My Snow White moment

As previously established, I have been living with a cough for a while – and recently this has been joined by some of the more traditional symptoms of the common cold.  I do not mention this again in the hope of receiving sympathy (as, frankly, I have nowhere to store it – but would note for future reference that I will rarely refuse a grape) but because of its importance to the narrative which follows.

Yesterday evening, I sat down – as is tradition – to enjoy a piece of fruit.  I have often had my mouth full of cox in the past, but last night something went wrong.  A small piece of my apple must have taken the road less travelled, and in conjunction with my cold-restricted airways (not an ideal name for an airline) I was rendered unable to breathe.  As a result of my modest abode and love of privacy, I am not shacked up with seven chaps of less than average height and adjectival names and so there was no-one available to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre (and as a procedure it is quite hard to self-administer – even for a gentleman gymnast).  The end of GofaDM (and its auteur) did seem to be at hand! (To avoid unduly raising of cortisol levels in my readers, I should reassure you that I did survive the incident).

A long and very loud combination of coughing, choking and almost retching ensued and some transport of oxygen to my lungs was gradually reinstated.  I presume most of Hampshire were left wondering what the noise presaged, but no medical aid arrived (nor did a prince to kiss me better).  My eyes turned very red and liquids issued from most of the orifices in the body from which this is possible, but despite this I can confirm that there is no discernible erotic element to asphyxiation (well, not for me – though I suppose I do have very little interest in gland games, even in more ideal circumstances).  My life did not pass before my eyes, but the link between my predicament and that of Snow White did.  I suspect this would tell a psychologist all they need to know about me.  Despite my antipathy to the wasting of food, I should also admit that I did abandon the rest of the apple – sometimes discretion is the better part of valour.

I assume the apple-choking was an accident, perhaps brought on by inadequate chewing or eating with my mouth open.  However, if it was a plot to remove me from the picture by a wicked queen, then I suggest he (or she) may wish to check the warranty on their magic mirror.  A properly functioning, enchanted looking-glass really should not be pointing me out as the fairest of them all.  I’m sure I’m as self-deluded as the next man (probably more so), but even I am not under the illusion that I am that dishy – relatively well preserved though I may be for a man of my advanced years.



Today’s title continues the fine British tradition of understatement – not as a matter of policy or desire, but because I am otherwise unable to spell the sound of a cough.  I realise “ahem” is more of a genteel throat clearing, but it was the best I could muster.

Ever since coming out as happy, in a recent post, something has been attacking my chest (something microbial or viral, rather than a confused woodpecker on the hunt for grubs) which I presume is the universe taking revenge for my o’erweening hubris.  As a result, I have been coughing for two-and-a-half weeks – and not usually in a genteel manner, for a start my coughing often seems to have more than a hint of a goose’s honk (though offers substantially greater volume and bass).  Despite the obvious hint for any believers in homeopathy (into which camp I do not fall), I have not been treating my condition with goose grease – for a start, is this the same as the goose fat which until so recently filled the seasonal shelves of our supermarkets?  Frankly, if we are going for seasonal unguents I’d prefer rubbing brandy butter on the affected area – though it would make a terrible mess of my clothes.

The last couple of weeks has been a tricky time to be afflicted with a cough, as a number of musical (and other) excursions had been booked back in the halcyon days when I still had my health.  As this blog has noted before, the concert hall and theatre are very much the preserve of the bronchially-challenged, but until now I have always managed to avoid adding my own input to the typical cacophony.  In an attempt to avoid becoming any more hypocritical than normal, I have been attempting to suppress the desire to cough on a rather regular basis of late.  This has generally been reasonably easy with the aid of the odd sucky sweet (one contained in a quiet wrapping and accessed in the gaps between the music).  However, early on in the world premiere of a quiet piano piece at Kettle’s Yard, I was overcome with an urgent need to cough and suppression proved very difficult, but a combination of physical contortions and a readiness to die rather than suffer embarrassment just about saw me through.  As a result, I remain (almost) entirely unsympathetic to those who cough their way through recitals.

