Disappointing revelations I

And it’s so hard to get your money back after an unsatisfactory armageddon.  However, for now I shall limit my scope to the world of edible mushrooms.

Recently, I have seen St George’s mushrooms on menus on a number of occasions and this has led me to muse about the provenance of the name.  I had tended to assume that it was just an attempt to “jazz up” the humble chestnut mushroom, but it would seem not.  The St George’s is Calocybe gambosa while the Chestnut is Agaricus bisporus.  Most shockingly, I have discovered that the Agaricus bisporus is also the white, the button, the Crimini and the Portobello mushroom.  What looks like a wide range of mushrooms in the supermarket is nothing of the sort, some are just slightly older and/or paler versions of the fruiting body of exactly the same fungus.  What a swizz!

Anyway, to return to the St George’s mushroom, an image search shows that, even before gentle frying in butter, it offers no obvious visual cues to the legend of England’s patron saint (unless he had an unreported club foot).  Talking of whom, while St David and St Patrick seem fairly monogamous in their habits (very much one country kind of guys), St George is really rather promiscuous in his patronage: whoring himself out to all and sundry.  Does the flavour of his eponymous mushroom appeal to the xenophobic right in the southern portion of these isles (plus a raft of other places), I wondered?  Does its consumption cause xenophobia and an obsession with displaying flags (of only the one kind)?  The excessive flying of the national flag (of any nation) has always puzzled me: surely its sole utility is to the amnesiac who only needs the very broadest of geographical contexts to go about his day and who, despite severe memory loss, retains his knowledge of the flags of all nations.  It always strikes me as a sign of insecurity or terrible uncertainty as to one’s location leading to a need for constant reassurance.  Even then, surely a flag saying “23 Acacia Avenue, Lower Dicker” would be more helpful? (Assuming that was the flag’s location – it would be positively misleading were it to be flown at Balmoral.)

Maybe the mushroom is inimical to dragons?  Consumption of its fruit being fatal to Theo Paphitis and his ilk?  Or perhaps a mere fairy ring of the mushrooms being enough to spare one’s village (and its more chaste citizenry) from rapacious, draconic attention?  I realise this is unlikely to be true, but perhaps it was once widely believed – and I’m willing to bet that no village with a healthy crop of Calocybe gambosa even suffered at the claws or flames of a dragon.

Sadly, it is all much more prosaic.  It would seem that in parts of the UK, perhaps also more in the past than the present given the seasonal shift occasioned by climate change, it would generally first fruit on or around 23 April.  Elsewhere it has different names, as it fruits away from the date won by St George in some ancient, ecclesiastical raffle.   Further south (for example) it fruits rather earlier – nearer St Patrick’s day but not named for him yet, though if Ireland warms enough he could be in with a shot.


Apple carnage

Yesterday, I went up to London for a little theatrical fun.  Partly because this may soon become trickier with rail strikes on the cards, but mostly because Southwest Trains were offering a special offer fare: £12 return rather than the usual nearly £40 (I could also have taken some children for £1 each, but I lack my own and felt that abducting someone else’s would probably cause problems down the line†).  Southampton may only be 50% further from London than Sawston, but rail fares are approaching 200% higher – so this was quite a good deal (or the normal fare is quite a poor deal – and, on balance, the latter statement may be the more apposite).  The special offer does not include access to the services of TfL, so in the spirit of thrift I chose venues within easy (for me) walking distance of Waterloo.

I started at the National and a matinée of George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem.  This was huge fun – a comedy from more than 300 years ago, written by a man who was both destitute and dying, which is still laugh-out-loud funny.  I can’t even manage that today, whilst enjoying both good health and reasonable economic circumstances.  It also boasts some decent female roles – something many a more modern piece lacks.  The Olivier has a number of advantages as a venue, including excellent sight-lines which allows one to go for a cheaper seat without loss of amenity.  Even better, it’s economics do allow a play to run with a larger cast than my usual more fringe or regional haunts permit – and, very pleasingly, the production ran to five live musicians (for the avoidance of doubt, they were not discussing the football).  Finally, the refreshing of the NT’s public spaces – whilst incomplete – does seem to have made it feel rather more welcoming, which I think may be down to improved upholstery.  This did lead me to wonder if we, as a society, have under-estimated the importance of the upholsterer’s art?  Another possible future career for the author?

