German trinity anxiety

Or perhaps it should be Magyar rather than German?  Either way, this post is all about three Hun dread.  Yes, GofaDM has reached its third century – though it probably feels longer.

I had considered a video post, with the author stripped to the waist and oiled for battle to generate a worldwide outbreak of swooning at his chiselled torso (though I should warn you that my woodworking skills are almost non-existent: it was a great relief to both my woodwork teacher and me when I was able to quietly drop the subject).  However, on further, immature consideration I decided against this plan: whilst the internet would no doubt furnish an audience for such a spectacle, I think there is already quite enough material in rather dubious taste available to the surfer without any augmentation at my hands.  I also remembered that the eponymous apple probably represents my closest approach to the concept of Spartan.  It is also worth noting that rather more than 300 souls faced the King of Kings at Thermopylae: what with the allied Thebans and Thespians (yes, apparently the Spartans had their own version of ENSA) and the helots (who had little choice in the matter).  Leonidas and his followers may not have survived the battle, but I’m sure he’d be thrilled to know that he has now been immortalised in Belgian chocolate.

Still, few would have thought, way back in the more innocent days of 2010, that I had quite so much foolishness in me – or quite so much commitment to the project.  Nor that it would escape the censure of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for so long.

I had thought that my rather ordinary life would soon stop yielding new material: but apparently not.  It does so help to set the bar low in life, unless one is attempting limbo.  Despite the volume of material now produced, I fear I am little closer to a viable stand-up act, sitcom or side-splitting panel show concept.  I wonder if I may be spending too much time preparing weak jokes that require a detailed knowledge of the works of both Olivier Messaien and Douglas Adams?  The audience for which can probably be counted on the fingers of a very clumsy threshing machine operator.

Oh well, if I fire enough arrows one may eventually hit a target: or at least identify a suitable burial site for my writing career (I am from Nottingham, after all).  Until, then the punishment (and those first three letters were fully intended) will continue until morale improves.

Heat treatment

The regular reader will be aware of my desire for this blog to gradually supplant Heat magazine (and its ilk) in the affections of the British (and, indeed, global) public.

The bread-and-butter of such magazines tends to be prurient gossip and ‘papped’ snaps of the stars of soap opera (very much the lowest form of opera) and reality television (ditto, mutatis mutandis), or so I believe: I am only willing to go so far in the name of research and ‘reading’ such material would go well beyond my self-imposed boundaries.  I have chosen to eschew this approach, mostly because I am unlikely to recognise such folk even were I to see them or hear them discussed.  Instead, I have tried to bring a more cerebral slant to the genre, by making brief mention of the famous that I have encountered in my otherwise (deliberately) rather unexciting life.

These last few days have been particularly fecund, with a brace of eminent scientists spotted.  On Saturday night I saw Sir Aaron Klug at the baroque gig at Peterhouse and then, on Monday night, both Steven Hawking and I enjoyed Maureen Lipman as star and director of Barefoot in the Park.  Last night’s comedy with Alex Horne, whilst a lot of fun, did not obviously support an eminent scientist in the audience – though, I should perhaps make clear that I would not necessarily be able to recognise every pillar of the scientific community in the relative dark of an auditorium (and few, if any, wear a white coat when out on the razzle).  I have moderate hopes for tonight’s bash with the Endellion String Quartet, but I’ll keep you posted…

Prior to Mr Horne’s bathrobe-clad antics, I enjoyed an excellent performance of Mendelssohn’s Octet by the CUCO String Ensemble at lunchtime.  I had little opportunity to spot the famous, as I was surrounded by very well behaved primary school children (who were the only people in the room younger than Herr M when he penned the work).  I first heard this piece lying in the sunshine in a park in Crouch End (N8), utilising the then new miracle of a portable MP3 player: it seemed more practical (and significantly cheaper) than bringing eight string players with me.  This was also the first time I heard, and took an unfavourable view of, a work by a particular French twentieth century composer.

Last night these events led to me musing, in the manner of Deep Thought, whether a programme comprising the Quartet for the End of Time, Chronochromie and the Turangalîla Symphony would be considered “needlessly Messiaenic”?

To put your mind’s at rest, I have had somewhat of a rapprochement with Olivier’s canon since that first park encounter: I loved Visions de l’Amen and quite fancy hearing the Turangalîla Symphony (and not only because it shares the name of the feisty female lead in Futurama but as I’ve heard it is quite the experience).  Still, lest you fear I have taken all leave of my senses and will shortly be indulging in arboreal osculatory excess with M. Messaien (or his cadaver), I still think he should leave birdsong to those issued with feathers and a syrinx.

Most pitiful ambition

Due to a paucity of appealling offerings from the broadcasters available to the Freeview user, I decided to watch one of the movies sent to me be the folks at Lovefilm.

This started with the usual round of trailers, one of which was for a film entitled Redhill.  I was only paying limited attention, but it didn’t seem terribly reminiscent of the Surrey town in the Borough of Reigate and Banstead.  It seemed oddly American, with some sort of western/police/horror theme (I wasn’t listening or paying much attention, it must be admitted) and seemed to lack any distaff characters at all.  Maybe it was set in a part of Redhill you can’t see from the London-Brighton line?

