Mon(bl)ogamy

I thought we had something special, something precious – but clearly I was mistaken.  The long-term, loving commitment I believed we shared has been shown to be nothing more than a romantic fantasy on my part.  Yesterday, to my horror, I discovered that some of you have been reading other blogs behind my back!

It’s no good you claiming these other blogs meant nothing to you or that you can change.  I think we both know better.  You don’t see WordPress as a matchmaker or duenna, no you see it as some sort of brothel of the mind!  It exists just to deliver some cheap tart for you to read and then cast aside – just a way to satisfy your carnal, reading urges.

After crying myself to sleep last night, I have come to realise that this isn’t my fault and I mustn’t blame myself.  I must be strong, I must learn how to carry on!  I will survive!  I have no desire to live in a soi-disant “open relationship”, but I suppose I must learn to extract a modicum of joy from our tawdry literary couplings – at least until I can find a more sustaining blog relationship.

All of which foolishness reminds of how little progress I have made on my promised dating “project” (viz none whatsoever).  As I commence my fiftieth orbit of our local star I have resolved to tackle this lack.  If nothing else, the delay (coupled with my recent Playdate – not a real date) has brought insight.  Whilst I clearly am planning to date for the amusement value and to provide much needed content for GofaDM, what I am most seeking in a date is…

… an audience.

You have been warned!  But at least I am being upfront about this.  I’m not hiding my desires behing a screen of seeking companionship, long walks or perhaps “something more”.  I want someone to listen, laugh where appropriate and provide encouragement for more of this sort of nonsense.  Any takers?

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My heart will go on

Fear not, no ocean liners (or icebergs) were harmed in the making of this post.

Those with a long memory – and perhaps a slightly obsessive interest in the author – will recall that at the end of April last year I discovered that I had low haemoglobin and should seek urgent professional medical attention.  Well, last week I finally got around to doing this – s0 well within 10 months (virtually instantaneous in geological terms) – and had various samples of my blood taken and sent off for analysis.  This was quite traumatic for me – not the blood extraction itself, this is no trouble – but the need to fast for 12 hours before hand.  As a result, my blood letting procedure was booked to be as early as possible (9am) and I planned a very major meal at 20:30 the previous e’en.  With these precautions (and pockets full of food to consume the instant my blood had been taken), I managed to make it through this very difficult time.

Well, this morning I received the results – and you may be pleased to know that I passed!  My blood is entirely normal – though my HDL (aka “good”) cholesterol is somewhat higher than the norm but this is a “good thing” (I do wonder if the medical profession are dumbing-down their analysis for our benefit) and a result of exercise.  In conjunction with my blood pressure, BMI (now a part of Lufthansa, I believe) and honest answers to the lifestyle questionnaire I can now confirm that I am officially immortal.  OK, that may be a slight exaggeration – but according to NHS statisticians I have only a 3% chance of a heart attack in the next decade (this seemed quite a big chance to me, but apparently is very low indeed).  So, any of you hoping that this stream of drivel would be brought to a sudden close by some sort of cardiac incident look likely to be disappointed.

So, it would seem that I am in excellent physical health (which I had always secretly suspected, but one doesn’t like to boast).  No test was made (or will be, if it’s up to me) of my mental health and so I continue to evade the attentions of the men (and women) in white coats, my jackets remain far from strait and walls remain unpadded.  I now feel strong enough to turn 100 (in base 7, which is NOT the same as dog years) at the weekend.  Huzzah!

The genie is out of the bottle

The worms have – very much – left the can.  And, as we all know, entropy – or the arrow of time – prevents freed worms being returned to the same can.  Perhaps I should explain the title: see I can hear your plaintive, beseeching cries.

I have spent three of the last four nights at the Nuffield Theatre – though none in quite the usual way.  On Sunday night I went to see a Q&A with Tom Hiddleston who spoke about his career, theatre and film.  This was very interesting and drew an overwhelmingly female audience, some from as far away as Canada and the Far East.  I fear my own public speaking or Q&A sessions have not drawn such a broad audience (and have occasioned far less whooping) – and such audience as I can draw usually has their travel funded by their employers.