I then strolled up to 10 Greek Street for sustenance and to pick up some more recipe and cooking tips.  It seems I may need to experiment with passion fruit curd – assuming I can find the ingredients – as its partnership with Gariguette strawberries is simply divine.  Given the limited offerings in the typical supermarket, I may be stuck pairing it with an Elsanta (who, I presume, is the Spanish counterpart to our Father Christmas).

10GS is very handy for the Soho Theatre where I took my second dose of theatre for the day.  The production of The Harvest by Pavel Pryazhko had been recommended by one of my fellow “actors” (actually, he really was an actor) at the Glass Menagerie Playdate (he played Jim, and I’m still not worried).  Screen-based entertainment is often preceded by dire warnings as to its likely content, just in case you are unable to handle infrequent, mild slapstick (to choose but one example).  However, this was the first time I’d seen warnings when booking tickets for the theatre – though they were just as weird.  Before booking, I was warned that this production contained “large amounts of feathers and fresh apples”.  Is a phobia of fresh apples widespread in the populace?  Are apples, like nuts, prone to send the unwary into anaphylactic shock?  Suffice it to say, I was expecting apples – though was prepared to be disappointed – but the show certainly delivers on the apple front!  They are there in quantity both in wooden crates and hanging by strings from above: the last time I saw so many apples in one place was at Cam Valley Orchards (one of the things I miss following my move to the south coast).  According to the play, these were Queen Reinette, also known as Reine de Reinettes or (confusingly) King of the Pippins – this suggests both an unexpected degree of hemaphroditism and a surprisingly close link between Madame de Pompadour and Peregrin Took (one for the geeks, there).  For practical reasons (as will become clear), I would say that the apples used in the production were Bramleys – I suspect sourcing the number of Queen Reinette would have been a challenge (and significantly upped ticket prices).

The play is a pretty dark comedy, and whilst things start happily enough as time goes on an increasing number of the apples are bruised.  Later, apples are entirely destroyed in a number of increasingly violent ways.  One can sometimes forget what a visceral experience theatre can be (even when the viscera in question come from the fruit of Malus domestica) – certainly when compared to screen-based entertainment – and sitting in the front row I jumped more than once and was struck by a few flakes of Bramley (though was missed by more complete examples) – and could certainly have grabbed a few “windfalls” to take home (some residual sense of propriety just about held me back).  Once again, the Nuffield’s outreach had done me proud: the play was well worth-seeing and at an hour long didn’t overstay its welcome and meant I was delivered back to my coastal eyrie at a reasonable hour.  I must admit I am now very keen to source a Reine de Reinettes – and they do keep well (both according to the play and subsequent internet research by yours truly) – but I fear the illusion of choice offered by our supermarkets will deny me my fix.

† Weak pun fully intended.

Political Grindr

Yes, I am going to talk about the tendency of those in government to bang-on about their “mandate”.  The current government managed to obtain almost 37% of the vote (the same as in 2010, without a majority on that occasion) and so have – in common with many of their predecessors – been claiming a “mandate” to do whatever they want.  I’d note that this mandate covers only a quarter of the electorate – and many of these may only have chosen them tactically or as the least worst option – so hardly a ringing endorsement of the full contents of their manifesto (and any mad ideas they may have generated subsequently or were unwilling to reveal).  Talking of their manifesto, I wonder what fraction of 1% of the electorate actually read any of the manifestos, let alone that of the “winner”.  Even 25% of the electorate seems an over-estimate of the mandate, as many people who will be affected (for good or ill) by the current government were not eligible to vote.  I am thinking, in particular, of those yet to reach the age of 18 and who will have much longer to live with the consequences of this government’s actions than the over-65, who seem to have been the mainstay of their support.  I did find myself wondering when the last time was that a government had the support even of a majority of the electorate?

