How big is it?

Before we go any further, can I ask you all to lift your minds out of the gutter – all I shall say on that subject is that my hands, feet and nose are significantly larger than average and leave you to draw your own, ill-founded conclusions.

Instead, we will start be considering my green credentials.  I am, in fact, really quite green and have been for many years – starting long before I knew what it was to be green (unless the phrase was used to describe a frog or leaf).   There are a number of reasons for my early adoption of this planet-friendly lifestyle which I shall now reveal.

Firstly, I think we must blame the parents (mostly mine, in this case) for insisting that I turned the lights off when I left a room and for closing doors after I had passed through them to “keep the heat in” (caloric being thought to be afraid of wood in those dark days).  Secondly, I might implicate my rage against the dying of the light and my association of over-heated homes with those who have substantially more than one foot (perhaps nearer 23 inches) in the grave.  Finally, I must perhaps admit that, like Scrooge before me, I am cheap and dislike waste as it’s my money I am wasting and I could probably think of something more pleasurable to waste it on then lighting empty, overly-warm rooms.  My fondness for the cold and dark may have been strengthened by some time living in the north-east of England and trying to fit in with the natives: though I never mastered the accent, I did learn to wander around in only a t-shirt in all seasons.

My thrift (not, I should clarify, the seaside loving pink flower) extends beyond my energy consumption, and I like to imagine that I am frugal with water – especially since “the man” has started metering it.  At the risk of wandering off-topic, I think we should all make the most of gravity while it is still free – it is surely only a matter of time before some wretch works out how to monetise Newton’s discovery – so get any falling in now before the price goes up!

This morning I received a bill from my purveyor of a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen in that most desirable ratio of 2:1.  This revealed that, on average, I get through 36 litres of water per day.  This seems an awful lot of the stuff for one chap to use: it would certainly be a lot of weight to carry back from the supermarket on my bike each day were it not to arrive so conveniently by pipe.  I couldn’t help feeling that either they had made some mistake, or that I was being profligate with my water in some way without realising it (did I sleep-bath perhaps?  Well, it could explain these wrinkles I keep finding…).

As so often with an isolated number, it is very hard to know if it is big or not – though despite this governments, corporations, the press and others continue to bombard us with context-free numbers which we have little hope of really understanding (well, unless we wisely listen to More or Less).  However, further examination of my bill showed that Southern Water has very decently provided some context – so snaps to them!.  Apparently, the typical flat-dwelling singleton without garden (into which category I fall) uses 173 litres of water in an average day.  So, it would seem that far from splashing out on unnecessary moisture (and let’s face it, there is plenty of the stuff available for free outside on a daily basis), I am in fact using only just over one fifth of the normal amount.  So, I now worry that I am using too little water – is my personal hygiene not all it might be?  Are people avoiding sitting next to me on trains and buses? (A definite plus!)  Am I missing out on water-based fun that others have been keeping to themselves?  I can imagine using a little more water, but five times as much?  How is that even possible?  Are most flats in the south owned by fish or dolphins?  Would the life-style supplements, if I read them, tell me that a water-slide is this year’s “must-have” accessory?

Once again, I find myself out-of-step with my fellow humans, at the extreme edge of another bell curve.  Still, I shan’t fret too much – being this desiccated in my habits is cheap and leaves more money to buy more pleasurable fluids.


In defence of fiction

Sir David Attenborough famously does not read fiction, he has too many scholarly articles relevant to his areas of interest to read to permit him the time.  I can understand this, though it wouldn’t work for me – I’m too much the dilettante, when it comes to my knowledge it’s very much a case of “never mind the quality feel the width”.

From time-to-time, celebrities also admit (boast?) that they do not read fiction, though in most cases I rather doubt this results from their free time being entirely consumed by attempts to grasp the implications of quantum chromodynamics.  The most recent I spotted making this revelation was one Noel Gallagher – best known in this house for membership of a reasonably successful Beatles tribute act and not getting on with his brother.  I think his grounds for avoidance was that it was about things that didn’t happen.  His posturing spurred me to write a post in defence of fiction, albeit to write it several months later in a medium he will probably never see.

