Railway lipogram

Oulipo ahoy!  All down to Ian McMillan and his radio companions…

On arriving at Southampton, I stand to part from train – spotting sign by door as I do.  All things must avoid proximity to train door, it says (though not using such circumlocutory phrasing).  I find I am without my vacuum pump and so air blatantly mocks this railway company’s foolish command.  I also worry that I would find it difficult to withstand any Ursus maritimus with a wish to hang out by this high-risk door.  Your author too literal again?  Total application of this instruction is (luckily) not for yours truly to pull off, I might posit, and a lax out-turn was always going to occur.

But can you spot what is totally lacking from today’s post? Surprisingly hard to do, but I am an idiot (frankly) for trying.


Mystic Moor

For some time, the class of men’s magazines that focus on the six-pack rather than fast cars or loose women has been promoting the idea that we should return our diets to those of our oldest, stone-age ancestors.  I rather fear that this idea is based more on a repeated viewings of a fur-bikini clad Raquel Welch fleeing Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs than on any serious academic study of paleolithic life.  As a result, it has little scientific credibility – but remains oddly popular.  On the plus side, it does encourage lower consumption of refined sugar which is certainly a good thing (unless you are a shareholder in Tate and Lyle)  – but to find such a diet in general use we need only roll back the clock a couple of centuries or so.

In fact, we need turn the clock back only 20 years to find the first reference to such a diet (that I know of) in Ben Moor’s seminal radio series Elastic Planet.  In the finest episode – The Train – one of the passengers sharing our compartment started an ill-feted restaurant called Le Néolithe which served only food from the stone age.  Does Ben have the second sight?  Or was this merely a lucky guess on his part?

Anyway, in the spirit of scientific enquiry (and in the hope of some content for GofaDM) whilst in Earl’s Court (unexpectedly devoid of uptalk) I partook of a soi-disant paleo brownie.  For the avoidance of doubt, this does not follow the discovery of a flint woggle or a Neanderthal counterpart to Baden-Powell, but would fall under the broad umbrella of cake (delicious, but impractical in any but the lightest of showers).  This was very tasty – and so it should be, comprised as it was largely of nuts and dried fruit – and since my return I have investigated recipes for this sweetmeat.  Unexpectedly, these all turn out to be vegan – not what One Million Years BC (released in the year of my birth) might have led us to expect.

These recipes suggest that our stone-age ancestors were considerable more advanced than is generally recognised.  Requiring cocoa from the Americas, almonds and dates from the Middle East, coffee from Africa and coconuts from Melanesia our forebears must have been prodigious travellers – or had vast trading networks in place – just to obtain the raw ingredients.  I know they were supposed to be hunter-gatherers but that is some serious gathering!  It certainly suggests that excessive food-miles is not a new issue.

Once the ingredients were assembled, they would have had to grind the almonds to make flour, dry the dates and extract oil from the coconut – plus find a source of baking powder and some well controlled heat (175°C for 25-30 minutes) and knap some stone cookware before their brownie dreams could be brought to fruition.  Wild almonds are far from safe, containing as they do worrying levels of prussic acid which the grinding process would liberate, and so many cavemen must have lost their lives while the brownie was being perfected.

I’m all for pushing back the human discovery of cake but wouldn’t all this industry have left some marks in the archeological record?  Surely, there must have been easier cakes (or even biscuits) for the Pleistocene baker to attempt – and their audience would be far more forgiving than a modern one (and possessed of a rather less sweet tooth, I would guess).  I reckon some sort of rather basic (so no icing) tuber-based “carrot” cake, perhaps using mammoth lard, might be a goer.  The flour-substitute would be a challenge, but gluten free “flour” seems to be made from all manner of stuff, so I’m sure a determined ancestor could have found something by trial-and-error – or our proto-Mary Berry could just spend a very long time collecting each odd stalk of emmer or einkorn encountered as they hunted and gathered: hard work, but a lot less globe-trotting than the brownie needed.  Academics have posited many reasons for the start of settled agriculture some 8-10,000 years back – but could it be as simple as the desire for better, more easily made cake?  I do like the idea that cake – rather than any of the other, less tasty things suggested by mainstream science – is in fact the foundation of modern, human civilisation.  Perhaps SETI, rather than seeking a radio signal from aliens should be searching the spectra of distant star systems for the unmistakable markers of lemon drizzle cake?  My soon-to-be best-selling book expanding on this idea will be in the shops by Christmas!

Not serious theatre

I am rather fond of the Finborough theatre, it has introduced me to a number of exciting, challenging, new plays over the last 18 months – Unscorched and Silent Planet particularly stand-out in my mind as I write.  They do also stage revivals, typically of neglected works.  Its location can be a challenge, particularly on the day of a Chelsea home game when one has to share the streets of Earls Court and the Finborough Arms (which acts as the foyer to the theatre) with boisterous football aficionados, but is not really that remote from Waterloo (where I am – on a good day – delivered by Southwest Trains).