Last Saturday, the cough appeared to be in remission and so I decided to celebrate by enjoying some live music at the Art House Cafe.  Well, of late at Fish Towers, and in direct contravention of the rules laid down by BBC Radio 2, Saturday is music night!  After the fun of the Skull Kids, the following Saturday night I found myself in King’s College Chapel listening to Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony and Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem – which provided a degree of contrast in my sonic outings.  This was also huge fun – it’s not often these days I get to see a full orchestra and choir in action – and from the front row a great wall of sound washed over me.  This Saturday was Jonny Phillips (a subset of Willowen) and Hot Feet – and once again, while being unknown to me before the evening started, they were excellent and I’d certainly seek them out again.  I’m not sure how the Art House chooses its bands, but they do seem rather good at it – perhaps the southwest is just blessed with good music?  I also love that the space is wonderfully intimate and (important for a man of my age) you get to sit down!

Anyway, having booked to go to the gig in the morning, the cough returned with a vengeance in the afternoon – with barely time to draw breath between vocal explosions.  Arriving at the Art House, I usually partake of their wares – and given how bad the cough was I threw caution to the wind.  Chocolate is not supposed to be your friend in my condition, but on the principle I couldn’t make things worse I had a hot chocolate (with my traditional shot of “medicinal” rum) and a thick slice of chocolate cake.  Delicious!  It also softened my cough to almost complete non-existence for a good three hours – in a manner not produced by any of the palliatives obtained from the pharmacy.  Now, this was not a proper medical trial – and I can’t be sure if it was the beverage, rum or cake which was decisive in effecting my miracle (if temporary) cure – but I’d thoroughly recommend it to any similarly afflicted GofaDM readers.  Even if it doesn’t work, you can still enjoy the cure – to an extent rarely offered by the stock of Boots’ the Chemist.

At some stage, I think I shall have to collect together all the “cures” for modern ailments I am discovering as I make my way through this veil of tears.  I can now fix both a bad back (using a car battery and a walk) and provide respite for those with a serious cough.  I am rapidly becoming the Galen de nos jours.

And as the Minute Waltz fades away…

Rafał Blechacz moves on to play Chopin’s Op. 64 No. 2 waltz in C# minor (the Minute Waltz being No. 1 in Db) – which is so much better than Nicholas Parson’s dulcet tones introducing us to the panel.  Young Master Blechacz started to learn the piano at the same age as me, and is a lot younger, but he must have stuck at it rather better as his fingers performed acrobatics across the keyboard that I can barely imagine, let alone hope to accomplish.  Still, I bet he is far less au fait with the power stations of Europe than I, so it’s very much swings and roundabouts.

I have been listening to Just a Minute for longer than I can remember, though I am actually marginally older than the series.  I still find much to enjoy in the series – Ian Messiter’s game is a work of genius – but I feel this enjoyment takes place in spite of the venerable Mr Parsons (91!).  I am trying to remember if it was ever thus, or if I used to enjoy Nick’s interjections when I was a lad (and he was already older than I am now), but I can’t.  As an adult, I do enjoy the revolving of panel members and substantially greater representation of the stronger sex – whereas as a child I suspect I enjoyed the consistency of Freud, Jones, Nimmo and Williams.

I think Jack Dee on I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue may have hammered the final nail in the coffin of Mr. P’s contribution to the show, the parody is so accurate it now dominates the original.  Then again, it will still feel like a missing tooth should Nick ever leave the show.  During the credits of ISIHAC, I still expect to hear Wille Rushton’s name after Tim Brooke-Taylor’s, despite the fact that he went to his eternal reward in 1996 and I think I have now heard more editions of the show without him than with (but the Willie Rushton years were the formative ones for me).

As the above might suggest, I am a great lover of radio comedy – it always seems to work better than its televisual cousin.  My latest love is for the Elis James and John Robins show on XFM – I listen via podcast which saves time and removes the adverts (which for me make commercial radio unlistenable in its live form).  I have enjoyed both individually as stand-ups, having seen John rather more often than Elis, but as a double-act they are absolutely hysterical.  If I still drove (well, more than annually), their podcast would be on the banned list – with only ISIHAC (under Humph’s chairmanship) for company – as being too dangerous to listen to while in control of a motor vehicle.  At times they have literally caused me to cry with laughter, so they are now only listened to at home.  The show was funny from day one, but seems to be becoming stronger each week – though that may be partly because I now know them (and their strange obsessions – in Elis these seem part of a well-rounded personality, in John part of a pathology) better.  If ever I am feeling blue (in private and when not operating heavy machinery), it is to EJ&JR that I now turn.