On Monday night, I went to see Experiment – a night of new writing laid on by the Nuffield Laboratory.  This contained two fragments which may one day develop into full plays, the beginnings of a spoken word piece and an almost indescribable (but fun) audience participation piece.  The night was enormously entertaining – far more than can usually be achieved for £4 – and I still find myself wondering what will happen (or had already happened) to the characters in the two play fragments and musing on the ideas from the spoken word piece.

Tonight I went on a Playdate – something I normally leave to my nephew.  On these occasions (for adults…  and me) a small group read a play and chat about it.  Our play tonight was Loveplay by Moira Buffini – first performed by the RSC on my 35th birthday.  This has a whole series of brief scenes (or vignettes), set in time periods from 79AD to 2001, each looking at an aspect of “love”.  During the evening I played: a Roman soldier, a Saxon rapist, a 14th century playwright, a Victorian adulterer and a virgin schoolboy (typecasting, I know) from the 1930s.  What a range!  This was an indecent amount of fun (and was free) and I loved acting: I wanted to play all the parts and found myself just waiting for my next line.   The play is somewhat comic, so I was also trying to milk my lines for laughs – where appropriate.  If given the chance, I would also have done the foley work and given life to the stage directions.

At the end, the organiser asked if I was an actor – and an actual actor remarked on my confidence at a first reading.  I am clearly wasted on PowerPoint presentations, the time has come for me to begin my stage career.  Well, I believe it is in my blood (I think my grandparents participated in am-dram) and now it has finally been released.  A star (and/or monster) is born!  You have been warned!  If you start running now, you may just avoid the consequences of tonight’s activities – but I wouldn’t bet on it!

Banging one’s head against a wall

This is an activity which is generally reported to provide its maximum pleasure through its cessation.  Having not tried it, I cannot confirm this opinion but it does have the ring of truth about it.

I have recently finished Caitlin Moran’s excellent book How to be a Woman, though readers should not infer from this that I am about to seek gender re-assignment therapy (or even start wearing frocks on a regular basis).  It is funny and moving and wise and I would recommend it to anyone, regardless of the exact combination of X and Y chromosomes they happen to possess (and as I learned in this week’s Nature podcast, this is likely to be a rather wider mix than you might imagine).  It is full of great advice for members of either of the two traditional sexes, though I’m not sure whether the unexpected flexibility of yellow shoes applies to chaps like myself (I have certainly yet to put it to the test).  One insight was how much pleasure those (mostly) lacking the Y-chromosome gain from the removal of their bra at the end of the day, despite the utility it had hitherto been providing.  I do not wear a bra – though many men in this increasing obese age might usefully consider the option (if only to avoid travelling with a load not properly tied down) – but have (what I assume to be) similar feelings about shoes.  I have no desire to walk around barefoot – it strikes me as uncomfortable and would lead to wounded and very dirty feet – but there are few joys in life quite so great as removing my shoes at the end of a long day.  I do sometimes muse that the shoe may have been created by our ancestors primarily for the joy that its removal brings, and its use for foot protection was just a happy accident.

Having lacked work-based meetings and flying to Scotland using only hand-luggage (which precludes the taking of razor blade and a broad range of unguents), I had until this weekend gone for quite a long time without shaving.  As a result, I had developed rather more beard than is my wont – and which surely must indicate that the beard is now seriously off-trend.  My beard is spared the common tendency to be far more ginger than the rest of my hair, but instead – and probably worse – is far more white then the rest of my hair.  I do not think it makes me look distinguished and luckily it was razed to my face before any similarity with Santa Claus became too pronounced.  It lasted a little longer than usual as a result of (a) apathy and (b) a vague idea that it would keep me a little warmer while cycling in the recent, relatively chilly weather.  However, its destruction was always on the cards as possession of a beard quickly starts to annoy me – I have no idea how the generously bearded put with the things: they itch and get trapped in zips and worse.  Its two-stage removal on Friday was thus most welcome, but came with an unexpected bonus.  As well as taking off a whole chunk of unwanted hair, the shave also took years off me!  I felt positively youthful on seeing my clean-shaven visage in the bathroom mirror – a feeling enhanced by the soft-focus provided by wisely not wearing my glasses.  It is almost worth growing a beard de temps en temps for the fillip offered by its subsequent elimination. The true test would be whether the pain of its cultivation is exceeded by the joy arising from its removal – however, the plethora of confounding variables will make this rather a hard test to convincingly apply.  Probably needs an epidemiological study – so over to you, the readers!