Often on a Sunday, they stage two different plays – a matinée and an evening performance – which does boost the benefit side of the trip-to-London equation.  The downside is the risk of engineering work and the fact the last train home goes at 22:54 (it would seem that Stagecoach do not expect the denizens of Southampton to stay out late on a Sunday, unlike the lotus eaters of nearby Portsmouth who have services until 00:50).  Still, yesterday I decide to brave the outbound replacement bus service as far as Eastleigh and keep my fingers crossed for the 22:54 home.  As a result, I spent the afternoon and evening indulging in Victorian fun (for the avoidance of doubt, no laudanum was consumed by your reporter).

The matinee was of the rarely performed Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, Princess Ida.  Given the diminutive size of the Finborough, this was akin to having G&S with a pretty full cast performed in your living room (if you had also invited 39 friends to join you).  The orchestra, for obvious reasons, had to be reduced (by transcription) to two pianists and the audience were a little cramped – but the whole thing was quite an experience , especially when the full cast (a baker’s dozen) are on stage singing and acting at once.  I’m pretty sure I have never seen Ida performed before, but I did know one of the songs – as a man with tiefe stimme, I had explored a little of Lord Gama’s output as part of my attempts to become a singer (one generally does have to play the elderly in G&S, a role continue to transition into).  I have to say the performance delivered all that one could have wished for: young lovers, a wicked guardian and lots of silliness (and, I must admit, some slightly dodgy gender politics).  The staging was as thrifty and clever as I have come to expect at the Finborough and only an audience member with the the hardest of hearts could have failed to have a wonderful time (even if corrective knee and buttock surgery may have been advisable afterwards).

Between the afternoon and evening performances I found myself wandering the streets of Earls Court in search of victuals.  As I was doing this, someone coming towards me seemed oddly familiar – not an unusual occurrence as I am more than capable of recognising complete strangers and also because I was not wearing my specs.  I tend not to wear my glasses when just ambling about as I have realised (as Hollywood did many years before me) that most of the world looks better in slightly relaxed focus – and it also makes catching glimpses of myself in reflective surfaces substantially less traumatic.  However, the impression remained as we grew closer together and I finally realised that it was Prince Hilarion (once and future husband to Princess Ida) in mufti and riding a skateboard.  Now I do realise that these people are just actors and he is not really a Hungarian prince, but it was still oddly jarring to see him in this mode – despite the fact that I had already seen him dressed as both a prince and a classically-attired woman during the course of the afternoon.  The lad had a fine voice, and I suspect some Teutonic heritage which means that while he was unlikely to have had to change his name on joining Equity (surely there was not already a Zac Wancke?) he may well have been horribly bullied at school.

Refuelled, I returned to the theatre foyer and enjoyed some of the liquid refreshment on offer as part of a mid-west beer festival being staged(!) there – well, it covered Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Shropshire (for some reason) and how else might one describe that group of counties? – before further Victorian fun in the form of Our American Cousin by Tom Taylor.  This play is (in)famous as being the one Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated.  I had always assumed that this would be some serious work of art inspired by Melpomene, but as it transpires it owes far more to her sister Thalia, i.e. it was broad comedy, verging on farce.  Luckily, I survived the fateful line – when John Wilkes Booth (playing the eponymous hero) carried out the wicked (and decidedly unheroic) deed under the cover of a reliable laugh – and so remain unassassinated (for now) and saw the denouement.  Oddly, I am unaware of any other murder committed under similar cover – but perhaps MI5 should be recruiting more comedians (or Brian Rix) rather than sitting around reading our email.  The current James Bond franchise could also benefit from being a tad less po-faced.   The play still made me (and many of my fellow audience members) laugh despite being 150+ years old (the play, I am barely a third of that) and having gone unperformed in the capital for more than a century – or perhaps my sense of humour is just rather Victorian.  I couldn’t help wondering what the Americans of the 1860s would have made of it and their portrayal therein – but according to the programme it was a huge success (other than depleting North America to the tune of one president – and we can’t blame the playwright for that).

Victorian values have a terribly poor press – but I think this may be because people espousing them usually make very poor choices from the menu on offer – but they can offer a very entertaining day out and still deliver you to Waterloo in time for the train home.  I can thoroughly recommend it, but would note that this opinion may not necessarily generalise to other activities hailing from the same regnal period.

Meeting your heroes

The activity suggested by today’s title is somewhat contraindicated by proverbial wisdom: though I would have thought this would depend on the nature of both your heroes and the proposed encounter.

I don’t think that I have “heroes” in the traditional sense – whilst I clearly aspire to be other than I am, this is a yearning for a generic other rather than to acquire aspects of a specific other.  This may be down to a failure of imagination (a theory that GofaDM readers will find it easy to accept) or perhaps an acceptance of my lack of potential.  It also reflects my understanding (one which seems wholly absent from the media) that being heroic in one aspect of life does not (and probably can not) mean heroic in all: even if we could agree what that might mean.  To the extent I have heroes, they are also drawn from a slightly different pool than is probably typical: usually academics and writers, rather than the more typical celebrity aspirational targets.

In a desperate effort to keep the conceit of this post alive I will admit that there are many people who evince abilities that I find impressive (and often, frankly, magical).  In very local news, the latest follower of this blog (who would seem either to have some recent Greek heritage or be a major Hellenophile unafraid to use a Deed Poll) is a far better writer than I will ever be: his angry, funny tale of a painful coat-carrying incident does lead me to wonder why he is following this rubbish.  Still, GofaDM will offer refuge to any comers (whatever my views on their sanity): an idealised Ellis Island of the web (if you like).