Laughter in public spaces is oddly frowned upon in this country.  A few years back I was reading a rather amusing book (I no longer remember which) on the Victoria line in London and laughing, as required – at some stage I looked up to find the entire of the rest of the carriage were staring at me.  For the avoidance of doubt, this was not supportive staring (if such a thing exists) but more fear that I might next run amok with an axe (or similar).  I also seem to recall as a teenager laughing at a book whilst waiting to be seen at Maidstone eye hospital – and once again, my mirth being frowned upon.  Given how depressing this world can often be, I think a little more public laughter would be a good thing – and despite the continuing disapproval, I still try and do my part.

Perhaps to close I should explain why this post exists at all.  Last night, at Turner Sims, I did see Mr B play the whole of Chopin’s Op. 64 – and so my tiny mind started a-whirling.  I was also served by one of the bar staff who had recognised me (and eventually I, him) when we bumped into each other at the Art House on Saturday night.  Does this make me an alcoholic?  Increasing numbers of bar staff on the University of Southampton site now recognise me by sight (even out of context)?  Am I drinking too much?  Or am I just more memorable than I think?   Maybe it is just my age, being in possession of neither a Student nor a Senior Railcard probably does help mark me out from the crowd!

On Reading

As is so often the case, fans of Berkshire will be disappointed by the contents of this post.  As a small sop to them, I can exclusively reveal that I bought my first ever pair of jeans in Reading!  Not funny, but certainly true.

No, this post – as so many before it – will reflect on my most persistent hobby: reading.  I have been a reader for longer than I can remember.  I am told that as a tiny tot I would insist that any text within eyeshot was read out to me, and in an abortive attempt to shut me up my mother taught me to read at a young age (possibly the most unsuccessful plan in human history).  In many ways, little has changed and I find it very hard to resist reading any text which passes into my visual field – whatever the language.  Slightly dangerously, this extends to reading any text displayed on other people’s clothing or, indeed, tattooed onto their flesh.  This can lead to me staring rather too intently (and sometimes obviously) at the bodies of others – an issue which has recently taken a worrying turn.  Over the weekend, I found myself staring intently at the body art of a burly chap in the changing room at the gym trying to decide which Mesoamerican culture’s art had been pastiched to decorate his upper back and shoulder.  I tend to think it was Aztec (or maybe Olmec), but am grateful he did not catch me pondering this weighty matter as I fear he may have found my explanation inadequate.

I am rarely without a book, as you never know when you will have a lacuna – a queue perhaps or an ad break – which could usefully be filled by knocking off a few pages.  In fact, I usually have at least two books “on the go” at any time – one for home (often a larger, less portable choice) and one for away (always a more modestly sized paperback).  I also like to strike a balance between fiction and non-fiction and a range of genres – but sometimes a book just cries out to be read now and to Hades with the system!

All very well I hear you say, but why is he boring us with this information now?  Well, because I can (obviously) – but there are a couple of other reasons why reading was foremost in my mind.  Firstly, as recently reported I recovered my copy of The Silmarillion from storage.  This was to lend it to a chap how works on the bar at the Nuffield (though he is mostly a student, something in the biological sciences I think) who I got chatting to at a previous drinks do (my life is not just hob-nobbing with celebrities, you know).  How the conversation ended up with Tolkien’s LotR backstory I no longer recall, but I promised to lend the lad my copy.  Before handing it over, I did re-read a little of it – and it is very much my kind of thing, but I was left wondering how it would go down with a normal human being.  It would seem I needn’t have worried, before the evening was out he had read a little of the opening (when Eru made the Ainur and they began to sing Arda into existence) and seems to have been hooked.  I think my childhood love of creation myths, and mythology more generally, may be partly to blame from my relative immunity to the siren charms of organised religion (my mother may also need to shoulder some of the blame).  In many ways, Ilúvatar seems a much better bet than most of the gods actual religions have saddled us with – though even he has some explaining to do around the whole Melkor issue.  Re-reading some of the book as an adult, I was also forcibly struck by how few female characters it contains – other than a few Valar, there only seems to be Melian and Galadriel – though perhaps JRR was just following the model laid down by “real” religions?  Despite this, I must admit my re-reading suggests I haven’t changed that much over the nearly 30 years since I first read the book – a perhaps worrying degree of continuity.

