supposed to have returned it when I left back in 1984.  Ah well, they’ve survived without it for 31 years (which I think gives me squatters’ rights), so I think I should be in the clear, in this life at least, on the basis of the Statute of Limitations (however, I may have to face some rather pointed questions from St Peter before I am allowed to pick up my wings and harp).

Mimi

I have made no secret of my preference for using my velocipede for journeys where at all possible and, where the distance is too great, to let the train take the strain.  I can and do drive, but I’d really rather not: I view it as pain rather than pleasure.  I fear my car leads a life of disappointment – or it would if it were both capable of feeling and disliked a life of enforced idleness.

I cycle through most weather conditions, but there are three exceptions where a desire for self preservation drives me to give my car a treat (and I don’t mean a finger of fudge):

  • I won’t cycle in lightning as the relatively thin rubber of my tyres would offer little disincentive for any bolt of lightning desirous of treating the Fish/bicycle combo as a short cut to earth.  (I also worry that I may have offended Almighty Zeus, and I don’t want to present too tempting a target).
  • Wind gusting much above 40mph is no friend to the cyclist.  Heading into such wind is hard work (but I do not fear hard work, I merely choose to avoid it), but the main threat is the crosswind when any errant gust can significantly shift one’s course in a perilous manner.
  • The last of the unholy trinity is sheet ice, where two narrow wheels do not suffice to keep one upright.   Snow, on the other hand, is more friendly and offers decent traction.

When the mercury falls below 0ºC, even without ice, there is a major problem for the cyclist (or at least for this cyclist).  I find it relatively easy to keep the main part of my body warm: like an egg farm, multiple layers is the best solution.  A similar approach can keep the feet free from frostbite – a couple of layers of thick socks coupled with shoes and overshoes is sufficient for almost any conditions likely to be found in South Cambs.  However, I find that it’s my hands – and especially my fingers – that are the problem.  I have tried gloves alleged to protect me at very low temperatures, I have even tried these gloves worn inside another pair of very thick gloves (purchased for a trip to Iceland – and we’re not talking the frozen food store here) – but still my fingers freeze.  This is not much fun, but the real pain really comes when they warm up again later.

The fingers suffer as they are exposed not only to the ambient temperature but also to 15-30mph of wind chill: the combined effect of any actual wind and my own forward velocity.  In gloves, each finger is separated from its fellows, so they don’t even have the option of huddling together for warmth – and I don’t think mittens would provide sufficient control of my steed to be a viable option (nor would they be consistent with my trendy image).  However, I feel there must be a solution out there somewhere – or am I doomed forever to echo the words of the diminutive heroine of La Bohème on frosty rides?  (You may dispute that my hands are tiny, but they are certainly frozen.)

The folk of Scandinavia have always struck me as rugged, outdoorsy types (oh yes, I’m not afraid of broad generalisations based on nationality) and they have much lower winter temperatures than do we molly-coddled denizens of southern England – who, let’s face it, collapse in a blue funk at the first hint of a snowflake.  Surely, they must have found an answer to sub-zero cycling without frozen fingers?  Or is their solution just to drive or ski?  Perhaps the problem is with me rather than the gloves?  Do I just have poor circulation (a condition I share with so many newspapers), with my blood strangely reluctant to enter my fingers?

So many questions… presumably to be followed by Many Answers presented (no doubt) by a Dimbleby.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back onto the Axminster

I was referring to Mr Collins’ masterwork to trace the etymology of the word booty – in the sense of the pillage rather than rape phase of piratical action.  If you’re interested, it comes from an old Norse word meaning exchange or barter.

Anyway, on my way to this epiphany another definition caught my eye.  This was for the carpet shark – an absolute terror in the shag pile – duh-duh, duh-duh – many have lost a toe to its rapacious appetite.  OK, I’ll come clean – it has nothing to do with your twisted Wilton, but apparently its markings are reminiscent of carpet (then again, that could be true of almost any of God’s creatures given the variety of carpet designs available today).  However, it did make think about other predatory fish that may be infesting our flooring.  I’m now worrying about the parquet piranha and the linoleum lion fish.  I think I need some slippers with steel toecaps…

Scottish politics, again?!

I know.  If I love Scottish politics so much, why don’t I move there?  Well, I might – then you’ll be sorry, but not as sorry as the Scots.