I fear this belief that the (probably grudging) support of a small minority of the populace is a mandate for each and every action they can think of (please note, no actual thought may have been involved) might help to explain the legislation mania that has afflicted governments since around 1980.  The production of new laws is one of the few growth industries that this country can claim, but sadly it adds little to GDP and even less to the well-being of the population.

Just a couple of weeks in, there have already been two glorious examples of this mania.  Firstly, the plan to legislate to remove most of the flexibility that the government possesses to manage the economy by effectively removing any chance to raise additional revenue.  Given that a bunch of spending areas have also been protected and we are planning to fritter away huge amounts of money on vanity projects, e.g. HS2, Trident, there seems a major risk of total economic collapse.  All it would need would be some event which lowers tax revenues by even a modest percentage, a referendum leading to departure from the EU might be an example, and I can foresee disaster looming for the UK (though luckily, one which would probably confined to these Isles rather than trashing the global financial system).  I fondly remember the fun of our brief dalliance with the ERM and expect “the markets” to view this idiotic idea as a similar challenge.

This very day, the government has announced plans to tackle soi-disant legal highs via legislation: nothing must stand in the way of the cloud of depression which has settled over much of the UK, engendered by ever deepening austerity.  Some government mouthpiece proudly claimed that this would deal with the issue “once-and-for-all” and, as we know, since being made illegal, heroin and cocaine have not been sighted and certainly have never caused a single problem in this country.  As previously noted here, I remain convinced that the government is taking cash from the drugs trade to keep it profitable – does anyone know if the legal high industry was a major contributor to Tory party funds?  Still, it is good to know that disaffected chemistry graduates, emerging from university to a life on the scrap heap, have a profitable avenue to use their “book smarts”.

I have two ideas that are somewhat cognate to this discussion and might be able to muster the 20% or so of support that is considered a ringing endorsement in these modern times.  Firstly, removing the vote from everyone over the age of 40 (thus disenfranchising myself at a stroke) – I have far more faith in the young, who have yet to have a chance to make a total mess of anything other than their own lives, than those of my generation, who have managed to make a much broader mess.  I like to imagine this would encourage longer-term thinking (if nothing else, the young seem to have lots of ideas as to what to do with their time, little of which seems to relate to generating bad ideas for new laws) – though might also lead to a Logan’s Run scenario for we old codgers.  Still, on the plus side, that would defuse the pensions time bomb rather nicely.

Secondly, the restriction of membership of the armed forces to people over the age of 40 only – which might reduce the desire to participate in foreign wars just to demonstrate our unrequited love for the US.  The more fatal interactions, which currently characterise war, might also be largely replaced by passive-aggression.  If nothing else, it should slow down the pace of war – with troops and their commanders alike keen on getting an early night.  It will also help to tackle the pensions time bomb!

I do realise that the combination of my two wizard wheezes could be a tad dangerous for those of my age, but when producing legislation there is clearly no need to consider the consequences of one’s actions, so I’m sure everything will be fine!


From my very limited grasp of the Greek language (I still feel that any gala should involve a celebration of milk), I believe the title should refer to a love of words.  Mr Collins is rather drier in his definition going with “comparative and historical linguistics” or, more broadly, a “study of literature”.  He also notes that it is no longer in scholarly use – so ideal for GofaDM!

So far as I know, I have always loved words.  As a tiny, wee nipper I would insist that any text within my visual field was read out to me – or so my mother tells me.  As a result, she took advice from my aunt (a teacher) on how to teach me to read (earlier than was then the norm) in the hope that this might shut me up.  In the whole field of human endeavour, this may be one of the least successful activities ever attempted – not only did it singularly fail to shut me up, my excessive loquacity has now spread to the medium of print and thus to your eyes, dear reader.