Last week, I was uncharacteristically excited about the chance to meet someone (relatively) famous – and so was clearly setting myself up for disappointment (which to destroy any narrative tension, did not occur).  I have been a fan of A L Kennedy since hearing her on the much maligned Quote, Unquote many years ago.  It can’t remember what it was that drew me to her then, though the Dundee accent may well have been involved.  However, her reputation in my eyes has been cemented by her performances on A Point of View – which are incredibly well-written and read.  Usually, I cook (or do some other physical activity) while listening to spoken-word podcasts, but with A L Kennedy I have to concentrate fully on the words.  I think she may be my favourite contributor to the strand – and this is against a very strong field.  I’ve only read one of her volumes of short stories, which may have been a little too adult for me (and not in terms of an 18 rating) – but which were amazingly well written.

Anyway, the Nuffield offered a chance to see her live (long “i”, though she did also manage the short “i” version) as part of their Writers in Conversation series and so off I cycled through the drizzle to meet an almost hero.  As so often with the famous, Alison is much smaller in person than she seems on the radio – but less commonly, even lovelier.  She read a chunk from her latest volume, All the Rage (which as a result I now own, but have yet to read and really want the voice in my head to attempt the A L Kennedy delivery when I do) and then we had an hour’s Q&A session.  This was really fascinating – even to a lousy writer like me.  Given that even in my most serious writing phase (preparing my well-regarded Open University assignments) I used only three (major) drafts, the fact that every page of her books will have gone through more than 100 drafts indicated a whole different level of commitment to the result (and one which will not be applied to GofaDM any time soon!).  In answering my(!) question, she mentioned that aPoV is in the old Alistair Cooke slot and what an honour it was to be asked to fill it.  She mentioned a particular Letter from America dating to the first performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – and as a result, I have had to buy a book of his (Cooke’s) writings.  Oscar Wilde may have been able to resist everything except temptation but while I’m generally less easily led into temptation, when it comes to books (in the words of the Borg) resistance is futile.

I am always pleasantly surprised by how much fun one can have for a fiver (or less) at the Nuffield – and elsewhere, for that matter: last week I also saw both Joe Lycett and Stuart Goldsmith do an hour of work-in-progress stand-up (though Mr Goldsmith in particular seemed to have little need for further progress) for the same modest sum at the Pleasance in Islington.  The downside (for me) is after these cheap events I then feel the need to blow many times the cost of entry on (often quite tangentially) related books (or supporting the institution so it can continue to offer such loss-leaders).

This talk of heroes led me to wonder if anyone considers the author in this context.  I would certainly hope not, I live with the fool and can assure you there is nothing heroic about him.  However, I did discover yesterday that an employee of a local tyre company (who had apparently witnessed some of my physical jerks) refers to me as “the silver fox” – not an epithet I have ever aspired to, but I think it was meant as a compliment.  I suppose he could just be referring to the fact that I am going grey and am often to be found going through other people’s bins – but I’m going to cling to a more positive interpretation.

Still a ways to go

After the last post – which turned out to be more serious, depressing and just plain long than intended – I decided to run away to the circus last night.  Still, it perhaps formed a useful counter-balance to my previous post with its brazen attempt to acquire work for the author as a foot model: work which has yet to materialise!

OK, that first sentence does raise a number of questions, so I shall just take a brief moment to answer them.  Yes, posts really do evolve as they are being written – some have more of a plan at the start than others, but all end up surprising the author (if no-one else).  The last post was originally going in a rather different direction, but that content will now have to find a new home – so don’t for a moment think you have escaped it.

OK, I’ll admit that I did not run away to the circus – I really don’t run unless absolutely necessary and often not even then – so I walked briskly away to the circus.

OK, I’ll further admit that I have since come back: I am not writing this using circus wifi whilst channelling Burt Lancaster in Trapeze.  As the title hints, I may not yet be quite ready for the circus life.

As is I believe obligatory, since it became de trop to use animals in the “ring”, the circus I walked briskly towards (Cirque Éloize) relied on the talents of French Canadians (or at least is based in their part of the world, it may recruit more broadly).  Apparently, the RSPCA has no objections to the exploitation of the Québécois for our entertainment (perhaps a continuing consequence of the sterling work by General Wolfe and his men back in the 18th century).

The modern circus, in addition to an amount of stage “business” and a relatively modest volume of juggling tends to rely on feats of physical skill by its performers.  Many of these feats fall within the broad scope of that which I am trying to achieve – and so I watched with considerable interest in the hope of picking up both some tips and some ideas for future endeavours.  I suspect I was the only member of the audience attempting to ascertain what “grip” was being used and how exactly one transitions from standing up to planche to hand-stand without apparent effort.  It seems clear that I need better mobility somewhere in both my midriff and wrists.  I have also decided I need a pole, though rather taller than is traditionally used by dead-eyed women to entertain morally-dead men, to try out some of the moves I saw.