My second reason was that I have just read The Quarry by Iain Banks.  I started with Mr Banks’ work in around 1991 with Espedair Street and swiftly went through all his M-free oeuvre.  I then knocked off his science fiction (with the M) and thereafter have had to read his books as they are written.  His work has, therefore, been my companion through most of my adult life (and nearly half my entire life) – but with his premature death in 2013, I always knew this would come to an end.  I read the Hydrogen Sonata a little while back, which will be the last I read of the Culture (a tragedy in itself – if there is one fictional place I’d like to live, it is in the Culture), but had been putting off reading his final work.  I really enjoyed The Quarry – and feel that Kit and I have quite a lot in common – but it was also sad to know that there were only 100 pages of new IB, then 50, then 25 and then it was all gone.  It was in many ways a good choice for a last work, started before he knew that it would be so – and so all the more poignant.

There have been many books from a whole range of authors that I have looked forward to over the years, but none held quite the place in my heart of a new Iain (M) Banks.  Still, there are a good half-dozen books in the bedroom awaiting my attentions and many more in bookshops and libraries (for the moment, anyway) across the land, so I shall learn to cope with the loss.  (And, of course, I can always return and re-read his work – so in a way, he is still with me).

No sign of a runcible hat

When seeking a title for this post, which will have later some recourse to the milliner’s art, I was surprised to encounter the concept of a runcible hat and felt it was too good not to use.  I had previously thought that Edward Lear applied the adjective only to a spoon, but he was far more liberal than I knew and as well as hats it was also used to describe a cat, a goose (analogous to the idea of a “silly goose”) and a wall.  As a fan of Neal Asher, I also know it as a Polity FTL teleportation device – but this usage comes from the “original” spoon.  Mr Lear himself gives no clues as to the form of a runcible hat, though it is worn by one with a perfectly spherical body.  Despite the paucity of data on its form, I find that one can buy a runcible hat (or at least a hat which claims that invented adjective for itself) – which I feel must say something about the world in which we live.  All this, of course, means that despite the confident assertion of the title, there may have been signs (and more) of a runcible hat.

As this blog has noted before, I would rather like to be a hat-wearer myself but have always struggled to find the right headwear to bring out (or perhaps properly submerge) the inner me.  Nevertheless, I live in Hope – or I will do once I find a suitable property near the confluence of the River Noe and Peakshole Water.  The hat spotting period which I will be considering in today’s seminar is the weekend just gone (or, perhaps still there but inaccessible – depending on your thoughts on the concept of block time) which was rich in opportunity.  I did not deliberately seek out the be-hatted, but my chosen evening entertainment on both days delivered head-borne hats aplenty.

On Saturday evening, I strolled down to the Art House Cafe for the second of their musical evenings I have managed to attend.  These are pretty cheap, but you are taking a punt on the musical fare as the artists are fairly unknown (to me at least, and I listen to 6Music and know the surnames of most of One Direction – which gives you some feel for the breadth of my musical knowledge).  Still, even bad music live is good, there is something wonderfully visceral about live music and I still fondly remember a night in a bar in Cortez, Colorado with (I presume) a local band playing (way back in 1990), or visiting the Dublin Castle, NW1 (£5, £4 concessions) to see (among others) a band who lived down the road from my sister in Polegate.  Happy times and I often regret I don’t do this more often – but unlike classical music, I don’t know the ropes and I do rather like a chance to sit down at a gig.  The AHC offers chairs and I know the general, slightly shambolic form and so this seems an excellent place to sample some live music.  We had two bands on Saturday night and I could check out a little of their oeuvres on Soundcloud in advance, so had some idea what I was about to receive (and for which I was – as you will see – truly grateful).

The evening started with Noah’s House Band who play something in the folk space (I think), with short jaunty songs that are nominally animal based.  This was great fun with plenty of opportunity for foot tapping.  The band were generally arrayed in blue-and-white striped tops, beards and newsboy caps (or such is my best guess from a subsequent internet image search).  They pulled this off with some style, but I fear that both horizontal stripes and the newsboy cap are not for me – and I lack the patience to grow a beard.