I still feel the need to read any print: despite any language barrier that may exist or any propriety that might be offended – I really need to control my urge to read other people’s tattoos (though my “worst” tattoo-related incident was studying a chap’s body art to try and work out which mes0-American culture it was pastiching: Olmec, I think).

This obsession with words might explain my vulnerability to my continuing theatre-addiction and explain something of the nature of the GofaDM.  The style of this blog may have little to commend it, but I do try to give otherwise neglected words a little bit of exercise and a brief glimpse of the sky.  I like to imagine a few readers now using some more obscure vocabulary in their everyday lives – no doubt to the dismay or confusion of their nearest and most expensive.

As was recently established, via the work of Antonio Serrano on The Verb, I can love words even when I can only understand a little of what is said and the position of the word boundaries.  In the recent In Our Time on Rabindranath Tagore, one of the academics read a short extract from his early poem Sonar Tari (the Golden Boat) in its original Bengali.  This was amazing enough to cover my arms in goosebumps, despite my total ignorance of the language and not even knowing when one word ended and another began.  Subsequent research shows that Bengali is also a beautiful language to look at, though again means nothing to my uneducated eyes.  It does look potentially confusing too, as a 4 looks like an 8 and a 7 like a 9: maybe I should work on my Greek first, at least they use the same numbers and via mathematics I know most of the alphabet.

However, the primary stimulus behind this post is A L Kennedy.  I have now read the first two stories in her latest collection, All The Rage.  I am rationing them as they are too rich to be consumed en masse.  The first, Late in Life, I more-or-less managed to read in her voice – or the best approximation that the voices in my head can achieve.  For the second, Baby Blue, I was stuck in my own voice for some reason – even though I had heard the author read a sizeable extract a couple of months back.  Despite the (OK, my) voice, the story is the most perfect piece of prose that I can imagine existing – every word is necessary and just the right one for its place.  I would wonder how she manages this, but I know she goes through hundreds of drafts which must be part of the reason – however, I could do that and get nowhere close to this standard of writing.  I’ve read very well-reviewed books, Nobel-Prize winners even, and many have been very good – but in none have the words achieved quite such an apotheosis.  Still, the fact I can at least recognise such excellence does give me hope (a very vague and distant hope) that I can construct an objective function against which to measure the deficiencies of my own writing and identify improvements (and plenty of these literary fruit should be suspended pretty close to terra firma).  However, this paragraph does demonstrate with irritating precision my inability to fully convey my own thoughts as I would wish – though perhaps I’m not alone. One of the many positive, professional reviews of All The Rage says that it “celebrates love like a hungry dog celebrates the corpse of a rabbit”.  Perhaps I need to more fully embrace the metaphor and not just for (weak) comic effect or in chronic over-extension.

I wonder if this embrace of the short story and poetry might be an indicator of incipient adulthood (though, if I’m honest, I really don’t think I can pull off a hood – style-wise I mean, this is not a comment on the lack of flexibility in my shoulders) – or have a just discovered my teenage angst a mere three decades too late?

The Sussex with the fringe on top

Though only if you move away from the current norm of placing north at the top of your map (which is a purely arbitrary – and fairly recent – choice) .  Yes folks, yesterday I hied myself to the Rape of Lewes, deep within the Hundred of Whalesbone – and no, I was not interfering with a be-corseted woman in an unwanted manner, but was actually visiting Brighton.

Having been an annual visitor to the Fringe in distant Edinburgh for a decade now, I had never been to its equivalent in the much more physically proximate city of Brighton – a lack which I fixed yesterday.  I cannot claim this was as the result of long planning, but rather of a whim on Friday afternoon spurred by an only tangentially connected tweet.

The two fringes have many similarities, including exactly the same ticketing system.  I went to two gigs on the free fringe – which, as in the north, take place in the overly warm function rooms of city pubs (in general, the functions are surjections) – and two at the paid fringe.  So, as in Edinburgh, you can see that I tried to fit far too much into a day – which due to the vagaries of Southern Railways had to end by 20:30 to catch the last train home (I believe the burghers of Brighton are unwilling to have Southampton folk loose in the city after sundown – I suspect we lower the tone).