I am willing to “out” myself as a fan of fiction – and not just hokey TV drama as the last post might have led you to believe.  As this blog has previously established (at tedious length), I visit the theatre quite often and also the cinema but I probably consume the majority of my fiction through books.  The old-fashioned kind which fill all-too-many shelves with their papery goodness.  This is my longest running addiction, I literally cannot remember a time when I did not have over-flowing bookshelves (and I can assure you that I do know what the word “literally” means).

I think that fiction can fulfil at least two basic human needs – if we briefly assume that storytelling itself is not a basic human need.  The first is the same one satisfied by glossy TV dramas – the need for “bread and circuses” which I prefer to call divertissement (mostly because it sounds much more intellectual in French and less like I’m being distracted from more important issues by our evil overlords).  Sometimes I want to escape from my drab, wretched life into something more exciting, amusing or (frankly) just better written and plotted.  I suppose this is where genre fiction (that awful phrase) enters the frame – with my most common genres being science fiction and/or fantasy or detective fiction, though I am far from faithful.  Interestingly, music and art can achieve some of the same ends (for me at least) – albeit in very different ways – and are generally more highly regarded for some reason.

The second need I find satisfied by fiction is to understand the world, and especially the people, around me.  One can read as much neuroscience as you want, and I’ve done my fair share, but knowing that the “I” who thinks he is writing this blog does not exist in any meaningful sense is of little help in negotiating the vicissitudes of life.  It is from fiction that I have learned much of what I know about other people and why they might think and act differently from me – and that they may well have very good reasons for doing so.  I think fiction has made me a better person – and all while just sitting down scanning black marks on sheets of white paper.  An everyday miracle perhaps, but a miracle nonetheless.

Two (OK , three) things have spurred me to finally write this post.  Primarily a book I have just read, secondly why I had it on my shelf for several months before reading it and (thirdly) to try and restore my pseudo-intellectual street cred after the whole Arrow/Teen Wolf incident.  Oh yes, make no mistake, these last three posts were written in a very specific order – there is a very definite narrative arc going on in my head (if nowhere else).

The book I have just read is The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence – it is a wonderful book and I recommend it to you all.  Despite the title, this is not science fiction – an unlikely event occurs to young Alex and he forms an unlikely friendship and the book explores the consequences of these things.  It is funny and very moving and Alex is a wonderful character and a proper hero (a saint, even).  None of the things in the book actually happened, but the emotions, actions and thoughts of the characters are all based in the real world and tackle real issues.  The book caught my eye in Foyles many moons ago and went on a list of books to acquire.  Soon after moving here it was acquired, but its reading was postponed – several times.  The postponement I will blame on Southampton library – it lacks the scale of Cambridge Central Library and its opening hours are scarcely better than Sawston village library, but it does have new (to me, and in some cases the world) stock.  Each time I was about to start on Alex, I’d spot a new and desirable book in the library and feel I better take it out now or I may never see it again (regular readers will understand my fear that my library may be taken from me at any moment, possibly by fire).

One man was responsible for quite a large portion of the delay, despite having shuffled off this mortal coil a few years back: Robertson Davies.  I first encountered Mr Davies in my 20s, when I read the Deptford Trilogy (can’t remember why, but I bought the book) which was brilliant.  I always meant to read more of his work, but somehow never did, until a couple of years ago.  Cambridge library then allowed me to start work on the Salterton Trilogy, which I completed from Southampton library.  This was at least as good as I vaguely remember Deptford being, he manages to be both a serious (even scholarly) writer (I’m not sure I would have understood many of the references in my 20s) but still writes a great story and is very entertaining, with a wonderfully dry wit.  I just love his characters – several I really want to meet (though, sadly the whole fictional thing makes that rather difficult).  Soon after finishing Salterton, the Cornish Trilogy (in a single volume) became available, and so I was forced (yes, forced I tell you) to devour this as well.  I am now in the bittersweet position of having read all three of Robertson Davies’ great trilogies – but luckily he has written a few other books, so I can obtain a few more fixes more the well runs dry.