After fortifying myself with some of Sam Smith’s Organic Pale Ale in the intermission, we were treated to The Skull Kids in Act 2.  I’d say they had hints of The Doors and The Coral, with maybe a smidgeon (which, as you will know, is a small duck) of For the benefit of Mr Kite – though they may disagree.  Despite some musical links to the 1960s, I don’t think the band had even experienced much of the 1990s, such was their youth.   The music was really good fun and I believe if you visit the AHC Facebook page you can see the back of my head enjoying one of their songs.  Most of the band sported hats in the bowler/derby space – though the lead singer went with a topper (and red tail coat).  I think I may be able to pull-off a derby (well, I was born relatively nearby) – though this is on the assumption that I have more in common with the bassist (Will) than the keyboard player (I think Alfie may have had a hat – or head – of the wrong size or is just even less well configured for hat-wearing than I).  All-in-all, it was a really great night out and vastly better than sitting at home in front of the dire televisual offerings which pass for entertainment for the more moribund members of our society.

Last night, I went to the Nuffield for an evening with Celia Imrie – which was very enjoyable.  She had literally disembarked from the QM2 the night before (like me she dislikes flying, but takes this dislike more seriously – I am a mere dilettante, in this and so much else) and then spent the day rehearsing.  The event was a fund-raiser for the theatre, so post show I found myself having drinks with Ms Imrie – what a strange turn my life has taken.  Celia wore a number of hats during the show, but for the closing number the entire audience were issued with paper sailor’s hats and we all had a sing along.  I have retained mine, just in case of future need.  Well, I may need to blag my way onto a naval vessel – or it may add to my allure (and let’s face it, it could use some additions) if I ever obtain any traction on this whole dating project.

Life is like a sewer

To quote the immortal words of Tom Lehrer, who went on to say “what you get out of it depends on what you put into it”.  I was reminded of these words as I have been listening to the collected works of the great mathematician as I’ve been working out over the last week.  Some may consider this an odd choice of listening, and in the early days of using my own music to drown out the awful noise served up in the modern gym under the guise of music I did try to use slightly more traditional, motivational musical tracks (though never anything by Survivor).  However, over time I have drifted away from this “ideal” and used klezmer, Jake Thackeray and The Mikado (to name but three) to accompany my physical jerks.  These have all been fine, but not all music works – for some reason the standard symphonic and classical string quartet repertoire is decidedly unsuccessful.

It was lovely to return to Mr Lehrer’s oeuvre after an absence, a return initiated by the seasonal need to listen to I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica – which I feel is cruelly overlooked in Christmas playlists.  Anyway, that seems to have covered the source of the title, so perhaps I ought to add some content which might have occasioned its use.

I’m not entirely sure what I have put into this life, though it certainly includes a lot of hours – well over 400,000 by the time of writing, which seems to suggest a pretty decent attendance record, if nothing else.  I am even less sure what I want to get out of it.  I tried to think back to previous versions of me to see if my current life might have been what they (previous-me, that is) would have been hoping for – but this generated remarkably few insights.  I think past-me might be quite pleased that I only work part-time, but probably disappointed that it has taken more than 27 years to make any sort of start on number theory.  He would be astounded (and perhaps horrified) to find he had turned into a (mostly) vegetarian gymnast-wannabe.  I think past-me might also expect current-me to have more of the answers – I have spent my life assiduously collecting answers (mostly, unintentionally), but have been even more successful at collecting questions so the net position is sadly on a downward trajectory.

Part of my problem with developing a life plan is the fact that I seem to have rejected almost all the ready-made plans which our society would suggest we use.  I have shown little interest in procreation (or the supposedly fun activities that can lead to this end) and so my body is largely acting as a long-term prison for my genes (with no sign of parole), rather than as a vessel for their transmission.  Whilst I quite like people – both as a concept and often in the flesh – I have singularly failed to pick a specific person on whom to lavish some seriously concentrated “liking” (for which you should all be grateful).  I haven’t pursued vast wealth, career progression, fame or power over others – as, frankly, all of these strike me as seriously inconvenient to possess and would probably require some significant effort on my part to achieve (so very much a lose-lose scenario).  I haven’t even climbed the property ladder or its motor vehicle analogue (ramp?) – my current flat is the smallest home I have owned and my car is also the smallest and least powerful yet (and, the poor thing is barely used).  I fear I may be holding back the whole country in the “global race” in which it seems to be so important we all compete.  The best life plan current-me has been able to produce is to avoid disappointing future-me – but as I have little idea what future-me might value, this is not a particularly constructive strategy.