Brighton has some differences from Edinburgh – it tends to be warmer for a start.  It does seem to attract – at least around the North Laine – a collection of folk who make the denizens of Hoxton or Shoreditch seem so hopelessly unhip that you worry their legs might fall off.  I have never seen such a concentration of artisan coffee, vintage clothing and architectural salvage shops clustered together before.  I even saw a shop that sold only bonsai trees – can this really be commercially viable?  As a result, I found it very difficult to keep a straight-face (which I suppose may not be critical, in a certain sense, in Brighton) and almost had to be carried out helpless with mirth.

My free fringe venue of choice (or random selection) was the Croline of Brunswick which offered a very potable pint of Adnam’s Ghost Ship.  Based on the sign outside, I believe the propaganda of George IV may have been all too successful on the south coast and the famously chaste queen was shown in a substantially more lewd pose than modern historical scholarship would support.  The function room has the potential for decent ventilation, but this was curtailed by the noise from outside (requiring the windows to be closed), and relatively comfy chairs (I have, and was about to, sit on far worse).  I saw two James’s (serially, rather than in parallel)- Veitch and Bennison – who both provided laughs from shows in differing stages of completion.  Worryingly, one (James B) recognised me from Edinburgh – which suggests I am even more memorable than I had feared.  I shall have to work harder on my anonymity.

My paid fringe gigs could have been in Edinburgh, as they took place on a patch of worn grass near a larger building (in this case St Peter’s Church).  This grass was largely covered in tents, pop-up food stalls, unsanitary-looking loos and other temporary performance “boxes”: if I had woken there with amnesia I could easily have believed I was in St George’s Square in Auld Reekie.  In Edinburgh, the “boxes” are usually some sort of portacabin but here it was (literally) a shipping container, fitted out in hardboard (which included the seating – all hard wood and right-angles) – and in this container I spent two hours (with a short break between).  It provided a strange admixture of comedy and the feel of being on the wrong end of human trafficking.

Both the acts I saw had a connection to Exeter – coincidence? You decide.  The Jest were a sketch group with some pretty successful and original sketches in their armoury.  However, the stand-out (and indeed, up) star of my day was Mike Wozniak.  I’d previously seen him doing sketches with Daniel Rigby and Cariad Lloyd, but this was the first time I’d seem him doing solo stand-up.  He was excellent, sufficiently funny to make me (almost) forget the discomfort of my body.

My day in Brighton ended with a couple of shocking sights.  As I ascended the steep hill to the station (another link to the Athens of the North) I passed a rather brazen commercial premises.  As an old fogey, I think of mange as a mite-based skin disease of canines (and other animals) but clearly to the young people it has another meaning.  As so often with the popular, there would seem to be an exploitative secondary market where mange is sold to the desperate at many times its face value.  I was shocked to see that a mange tout was plying his wicked trade quite openly from a substantial commercial premises.  Truly, we love in debased times.



On reaching the station, I found myself a little peckish (a virtually unheard of occurrence, as regular readers will realise) and so popped into the M&S for sustenance.  Being a healthy chap, my eyes were draw to a pack of four small apricots.  My eye was then repelled from the price associated with these very diminutive fruits of the Prunus armeniaca – £3.70! which M&S helpfully explained was 92.5p each.  I guess a city whose economy can support the purchase of such fruit would think nothing of a weekly trip to bring fresh bonsai home.  Still, too rich for my blood and I slunk back to Southampton.  Nevertheless, a very enjoyable – if at times sweaty and uncomfortable – day, just remember to bring your own fruit with you should you visit Brighthelmstone without a few million in the bank.

Pint of Science

And finally, the promised and – I assume – highly anticipated post about my experiences with Pint of Science.  However, before the post proper, can we all take a few moments out from our busy lives to read a few words from our sponsor.