Scottish independence has been much in the news, even this far south!  Before he went off for today’s love-in with M. Sarkozy, our own PM was even talking about it.  I don’t claim to follow the full range of arguments he marshalled but I do think he was suggesting that we would both be richer together than apart (this the day after he’d half-inched the Scottish idea for a minimum price for alcohol).  A recent visit to the National Museum of Scotland suggested that not much has changed in the last 300 odd years – being richer was reported as a primary driver from the Scottish side for union back in 1706 (the Darien expedition had not gone so well).

One of the options short of full independence is rather unattractively called Devo Max.  I assume this must be the calorie-free version of Devolution (there’s probably also a Diet Devo for the ladies).  Given the current obesity issues that are popularly supposed to afflict our Scottish brothers, I can certainly see that this might have some appeal for those north of the border.

The issue that the Greeks (and others) are having with a Euro whose value is set for the convenience of quite different economies is only too familiar to the Scots given the rather London-centric currency they have been stuck with for several centuries now (they do their best, poor lambs, by making their bank notes much more colourful – but I don’t think it’s really helping).  So, I presume the Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservative Party will be throwing their full weight behind Alex Salmond and his desire for freedom from remote government that doesn’t respect local customs and conditions.  I fear, however, that they will be of only limited assistance north of the border: the Poll Tax is still too fresh in Scottish minds (well, let’s face it if Bannockburn is still fairly fresh, and that was nearly 700 years ago).

My big question for the referendum is: who gets custody of Berwick?

Not a holiday

When I heard on this morning’s BBC 6Music News that Rupert Murdoch was heading for the sun, I did wonder why they thought I would care about the holiday plans of a billionaire media mogul.  This was but a fleeting thought, as I soon realised that I should have been thinking of the Sun with a capital “S”.

It has been alleged that various current and ex-employees of this less than august (July?) organ of the fourth estate have been bribing public officials.  This is, of course, very naughty – a fact that has certainly been rammed home to me.

You may recall the first attempt by my employers to inculcate some basic ethics in the author, and his irritation therewith.  Well, as previously noted, once you have given in to bullies or blackmailers you are never free of their grip.  As a result, I was eventually (when final demand emails began arriving) forced to take their anti-bribery “training”.  It is good to know that my employers continue to think of me as a sociopath with the intellectual capacity of the none-too-bright, but much-loved family pet.

As before, I thought it hard to imagine anyone would believe that bribing a public official (either directly or indirectly) was a good idea when viewed from the legal perspective – but I was still required to work my way through a mass of case studies highlighting the bleeding obvious and then tests to see whether I had managed to take this precious information on-board – which, miraculously I had (in common with most bacteria taking the same test).  The majority of these case studies seemed to involve the corporate yacht – which I didn’t realise we had, and so I am now look forward to my maiden voyage!  (As long as you aren’t a public official, I’ll see if can wangle any of my readers an invite as my +n when my turn comes round.)  As with serial killers, who need a new kill ever sooner after each murder, I am already being bullied to take the next stage of this ethics “degree”.  At this rate of acceleration, by the end of the year my entire job will be taking ethics training.

I can only assume that News International lacks this obsession with its employees’ ethics – which may explain both their profitability and current legal troubles.  Then again, would ethics training have made much difference?  I’m sure that people working in Wapping have much the same idea of right and wrong as the rest of us.

Being a man of a somewhat cynical bent, I suspect that when the ants have taken over the earth (long after the human race has died out) their archeologists will discover that we saw the coming apocalypse, but that our response was to arrange for some serious box ticking, as protection against future legal troubles, coupled with a truly monumental series of meetings to discuss potential action.  These meetings will, of course, achieve nothing useful as making a decision could (a) leave you liable to later reproach (obviously, doing nothing would leave no-one able to sue), (b) put the meeting attendees out of a job and (c) inflame the ire of the apocalypse-deniers who had seized on a couple of typos in the screeds of papers written on the impending disaster.  As a result, all our paperwork will be beyond reproach, but as a species we will have done nothing useful to avert our doom.  Have I wandered into the realm of heavy-handed satire?  And so soon after denying I was Ben Elton…  Disappointing, Fish.  Very disappointing.

Boosting Arts Coverage

Whilst the author is a frequent visitor to events that would broadly fall under the umbrella of “The Arts”, their coverage within this blog falls short of the levels of illumination and insight which would be required if the broadsheet ambitions of GofaDM are to be achieved.  Indeed, it might be thought that analysis of the comfort of the seating and the quality of the interval snacks has been the dominant theme of the arts coverage heretofore.

