I like to imagine that I am lacking something, the imagination perhaps, to form a proper addiction.  After coming to it late, I did wonder if I was addicted to alcohol as I used to consume it on a relatively frequent basis.  However, a few years back I realised that I had inadvertently gone eight weeks without touching the demon drink, which I think rather precludes it being an addiction.

I have recently been somewhat addicted to the television series Being Human, and in particular its recent, triumphant fourth series.  However, I think this can probably be fairly readily explained by my strong association with the character of Hal.  I may not be a 500+ year old vampire with OCD (though some days I do wonder), but we do share a worrying number of other quirks and, in my book, any character that refuses to countenance living anywhere unless if can offer carpets, central heating and Radio 4 can’t be all bad.  I did worry about his listening to You and Yours to keep his blood lust in check: I think it would probably drive me to kill quite quickly but then I quite enjoy Quote, Unquote, so no-one’s perfect.

Still, I think we can put this down as a passing fancy – and there won’t be a new “fix” available until 2013 – so I don’t think readers need fear for any further impairment of my fragile sanity from that direction.

As the avid reader will be aware (assuming their avidity has not caused permanent psychological damage), I started going to the theatre de temps en temps last summer.  I started my theatre-going “career” at the Oxford Playhouse when at university and then used to go regularly to a variety of theatres for much of the 90s, but, like a careless monk, lost the habit over the first decade of this shiny, new millenium.

My return to theatre-going started well enough – managing five plays in 2011 spread across seven months.  I thought I was in control…  However, in 2012 I fear the habit is spiralling out of control.  I have been to six plays already this year, and have another eight booked before the end of July.  I tried to convince myself that I was introducing competitive theatre going as a sport: well, we need to find some way to fund the arts in these difficult times and men seem willing to compete in pretty much any sphere, so why not the artistic one?  Unfortunately, my recent actions suggest a darker explanation…

I went to the mis-named Donmar Warehouse, it used to be a brewery (perhaps calling it a warehouse avoids creating unwanted organisational pressure?), on Easter Saturday (when we celebrate Jesus having a well-deserved rest away from the limelight) to see The Recruiting Officer.  This was great fun, and the Donmar is a lovely venue – though legroom in the circle was very limited, but this can be forgiven as the tickets are astonishingly cheap (as Treasurer of an arts charity, I can only marvel as to how they make ends meet).  The cheapness of the tickets may also explain how hard they are to obtain, though I did manage to snaffle the last seat for the entire run of The Physicists in July while I was there (occasionally, being single is a boon!).

My next smell of the greasepaint was not to be for 17 days and I found that I was starting to get twitchy.  Had I not been laid low by a serious bout of man ‘flu (or the common cold, as I believe it is known to the lay reader), I might have felt forced to fill the gap by booking something theatrical.  Matters are growing worse, after the excellent Travelling Light on Tuesday, I found I was needing another “fix” by Thursday.  I’m sorry to say that yesterday evening I gave into the cravings, and will be off to the Royal Court Theatre on Tuesday to see Love, Love, Love.

Can one obtain a theatre “patch” that I could wear to help me master these cravings?  Is there a 12 step programme I could join?  (I’ve covered step 1, as with this post I am admitting that I have a problem!)  Or maybe it’s just a phase I’m going through and I’ll grow out of it?

I fear this blog my have given the impression that all my theatrical dollars are being spent in the capital, and that I am failing to support my local proscenium arch – so let me put your minds to rest on that count.  Earlier in the year, I enjoyed a  splendid production of Anne Boleyn at the Cambridge Arts Theatre which was surprisingly funny (especially given the fate of the eponymous heroine) and has made me rather more sympathetic towards both Ms B and James (V)I.  I also have a couple more trips planned in May – however, I do wonder if I am too plebeian to be a member of the CAT audience.  The backs of the tickets are promoting the benefits of Kleinwort Benson Wealth Management – which suggests that they are aiming at a much richer clientele or at least one that isn’t blowing all its free cash on theatre tickets!  Ah well, I’m used to going where I’m not really wanted: I’ll just dress-up a bit and hope they don’t ask for a bank statement…

Back to school

Last Saturday I took the next step in my cunning plan to become an expert on The Arts: Past and Present (sadly, the Open University is unwilling to offer me mastery of The Arts: Future – or not at this level and/or cost) and attended my first Day School.  This very much does what it says on the tin, in that it lasted the whole day (OK, 10:30 to 16:00 – but that counts as a long day for me) and it took place in a school (OK, a very highly rated sixth form college).  School does seem to have gone rather upmarket since I last attended, though the chair technology seems to have moved forward not one jot.  It is an oft quoted “fact” that back pain costs this nation a fortune in lost working hours each year: perhaps a modest investment in more lumbar-friendly seating for our young folk would be a wise one.

