The Second Coming: An update

Readers of the last post will know that I am proposing Kettering as the site of the second coming, largely on the grounds that existing carols would require minimal changes – and, in these days of austerity, even the divine may need to seek some simple cost savings.

I was at a Christmas concert yesterday afternoon, and took the opportunity to check a number of seasonal hymns against a possible re-siting in Northamptonshire.  As expected, O Little Town of Bethlehem is fine – there are no references which could not safely be applied to Kettering (well, assuming we can arrange for its dark streets to shineth).  O Come All Ye Faithful likewise only needs the substitution of Bethlehem – though, I do wonder if we should recognise that the “y” in “ye” is really a thorn and so the hymn should be sung O Come All The Faithful.  So the key “O” hymns are covered.  Hark! Te Herald Angels sing is similarly easily fixed and Christina Rossetti kept the geography of In the Bleak Midwinter sufficiently vague that it requires no changes at all for a move to the East Midlands.

I’m not sure of the agricultural situation of Kettering, but I suspect it may be a little short of mangers attached to an inn.  I did check for branches of Prêt à Manger as a modern substitute, but the nearest are Peterborough or Leicester.  I’m sure the owners of the sandwich chain could be inveigled upon to open a branch in Kettering, well it’s either that or add a stable to the Travelodge – but I think the former would be more useful to the locals whilst they await the herald angels.

Once in Royal David’s City is proving the most challenging to adapt.  The only suitable royal I could find was Dafydd ap Llewelyn – but he rather kept to Wales which is a bit of a hike (even with a little donkey) from Kettering.  I fear we may have to lose this hymn altogether, or replace the current Royals with something a bit more modern (and/or Welsh) and move their HQ from Buck House to Broughton House.  We would also need some oxen on hand for verse three.  Still, it seems a pity to discard an otherwise excellent plan just to save OiRDC.

Entering this world in Kettering would offer the next Messiah easy rail access to London, Nottingham and Sheffield.  He would also have the possibility for local shoes and outerwear as gifts from the wise, replacing the traditional frankincense and myrrh with rather more useful alternatives for the modern world (and more suitable to the East Midlands climate).  All-in-all, for a budget second coming, I think Kettering has it all – I feel it is time for me to pass the ball across to the relevant authorities for action.  Given the traditional need for a census at a Messianic launch, I guess we’ll have to wait until 2021 – which should provide sufficient time to square the sandwich makers, some suitable cattle and some major update to the monarchy.  I suggest we all put the date in our diaries!


Token man

I did also consider “Five women and me” as a title, but felt this sounded rather like a first-person, adult update of an E Nesbit classic (a woman who very wisely did not assume her husband’s name for her writing: E Bland on the cover is never going to help sales).  As both titles may suggest, yesterday I had a long lunch in town (by which I mean London) with some friends and provided the sole Y chromosome in a sea of Xs (well, 11 of them – is that enough for a sea?  Perhaps merely a small bowl of poorly mixed alphabetti spaghetti?).

Despite the apparent belief of most TV executives, this grouping of the distaff did not precipitate Armageddon or the end of days (no sign of a trumpet or even a single horseman, though there was one horsewoman).  Nor was my fragile masculinity crushed – though I did spend much of the afternoon wearing a rather fetching golden bangle on my right arm.  Then again, even at the best of times, I’m really a very long way from the vanguard in the struggle to find a role for the masculine in the 21st century – even the generals are nearer the front than I.

I had an excellent time with wide ranging, if slightly frivolous, conversation enjoyed by all – and lunch did continue for somewhat over six hours (which I believe is a new personal best).  The event was held at Brasserie Zédel (and later the adjacent Bar Américain) which lies in a substantial, art deco cavern ranged deep beneath the northern side of Piccadilly Circus.  I would recommend the venue as the food was good, the décor pleasing and the service both good and unobtrusive.  It also has rather fine facilities for the gentleman to relieve himself of surplus fluid – which, via the magic of smartphone photography and an absence of shame, we were able to establish were rather better than the equivalent facilities provided for the fairer sex (the soap dispensers were also rather fine when illuminated by flash!).  They definitely rate in the top 10 of urinals I have ever used (not abused I would like to make clear, my use of gents has always been consensual).IMG_0238


IMG_0239In the interests of full disclosure in the context of my recommendation, I should perhaps mention that I managed to consume more champagne yesterday than in the whole of the current decade put together – so my critical faculties may have been slightly dulled.  I am also considering a whole new photographic strand in this blog for particularly attractive or striking gents I have used – what do you think?