Well, no more.  I am taking decisive action to improve the quality of the arts-based drivel which sometimes adorns this electronic publication.  No, I am not firing the current writer and hiring a new team (neither budget nor ego permit): GofaDM will continue to follow the British (rather than American) sitcom model, i.e. it will represent the flawed vision of a single auteur, rather than the carefully honed product of a team of skilled writers.  Instead, my chosen approach is to re-train the current writer to improve his critical skills in the sphere of the arts (I will then attempt to instruct an ancient canine in the art of prestidigitation).

As the first, and so far only, step in this bold new initiative I have just started a course with the Open University entitled “The Arts: Past and Present”, aka AA100 (so, I expect a 12-step plan to be involved – still, I think this post covers step 1).  This promises to hone my critical faculties over the coming months til they are sharp enough to split any passing breeze into its constituent zephyrs.

My new life as an (im)mature student has commenced with consideration of the representation of Cleopatra (VII, for the avoidance of doubt) through the ages, Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe and the art of Paul Cézanne.  I can later look forward to studying the immortal Sophocles, Josef Stalin and the role of the diva among many other topics (other peanut-based chocolate snacks are available).

For the first three subjects, I do have some “form” as I believe they say.  I have seen Anthony and Cleopatra staged twice – once with an all-male cast – and have read a range of history books covering the period.  As regular readers will know, I saw Dr Faustus only last summer  – so do know what happens.  This was just as well, as the set version of the text contains extensive notes which are rife with serious “spoilers” for anyone coming to the story afresh.  I’ve also been a fan of Cézanne’s work for a while, and have seen a number of exhibitions over the years – now, perhaps, I’ll know what I was looking at!

However, there is a major challenge coming with the first written assignments (or essays as we, less pretentiously, called them when I was at school).  The first two essays I am required to complete in no more than 500 words.  As should have become abundantly clear to even an occasional reader of this blog, I am not good at keeping it brief.  The last time I had to work within a 500 word limit was for the précis part of my English Language ‘O’ Level back in 1981 – and I had 30 years less junk cluttering up my cranium (and keen to escape onto the page) back then.  Perhaps it was this worry which caused me to turn up to my first tutorial exactly 24 hours late – not an entirely auspicious start, but I was absolutely convinced that 8 Feb was a Thursday.  Things, as one Anthony Aloysius Blair tried to convince us back in 1997, can only get better!  (Though in that specific case, the evidence is at best equivocal.)

Despite my brevity trepidation, the course has been great fun so far – and I have certainly found myself thinking very different thoughts as I wait to fall asleep of a night (rather a pleasant change from worrying about the future direction of electricity markets).  I fear post quality has yet to improve (or fall within a 500 word limit) but it’s still early days…

A little bit of politics

Fear not, I continue to eschew the shiny suit – and have yet to start work on a musical formed by linking together the songs of a long defunct, but once popular, beat combo using the minimum of plot.

While I was in Scotland last week, it became necessary for me to understand the detail of the voting system used for local government elections north of the border (you may like to consider it a form of weregild for my board and lodgings, as this is all the explanation I shall be offering).  You may recall that, last May, we Sassenachs were offered the chance to switch to a version of Proportional Representation.  I seem to remember that the forces of conservatism (with both a big and small C) opposed the change – and one of their primary arguments was that we, the electorate, were too thick to understand the proposed new system.  I can only assume that the Scots are made of much stronger intellectual material.

Their PR system is vastly more complicated than the very simple one proposed for England and Wales.  It took me a good 15 minutes to understand how it works – the basic principles were laid out on www.aboutmyvote.co.uk but it was rather sketchy on some of the key details (where, as we all know, the devil lies – though, given just one of his titles, I believe the devil lies pretty much everywhere).  Fortunately, perusal of the detail of the actual results and nine rounds of iteration taken to elect the councillors for one particular ward back in 2007 did help to fill in the gaps in my understanding.  I suspect I am now one of only a tiny band of individuals who actually understand how the electoral process for Scottish local government works – and I’m available for consultancy at a very reasonable rate.  Trust me, you don’t want to be attempting tactical use of your franchise without at least a decent first degree in Mathematics (and some legal training)!

Whilst on the subject of politics, in my continued attempts to support my local library I am currently reading Shirley Williams’ autobiography.  This is a rather good read, and does show the rather cyclical nature of both history and politics (even within a single lifetime).  She is also one of those annoying over-achievers who make the rest of us feel hopelessly inadequate – I fear she had fit in far more living before leaving school than I will in my entire lifetime (unless the singularity arrives pretty soon – and perhaps not even then).  I really must try harder…