But, I seem to have divagated from my point somewhat (and we can thank my OU course for that rather handy piece of new vocabulary).  I spent a fair chunk of the day in a room that was dedicated to PE (Physical Education).  In my day, this would have involved parquet flooring, bars, mats and an unwanted requirement to engage in coordinated, physical activity – but this room had desks, chairs and a fair volume of IT equipment and, as a result, no room for anything terribly strenuous.  If PE had been more like this in the seventies, I might have taken more of an interest and who knows what sporting prowess I might have achieved.  This room also introduced me to the East Anglian pastime of dwile flonking (its name was pasted to one of the notice boards around the room, along with the names of more familiar sporting activities).  Strangely, this sport was not on the curriculum in my day – but sounds a great deal more fun than those that were, and could well be one of the few in which the UK still leads the world.

The day itself was divided into four sessions, and an introduction.  Regular readers will be pleased to know that I only attended three of the sessions (I don’t want to seem too needy): the lunch break provided was insufficient for anything other than sandwiches, and after two trips to Woking for the day job in the preceding week I’d had enough of John Montagu’s invention.  Added to this, the 6th form college was next door to a restaurant that had received very positive reviews and which I’ve been intending to visit for some time, so the Dalai Lama didn’t stand a chance.

The day (well the 7/9ths I attended) was enormous fun and it was good to meet a wider selection of my fellow students.  The feedback forms seemed to suggest the day was wholly designed to help us with our next assignment (sadly, it seems that all education – even the elective – is now skewed at passing exams rather than learning anything) at which it was only mildly successful, I’d suggest they should be seeking feedback on a wider range of outcomes from the day.

Talking of assignments, this week also brought the marks for my second assignment (TMA02)- which was basically re-writing the weaker half of the first assignment and reflecting on the comments that had been made thereon.  Once again, the author received very good marks – even better than TMA01 – yes, as before this post is just an excuse to boast about my incondign mastery of the art of essay writing.  This weekend, I need to start work on TMA03 and I’m starting to experience performance anxiety.  All these decent marks are creating a rod for my own back: do I have anything worthwhile to say about the Dalai Lama and Plato’s Meno?  Will I come to I regret my lotus-eating last Saturday lunch-time?  I’m not feeling much love from the muse at the moment, so I may just have to stop procrastinating and hope that 90% perspiration will either (a) be enough or (b) act as a spur to at least a few percent of inspiration.  Sadly, unlike Mr Edison I don’t have a large team whose combination of sweat and innovation I can claim as my own.

National anthem

My new life as a theatre goer is proceeding apace – of which perhaps more in a later post (if the idea ever manages to jump across the band-gap from draft to post) – but I do seem to have fallen in love with the National Theatre.  I’m even starting to develop a fondness for its neo-brutalist exterior architecture – but that may only be a consequence of association or familiarity.

Anyway, once past the concrete exterior the interior is a joy.  Both the Olivier and the Lyttleton (named for some relation of Humph’s I believe) are excellent places to watch a play: comfy seats with plenty of legroom which all have an excellent view of the stage.  I’ll be able to comment on the Cottesloe on the basis of first-hand (and leg) experience in June.

Each time I have been, there has been free, live music on offer to entertain those that arrive early – and there always seems to be a free seat in the extensive foyer space to sit down and take the weight off my ageing limbs (why do my limbs always feel older in London than in South Cambs?).  They always seem to have an exhibition of interesting photographs as well – so stimulation for both the eyes and ears while waiting for the main show to start.

Regular readers will be unsurprised that my first ever visit to the National, in the dying days of 2011, was not to see the followers of Thespis but to eat.  The complex has a decent restaurant and the tapas-style cafe is rather nice too – with views out across the Thames.  Even more importantly, as I have subsequently learned, it has quite the finest interval offerings of any performance space I have yet attended.  Wonderful interval cakes and blackberry frozen yoghurt – and with their efficient service, you can manage to fit the consumption of both into the break in the dramatic action (well, you may struggle but I can do it comfortably).

However, it would seem that food can act as a gateway drug to the theatre – a fact, other arts institutions might like to consider (assuming that I am typical of the potential theatre going public, which might be a challenging assumption to justify in the face of even mild cross-examination).  In 2012, I have been to four NT productions (so far) – 3 at the NT, and one at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in London’s glittering west end (may not contain actual glitter).  This has taught me that if you do visit the West End, you may enjoy more classical and roccoco architecture but they do charge you extra for the privilege (or possibly, the maintenance) and the aircon is nothing like as effective.