After four hours we were moved-on from our lunch table and gravitated to the bar for a post-prandial cocktail.  I was drawn to the French Aperatif – largely because it contained orgeat which I know of through one of the finest sketches from A Bit of Fry and Laurie (sadly no hyssop or cherry for each of my blue, blue eyes).  Subsequent enquiry to Bing (yes, the late Mr Crosby is my spirit guide – boom, boom! I sometimes wonder if this blog is just too good for you) indicate that this is a syrup made from almonds, sugar water and rose water.  The cocktail also contained the rather mysterious ingredient “Byrrh”.  This was not, as I first assumed, a gift for a baby Messiah delivered by a wise man with a cold (well, the Nativity was well before Tunes were invented) but a spirit made of red wine, mistelle (“almost” wine mixed with brandy) and quinine – so I should be good against malaria for a while.  Discussion of Byrrh did lead to brief mention of matters seasonal, and for reasons I no longer quite recall, we were able to establish that if the second coming were to be in Kettering, all the basics of the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” would still be fine with the simple substitution of place names.  Not sure if this will be an important part of the decision-making process, but its nice to know should Northamptonshire be so blessed.

All-in-all a quite excellent day, finished off with a comic play about Scott’s fatal quest for the South Pole at the Southwark Playhouse (another London fringe theatre ticked) – with a surprising amount of Norwegian (which did make me quite misty-eyed for BBC4 Scandi-drama).  On my journey home I was entertained by an episode of QI XL stored on my laptop via the miracle of iPlayer (making the unmissable live up to its name, as long as it isn’t on the radio – grrr!).  I think they may have discovered the optimal panel of guests: Victoria Coren-Mitchell, Sue Perkins and Reverend Richard Coles – and once again, having more than one woman in the room lead to hilarity rather than disaster.  I really feel there must be a lesson (or nine) in here somewhere – if only I could see it.

Never go back

Today’s title is oft given advice, though I have not checked how frequently it is taken (this can be safely left as an exercise for the reader).  In most cases, I presume it is an attempt to forestall disappointment or a recognition of the rather short span of a human life and the resultant need to avoid repeats (so, we must assume that Dave – at least – has not taken the advice to heart).  In at least one case, that of a previously lit firework, there is a clear health and safety angle – which I like to imagine would be obtuse or even reflex to minimise the risk of cuts.  As a (further) small digression, surely “minimise” should be a musical term for converting notes to a length of exactly two crochets?

In the Bible, that go-to work for zoological insight, dogs are supposed to ignore this advice in respect of their own vomit – though I can’t say I have particularly noticed this as an issue.  I too have ignored this advice: for a start, as a fool I keep returning to the folly of this blog but, and more relevant to the meat of this post, I recently returned to Cambridge in whose environs I was, until recently, resident.

I had a whale of a time whilst there: catching up with old friends, haunting old haunts and singing old songs.  In respect of the last of these, I realised that there exist a substantial body of carols completely unknown to me (I speak of the seasonal song-form, rather than the girl’s name – though in both cases, the range of my ignorance is wide).  I also discovered that reading choral music is much harder than music prepared for soloists – you have to fish your musical line out of two lines of song, avoiding muddling the bass with the tenor, and after each printed line is finished there comes the desperate search for where your next line begins (generally further away than expected).  I’m also used to my words appearing below the music rather than above.  All of which led to a vocal performance on my part that could best described as faltering (and more accurately described as awful).  Still, it was great fun and not taken too seriously by anyone – and did provide an excuse to partake of a restorative mulled wine and mince pie (or several).

Whilst in Cambridge, I also took in the cinema, a singing lesson – as a result of which Arm, arm, ye brave! is rhythmically rather more sound (I am now dotting where Mr Handel intended) – and live music from the Cambridge University Symphony Orchestra.  Dmitri Shostakovich still has the strange ability to wrest control of parts of my autonomous nervous system away from me, especially in the more motivic sections of Symphony No. 11 – I think it may be the snare drum that does it.