Over the years, I have very much enjoyed the books of Christopher Brookmyre, who I suppose you could say writes thrillers – some with a detective side, at least one positively science-fictional (though he still managed to get a dig at Daily Mail readers in!).  Some time ago, I discovered that he was also a big admirer of the work of Robertson Davies.  Reading the start of the Cornish Trilogy I discovered just how much, it is clear that Jack Parlabane is named after Mr D’s disreputable monk.  There is a strange joy in finding such connections for yourself and, indeed, books have often made connections for me to other books and sometimes music (and more) which I have then gone on to love.

I think fiction makes me a better and more productive member of society and it even helps to keep me economically active (which should please the government which does seem very keen that we should shop).  You can really never tell where a chance encounter in a bookshop or library could take you – so, I do worry where future generations will find these opportunities.  So much of the internet seems geared to showing you stuff you already like (although it is not yet very good at it), which if we introduce kids to it early enough will leave them with very narrow interests indeed (milk and breasts?  As you can see, I am no great loss to the field of paediatrics), whereas so much of the fun and value in life comes from things you don’t already “like”.  One of my next books (there is always a small queue as it is good to have targets and very bad to run out of reading) is well-reviewed, but tackles a serious subject and I fear might be “harrowing” – still, I can cope with it in the theatre so I should be fine at home and I will be trying something I don’t (yet) like.

Go on Noel, give fiction a try!  There is more to life than the literal enumeration of actual events or facts.

The Arrow of Time

Fear not, I shall not be attempting to explain entropy nor trying to convince you that it is far more likely that the entire universe (including you and this blog post) were created in the last nanosecond than that all you remember and believe actually happened.  Not that GofaDM is one to shy away from difficult subjects, but as most readers will have realised by now the main difficult subject not shied away from is me (me, me, me, me).

Some, with frankly too much time on their hands (and who were not reduced to catatonia by the existential angst engendered by my opening paragraph), may wonder why the previous post – which was ostensibly about a cup of tea I had 8 days ago (talk about mining the minutiae of life for content) – took so long to be written and published.  You might expect me to blame “the man” – “he” does make a convenient scapegoat (at least until someone provides me with a private income) – but I cannot do this and retain my hard-won reputation for searing honesty (which is, of course, such a cornerstone of this blog).  No, the actual reason is far more shameful – well, for the purposes of this post we will all pretend it is shameful, in reality I think I may have reached an age where I have out-lived my shame (they say the eyes are the first to go, and it may be that shame is next).

I have been rather seriously addicted to a television show called Arrow, which I have been watching on bluray via Lovefilm.  I should not be addicted to this programme – for one it is about a super-hero (not a genre I favour), though he lacks any super-powers that cannot be provided by a lot of training and a modest suspension of dis-belief.  It is also peopled entirely by unfeasibly good-looking people and our hero is a billionaire built like a brick outhouse with a lot of issues in his back-story.  He conceals his identity using a hood and a lot of eye-liner (and some sort of vocoder) which is not the least believable of options, but I do feel the hood is very impractical.  I’ve tried cycling in a hoody, but it massively compromises your peripheral vision, makes it very hard to see behind you and muffles your hearing (though does keep your ears warm).  Undesirable on a bike in traffic, potentially fatal in a vigilante with a bow (though does, I suspect, maintain a link back to Robin Hood which I presume was the original inspiration for the comic).  Added to this, in flashbacks our brick-outhouse is saddled with a wig so dreadful, I struggle to keep a straight face.

Despite all of these issues – which mean I should hate it (it ticks almost all the boxes)  – it is absolutely brilliant and I’m not at all sure why.  The action sequence are very well done and just about retain a grip on believability (injuries, damage and dampness are pretty well conserved), the characters remain somewhat believable (no skin-tight lycra or capes – yet) and for some reason I do care what happens to them.  It also rains a lot in Starling City (the fictional setting – though sadly the only city named after a once common garden bird encountered to date), which might help it to seem more relevant to those of us in the UK at the moment, and our hero does have a tenuous link back to Nottingham (as do all the best people, obviously).  However, I do start to worry that I am rather more susceptible to “bread and circuses” than I have previously liked to believe.

I added it to the list, despite its unpromising nature, as I saw it in a list of very good TV shows you might have missed in 2013 in one of the broadsheets.  So, I am hoping that it does have some merit – and the inevitable conversion of my brain to mush is not well-underway.  My next admission, I fear, lacks even this limited basis for hope.