So far my theatre has been rather skewed towards comedy – albeit classics from yesterday and today: The Comedy of Errors (by one W Shakespeare), She Stoops to Conquer (by Oliver Goldsmith – and nothing to do with the fruit of the horse chestnut) and One Man Two Guvnors (originally by Goldoni, but really the work of Richard Bean as I’m fairly sure Signor Goldoni never visited Brighton in the 1960s), all of which have been a joy and actually funny (not something you can take for granted) – but this is not to last.  To support my OU coursework (well, that’s the excuse I’m using), I will be seeing Antigone by Sophocles in June and my limited classical education suggests that if Sophocles was once famed for his light-hearted comedies then posterity has not preserved them for me to enjoy (but you never know what Tony Robinson may dig up – it can’t all be arrow heads and pottery sherds).  A BBC4 documentary I saw earlier in the week also suggested that Timon of Athens may not have an entirely happy ending – though might be quite topical.

However, last night I saw a new play entitled Travelling Light penned (or, more likely, word processed) by Nicholas Wright.  As with some of my recent cinematic viewing, this covered the early days of movies – but for my money (and it was my money, no-one is yet paying me to visit either the cinema or the theatre, more’s the pity) it was worth ten of the much lauded film, The Artist.  The play was lovely, warm, funny, moving at times and leads you to care about the protagonists.  Better yet, I couldn’t predict the ending (and most of the plot after the first reel (scene?).  In fact, I found myself caring rather too much about the “hero”, and spent much of last night fretting about Motl – a rather pointless (and tiring) exercise as he is a fictional character and even if real would now be more than 130 years old (so unlikely to gain any benefit from my concern).

Mr Collins does suggest that an anthem should be sung, and I do realise that this paean to the NT has been written in prose.  However, readers should not view this as a barrier when the phrase to “sing the ‘phone book” has made it into the language: a feat apparently performed by Celine Dion back in 2002 (and to greater critical acclaim than her work on the Titanic).  I feel this post makes for much more promising material for the sopranos and tenors among you than any of BT’s printed output, so feel free to let rip!

Watery whimsy

Not a discussion of small china ornaments with an aquatic theme, nor even a further tilt at the current severe drought – though I am thinking of moving my valuables to higher ground (better safe than soggy!).  For readers who can remember my last take on the drought, I am pleased to report that the pond that Gaia made has proved fruitful, and now boosts a clutch of mallard ducklings.  The pond that man made has not done anything to bring joy to the heart – and still seems to struggle to hold water.

Over the weekend, I saw some televisual marketing by a muti-national purveyor of cleaning products which played on the current interest in the London Olympics.  This used a famous (I assume) swimmer to plug the benefits of one of their dandruff dispelling hair preparations.  The chap seemed to suggest that worrying about dandruff impeded his progress through the water – but with the product in question, a weight was lifted from his mind.

I am no expert on swimming – in the world of strokes, I am very much a breast man and my mastery of even that is pretty poor (I can either do it properly or breathe – but not both) – but I am pretty sure that at the Olympic level, chaps wear a cap which completely conceals their barnet (and thus any evidence of scalp-based afflictions).  He must be a sensitive chap indeed to be so concerned about an invisible affliction.

Given the plethora of sporting activities and participants at the Olympics, surely this multinational could have found someone whose flowing locks would be proudly on show as they demonstrate their sporting prowess to the viewing public?  I don’t work in marketing and have little interest in sport, but I think even I could have done better to match sport to product.  (For the avoidance of doubt, I should make clear that I am not angling for a new job here.)

Whilst cycling home today, I passed a plumber’s van which was adorned with the marketing slogan “Bathrooms by design!”.  Presumably, this was to contrast with all those bathrooms that one sees which have arisen through pure chance.  I like to think I’m a fan of the theory of evolution – by far the best explanation to date of the complexity of the living world – but do try and resist the current tendency to apply it to absolutely everything.  In particular, I had never thought to apply it to the layout of the home.  I somehow doubt that a spare bedroom could ever evolve into a bathroom: how ever long you waited.  This is one instance where some sort of conscious design is needed – though, given some of the bathrooms I’ve seen over the years, it would seem that intelligent design is not a requirement.  Even my own bathroom, while admirable in many ways – does have a rather eccentrically placed window.  Perhaps a better slogan for the plumber would be “Well designed bathrooms!”?

X Factor

As a lapsed mathematician, I am more than happy to manipulate x to achieve my algebraic ends and have some experience using factors.