Anyway, the main “attraction” was a film called Limitless.  This involved a writer, with writer’s block (or, perhaps, a complete lack of ability), who attempts to resolve his problems by pharmaceutical means – so seemed to have some potential relevance to yours truly.  Sadly, it did rely on the fallacious conceit that we only use 20% of our brains: in response I would point out that the human brain is a very expensive organ to possess.  It is life-threatening in childbirth to both participants, requires an extended childhood (mine is still continuing) and is a major energy drain throughout life (hence my constant snacking).  As a result, if 80% were unused it would have rapidly been evolved away.  While writing this, I have begun to wonder if I’m missing a link to the peacock’s tail here.  Very stupid men would be desirable to a potential mate on the grounds that they have the energy cost of maintaining a huge brain which goes almost entirely unused: i.e. the brain is a secondary sexual characteristic used purely for display and to demonstrate fitness (in the purely Darwinian sense).  I fear this might explain all too much about the modern world, but I seem to be indulging in a degree of vagation.

The film is nothing great, but does allow 104 minutes to pass somewhat divertingly.  Our hero becomes hyper-intelligent as a result of his pharmaceutical support but makes depressingly unimaginative use of this boosted intellect.  By the end of the film, he has become amazingly rich and a US senator and seems a shoo-in for the Presidency.  After the film, as I was making a cup of cocoa, I found myself musing on the hero’s paucity of ambition.  I then realised that I was unironically considering that becoming President of the US was a rather disappointing use of one’s intellect: if you can do, if you can’t teach, if you can’t teach become President of the US?  This would be a more supportable position if I had any obvious personal ambitions: so I fear I have becoming clinically pretentious or condescending (or both).

The one positive I did take from the film is that having become hyper-intelligent (in a nod to the late, great Douglas Adams, his eyes turn blue) and dealt with the worst of the consequences of his drug-dependency, the hero has a haircut and dyes his hair ginger.  Whilst the latter fact is never explained, I feel it is a positive message from a Hollywood which otherwise shows very few of the strawberry blonde in its products (Damian Lewis and la famille Weasley being honourable exceptions): perhaps the local climate is considered inimical to their alabaster flesh?  Still, given the current vogue for the vampire in film, I’m surprised we’ve not seen more auburn blood-suckers – so I suspect some degree of prejudice may be involved.

Play Away!

Before I start on the meat, or perhaps I ought to say the tofu (as a, mainly, vegetarian), of this post I thought I should provide some content for those readers that view this blog as a soap opera.  Admittedly, it is rather shorter on sex and violence than the more popular soaps of today (and I have no plans to change this position) and does tend to focus on only one character – and as it is based on the truth, perhaps it is closer to the genre of reality programming – but on the plus side, it is free!

After some major re-writes on Friday, and some more tweaking yesterday, I have finally submitted my latest assignment (TMA03) to the OU for judgement.  I can’t say that either essay makes for a particularly gripping read (a fact with which subscribers to this blog will be all too familiar) but I think I have answered the questions in the appropriately dry academic style required.  TMA04 should be m0re fun: for a start I have 1200 words to play with, and I am able to choose the topic (from a list of two) – so goodbye Augustus Welby Pugin and hello dissent in the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich (an artist whose work I very much admire).  The bad news is that I have to prepare an Essay Plan: anathema to we creatives who prefer the stream-of-consciousness approach.  I bet James Joyce didn’t have to prepare an essay plan for Ulysses (though, equally, he may not have acquired any sort of qualification from the OU).  Oh well…

My chores over with, I headed into town for my singing lesson.  It is a source of both joy and astonishment to me that I am now singing (however poorly) half of the song cycle An die ferne Geliebte by some cove called Beethoven.  It is a glorious experience and I am a very lucky chap to be enjoying it.  I do need to work on my facial expression though: I would seem to have almost no proprioception in this respect, and so have no idea what my face is doing while I sing.  I wonder if I ought to take some acting lessons, or just start spending more than the absolute minimum time in front of a mirror?  (The latter would certainly be cheaper, though probably less fun.)

Being too lazy to cycle home and then back into Cambridge later, I took my dinner in town.  As a result, I can thoroughly recommend the Oak Bistro – a slightly curious location for fine dining (though offering excellent views of one of Cambridge’s busiest road junctions) but offering excellent food and service.

However, it is time to put out more flags as I have finally reached the entry to this post’s much delayed theme.  My final activity for the day was to attend a Camerata Musica concert at the delightfully intimate (if rather too pink for my taste) theatre at Peterhouse.  This offered Arcangelo, conducted from the keyboard by Jonathan Cohen.  Now, I seem to recall that it was one Jonathan Cohen who used to act as the musical director for Play Away! – also from the keyboard.  I must say that he has aged very well, he looks younger now than he did in the seventies.  Or perhaps the title is an hereditary one, and has been handed down through the generations to reach the current incumbent.  Brian Cant was not on hand to sing, but was ably replaced (and comprehensively out-scored on the Scrabble board) by the American counter-tenor, Lawrence Zazzo.  He was also wearing a particularly fine pair of shoes (not something one sees very often on stage – or indeed, off it): I was tempted to ask at the stage door where he had obtained them, but felt this might mark me out as slightly odd.