Lovefilm, as I’ve mentioned before (just check if you don’t believe me), does constantly bully you into selecting new stuff to add to your rental list.  In a moment of weakness, I added a TV series based on the fairly poor movie Teen Wolf to my list – I can only assume I did this to have a good laugh at its awfulness (if so, it has had the last laugh).  This boasts a cast even younger and prettier than Arrow (actually it does share one cast member) and was made for MTV – so I am a very long way from the target demographic.  This I also love and find worryingly addictive.  I really can’t explain why, I just found myself caring about the main protagonist as he is written as a fairly decent chap.  I think Teen Wolf, along with Arrow, just has a very strong narrative arc – and I am a sucker for a good story.  Alternatively, I seem to be starting my second childhood indecently early and frankly, I haven’t finished playing with the first one yet!

In attempt to retain my imagine as a cool, liberal intellectual (yes, I do realise that I am the only person to have this image of me) I should point out that almost all my other TV viewing over the last week was made up of BBC4 documentaries on art (Ancient Egpyt and the Rococo) and Scandi-drama The Bridge.  The Bridge has far fewer pretty people and no super-powers (though Saga does come close at times) but is one of the best things on TV (ever) and the second series more than matches the first – again down to compelling story and well-drawn characters you care about.  However, I cannot watch more than one episode in any 24 hours period – my reserves of joie-de-vivre can only take so much.  So perhaps my inner adult is hanging on in there – for a little longer at least.   Perhaps some more harrowing theatre will help to feed him (or her).

By the way, readers should feel free to sample Arrow and Teen Wolf for themselves, but if they are as trashy as I fear they might be, please don’t tell me: let an old man keep his (de/il¹)lusions!

¹Delete as appropriate

Living off the land

Obviously this has become more of  challenge since the move and my current lack of a garden – I particularly resent having to buy herbs at high cost from the fringes of the Mediterranean which once grew like particularly invasive weeds in South Cambs.  As a result, I have had to extend my definition to take in local(ish) produce or at least stuff from these islands.  In this way, I can (mostly) fool myself that I am reducing food miles and supporting the local economy and farmers (though I’m never entirely convinced that either would support me back were our positions reversed).

Sourcing local (or even UK) food can be quite the challenge, as most of my food shopping had to use supermarkets (for want of anything better anywhere nearby).  Weirdly, it is vastly easier to find fruit and vegetables from Cambridgeshire in Southampton than it was in Cambridge – though correspondingly harder to find anything from Hampshire.  If anything is to act as the “poster child” for the failure of our soi-disant market economy I feel this should be it – clearly it does not cost enough to pointlessly move stuff around the country (or, indeed, world).  There is this idea in time management (a much duller topic than its name suggests with not a wormhole or vortex in sight) that you should “touch” anything only once – be it a piece of paper or an email.  Perhaps the same principle should be applied to the humble carrot or cabbage – if nothing else it should cut down on traffic.

The other issue with sourcing local produce is the fact that we seem to have broken the climate, leading to seriously unexpected seasonality of well-known staples and significant reductions in supply.  It has become almost impossible to source UK-sourced strong flour for my bread making – or find bread made by others using it either.  However, on my travels around this land I think wheat’s loss may be rice’s gain.  With most of England already resembling a patchwork of paddy-fields, I think it may be time for farmers to take the hint and move into rice cultivation.  I look forward to locally-made sake which will make for a delicious warming treat on a cold, wet summer’s day (which we can now enjoy at any time of the year!).  Talking of rice, I should give an honourable mention to Rice Up, a wholefood shop in Southampton which does regularly provide local veg (and sometimes even fruit – though not at this time of year for obvious reasons).  What it will have on offer is unpredictable, but has always been good and surprisingly reasonably priced: little, if any, more expensive than the supermarkets (and often cheaper, though I do tend use Waitrose as my metric)Its only significant downside is that it is a little too serious about the wholefood thing – so no local eggs or dairy-based goodies.

Last Saturday, I found the need to eat between theatrical experiences – and finding myself on the western-side of London with limited time sought out a new venue for dinner.  Through the miracle of the smart-phone and the fact that I was strolling from High Street Ken (where I now have to go to source my pearled spelt given its absence from the shelves of Southampton) to Notting Hall Gate at the time, I selected Shed for my evening’s nourishment.  Actually, it boasted one obvious advantage over its peers – it started serving dinner at 18:00 rather than 18:30 and was so much more useful to the theatre patron with no desire for speed-eating based indigestion.