I was sitting at my desk staring vacantly out of the window the other day when I saw a table go past on the road outside.  Exactly seven-an-a-half minutes later I saw it again (or a table that could have passed for its twin).  Then, after a further demi-quarter hour had passed, the table traversed my field of view once more.  This continued at the same regular interval until I grew bored and went to do something more productive (this last bit might be stretching the truth just a little).  It wasn’t until some time later that I realise what it was that I had seen.  Clearly, I had sighted the Periodic Table.

I could apologise for that last paragraph, but we both know that I wouldn’t mean it.

The Pint of Science “festival” took place over three nights at the beginning of the week.  It occurred in several university cities, but I shall confine this post to the Southampton experience.  I only learned of its existence a few days before it started and was already promised to another on Monday evening, so I chose the only events not already fully booked on Tuesday and Wednesday (which spared me the agony of decision-making).  Events took place across four pubs in the city – of which more later.

On Tuesday, I learned about some of the technology behind fibre optics and the internet.  These talks had some great demos and I now feel I understand the principles behind non-linear light, following an analogy to an over-amplified electric guitar, and how to prevent my aircraft being shot-down by heat-seeking missile (so, practical too).  There was also a quiz, out of which I won a number of goodies – including the t-shirt I am now wearing.  It was a really fun evening and more than repaid its £3 cost.

Wednesday’s talk was (full of grace and) about regenerative medicine and covered stem cells and 3D printing.  The audience profile was a little older than the previous night – not sure if this was a coincidence or a motivated audience in search of some regeneration.  The talks here were (if anything) even better than the previous night.  I shall never view hip replacement in quite the same way again, having seen the force with which the new hip attachment is hammered into the existing bone to ensure a tight fit (less effort would have been needed to sculpt granite and using much the same tools).  The speaker on 3D printing brought along some amazing models in plaster-of-paris, including one of his own kidney and its associated stone.  This was produced from his CT scans at the cost of £123 and cut 30 minutes off his operation and saved the NHS thousands of pounds.  The potential to make surgeons’ jobs easier for a whole range of operations, improve patient outcomes and save money seems enormous – being able to actually hold and manipulate the problem area in 3D is so much better than a photo or screen view when planning.  However, I do worry that scanning capacity may become a limiting factor in making this a reality more broadly.

As well as this medical use, apparently we can already 3D print in plastic, metal, sugar, chocolate and pasta (which I feel offers a fascinating insight into the 3D printing community, or their corporate sponsors).  Referring back to a post from last year’s Edinburgh Science Festival, the speaker clearly saw the 3D printer as a sewing machine rather than a lathe.  Companies would no longer have to keep stacks of spare parts, e.g. to replace the battery cover on your remote control, consumers could download a file and print the replacement at home.  No longer will I find myself without the right pasta shape for a recipe, I can just print my own! (Though, for now, this might be a little slow if one is really hungry).  I can see the day when you can print your own alphabetti spaghetti, with your own choice for letter frequencies (for a more adult meal, perhaps, or to provision a visiting Polish child).

This night also had a quiz, in which I learned that those of us with blue eyes (clearly the superior eye colour) have higher alcohol tolerance than those of you with less fashionable ocular tints (a fact which I had, frankly, always suspected).  Beer is also, apparently, good for your bones – so drink up!  Another excellent night of fun for £3 – they even threw in some pretty generous (if basic – they probably wouldn’t have passed muster at an ambassador’s reception) snacks.

The only weakness in the Pint of Science offering was with respect to the pints.  Neither pub I visited had a bitter or ale on tap, and one couldn’t even provide one in a bottle.  As a result I was forced to drink Newcastle Brown Ale and teach the bar staff that it should always be served with a half-pint glass.  However, I don’t think we can really blame the Festival for this: they were limited by the need for a pub with a function room to seat 40-50 people and with space for some experiments.