Against this aimless backdrop, the whole world seems to be heading for the realm of Hades in a small portable whicker vessel.  Only today I saw further proof of this fact (and you may find this hard to believe, but I assure you that it is true) when I saw something described as an “artisan kettle”.  It wasn’t clear if this was marketed at the artisan – though the price would suggest not – of if the electric kettle in question was made by kettle craftsmen (or women) in the same way they have been making them since the sixteenth century.  A chap could despair – how long until the first artisanal 4K television hits the shelves?

Despite all of the above, my flat is often filled with laughter – sadly much of it directed at me rather than with me, but you have to take what you can get when you live alone.  I seem able to have fun on a relatively modest budget – my last theatrical trip (to see Tree at the Old Vic) cost a mere £13 (+£1.50 booking fee) and allowed me to laugh at third parties for an evening (I try to avoid laughing at fire or theft, potentially inappropriate).  I can usually get enough answers right on Only Connect (even if this did require some very unexpected – and embarrassing – knowledge of the surnames of the less famous 80% of One Direction on Monday) to feel that I am not a total idiot (despite the evidence from the other 167.5 hours in the week).  As a result (perhaps), I suddenly realised whilst watching Birdman (odd, but worth a look) at the flicks last weekend that I was happy – not just at that moment, but in general.  Obviously life still has its frustrations and annoyances, but I think I may essentially be happy – so previous-mes are off the hook for the moment, I could wish they had done things differently but can’t complain too much about where their efforts (or lack thereof) have delivered me.  So, I find I am inclined to continue without any sort of life plan and just allow muddling-through coupled with the pursuit of reasonably-priced divertissement to continue and hope it carries-on delivering me to somewhere pleasing.  I think this might be quite a Buddhist and/or Jedi approach with its almost complete lack of striving – but given that neither religion made an appearance in my Religious Studies O-level (which rarely left the shallows of St Luke’s gospel), I could well be mis-representing their teachings.  Maybe, in later times, this post will be considered the foundation text of my own eponymous faith – my first analect – though given my verbosity and tendency to go off at a tangent, I do fear there will be enormous scope for schisms among my future followers: it might be important to write a post about the importance of tolerance, the evils of dogma and my love for the heretic before too long…

Unexpected Resolving

It has often struck me that early January is a very poor time to be resolving to give up our bad habits (or, for that matter, to acquire new good ones).  In the cold, dank darkness that used to characterise this time of year (and to an extent still does), we need all the bad habits we can muster just to help us make it through the difficult days until Spring.  As with so much, we can probably thank the Romans for this desire to make resolutions at the start of the year (and perhaps even trace the habit back as far as ancient Babylon).  However, I suspect Rome and Babylon have (or had) a rather different winter climate than does the UK – perhaps one more conducive to the the casting off of the old comforts and taking on new asceticism.

I feel Spring would be a better choice if we must have a fixed time to overhaul our lives – though far better to make improvements as and when needed – as the sap, people’s hopes and Persephone are all rising.  I have always (I think) resisted the urge to make New Year’s Resolutions – which does at least avoid the embarrassing climbdown which most followers of the tradition have to make around about now – in part because I dislike being told when to do things.  However, this year I have found myself carrying out actions which could easily be mistaken for an NYR, though really aren’t (however, the New Year is heavily implicated in their introduction).