The food and ambience at Shed are jolly good, their amuse bouche were particularly excellent.  The place is linked (via its owners) to a farm near Pulborough in West Sussex and much of the food is sourced from there as was the very decent white wine I had to accompany my dinner.  However, the most unexpected locally sourced item on the menu I had after my dessert: my closing cuppa used tea grown in Cornwall!  I would never have imagined that such a thing was possible, though perhaps I should have done given that British gardeners have been cultivating other members of the camellia family for quite a while now (tea being C. sinensis – admit it, you’ve missed my Linnaean fixation).  It was a very decent cup of tea, and the folks at Tregothnan are to be congratulated (actually, looking at their website I quite fancy a visit to deliver my congratulations in person): perhaps my idea for British rice is not so outré after all (according to the song, they laughed at Christopher Columbus, probably more than at this blog.  Perhaps its time for me to seek out a new continent).  It may be time to switch the suppliers of my tea at home from Assam to Cornwall.

Fresh Air

This Saturday marked my first visit to the theatre in 2014 – more than a month since my last visit so I have no idea how I managed going cold turkey like that (though some actual cold turkey may have been involved).  The gap was occasioned largely by the desperate unreliability and (hopefully associated) engineering works on the railways rendering a trip to London slightly more time-consuming than one to New York.

I resumed exactly where I left off, at the Bush Theatre.  My last visit of 2013 was to see Jumpers for Goalposts by Tom Ellis which was truly excellent.  I have rarely laughed so much at the theatre, but it was also moving and tackled proper human stories.  Even better, it did all of this in a Hull accent (or so I believe, the accents may have wandered more widely around the East Riding for all I know) which I feel is rather neglected on the stage (except, presumably, in Hull).  As has become my wont with good plays at “fringe” venues I bought the play-text – which such venues tend to offer in lieu of a programme (and for much the same price) and which strikes me as a much better deal – which does provide a way of “keeping” a play which is otherwise an ephemeral experience (as DVDs of such plays have yet to become widely available – though I for one would buy them if they were).

For those who might (quite reasonably) wonder as to my credentials as a theatre critic, I would point out that my positive response to JfG was shared by several of the broadsheets (including one that included it in their top 10 of 2013) and one Gary Lineker who shared audience duties with me on the night (and who looks disgracefully youthful even at close range).

This time I saw Ciphers by Dawn King (a previous winner of the Papatango prize – always a sign of quality) which was a decent thriller and very well acted.  However, it was quite eclipsed by my evening’s viewing: The Body of an American by Dan O’Brien.   This was at the Gate Theatre, which those studying this blog for the associated degree will remember was the venue of one of my first theatre visits: when there was still some hope of managing my condition.  The Gate puts on new (or newish) international plays (i.e. those written by Johnny or Janey Foreigner).  I felt slightly guilty about not having been more often and one of the actors (half of the total, in fact) was Damien Molony who has yet to appear in a duff play (and did introduce me to 10 Greek Street), so I thought I’d take a punt.  Rather pleasingly, the cost of both plays added together was less than my return rail ticket to London – which makes it much easier to be experimental.  This could be considered a savage indictment on rail fares in this country (and to an extent it is), but I was on a super-off peak Travelcard, with a third off from my Network Card, so my rail fare was pretty decent value.  No, in fact it is quite possible to see decent theatre very economically – my ticket at the Gate cost no more than a visit to my local multiplex – and it doesn’t have to become an addiction, so give it a try!