Whilst I could recognise parts of some of the “moves” I watched last night and even perform tiny fragments of a few, it looks as though a lot more work will be needed before the circus might be willing to take me in.  Still, I do speak pretty bad French which will help me to fit in with the rest of the cast.  I am also a lot older than all, and a fair bit taller than most, of the cast, and very substantially less muscular than the chap showing what could be done with the planche.  Actually, I have never seen anyone as solidly built and yet, annoyingly, he was also significantly more flexible than me (though he would struggle to reach anything on an even moderately high shelf – so I win there!).

Still, my night at the circus was good fun and has made me even more obsessed with my future as a gymnast.  I started work on my planche progressions as soon as I arrived home.  Clearly, there is just so much cool stuff one can do: stuff that I had never even imagined before.  Maybe it is time to run (sorry, walk swiftly) away to circus school.

The (lost?) art of conversation

I have recently finished reading The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen – inspired by reading The Undivided Past by David Cannadine which was in turn inspired by hearing him on A Point of View.  Isn’t life path-dependent?  (Especially if that appeals to you and so you somewhat encourage it).

I would not claim to fully understand the book, despite considerable background reading in philosophy and economics over the years (and help from several episodes of In Our Time), but nevertheless I shall try and summarise a couple of his key thoughts.

Firstly, he is not a big fan of transcendental solutions while recognising the debt that he and others owe to earlier philosophers who used such ideas.  He would say that justice is not well served when someone tries to find a perfect solution to all of the issues and then seeks to implement it.  I’d certainly be inclined to go along with this: for a start, humans seem to struggle to implement something as simple as a largish IT project without making a complete (and very expensive) mess so solving the wider problems in society and the world does not seem likely.  I would also strongly suspect that people will not agree on a single “final solution” (a phrase with a very unpleasant history) – though many may be able to agree on smaller steps to take towards a better solution than the one we have today.

This brings us to his second big idea which is that to find these smaller steps we need to have reasoned public discussion.  This discussion needs to include voices from outside the local polity (whatever that may be) to avoid becoming trapped by parochial thinking.  In this way, Mr Sen hopes that we can identify and move towards a more just world – even when we don’t all agree about everything.  We can even do this with out unduly harming those who remain in reasonable disagreement.

Last night I had the pleasure of listening to the philosopher Angie Hobbs on Desert Island Discs.  Rather a fine choice of discs (which means her musical taste is not too dissimilar from mine), but more importantly some interesting thoughts on the importance of teaching philosophy to the young.  I have come to be fascinated by philosophy rather late in life, but Angie made the excellent point that it can help to foster critical thinking from a young age.  She (and I) wonder if young people equipped with such an ability would be in a stronger position to make better choices about their lives.  The young are not stupid, merely lack experience, but this does mean they can be relatively easily manipulated.  If our society appears to offer little to the young, I doubt knowledge of the 6 times table or the dates of the reign of Henry II offer much of a bulwark against those proposing an alternative to society – even if that alternative later leads to performing despicable acts in a local gang or a foreign war.

The media in all of its myriad modern forms could be front-and-centre in providing forums (or fora for any Ancient Romans reading) to host the reasoned discussion that seems so important to me.  However, what we find instead is the media playing host to incredibly narrow views which are defended against all comers with unreasoned venom.  Indeed, the need for “balance” seems to be used to actively promote this sort of this thought-free verbal conflict.  The current obsession of all political parties that every statement or thought must be on-message makes this even worse – narrowing the range of views that are visible still further and heaping abuse and opprobrium any who dare to move away from the rigidly enforced orthodoxy.  This means no-one in politics (and increasingly public life more broadly) intentionally says anything of any value.  Is it any wonder that people are disaffected with politics and are drawn towards the comforting fantasies offered by UKIP or the Greens?

The recent news – which despite my best attempts to avoid it seems to creep in through the interstices of life – has been particularly depressing in this regard.  The number of party leaders who stand around and “debate” seems far more important that what they debate or whether we will learn anything other than which of them are better at public speaking or remembering the details of their brief.  I have a pretty good memory and, as we have established, am more than willing to harangue a crowd: does this mean I should be running the country?  (Whilst there is usually no right answer in these situations, here I am willing to say that the correct answer is a resounding: NO).  I’m quite happy to have an absent-minded, bearded mumbler in charge if he (or she) were actually competent.  Sadly, our political system does seem to be stacked against a leader having any of these qualities: especially the last.

This week the news has been obsessed by a very expensive, but rather ineffective watch – really a watch that only lasts 18 hours under optimal conditions does seem rather a backward step for mankind even if it does save you from the intolerable burden of taking your phone out of your pocket.  Did the Calvinist Swiss strive in vain?

Today the obsession is with a man who may (or may not) have hit another man.  I hate to break it to the media, but men have been hitting other men since before we were men.  If we reported every such occurrence the entire available media bandwidth would be needed 24 hours a day.  I would agree men really shouldn’t hit each other – and that if they do, then some sort of response to such naughtiness is probably required.  However, if an accounts clerk hit a colleague it really wouldn’t be the lead story on the national news nor would all the accounts he had recently “clerked” by thrown away: he would be subject to some standard disciplinary action and the world would continue on its axis.  I also doubt that lines would be drawn in the sand with tens of thousands insisting on his right to deck his colleagues or insisting that he should be hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.  Really, if every time a buffoon who enjoys being a bit controversial (and don’t we all, especially if it generates a laugh without harming anyone else) loses his temper briefly and does something foolish the whole world and her spouse then project all of their frustrations into vitriolic attacks on each other it may be time to give another species the keys to the planet.  Even if the red squirrels or sea otters make a terrible mess of it, at least they will look cute while doing it!