Given my nascent singing career, I’ve decided it’s time to take on Simon Cowell at his own game.  However, before I launch my new career as a pop star, I’ve decided that I could do with my own backing group – it is surprisingly hard to play an instrument and sing at the same time, even with the piano it is unexpectedly tricky and with the clarinet it’s well nigh impossible.  Having studied Group theory at degree level, I have some “views” on the nature of the group – or it could easily degenerate into a backing set and an operation.  Many of the more usual pop group sizes only generate a rather boring cyclic group, and so unless I am willing to go the So Solid Crew route (which I fear would require an HR department to manage) I’m thinking that 4, 6 or 8 members would provide a more interesting structure (S3 perhaps?  A name and a structure in one).

However, the only real decision I have made (so far) is an insistence that the bassist should be orthonormal.

I suspect non-mathematicians may require some period of study to understand this post, but even should they obtain a degree in Pure Maths may still find its humour elusive.

Standard Class Citizen

As has been well established by now, I tend to make my way by means of bicycle or train.  Oft, I try to combine the two by cycling to the station and then catching a train.  Usually, this requires me to leave my steed at Whittlesford Parkway whilst onward I journey.  There used to be four Sheffield stands on the Sawston side of the station to allow my mount to be safely secured.  However, as with so much in this country, these were not maintained for many years and so became badly afflicted by rust (a cynic might view this as a metaphor for the whole rail network).

For a while, the rust held the stands together – but over the last couple of weeks, three of the four have completely disintegrated (and the last can’t be long for this world).  So, I filled in a complaint form and sent it off to Greater Anglia (who are the operators of Whittlesford Parkway station) requesting their replacement (the cycle stands, rather than Greater Anglia).  Yesterday, the post brought a reply – from someone claiming the title of Customer Relations Advisor.  I hadn’t realised I was in need of advice on my Customer Relations and as the letter contained no obvious counsel on this topic, I fear they will remain as poor as ever.

Apparently, the Area Station Manager (hereinafter referred to as the ASM) is going to look for funds to improve the situation: perhaps he could take a peek down the back of his sofa?  Curiously, as I have previously noted, there was no shortage of funds to re-brand everything on the station when Greater Anglia took over the local rail franchise.  Ironically, one of the items re-branded was a poster warning customers to take care when using the stairs of the footbridge.  Customers from Sawston will now have to navigate this same footbridge whilst carrying their bicycles (twice per journey) in search of a secure anchorage – a somewhat dangerous operation, and one not obviously made any safer by the re-branded poster.

Should our ASM find a few quid, and have any left over after replacing the bike racks, he might also consider fixing the station departure indicator display on Platform 1 which has not been operational since January.

I recently discovered that more than 160,000 journeys either start or end at Whittlesford Parkway each year (of which I should be able to claim a few score).  This is rather more than many other stations on the same line, though I’ve noticed that many of these have brand new cycle racks – and several stations have recently gained a new footbridge (with lift!) and/or a platform extension.  Clearly, we are being treated as second (sorry, standard) class citizens!  What have the folk of Whittlesford (or perhaps Duxford, Pampisford or Sawston) done to offend the Dutch (who now run our trains)?  I’d have expected better of the Dutch, who at home seem pretty good at looking after their cyclists: which perhaps provides a warning on the dangers of the stereotype.

Plane crazy

I am aware that the Strategic Defense and Security Review has caused serious cuts to our armed forces, but I still found today’s news a little surprising.

Our imperious leader is in Burma (or Myanmar, if we are being formal) in an attempt to prop up his ailing regime by standing near a democratically elected stateswoman: Aung San Suu Kyi (who is either much smaller than I expected or our PM was rather ungallantly standing on a box).  Actually, he’s probably trying to sell her some guns – as this seems to be the usual excuse adopted by our leaders to justify an overseas trip – and watching the dawn come up like thunder outer China crost the bay.

Anyway, in addition to his normal duties, he seems to be trying to augment the sadly diminished RAF by recovering some 20 Spitfires that we buried back in 1945 to keep them from falling into enemy hands.  Surely things aren’t so bad that the defense of the realm must now rely on 67 year old fighter aircraft?  I know the Spitfire was a fine plane, but I fear it might be slightly over-matched in a dogfight in 2012.

Still, slightly better news for the UK came from Standard and Poor’s: the credit rating agency to toffs and gentry.  Apparently, they have confirmed the UK’s much coveted AAA credit rating: so it would seem that contrary to everything we see in the news media, our finance must be fine.  Perhaps we could splash out on some slightly newer aircraft to keep our enemies at bay – a dozen English Electric Lightnings perhaps?  Then again, perhaps young George should keep his powder dry for a while longer: I used to work for Enron which also gained regular very positive credit reports from S&P, but wasn’t quite as financial viable as the ratings led people to believe.