Anyway, back to The Body of an American: before going I knew it was about a war correspondent and would contain graphic images of the effects of war – so not an obvious source of a fun night out.  There are some very visceral images and the meaning of the title becomes apparent fairly early on, but the play was quite stunning with the two actors playing a significant number of parts in a wide range of accents with only two (cheap) chairs and a lot of shredded paper snow for props/set.  In some ways it is a play about itself, and I love a bit of recursion (one of my favourite elements of my Maths degree), but despite what could easily have become rather a confusing structure in lesser hands it was never anything less than lucid and often emotionally powerful.  Whilst I loved the play, I didn’t pick up a play-text as the voices in my head haven’t the slightest chance of doing the play justice (that needed a tour-de-force from Messrs Gaminara and Molony) – however, I think I will have physical reminders of the play for some time yet in the form of little fragments of paper snow, despite the best attempts of the Gate to spare us (the poor actors and their loved ones must be finding paper snow everywhere).  Today’s title is the only line from the play I can remember, perhaps because it was used several times.  Interestingly, despite the subject matter, that night delivered my best night’s sleep of 2014 so far.

I think there might be a theme developing here – I seem to like shortish plays in a small fringe venue with a somewhat harrowing subject matter, see the excellent Unscorched as another example.  Jumpers for Goalposts while it mostly lacked harrowing subject matter, but did still tackle some very serious issues.  I do begin to worry that I may suffer from some sort of psychopathy – though so far this only seems to manifest at the theatre.  If the blog suddenly dries up, it may be because the men (or women) in white coats have finally come for me – still, I believe Dartmoor does have a certain wild beauty and padded walls would cut down on my self-harming.   Before you panic about my mental health and plan to stage an intervention (or call social services), this self-harm is caused by impacts with solid objects like door frames, tables etc as I fail to successfully navigate round them (so, I can blame no-one other than the self for such harm) and nothing more sinister (or, indeed, dexter).

Keep your hat on

I am a sometime wearer of the milliner’s art, and I would like to do so more often (as with the scarf, I feel it makes me look raffish) – but there are two issues which stand in the way of my intent.  Firstly, in recent years this country seems to have become a lot windier than I remember from my youth (though this may be down to my perception moving from that of a pedestrian to that of a cyclist) and in the strong wind it can be rather tricky to keep one’s hat in contact with one’s bonce.  The second reason is related, in that I tend to regularly travel by bike and this generates wind (even if mother nature is not supplying her own) and leads to the hat and cyclist parting company.

I have noticed that young people (or at least some among their number) seem able to retain their hats under what seem to me to be very challenging conditions.  They seem unaffected by strong winds which is all the more impressive given the positioning of the hat upon the head.  Modern youth seem able to perch a hat on only the rear 30-40% of the head – a position from which I would struggle to retain my headwear even with the wind at 0 (flat calm) on Mr Beaufort’s scale.   How do they do it?  Has a new head shape evolved since the 1980s?  Has the hat pin made a comeback?  If any young person should happen to stumble on this blog, please put an older codger out of his misery and divulge the secret.

While on the subject of the covering of my head, I thought I’d raise another cycle-generated wind issue that vexes me.  The issues relates to my hair, which frankly has always been a source of disappointment to me (indeed, I have often pondered disposing of it altogether and using a wig when necessary).  Each morning I spend a considerable amount of time styling my hair using some sort of goo to reach a rough approximation to its Platonic ideal – some days I can take as much as 5 seconds on this process (I know, my excessive vanity will be my downfall).  However, I have no idea why I do this as within 30 seconds of cycling all my efforts have been rendered as naught.  Purveyors of hair styling gunk advertise their wares suggesting that you can do anything – including bouncing up-and-down on your head (not something I have ever been tempted to try) – and nothing will shift your hairstyle.  I am loathe to believe that corporations would be economical with the truth so why, despite the supposed hold of my hair product, is its effect render null and void within 100 yards (or metres) of distance travelled on my velocipede?  I’ve tried gel, wax, fudge, mud and more – but none can retain its hold on my barnet.  Do I have defective hair (well, even more defective than I thought)?  Do I have some strange immunity to hair products?  Could I commercialise this new and rather unexpected super-power?  Or failing that, is there any way to control my hair so that it stays controlled?  Answers on a postcard to the usual address…

The Sociology of Superheroes

Having been away from the blog-face for a while, I felt I should return with a suitably pretentious post title – and felt this should fit the bill.  There are only two (immediate) issues that I can see: (1) I completely lack an “-ology” and so will be relying on my memories of the Thinking Allowed podcast and (2) I know very little about superheroes.  However, I comfort myself with the knowledge that our political and corporate masters muddle through with far greater burdens of ignorance without any lack of confidence (and with exceedingly generous remuneration!).