OK, I’m painting things as rather more black than they actually are: a very dark shade of charcoal.  There are little pockets of reasoned debate where the determined member of the public can catch little glimpses of new ways of thinking about and understanding the important issues of the day.  I try and seek them out, but it is hard and time-consuming work: if only there were some way one could support these pockets and see them grow.  There are a few writers and philosophers who regularly add to the rather thin gruel of public debate – I don’t always agree with them (at least on first hearing), but am very grateful to have their input.  Having stumbled upon them, I try and listen to their work, buy their books etc but rather fear this is not enough in these austere times.  Would that one could sponsor an intellectual or have a Spotify for thought: perhaps having seen the lack, it is down to me to fix it: arghh!

Imperial metrology mania

I have noticed that films and often TV programmes now start with a series of warnings about the horrors that will follow, so that the easily offended, startled or scared can opt-out.  The most extreme example was when I watched the excellent Shaun the Sheep movie, which warned nervous cinema-goers of scenes of mild slapstick!

In keeping with this fine tradition and to minimise the risk of later lawsuits, this post will being with quite a long list of warnings.

1.  This is the most expensive blog post every produced for GofaDM as I had to purchase £1.03 worth of haberdashery items from John Lewis to bring the auteur’s vision to the public.

2.  This blog will continue naked photos of parts of the author, though I think all (or some, ok a few) of you will agree that they are very tasteful and critical to the plot.

3.  This is probably the silliest blog post yet produced – and that is saying something.  As often with particularly silly posts, my massage therapist must bear some responsibility.

4.  You will eventually discover the joke which is the primary cause for this post, I would like to apologise now for the disappointment you will feel.

So, with the public health warnings out of the way, and any readers of a nervous disposition safely out of the room, on with the filth!

If the internet has taught us anything then it is the fact that there is nothing in heaven or earth (or even Popper’s World 3) which cannot be used by at least some of the world’s population as a stimulatory prelude to (in the immortal words of Ivo Graham – an irritatingly young, very dry and funny young man) some “downstairs admin”.  Try and hold on to that thought through what follows.

When I am face-down being massaged my therapist provides a little “rest” for my ankles so that my feet can be displayed to their best advantage (my therapist would probably insist that it is provided for my comfort, but we know better).  Somehow this fact led the conversation towards the idea of folk who enjoy(?) a foot fetish – oddly, despite metrication being old news, I have never heard of anyone with any sort of fetish for the metre (or any other SI unit – with the possible exception of the Henry and that may only have been in a music hall song).  Now my own feet are terribly neglected – I think because there are so far away from HQ – and so I find a gland-game based interest in feet incomprehensible.  Still, if you can’t beat then then join them – well, I have to find some way to monetise all the time I waste on this blog – and so I am presenting my own feet to the GofaDm readership in the hope of appealing to a much broader (if still niche) market.  It may also be some compensation to my feet: they may have been (at best) ignored for nearly half-a-century but now they have a chance to grab some time in the limelight!

Now, I will be the first to admit that I have no idea how pedal-extremity based erotica works, and I am not stupid enough to try and web search on this matter, so what follows will be my own take on the genre.  I thought we’d start with a plain vanilla, nude shot of my left foot (well, it did OK for Daniel Day Lewis).

My Left Foot!

My Left Foot!

A little boring perhaps, so maybe my right foot which is sporting a bit more of a dangerous, bad-boy vibe after the middle toe was (probably) broken a few years back.  We can’t be sure if it was, and as my then doctor told me, “there are only three important bones in the the foot and this isn’t one of them”.  Be prepared to swoon…

So right, surely it can't be wrong!

So right, surely it can’t be wrong!

Then again, I think a lot of the excitement in the erotic field is supposed to come from the human imagination, and these naked shots leave little scope to indulge your creativity.  So, how about my right foot peeking coquettishly from behind some transparent black mesh?  Would that get your motor running?

It's curtains for you!

It’s curtains for you!

Still able to keep your powder dry?  How about a little foot related bondage action to get the old juices flowing?

Restrain yourself!

Restrain yourself!

If your rocks are still “on” following that last graphic image, I’m starting to run out of ideas.  I am vaguely aware that a lot of soi-disant sexy underwear makes use of black lace (not the band) and so I thought I could give that a go.  Well, I keep socks in my underwear drawer so that makes them underwear as far as I’m concerned.



Actually, if I’m honest that last shot is a bit of a disappointment to me.  I’m not really a fan of lace (though I do now own a full 50cm of it – see above) – I’ve never liked it in clothing or bed linen.  I’ve never bought or used a doily and view net curtains (which often seem all too lacy) as the work of the devil.  All this despite my origin story having its roots in Nottingham which, as you will know, was the centre of lace making for the old Empire. No, I hate the stuff – in fact, I have come to realise that I am a complete lacist!