Almost my final act in Cambridge – just before a rapid march to the station – was to pop into the Fitzwilliam Museum for 20 minutes.  I asked what I could sensibly do in that rather brief period (I had rather dawdled over lunch and the purchase of Christmas cards), and was recommended the John Craxton exhibition.  It was brilliant, his pictures (in various media) of (mostly) Greek shepherds and reapers from the 1940s were particularly fine.  I intend to return (look what I did there, the theme within the theme!) before the exhibition ends so I can spend a little more time.

I have a theory about why going back is so much fun.  When you live somewhere, you tend to have responsibilities tied to that place and to your nearby home – and so there is usually something else you should be doing.  When you return as a visitor, hedonism can be given free rein – you can eat out or have a quick nap in the afternoon without any guilt attaching as you can’t cook for yourself and there really is nothing more important you should be getting on with.  I think this may also explain why I think of Edinburgh as “home” as I only go there for fun: perhaps living there would destroy the relationship (like sleeping with your best friend allegedly does?).  Nevertheless, I remain tempted by the Athens of the North – and shall be visiting it shortly – and always have the option of returning to Cambridge at some stage as I still own property there (not through design, but as a result of lack of legal competence on the part of Laing Homes).  Still, for now there is plenty to occupy me on the south coast: I have yet to see the local sea or the New Forest to name but two items yet to be ticked off in my I-Spy book of Southampton.

Not the centre of the universe?

Clever folk, both before and after Copernicus, have worked hard to demonstrate that I am not the centre of the universe.  Indeed, the whole concept of the universe having a physical centre is looking a little shaky since relativity and the growth of the dark.  Oh yes, as Susan Cooper warned us, in modern physics the dark is truly rising.

Nonetheless, contrary to my book-learning, Dame Nature and her handmaiden Coincidence do seem determined to convince me that everything does revolve around me.  Before I illustrate with a couple (of hundred) recent examples, I feel we should all take a moment to consider a quotation a wise, old friend of mine used to trot out whenever coincidence was in the air.  “How often didn’t that happen?” he would ask – and those around would cease their foolish prating.

My first example comes from my recent arrival in Cambridge.  Having travelled up from the south coast in dry sunshine, the moment my train arrive in Cambridge it started to rain.  I manage to catch my bus down to Addenbrooke’s only slightly moistened, but as I disembarked the wrath of God was loosed upon the earth.  By the time I had made it the 200 yards from the bus stop to the Blood Donor Centre, I was soaked through and my umbrella had been reduced to a useless wreck.  As I checked-in with reception, I noticed that my right hand was dipping with blood – my own as it transpired (perhaps from an umbrella disintegration-related injury?) – so I looked more like I was making a withdrawal than a deposit.  Fortunately, my injury was not severe and did not prevent my donation (or the ensuing biscuit-based mini-feast).  The Lord may have been wrathful, but it didn’t last long (is Our Father by any chance strawberry blonde, I wonder? – or at least was before he was stricken by old age).  A rampant egomaniac (like, for example, myself – well, just consider this blog you are reading) might feel he was being singled out by Fate for some payback.  Of course, subsequent viewing of the news suggests that most of the divine, weather-based retribution was aimed at Scotland and the east coast – so, I should be grateful that he could spare a small part of his bounty of rain and wind for me.

You will be pleased to know that my blood loss, both planned and otherwise, was soon made good through the medically recommended combination of mulled wine and mince pies.  However, these weather-related coincidences are not uncommon: oft rain will start just as I go outside and cease as soon as I regain cover.  I have even been to Florida when it snowed – first time in 80 years!  But not all coincidence is ill-favoured, which brings me nicely on to incident number two.