Not only did Pint of Science provide two really enjoyable and educational nights out, but I reckon I came away with more value in freebies and consumed snacks than the cost of entry.  I’m not sure how this is financially viable – but long may it continue!  Actually, the freebies were provided by a corporate sponsor (called Mendeley – I presume after Dmitiri Mendeleev hence the idea for the second paragraph striking me) who seem to be some sort of social medium for the research community.  Whilst I like to think that much of my life is spent in research, I’m not sure I am quite their target market – but, if they ask, I could always transition GofaDM (or some selected highlights) across to their platform.

Eschewing Community Chest

Southampton is fairly generously served with cinemas and screens, and further options exist a short way off in Winchester (and a new cinema is apparently being constructed).  However, this apparent bounty does not extend to offering a particularly wide range of films.  Basically, each of the cinemas – even the art house ones – just offer a subset of the films showing at the main multiplex.  In the extreme case of the Picturehouse and Cineworld, doing so barely 100 yards from one another.

This contrasts with Cambridge, where the Arts Picturehouse offered a very wide range of films – though it did only make some of its more obscuring offerings available on a single occasion and at rather odd times.  I think this is down to perceived (or perhaps even actual) supply and demand: the cinema managers of Wessex do not feel their audiences are up for any particularly challenging (or even just slightly quirky) fare.  Given the number of copies of the Daily Heil one sees around, they may well be right – but it is a disappointment for the more eccentric denizens of these parts (which certainly includes me, though I’m reasonably sure I’m not entirely alone).

The only ray of light breaching these clouds of conformity are Discover Tuesdays (a terrible name in many ways, as I think few people are still surprised to find a day lurking between Monday and Wednesday) when we are allowed to see something more interesting: as long as we are willing to have an early tea and hit the cinema by 18:00 (the concept of having a late tea, some time after eight, is clearly a non-starter – unless you fancy gorging on wafer-thin chocolate-covered mints).  Annoyingly, this time slot does tend to clash with desirable concerts at Turner Sims – events which I tend to book further ahead than trips to the flicks and so I’ve missed out on several films that I might otherwise have found stimulating.

This week, my visit to Turner Sims was on Thursday to see Schubert’s last three piano sonatas.  This was worthwhile, if only for hearing the stunning way Christian Blackshaw played the second movement of D960 (for the avoidance of doubt, he played the rest very well too – but this movement really stood out).  However, it did in turn mean missing out on a gig at the Art House Cafe which also looked like a lot of fun.  Life is full of regrets – unless you are Edith Piaf or a UK wetland (oh no, sorry, that’s egrets).

As a result I did have the chance to Discover Tuesday (it was located as expected and still named after Tiw), but the film was unknown to me and I hemmed and hawed about it.  Eventually, I decided to take a chance (blow my £8) and go – if nothing else, I felt I needed to encourage the Harbour Lights in its more adventurous programming (and if I won’t, who will?).  I’m very glad I did as I really enjoyed The Best Beneath My Feet – in some ways, it is a British take on the US High School movie but being British has strayed quite some way from the source genre.

Whilst it is set in the present (I think) it has some of the feel of a period piece.  This is partly because we see very few cars and our hero’s laptop and mobile phone are not the most recent, but mostly down to the school our hero attends.  For the first time in ages, a school being shown on screen reminded me very strongly of my own experiences in the seventies and early eighties..  The classrooms and corridors were all very familiar – though the chemistry lab was a bit of a giveaway as to the more modern period: no ancient, heavy (and heavily scarred) wooden desks with built-in bunsen burners accessed by high wooden stools (I do feel that when it comes to chemistry, the youth of today are missing out).

Our hero himself is also slightly disconnected from the present, his school uniform and parka would have been (almost) entirely at home at my own school circa 1980 (a slightly different tie and the wrong badge on the blazer were the only clues that would have given him away to anything but a detailed uniform inspection).  Perhaps because of this, he reminded me very strongly of the youthful me, though I think there were also strong visual similarities.  He certainly had my terrible posture and a similar build and was even somewhat facially similar (though you should bear in mind I have not seen my teenage face in 30 years).  I had (and still have) less musical ability but on the plus side don’t think I wore such awful glasses and was (a bit) less of a loner.