Yes, that was what all this was building up to: my spontaneously generated joke (when on the massage table) about being a lacist (which WordPress keeps trying to correct to start with an R and I have hopefully prevented).  I truly think that I have now won comedy and that, in terms of my wit, it will all be downhill from here.  Tune in to the next GofaDM post to find how fast I will be going!

He ain’t got rhythm

Or should that be “he ain’t got no rhythm”?  I fear I am no expert on the demotic or the language of the streets (and I don’t have Mike Skinner’s contact details to hand).  I should also probably stop referring to myself in the third person, as that way lies the road to Kanye West (for Kanye East, please exit at junction 11), for I am the poor, benighted chap who is bereft of rhythm.

I’m sure that for many fellow sufferers, the lack of rhythm is of minor consequence but I have musical aspirations and I feel it is holding me back.  I suppose I must have some rhythm as my heart has recently passed a range of tests including its regularity – but somehow this underlying beat fails to translate into conscious, musical output.  I am able to diagnose at least two separate issues:

1.  I suspect I may have a consistent internal beat, however, its performance is impacted by the rate of CPU usage.  The harder my brain is having to work, the slower this internal beat appears to flow to everyone (and any clock) that exists outside my head.  This may be because I am so incredibly dense that the gravitational impact on spacetime means that for me time really is going more slowly than for the more distant observer.  Or, more positively, perhaps my thought process are so fast that time dilation effects are manifesting and the impossibility of simultaneous actions which is enshrined in General Relativity is adversely affecting my performance.  Interestingly, when my body is under very heavy physical load – e.g. when hanging upside from a bar – time for me goes much more quickly that it does for the rest of the world.  I can easily count my way to 78 (including the associated bag of potatoes) within 2o seconds.

2.  I am also very strongly drawn to a beat, if at least one exists.  This makes syncopation very hard to maintain (and frankly, quite hard to start) as my brain insists on locking to the beat.  This also means that when at the piano, the left hand tends to follow the right (or vice versa) with slavish devotion depending on which hand is getting most timeslice on my internal CPU.  This makes polyrhythms a complete no-no for me.

I have for some time been the proud possessor of a metronome – the proper kind, not some modern electronic facsimile – bought for me by a grateful team (possibly grateful for the fact that I would soon be leaving them in peace).  I have tried to use this, but I find it hopelessly confusing and while it is ticking (or tocking) I seem to lose the ability to do anything musical or rhythmic at all (and there is some risk that I may also lose the ability to stand-up or breathe).  It may be that I just need to persevere longer, but the car-crash that ensues whenever I attempt to bring it into play means that I may never find out whether the sunlight uplands of being a tempo will ever be mine.

As a result of my disability (one for which no “park-wherever-you-like permit” seems to be offered) I am perhaps foolishly impressed by those that clearly can handle rhythm.  Last night the assembled few of the London Sinfonietta were, thus, particularly impressive.  The evening charted some of the key points in modern classical music from 1918 to 2005, mostly from composers I barely knew (or didn’t know) and with no pieces that I knew at all.  As I waited in the foyer for proceedings to begin, I was quite impressed by how brave (or drunk) I must have been feeling when I booked the evening.  Complex rhythm, syncopation and polyrhythm abounded – apparently effortlessly – which I found particularly impressive on the piano (if only because I know this is basically impossible and clearly some sort of sorcery must have been involved).  Despite my mis-givings, drunk-me clearly knew what he was doing as it was a wonderful night of music – aided by the spoken introduction given to each of the pieces explaining a little about them and how they were constructed.  I left finding myself unexpectedly impressed by Ligeti (who I had previously pegged as a composer of noise pollution) enjoying both his Cello Sonata and Musica Ricercata and Thomas Adès and his Court Studies from the Tempest.  I also loved Iannis Xenakis’ (a composer I knew slightly through a mathematics lecture by Marcus du Sautoy) Rebonds B an incredible percussion piece played so powerfully that the end snapped off one of the drumsticks.  That’s what I call serious drumming (and not a bleeding finger in sight)!  However, there was something enjoyable to find in every piece – an outcome I would have bet heavily against before the evening started.

I feel my musical horizons have expanded unexpectedly far from a single evening out (and a £10 investment).  Now if only some of that rhythmic ability has rubbed off on me, perhaps my career in music and/or dance can finally take flight.  Failing such a magical transference of ability, perhaps it’s time to acquire a safety net and an artificial respirator and give the old metronome another go…

Not so super markets

As I grow older, I find myself growing increasingly unimpressed by supermarkets.  However, unlike many people of advancing years I do not find myself looking back with misty-eyed nostalgia to some golden age which existed in my youth.

When I was first brought forth up this world, supermarkets barely existed in this country.  Even as a young lad, they were much more modest than today’s behemoths – so far as I can recall, my local examples were of a similar scale to today’s MiniMe “local” supermarkets.  Then again, I was also much smaller so perhaps I am over-estimating their size.  Even in those far-off days, I had an interest.  As a boy, I remember regularly visiting the supermarkets in my North Kent home town and recording the prices for a range of staples (flour, eggs, sugar etc) in the various supermarkets in a little notebook.  These supermarkets had names now long forgotten: David Greig, International and Keymarkets to name but three.  I don’t remember actually doing anything with the comparative price information I collected, but it is interesting to note I was a good 30 years ahead of my time.  Long before the internet and price comparison websites (variously helmed by meerkats, opera singers and robots) a small boy in North Kent  was out there preparing the ground.