On Friday afternoon, I made it to the tail-end of a Christmas party at Hughes Hall college.  I am able to sneak into such events and enjoy a tepid glass of mulled wine and a mince pie as it was with Hughes Hall that I left my piano when I departed Cambridge to live in more southerly climes.  At this “do”, I was introduced to only three people – one of whom, it was soon revealed, had a penchant for musical theatre and had made much use of my piano (probably rather better use than I ever managed).  This same chap, it transpired, had been an undergraduate at Southampton University and so was perfectly placed to introduce me to a singing teacher near my new home.  What are the chances that one of an effectively random group of three people would prove to be so useful?  Then again, I did meet my current singing teacher in a rather similar fashion – so perhaps this is the established way to find vocal tutelage.

So, whilst coincidence is my constant companion, more-often-than-not she smiles kindly upon me (if we ignore some of her weather and train punctuality-based work).  Indeed, late yesterday afternoon as I returned from my singing lesson to my (Trave)lodgings (oh yes, I know how to live the high life!), strolling along beside the oily blackness of the Cam under the merest sliver of crescent moon with a song in my heart, my ego soothed by a positive response to my last post, I couldn’t help feeling I was the luckiest chap alive.

Why I shouldn’t work with the public…

Before the post proper begins, we need two disclaimers.

  1. I am a very childish man – and I do realise that the current popular stereotype (when is the 3D version coming?) would suggest that whilst “childish” is an adjective it does very little to limit the scope of the noun “man”.
  2. I was asked not to write this post – but GofaDM will not be silenced!

Now, on with the motley!

Yesterday morning, I went for one of my periodic bouts of massage therapy in a vain (in at least two senses of the word) attempt to maintain my ageing body in some sort of fighting form.  It is also an attempt to delay the day on which I become a burden on the already over-stretched resources of the NHS.

The first order of business as a client is to disrobe to allow the therapist fairly full access to my flesh.  As I did this, I was struck – oddly for the first time – that my therapist rather obviously averted his (or her) gaze as my body was slowly revealed from the layers of clothing keeping the winter chill at bay.  Clearly, this was meant as a courtesy – to spare my blushes as my flesh was laid, quite literally, bare – but its absurdity suddenly became clear.  The instant after I stripped, I hopped up onto the cushioned bench (table?) provided and the therapist was forced to look upon my (almost) nakedness in order to apply his (or her) healing hands (and elbows) to render some basic repairs.

I also felt that this gaze-aversion could be taken as somewhat of an insult, surely my body was not so revolting that any viewer would attempt to minimise their exposure.  I like to imagine that I’m in pretty good shape for a man who will soon have to wave 47 goodbye – if not buff, then at least taupe or manila.  Were I of a less confident (née brazen) disposition, this “courtesy” could leave my delicate body-image crushed.  I found myself pondering (aloud) alternative approaches that could be taken.  Perhaps the therapist could watch the unveiling and make suitably appreciative comments as various areas where exposed – praising a well-turned ankle or finely honed acromion process?  This does after all count as complementary therapy (a pun that works better spoken or delivered by someone with poorer spelling).  OK, that isn’t really what I really thought.  What I actually said was that perhaps a well-timed wolf-whistle would be appropriate; or maybe just an exclamation of “Wow!”.  For the less well-honed physique, the therapist might require an arsenal of neutral but complimentary sounding phrases – such as those beloved of actor’s for use on a friends’ disastrous opening night:”Darling, what can I say?” might work – as but a single example.

I fear I then allowed my mind to wander and proposed that a well-prepared therapist would have suitable stripping music available to be played during the disrobement.  Make the process more of a feature of the session, rather than a mildly embarrassing aperitif.  I suppose the well-prepared client would bring his (or her) own music – something I have only just considered, but will now definitely be doing next time.

I have to say that none of my ideas were received with much approbation.  Most were considered inappropriate and likely to at best lose clients and at worst result in physical violence or a court case.  I found this a very disappointing response to what I still consider very valuable business development advice.  However, I fear the perceived quality of my advice may have been weakened by the fact that it reduced me (if no-one else} to tears of laughter.  My therapist was good enough to stare at me during some of my re-dressing process, but I didn’t feel his (or her) heart was fully in it – though I nonetheless enjoyed the attention!  When it came to time to pay for my therapy, I did feel the strange desire to stick the used twenties into a waist-band – which even I will admit was inappropriate and perhaps slightly confusing the relationship, but I think might encourage heavier tipping.