Serendipity

Doo-dah.  Serendipity, day.  No-one?  I’m wasted here…

As part of my continuing efforts to broaden the range of music to which one can strive while in the gym, this morning I went with The Bestiary of Flanders and Swann.  This can be slightly distracted, I will admit, as the desire to either join in or laugh can be quite strong for some of the songs.  Nevertheless, I felt it was a successful choice -in general, I think I am looking for distraction or sometimes a “still small voice of calm” rather then motivational lyrics or a strongly motivic beat when I am working-out.  If I had a home gym (which I don’t) would I then be able to work-in, I wonder?

Anyway, I had taken a grip of a bar and was about to invert my body prior to fully “skinning my cat” when Michael Flanders began to introduce the song The Bradypus (aka The Three-Toed Sloth).  The sloth spends much of its time inverted and Mr Flanders apologised for not singing the song whilst upside-down (I feel the wheelchair provides a decent excuse) and suggested the listener might like to make good the lack – and so, for the first time, I did and enjoyed the song as F&S intended (hanging upside down from a bar, well no convenient and more authentic branch was available).  Unlike the eponymous hero of the song, I am not able to remain in position for the entire song (3’15) as I lack the adaptions required to prevent my head filling with my body’s entire complement of blood (which I suspect may be detrimental to long-term existence).  Still, I enjoyed the additional authenticity for as long as I could and would recommend any reader who feels sufficiently confident to give it a go (Please note, GofaDM takes no responsibility for any loss or injury which may occur as a result of taking this advice).

I now find myself wondering whether there any other songs which provide lyrical (or introductory) parallels with the “work” of the gentleman gymnast…

Sprung?

As the sun was shining this afternoon and I had some time to kill while my buns were rising (not a euphemism), I decided to go for a stroll around Southampton Common to see if there was any sign of Spring.

The extensive grounds of the current Fish Towers – traversed on my way to the Common – could offer snowdrops, yellow crocuses and even a couple of early (and probably foolhardy) daffodils in bloom.  Floral signifiers of the season-that-is-to-come were harder to come by on the Common itself, though there was a red rhododendron flowering and a very few clumps of mauve crocuses.  I suspect the better informed stroller would have seen many more signs of future vegetative efflorescence – but as previously established, I dropped biology in the 3rd form and my botanical knowledge is somewhat rudimentary.

The Common seemed largely populated by those taking their dogs and/or children out for a walk.  Both categories of the walked seemed very keen to get into any available water, though the children were (fortunately) restricted to puddles, mostly those shallower than their wellies.  In addition to the walked, there were groups of young people engaged in a number of ball games – or training for ball games.  Most of these seemed to be drawn from the broad range of traditional, winter-played ball sports with which I have at least some vague familiarity (if absolutely no skill).  However, one group seemed to be playing a muggle version of Quidditch.  As there appears no obvious shortage of magic-free ball games for people to play, attempting to translate a game for which the ability to fly is critical to both the players and the “balls” does not strike me as an obvious choice.  Still, the young people involved seemed to be enjoying their rather earth-bound version of J K Rowling’s game, so perhaps the loss of its aerial element is not so important.  Its playing may itself have been a signifier of the coming Spring as I have no idea when the Quidditch season traditionally falls or whether it has been changed by the intrusion of TV money.

However, one key and very welcome summer migrant was missing from the Common.  I refer of course to the ice cream van with its familiar song.  I presume they must still be wintering somewhere in Africa awaiting more consistent warmth before they return – though Chris Packham and co have yet to feature them on Springwatch, so I can’t be sure as to their migratory habits.  Still, despite, returning home without a cornet (or any other brass instrument) I am reminded how great it is to have the Common so close to home and remain hopeful that winter is on the wane

The heat is on

As exclusively revealed in the last post (and a couple of postcards) I have been in bonny Scotland, staying with friends in Edinburgh.  These friends, in respect of their response to the ambient temperature at least, are substantially closer to societal norms than am I.  As a consequence, they were actually running their central heating and had supplied a duvet with a TOG rating well into double figures (unlike the 4.5 TOG summer version which I am using at my unheated home).  Despite my hosts pandering to my more obscure temperature response curve by turning off the radiator in my room, for my first night I was kept from sleep by the oppressive heat.  I gradually discarded sleep-wear and progressively uncovered more of my unsleeping form from neath the duvet until I was completely exposed.  However, ultimately I was forced to open the windows in order to achieve the sort of temperature which my body has come to associate with sleep.  Luckily, my body did adapt to the conditions and so by night two I was able to sleep with the windows closed and any frost confined to the world outside.