The range of goods in those “early” supermarkets was very limited compared, many things which would now be considered staples had never been dreamt of in my youth (in my family at least).  Today’s supermarkets pride themselves on the huge “choice” they offer their customers, but this so-disant choice only stands up to rather limited analysis.  Living near the city centre, there are three MiniMe supermarkets within a five minute walk of my flat – but even considered together they have a poorer selection of fruit, veg, meat or cheese than I could find in the village of Sawston between Mary’s (greengrocer) and Searle’s (butchers).  They can’t even get close to competing with the village Budgens – which is not quite the damning indictment it might seem, but is still rather unimpressive.  All three offer a very similar “choice”, clearly more interested in competing with each other than serving the customer.

Moving to larger supermarkets does increase the range of good on offer, but still leaves a rather impoverished choice.   I tend to use Waitrose as the nearest, cycle-friendly (ish) larger offering – though it is one of Southampton’s smaller large supermarkets.  This seems to offer a broader range of goods than the larger more mainstream chains, but even this stores uses shelf-space to sell saucepans and books (to give but two examples) and tries to be a garden centre in the summer.  This move away from “sticking to their knitting” (food and the other basics of the weekly shop) is even stronger in the big four – and even in upstart Aldi, more than half the store is given over to random tat.  All supermarkets seem to believe that offering cheddar produced in multiple countries is a range of cheeses and seem to believe that stocking seasonal fruit or vegetables grown nearby is to be avoided at (nearly) all costs.

Recently I tried Sainsbury’s, which is only a little further away than Waitrose and is many times larger.  If anything, it seems to sell a narrower range of “weekly shop” goods – though there may be a wider range of brands on offer and a lot more examples of each product (neither of which seems much of an advantage to me).  The sheer number of ready-meals – showcasing sugar, fat and the fruits of the biochemist’s art – were certainly far more numerous while, for example, the range of frozen fruit was much more limited even than in Waitrose (Sawston Budgens could put them all to shame – where the frozen fruit was even locally grown!).

So, I have been seeking alternatives – being a city, Southampton seems to lack greengrocers or butchers though they may exist somewhere in the suburbs, so it has taken me a while.  Rice Up (as previously mentioned) is slowly displacing the supermarkets in some areas – whilst it offers a much narrower selection of fruit and veg, these tend to be more local and from a much broader range.  There I have been able to buy purple(!) carrots, fresh turmeric, kohlrabi and other things never seen in the supermarkets.  There is no sign of a baby anything!  However, there is a degree of lucky dip as to what they will have available on a given day.  They are also reasonably good on dry goods, but are very vegan – so no diary or eggs.  Generally, they are very price competitive – though I am used to Waitrose which may make that easier.

In a very welcome development, a new shop called Nutrilife has just opened around the corner from me.  This is somewhat health-food based, but isn’t vegan, and so has now provided me with a source of local eggs and cheese: I can thoroughly  recommend Winchester Mature.  Jack – the owner and all of the staff (even more impressive when I tell you it is open for 14 hours a day) – will also order stuff for you.  So, I can finally obtain Sharpham Park pearled spelt without going to London.  I can also displace a lot more of my supermarket purchasing – as long as I can order a couple of days in advance – and pick it up a mere 3 minute walk away (and at a price which is no higher!).  Nutrilife is still a work-in-progress, so it should become even better and a more vital part of my food shop in the months to come.

It would seem to be suprisingly easy (if you are willing to work full-time in a very real sense) to outcompete the vast commercial empires that are our supermarkets.  I feel that there is (or should be) a message of hope in my ramblings for all corner and local shops.  I believe that while this post has been in “preparation”, there has even been a TV programme (which I missed) suggesting that I am not alone in being disaffected from the supermarkets.  Can I dream of a local greengrocer and butcher returning in the months to come?

Lucky numbers

In our part of the world, the number seven is considered lucky whereas thirteen has largely negative associations.  As a lapsed pure mathematician, I view both as being irreducible in the ring of integers – and did learn the times table for both when in Mr Oliver’s class, back in 1976 (this, at a time, when you were only expected to go as far as twelve – so I was clearly showing off even then).

This last weekend I turned seven-squared and perhaps it was this which had me musing on my good fortune.  (I assume when I reach the ripe old age of 169 I shall be posting on the topic of my ill-starred life or, as seems more likely, my ill-starred death and continuing decomposition.)  I do generally consider myself to be pretty lucky (even beyond the relative good fortune of my birth in terms of timing, location, sex, class et al) though suspect to some extent I am “making” my own luck.  This does not mean that I have suddenly started believing in cosmic ordering (or some similar hokum) nor that I have found (or inherited) some mysterious magical artefact, the use of which generates good fortune.  No my good luck seems to stem from being vaguely polite and helpful to others, talking to people (whether they want it or not), being somewhat open to trying new things and making modest attempts to enjoy what happens and what is around you.  Writing that last sentence, I realise I now sound like some sort of Pollyanna with a mis-understanding of the meaning of the work luck – still, even Mr Collins is willing to admit that one definition of luck is “good fortune” and I have already established that I have out-lived my shame so I shall plough on.