Given the above, I feel the title requires no further explanation and that I should continue in a b2b role – preferably conducted remotely using modern telecommunications technology

White Heat

As this blog must have mentioned by now, I have a number of fears which are sufficiently widespread in the general population to have (relatively) well-known words to describe them.  As so often, we take our lead (and words) from the Greeks and so I suffer from acrophobia and claustrophobia (that I am willing to admit to here, at any rate) – that is a fear of heights (more the associated drops) and enclosed spaces.  I refuse to accept that either of these fears is irrational – though I will admit that I have not troubled to calculate how many micromorts I have spared myself by avoiding the objects of my anxiety.  Having an overly good memory, I can recall some of the sources of both of these fears – Southwark Towers and Spalding each spring to mind as catalytic in their development.

By chance, I have washed up less than five minutes’ brisk walk from a climbing wall, and so I decided to try and tackle the acrophobia head-on.  I have hazarded a climbing wall once before, a little more than 8 years ago, somewhere in the Gower peninsular as part of the events arranged to mark my brother-in-law turning fifty (or was it forty?  All I know is that he is much older than me!).  On this occasion, whilst my musculature was much admired (or at least remarked upon with surprise) I failed to move any distance away from the ground – frankly, my head is further from the ground when I stand-up normally than it achieved in my last attempt at a wall-based ascent.

This evening brought the fateful hour when I, along with another seven keen students of wall-climbing, assembled to – quite literally – be shown the ropes (and a harness and a carabiner).  To my surprise, I was not the oldest student (or so I think) and the instructor was significantly my senior – so I could not fall back on my age as an excuse for failure.  After learning how to connect myself safely to a rope and a belay, and having practised belaying another, I had to face the wall myself.  The wall was some 6m (or a shed-load of feet) high with a variety of gaily coloured and curiously shaped hand-holds firmly (I hoped) attached.  On my first attempt I ascended some 3m, then 4m and then managed three ascents all the way to the top (6m ladies and gentlemen) on two quite separate sections of the wall!  Oh yes, to my considerable surprise, née astonishment, I can climb – really quite quickly and even using the wall itself as one (or occasionally two) of my points of grip/contact.  My flabber has never been so well and truly gasted.  Weirdly, whilst climbing I didn’t really think about the height at all – though I did once make the mistake of looking down from the dizzy height of 6m, but even that only fazed me momentarily.

I suppose it shouldn’t have come as so much of a shock that I can climb, given that I have long limbs and have a reasonable power-to-weight ratio, were it not for the fact that my limbs have not grown in the last 8 years and I suspect my power-to-weight ratio hasn’t improved much either.  Lesson 2 comes next Monday, so we will have to see whether today was a fluke – but at the moment all my objectives for the three lesson course have already been achieved.  The experience was really rather exhilarating with the knot-tying and belaying proving by far the most stressful elements of the evening.  Nonetheless, readers need not worry that I will now become a thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie – the thrill of a well-stage play or a good book remain enough for me.  Plus, I have a week to spend in the rather prosaic activity of practising my knots using an old shoelace – so my manual dexterity may also gain a boost from this attempt to face my fears.

And the title you ask, surely you remember the most famous line from the film White Heat?

Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

It seemed strangely appropriate given the circumstances, though I do realise that at most one reader will be my actual “Ma” and would like to reassure readers that no gas canisters were harmed in the making of this post.


This afternoon, I went to see SUSO (the Southampton University Symphony Orchestra) – the Southampton equivalent of CUSO (who I will be seeing next weekend).  Southampton does have an equivalent of CUMS, called SUMS, but perhaps wisely this acronym has been nabbed by the Mathematics Society.  I presume no-one else in Cambridge wanted CUMS so the Music Society had free rein.

The orchestra provided a very full programme of music from the Americas – well, to be more accurate the US and Mexico, but “the Americas” sounds better than “NAFTA less Canada”.  Within this very enjoyable programme was Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez: described in the programme notes (which hopefully compensate in accuracy for what they lack in style) as having been embraced as the unofficial national anthem of Mexico.  I have no idea what the official national anthem of Mexico sounds like, and am far too lazy to resort to Google to find out, but I seriously doubt it could hold so much as a rushlight (let alone a candle) to Danzón No. 2.  Our own national anthem is positively dirge-like by comparison.