As previously mentioned, I had guests staying over on New Year’s Eve and this necessitated some tidying and re-organisation of the flat.  Some things finally found proper homes, a mere 17 months after arriving (with their owner), which was nice.  When the guests departed, I found a better organised and tidier flat was rather a fine thing – and so decided to finally implement some other long delayed plans to find better homes for stuff.  With the aid of a modest purchase – a small filing cabinet – my filing is finally much better ordered and much easier to keep in that most desirable of states.  Pictures have also been moved from resting on shelves (not a common choice in the galleries I have visited over the years) to being hung on the wall – a more conventional option perhaps, but sometimes convention can supply some decent ideas.  Finally, some surplus stuff has left the flat to seek pastures new in nearby charity shops.  The resultant pushing back of local entropy is proving rather pleasing and has now been sustained for six (6!) days – long may it continue.  I think I have too much “stuff” and in future I may be applying an object-based immigration policy of such stringency that even the Daily Mail might baulk: 1 in, at least 1.1 out (this should probably really use a volume-based measure rather than merely a count as acquiring one elephant and disposing of even two mice would not really meet my objectives.  The volume measure itself might need adjustment based on some sort of tessellation metric, but this may be starting to overthink things – not an accusation often levelled at the Mail).

The visitors also required a visit to my nearby storage unit to recover additional bedding and I also needed to reclaim my copy of The Silmarillion which I had promised to lend someone.  The past is indeed a foreign country, books were a mere £1.59 when I acquired the backstory to Middle Earth: these days they are more than that second hand in the charity shop.  I’m starting to think I could fund my time machine development project (sadly the Time Machine that comes as part of OS X is a great disappointment) purely on the basis of shopping in the past – it couldn’t entirely replace shopping in the present, but could still offer substantial savings.  Anyway, whilst searching the many boxes of my books in the store I came across lots of old friends – and a few just had to come back with me (I claim they stowed away).  Subsequently, emboldened by the freeing of some shelf space previously blocked by pictures, a few more “friends” have started trickling back.

One of these returnees was Number Theory by George E Andrews.  I didn’t study the eponymous topic at university (it was an option I failed to select) and have regretted this ever since and so many years ago bought the book to try and move beyond the futility of empty regret.  As with many things in my life, this didn’t get tackled immediately – or, indeed, at all.  Still, we are none of us getting any younger and the brain is not known for increasing flexibility with age (nor, for that matter is the body), so I decided it was perhaps time to tackle the subject.  I also thought it would make for an interesting combination with the gymnastics – I realise other men turn to fast cars or loose women for their mid-life crises, but I’ve never been one to follow the crowd.  It is entirely possible that I am alone in starting these two new endeavours in my late forties, though I am to an extent following in the footsteps of Leopold Kronecker who did tackle both (albeit that he shared the activities when at least 30 years my junior).  Still, I am making steady progress through the book – and tomorrow should see the Linear Diophantine Equation hove into view.  The flexibility of my ageing grey matter has not (yet) been an issue, but my fading eyesight has.  It is becoming rather challenging to correctly identify the sub- and super-scripts used in the book, which as any mathematician can tell you are rather critical to the meaning.  I rather fear I may have to face up to my age (something I can usually avoid) and acquire either a pair of reading glasses or a magnifying glass.  Oh, the indignity of it!  Despite this unwelcome hint of time’s wingèd charity hurrying near (a Marvellous phrase), I continue in my steadfast refusal to wear anything made of fleece.  Some standards I plan to cling on to, by my very cuticles if necessary.

So, despite my best endeavours (which apparently now have much the same meaning as my reasonable endeavours – under the law of England and Wales, at least) I seem to have inadvertently taken on two life changes at the turn of the year.  How will my delicate self-image survive?  Still, at least I can still easily exceed 1000 words when trying to knock off a brief post – so there is some continuity remaining in my life.


Those of us following the Roman model find ourselves enjoying/enduring the first day of a new year, with all the promise and/or horror that might entail.  Of course, any moment could be considered the start of a new year – but the degree of alcoholic excess that such an approach would entail doesn’t bear thinking about – so I stick with the convention that is just one of the many things the Romans did for us.

Given that I am writing at the cusp of two years, readers might be anticipating a review of 2014 or perhaps my resolutions or hopes for 2015.  Such readers had best prepare themselves for disappointment – as a sometime consultant, I have learnt the importance of managing a client’s expectations downwards early doors (as I believe the young people might say).  Instead, this post will be carelessly hung on the inadequate superstructure of my own passage from last year into this one – expect some sagging or at least a rather poor fit with the potential for creasing.

In recent years, myself and a couple of Sussex-based friends have alternated hosting duties  as we mark the passage from one year into the next.  This seems vastly preferable to “going out”, which whilst it can be fun is best avoided when every one else has exactly the same plan and prices rise to reflect the (un)favourable operation of supply and demand.  This year it was my turn to host, for the first time in my new – and modestly proportioned, verging on deceptively spacious – south coast abode.