I shall be illustrating today’s lecture with incidents from my birthday weekend, which was spend in the East Anglian city of Cambridge.  To the extent readers are using this blog as some sort of self-help resource (and if any readers are using it thus, would they please note that no warranty – express or implied – is offered and that they may wish to consider visiting a mental health care professional), they should feel free to generalise from the particular herein described to the specifics of their own drab, wretchèd lives.

I started my anniversary festivities with a good long massage – to prepare my flesh for the activities which were to come.  I believe many of those being massaged enjoy the experience in silence or to the strains of some sort of pseudo-Eastern pseudo-music or a Jive Bunny style mix of whale song.  I spend the time having oddly surreal and rambling conversations with my therapist – which certainly makes the time fly and usually provides some good, solid material for GofaDM (even at rest, I am always thinking about you: my audience).  This time we firmly established the comedy value of the word “weasel” and laid the basis for a future (and quite risqué) future post – but before the fruits of that particular conversation are laid before you I do need to acquire a few props.  The same conversation may also soon be responsible for the launch of my improv comedy career – all I need to remember is “Yes and…”.

Now suitably relaxed, I went to the world premier of a comic, chamber opera based on an F Scott Fitzgerald short story.  I think that younger versions of me would be appalled by the implications of that last sentence – but current me (who knows the producer) had rather a good time.  I feel Douglas Adams would also have approved as one character spent the entire opera in the bath whilst another spent substantial stage-time clad in a dressing-gown.

On the day itself, I took my traditional breakfast at the Indigo Cafe – where I sat next to operatic bass (and so potential role model for your author as singing student) John Tomlinson.  Sadly, he didn’t sing for his breakfast (next time I shall have to contrive to bump into him at supper time) but his speaking voice is very impressive – though I was pretending to read my book, I spent the whole of breakfast eavesdropping on the great man.

I popped into Fitzbillies to buy some breakfast provisions for Sunday (I feel breakfasting at the Travelodge is only for the truly desperate).  For some reason, perhaps because I didn’t want coffee or am a regular in the evening, half my breakfast (the nordic half, rather than the famous Chelsea bun) came free – a definite result!  After a visit to the cinema to see Love is Strange, which was rather enjoyable, I went to the ADC Theatre to see the Footlights’ Spring Revue.  I’d seen several Footlights shows while living in Cambridge, but this was in a whole different league: properly funny throughout.  This is what the radio comedy listener in me had been expecting from the Footlights all these years, but had always previously been disappointed.  The ADC also still offers the cheapest interval ice cream in Cambridge.

Back to Fitzbillies for dinner and my last glass of Sipian, a red wine from the Médoc which has been my tipple of choice for nearly two years now.  The cupboard is now bare, and there wan’t even enough for a full glass – though it looked a pretty decent glassful to me – so my last glass was enjoyed FOC.  Definitely a glass more than half-full rather than half-empty!  The restaurant was on a new menu and so for some reason (though as a regular haunt, I do know many of the staff quite well now), I was offered a second and quite delicious smoked salmon-based starter as a free bonus (sometimes, being only mostly vegetarian is a boon!).  I left quite nicely stuffed to head off to the West Road concert hall.

The CUCO concert at West Road was the primary reason for being in Cambridge for the weekend, my favourite orchestra playing one of my favourite pieces (Beethoven’s 7th Symphony) in a very strong programme which included Stephen Kovacevich playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor.  Not only excellent music, but I bumped into a friend in the lobby and was invited for a free glass of interval wine where I managed to have my second conversation in six months with someone who has been trained to handle an attacking polar bear.

I finished my birthday in the pub – The Punter – with a friend from my tennis club days.  A more perfect day would be hard to imagine – if I must get older (and apparently I must) then this is the way to do it.

The following day I had an early morning singing lesson (where I made a start on the Trill – or Trilly as Mr Vaccai delightfully calls it in the Peters Edition) – following a windswept stroll along the River Cam – before going to a Masterclass run by Stephen Kovacevich.  My piano playing is dire, but its always interesting to see much better players being given insights into improving further (I think at some level I hope something will rub-off on me).  I have been playing longer than most of the students had been alive – though I suspect they had put in more hours, or certainly more effective hours, at the keyboard.  Mr K makes an excellent teacher and you could really see the young players gaining from his experience.  The undoubted highlight was a young chap called Julien Cohen who was working on the Allegro Agitato from Gershwin’s Piano Concerto.  He was good to start with, but after Mr K’s insights he was quite extraordinary – his playing made me fall in love with the piece of music (it even bought a tear to my jaded eye).  He seemed so much better than the recording I have of  Joanna McGregor and the LSO, which always leaves me rather cold.  I am really disappointed that I can’t make it to the performance on Thursday: CUMS really ought to start recording their concerts and sticking them on Bandcamp (or similar).  I would certainly be willing to pay to hear them, and I cannot be the only person who can’t always make it to West Road on the day.

All that then remained for my birthday weekend was the rail journey home – but at least engineering works on the line to Southampton have finally finished.  A wonderfully lucky weekend, though I’m sure nothing that happened to me would be even in the top thousand wishes of most people given access to a genie.