In contrast to the rather martial air lent by the march which forms the basis of so many national anthems, Danzón No. 2 takes its inspiration from dance (rather to my surprise as I was convinced that bailar was the Spanish verb “to dance” – but I guess Mexico is a long way from Castille).  I would agree that the piece lacks any stirring words (or indeed, any words whatsoever) to sing along with at times of great national passion, but I feel this may be no bad thing in these days of heightened nationalism.  Both Flanders and Swann and Mitch Benn (to my certain knowledge) have attempted new national anthems which disparage Johnny foreigner, but no-one has attempted a new anthem for the UK (or the mostly UK of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) based on indigenous dance.  Morris is always a possibility, but I wonder if it would lack the gravitas for the international stage.  Perhaps the Dashing White Sergeant (assuming we retain the Scots in the Union)?  Or if that seems too military, the Gay Gordons as a celebration of equality?  The UK has brought the world many a dance – some of which I was introduced to at primary school, anyone for the Circassian Circle? – and surely one of these could provide the basis for a new national anthem in the hands of a suitable young composer?  The right choice could leave our international “partners” literally reeling!

Three Cheers for Chichester

As the title suggests, this post – like Gaul – will be divided into three parts (probably plus some digressions, if I’m being honest).

Yesterday, I went to Chichester for the second time since my move to the South Coast.  It is just a simple, thrifty train ride from home which makes it an eminently feasible destination for a day trip.  My primary reason for going was to visit the theatre, at the moment the Minerva as the main festival theatre is undergoing major renewal (like a giant, concrete library book).  My first visit was to see the newish (1981) play Another Country by Julian Mitchell.  Set in a boys’ boarding school in the thirties – but despite this unfamiliar setting (to me at least) it made for compelling drama and much to provoke thought in a middle-aged man some 80- years after the (fictional) event.  Then again, I do wonder if my thoughts are particular prone to even the slightest provocation – on, as ’twere, a hair-trigger.

Yesterday I went to see King Lear, a play that had somehow eluded my gaze heretofore.  Perhaps its nature as a tragedy and the feeling that one knows what happens had put me off, but it was advertised as following Another Country and it shared an actor with Dead Cat, so I thought I’d give it a go.  It was well that I booked fairly early, as it garnered (whether Alan or James I’m never entirely sure) very good reviews and I believe seats are now unattainable.  It as an incredible piece of theatre and caused the most emotion in me (oh yes, there were tears before teatime) of any Shakespeare play I have seen.  It was also an excellent reminder that the journey is often so much more important than the destination – living through the play was so much more than merely knowing the broad details of the plot.

On my first visit to Chichester, as I sought out the location of the theatre (which seems accessible only via a large car park) I came across Whipped and Baked as a venue for my pre-theatre lunch (I like a matinee as you can be home at a sensible hour and easily imagine you are still young within the age-profile of an afternoon audience).  This offers all that one could wish for in a bakery/coffee-shop – the food is both ethical and excellent and there is a splendid slightly counter-cultural vibe about the place.  W&B was born at a tattoo convention in Brighton and the man who commands front-of-house (though not the till) reminded me of a retired roadie – and it seems he was one.   W&B is now a regular port of call on my way to the Minerva.  However, you do not have to take my word for it – Frank Langella (American actor extraordinaire), King Lear himself, comes in most days for a couple of brownies.

My third cheer relates to the Pallant House Gallery.  I located this on my first visit, but it was only yesterday that I ventured within.  For a relatively small (though larger than I expected from the exterior) provincial gallery this is a marvel.  What an amazing collection of 20th century, mostly British art, either as part of its permanent collection or as visiting show!  At least half the rooms were worth the price of admission (discounted by my National Art Pass) on their own.  I’d particularly mention the Ravilious prints and the Nicholson Circle exhibitions – but everywhere was art that was interesting and inspiring.

I had been to Chichester before – I think to see friends sing in the cathedral, but had never even guessed at the other delights the place offers.  Without my move, I doubt I would have gone there again – very much to my loss.  So my plan to see the whole country as a local (by the rather expensive method of living in its various regions) is already proving itself to be less idiotic that it might have seemed.