Hosting, as performed by the author, does require a fair amount of preparation – for a start, the flat must be converted from its normal condition to something that approximates at least one (and preferably both) of spick and span.  There is also planning the menu, acquiring the ingredients and then a degree of prep before the guests arrive.  This year’s menu ran to roughly six courses: starter, fish, meat (which makes me a very bad vegetarian, but a better host), cheese, cold dessert and hot dessert.  I have yet to start making my own cheese (though it is a blessèd occupation), but the rest I tend to construct from scratch (that most versatile of ingredients).  If I am honest, I probably rather overdo the whole cooking side of things – which I blame on (a) genetics and (b) the fact that hosting is (at least in some ways) a performance and am forced to admit that I may be a frustrated performer.  (Given that there is some history of am-dram in the family, item (b) may also have a genetic component).  I fear I do have a tendency to overact somewhat in the kitchen (and elsewhere) – even when alone, but worse in company – which may be explained by exposure to the late, great Keith Floyd at an impressionable age.

Anyway, last night went off very well, after a delayed start following an expected corpse in the Barnham area which delayed my guests’ arrival by almost two hours.   There was excellent company, wide ranging conversation, good wine and my attempts at cooking all came out rather well (if I says so as shouldn’t).  The evening even yielded a few insights.

Firstly, the introduction of a few agar crystals to my port and blackberry sauce (or jus, should I ever be tempted by the prospect of social climbing) yielded that critical extra viscosity that previous attempts have always lacked – not sure why I’d not thought of this before, though the imbibing of a glass (or several) of champagne may have helped shake a new or two idea free.

Secondly, just after midnight it became clear that more is not always better when it comes to fireworks.  The New Year firework display broadcast from London was just an incoherent mess as there were just too many in the sky at once – either fewer fireworks or the same number spread over a much longer period would have been a more sensible option.  I fear there may be a metaphor for wider issues relating to London struggling to burst free from this paragraph, but it will receive no help from me!

Finally, it became clear that I whip cream in rather a camp manner (I also did it with a pleasing – to me – degree of insouciance).  Unlike many today, I do not use an electric device for my whipping (or beating needs) but prefer to use brute force – aided by a balloon whisk (or spoon) – as it is important to keep these ancient crafts alive in these debased modern times.  I’ve just realised that 2/3 of my insights relate to thickening, though I suspect this may not be significant.

As my flat has but one bedroom (and only three rooms – plus tiny hall – all told), hosting guests overnight brings additional challenges.  On the FHB-principle, the guests were granted the bedroom and its associated bed – and so I had to make alternative arrangements.  I do not have a sofa-bed, nor the space for one to be honest, and decided to craft my sleeping arrangements from stuff that I already owned, rather than buying an inflatable bed (or similar temporary option).  As a result, I found myself “camping” at home – using the rug in the lounge, with my pilates mat and then a Ridge Rest and sleeping bag I used when a camped my way across the US of A a quarter of a century-or-so ago.  On top of this makeshift camping mattress I lay swaddled in my duvet – and very comfy I was too, perhaps even more so than in the bed I had ceded to my visitors.  I didn’t bother with a tent as my flat provided a perfectly adequate roof without the need for canvas and affixing the guy ropes to the shag-pile would have been rather a challenge.  Actually, in the southwest of the US (where desert skies promised little risk of rain and balmy conditions), I forwent the tent and enjoyed sleeping out under the stars (though these were absent from the ceiling of my flat – perhaps something to fix for next time?).  Anyway, after last night I can thoroughly recommend camping at home – which involves so much less hassle and risk of unwanted dampness than doing it out of doors.

Perhaps inspired by my cream whipping, we started the morning with Sondheim excerpts from the 2010 Sondheim 80th birthday Prom, and in particular Everybody Ought to have a Maid from A Thing Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum – which was probably even more camp than my thickening of a dairy product.  Still, a good way to start New Year’s Day and fine preparation for the Craster kippers that were to follow.  Frankly, 2015 has been somewhat downhill from there, but I guess there is still quite a ways to go – so I’ll avoid leaping to judgement for now.