Whilst north of the border, I did indulge in some reasonably typical leisure activities: a little alcohol was consumed, I ate out several times and took in a spectrum of the Arts: cinema, chamber music and painting (as audience, rather than a more active participant).  I also partook of some less widely enjoyed activities, including a couple of sessions analysing the functioning of a central heating system and a little freelance IT support.  I find that I am oddly accomplished when it comes to understanding the functioning of central heating systems and their foibles, despite rarely using them myself and how totally useless I would be if I were required to implement the fruits of my analysis.  I fear that I am very much an armchair plumber/electrician – but, if such you need, I am available at a very reasonable rate.

On Friday, I decided it was time to explore Scotland outside of the region served by Lothian Buses.  My original thought was perhaps to sample the nearby delights of North Berwick, but somehow this plan morphed into a visit to the Cairngorms – perhaps, subconsciously, I was still seeking the cold?  Aviemore is really quite accessible from Edinburgh by train with a roughly hourly service taking 3 hours (±15 mins).  I can thoroughly recommend the journey, especially north of Perth where the scenery grows increasingly wild with first forest and the moorland and mountain to see as the train trundles along.  Being mid-February there was also copious snow to be seen – often between the tracks, not just on the hills.  The route rises for much of the journey to reach the highest spot on the UK’s mainline rail network, before dropping down into Aviemore itself.  Despite taking such a “classic” rail journey, I eschewed the brightly coloured, stripy blazer and tried to minimise my condescension to the locals.

Once in Aviemore, we took the short trip to the funicular railway which takes one up the Cairngorm (to some 3600 feet).  Even the foot of the railway is pretty high and offered some very fine views – the summit is even higher, but offered no views whatsoever as the clouds descended and stayed.

The View: as advertised below, as seen above

The View: as advertised below, as seen above

This was the first time I had been to a ski resort during the “season”.  What a lot of gubbins you need to go skiing!   So much special equipment and clothing, so little of it flattering.  It quite put me off the whole idea – and I did (once) learn to ski, just outside Tunbridge Wells (justly famed for its mountains and powder) – and if that hadn’t, the lacerations and bruising which covered any exposed part of the snow sports folks bodies (as glimpsed by the author) would have convinced me.  However, while skiing looks nothing special, snow-boarding does look quite cool – an aura which seems to attach to all board sports (with the possible exception of shuffleboard), though (oddly) not to board games.  Perhaps I should try the skateboard, it seems to need less extreme clothing than its cousins and significantly less specificity on the geography where it is practised.

I was, of course, dressed for the “slopes” in exactly the same clothing I had used on the previous day to wander round art galleries in Edinburgh.  Weather is like a wild animal, it can smell your fear so you must show no weakness in its presence.  Wandering around at the base of the funicular railway to capture the views, I will admit that the air was both fresh (some of the freshest I have ever had the pleasure to inhale) and bracing:  I even did up one button on my jacket, but there was no need to fish the (thin, summer) cardigan from my bag.

The Cairngorms (plus car-park) in a wide variety of weather conditions!

The Cairngorms (plus car-park) in a wide variety of weather conditions!

Despite my lack of interest in many of the traditional activities that take place there, I can thoroughly recommend the Cairngorms for a day trip (or longer).  (Based on my experience, I’d definitely recommend reserving a seat on the train, as both were surprisingly (to me) busy for a winter, school day).   I was able to post a very reasonably-priced postcard to my nephew from the UK’s highest post box – and enjoy a cheeky mulled wine (or two).  The train journey back, as night fell, also offered a wild beauty: as the sun set, the colour was slowly leached from the countryside leaving a rather haunting monochrome landscape.  All in all, I had a wonderful day out in what felt like a very different world from the one I’d left that morning – and all without leaving the country!