Training in sociology just wasn’t on the cards during my school years, despite what BT might have tried to convince you via the acting of Maureen Lipman.  The weakness of my superhero knowledge may be linked to the lack of comic-reading as a child which has translated into a failure to read (view?) graphic novels as an adult.  Not quite sure why I bypassed the comic, but it may have been down to an accelerated desire to put away childish things – at least in the arena of reading (as this blog has made clear, in many other areas childish things are very much still “out”).  I do remember that I was reading Galactic Patrol by E E ‘Doc’ Smith by the age of seven.  Now, I do realise this is not exactly adult reading, but it certainly wasn’t aimed at children and is part of the only series of novels I have ever read which used the CGS system of measurement.  It was also an embarrassing number of decades before I realised that the word lenticular (used to describe the lens) meant shaped like a lentil rather than like a bracelet as I had long assumed.

But, in keeping with the primary theme of this blog, I seem to have digressed – frankly, I’ve found some nostalgia and seem to be wallowing in it.  I’ll just clean myself off and then we can resume.

My ignorance of the superhero genre has been somewhat ameliorated by the extraordinary extent to which it has been mined for movies and TV shows in recent years.  I presume that “once in a barrel, keep on scraping” is good career advice for those seeking employment in Hollywood.  This has led me to muse on the socio-economic background of superheroes.

I think we should probably ignore those with an alien origin, though both Thor and Superman seem to be scions of pretty high ranking members of their respective societies, and instead concentrate on the mainly human.  Far more of these appear to be billionaires than would be the case if they were randomly selected from the general population: Batman, Iron Man and the Green Arrow to give but three examples.  I can understand that access to significant unearned income is very handy to finance the gadgets that seem so important for the modern superhero about town – but I do wonder if this is saying something about the US.  Are these superheroes products of a society where the possession of obscene wealth is seen as good (even virtuous) on its own, and a bit of vigilante philanthropy is just the icing on the cake?  Better to go out and send a few oddly-costumed ne’er-do-wells to an early grave than pay some tax and help fund a decent welfare state, the Arts and the other essential accoutrements of a desirable nation state.

I struggled to think of many British superheroes: my best attempt at a complete list was Bananaman, Supergran and Superted – none of whom were from the upper or wealthier stratas of society.  The closest I came to an upper class superhero was Lord Peter Wimsey, but I fear I am rather stretching the definition there.  I suppose I could add John Steed and James Bond as not-really-superheroes, neither of whom would be considered working class – but I’m rather clutching at straws.

I do wonder if billionaires are so over-represented as a result of the decline of the print press, which otherwise seemed to provide a modest stipend to the less wealthy lycra-clad vigilante, e.g. Spiderman and Superman.  Perhaps we need some new superheroes drawn from blue-collar growth industries: the call centre, tattoo parlour or coffee shop?  Otherwise, we may be facing a future where even being bitten by a radioactive animal or exposure to an excessive amount of radiation (gamma for choice) can no longer offer a route to improved upward social mobility.

Having spotted this gap in the market, I shall immediately start work on my new superhero.  He (or she – but I know marginally more about being a “he” so I should probably write what I slightly know) will be a barista (in an independent coffee shop, obviously) who will suffer horrific injuries when his plutonium-powered Gaggia explodes making a particularly tricky latte.  When he finally recovers, he finds he has the power to raise steam, generate frothy milk at will and to inflict chronic insomnia on his foes or quickly perk-up his allies (some other powers may emerge later – he might, for example, need cake to regenerate his powers more quickly).  To further add to the biodiversity of the superhero universe, I feel he should be fairly short (5′ 6″, say), gay, ginger and lack a six pack.  He should also be very well-adjusted with a full set of both parents and grand-parents.  I have yet to decide on a name or costume (but it will not be figure-hugging or involve a cape – though I do quite like the idea that he only wears glasses in superhero mode and this is a key part of the “disguise”), but the steady stream of customers (regular and occasional) to the (re-built and decontaminated) coffee shop should provide the necessary narrative drive.  My only worry is the graphic aspect (as I dropped art in the 1970s), so I shall be taking a book on drawing out of the library at my earliest convenience.  My movie millions can be mere weeks away…