The concert was stunning – and only the second time I’d seen a counter-tenor in action (the first had been in the Handel opera Agrippina where the head of the Roman navy was so portrayed to my significant surprise when he first opened his mouth).  As a bass, I do find the counter-tenor a truly miraculous thing – and somehow even more extraordinary now that I know a little about singing.  Among many highlights were the cantata La Gelosia by Nicola Porpora and a Lute concerto by Vivaldi (nice to hear the coolest of the Medieval stringed instruments – at least according to Hal from Being Human, and as a character he is old enough to remember the Medieval period) moving centre-stage.

Yesterday was truly a day to count my blessings: not only the joys described above, but I managed to spend significant chunks of the afternoon and evening outside without encountering more than the a couple of spots of precipitation, which might even count as a fully-fledged miracle.

Football padding

In this country, we normally play football with a minimum of padding – in my days as a player (coincident with my time as a schoolboy) shin pads were the only option.  Our ex-colony across the Herring Pond play something they call football which uses a lot more – but I don’t think that anyone can match ITV when it comes to padding.

Skimming my copy of the Mortician’s Gazette, I noticed the coverage of today’s FA Cup on our oldest commercial broadcaster.  When I played, the games comprised two halves of 45 minutes each with a break in the middle.  It strikes me that a couple of hours should be sufficient time to fully cover a match – unless it goes to penalties (not something that happened in the primary school leagues of north Kent in the seventies).  ITV have provided four-and-a-half hours for the experience – and even then say that the programme may over-run in the event of extra time or penalties!   (Later in the day they offer another hour of highlights: so 330 minutes of TV filled from a mere 90 minutes of activity.)  The programme starts a full two hours before the game!  Are they planning to pick the teams using some sort of audience participation talent contest?  Well, it is a Saturday…

Flood

The title of an album of short but quirky ditties by They Might Be Giants, ownership of which scored me a point on the Geek Test way back in the 1990s (not that I was short of points, of which more, perhaps, in another post).

However, the title actually refers to the fact that the weather is now officially wet (well, providing you are willing to accept me as an official source – and why wouldn’t you?).  As but one example, I spent a chunk of yesterday evening sitting in a pew next to a man with a cuddly ark: though I’m not sure what help a cuddly ark would be in the face of a biblical deluge.  As it turns out, the chap was planning to use the ark as a mike stand (though ultimately didn’t need it as he managed to source a more traditional mike stand) to record the Bridge Quartet performing Greig’s String Quartet (well worth recording) which goes to show that some folk can see a much wider range of possibilities in an object than can I: cuddly ark as mike stand – there’s some Olympic standard juxtaposition!

My key evidence for this current thesis is that Sawston is now cut-off from Stapleford (the next village) to pedestrians unless they own wellies (or fancy wading without).  This is only the second time in the 5+ years I have lived here that the River Granta has burst its banks and flooded the sole pedestrian and cycle route which links the two villages.  On the previous occasion, the flooding was caused by a sudden thaw which led to a large volume of snow melt from the Alpine scenery for which Cambridgeshire is so justly famed.  This time the flooding is only 6-8 inches deep and is entirely rain based – but it was still enough to drench my feet as I tried to cycle into Cambridge yesterday.  I lack Paul Newman’s facility on a bicycle (well, I assume it was him as Butch Cassidy on the velocipede, rather than a stuntman) and the flooding was too extensive for me to keep my feet clear of the water (also, I hadn’t realised quite how deep it was).  On subsequent trips I braved the main road – more traffic, but drier feet!

I would suggest that it has been lovely weather for ducks – and, indeed, I’ve seen them swimming merrily in the fields all around Great Kneighton  – however, I see the RSPB is saying the weather has been bad news for our feathered friends with many eggs being washed away.

For those who have the misfortune not to live in the modern day Eden that is South Cambs, Great Kneighton is the name to be given to the wasteland that has been created between Trumpington and Addenbrooke’s once it is covered in houses or, perhaps more wisely given the depth of water now covering most of it, house boats (though the website does not mention this more sensible option – or the ready availability of water to the future residents).  One of the wetter parts of the site has been planted with a multitude of green plastic tubes which I assume contain the potential for future trees, though if so, I hope they are mangroves or some other swamp loving species or I fear the worst for the future of Great Kneighton forest.

The poor weather has also been bad news for the asparagus crop – though perhaps good news for those who have to spend any time in close proximity to the author.  Each year I seem to find that asparagus has a more serious (and rapid) effect on me, a few sticks is now enough for me to start sweating the rather strange aroma that I had previously only linked to micturition.

The final plank of my argument is that my ears have started producing abnormally large quantities of wax.  This is a problem that used to occur when I swam regularly – a habit I may be compelled to restart if the weather continues in its current mode!  I am now wondering if rather than a source of irritation, this is perhaps an evolutionary adaptation to keep my head water tight?

Still, here at GofaDM we are working hard to look on the sunny side and thinking of the boost to the UK’s waterproof and watercress industries!