Another bonus was the sight of one-time, teen heart-throb Luke Perry, who is very slightly younger than me.  I have no particular interest in him personally (and am unfamiliar with the rest of his oeuvre), but was very pleased to see that he is not wearing as well as I am.  Now, I do appreciate he was playing a very dissipated character in the film, but I like to imagine that I can tell what was make-up and what was the ravages of time.

So, all-in-all, taking a chance played off handsomely.  A fun film, an opportunity to wallow in nostalgia and to feel that I am ageing relatively well (not quite a £10 win in a beauty content, but at my age you take what you can get) – and all for less than a (small) round of drinks.  Since this came only a couple of days after a similarly late and uncertain decision to see David Goo and The 150 Friends Club, I feel my spontaneous decision-making to see culture “because it’s there” is going rather well.  As a result, I’m going to try two separate events organised by Pint of Science this coming week – one related to physics the other to biology, but both (I assume) related to beer – which are taking place in nearby pubs as part of some broader UK-wide pub-based science festival (whose existence I discovered from a flyer I spotted at Turner Sims on Thursday).  If anything interesting happens (and quite possibly if it doesn’t) you will be the first to hear about it!


I would not be bowdlerising the work of Mr Collins (from his dictionary period, rather than his time in CI5) much to say that semiotics is the study of signs.  For those unable or unwilling to commit fully to the subject, demisemiotics would require only half the effort.  For those with real commitment issues, there is always hemidemisemiotics – but this barely covers a corner of the desk of signs.

On my way to the Common, I passed a sign upon which appeared the words “New road layout ahead”.  “Really?”, thought I.  I have been here for nearly two years and there have been no changes in nearby road layout in all that time, which led me to ponder how long such a sign could validly be displayed.  The castle which gave its name to the great city on the Tyne was originally new in the 13th century.  The forest which lies a mere stone’s throw from my abode (provided one has access to modern artillery – or a truly prodigious throwing arm) has been “new” for close to a millennium.  Practically, for regular users of The Avenue the sign would be needed for at most a month (just in case they were on holiday or away on business).  I have to assume that the provider of the sign is targetting the more occasional user: one who only travels that way only every couple of years (at most) but who still retains a detailed knowledge of the road layout which, without a clear warning, they may still act upon regardless of the local conditions which now pertain.  Or perhaps the sign has been “listed”?

In fact, the number of signs which now line our highways and boulevards seems a constantly growing blight on our landscape.  Whilst these may delight the semiotician on a field trip, for the road user the tree of safety-critical information is being lost in a forest of the irrelevant.  I am also not a fan of painting critical information onto the road surface itself – normally reserved for key information on selecting the correct lane for your destination.  This must have been a great method in the days when the number of vehicles on our roads was counted in the dozens, but today the density of traffic means that at the times when this information is most needed it is totally concealed beneath the all-too-opaque bodies of other vehicles.  Whilst this issue could be ameliorated by the development of transparent cars and lorries, I feel this would create problems of its own (just think of the horrific sights one might see while hunting for the correct lane).

Despite the sheer number of signs cluttering the environment (it’s all around us, you know), the system has  been cunningly designed to render lost any road user foolish enough to rely on them for navigation.  When the route ahead is unequivocal it will be clearly signed, but as soon as there is any doubt all clues as to one’s future course are ruthlessly eliminated.  My worst recent experience was at Southampton General Hospital, where I was astride my velocipede and seeking the Blood Donor Centre.  Entering the site by the main entrance, I eventually took every possible route through the complex one-way system which fills the site (like a very inefficient attempt to navigate a maze) but there was no sign of the donor centre.  I eventually came to realise that the one-way system divides the SGH site into two topologically separate systems – and there is no way to move a wheeled-contrivance from one to the other.  I had to cheat and carry my bicycle in an “illegal” manoeuvre to create a wormhole between the two parallel dimensions which make up the hospital.  Even then, it was almost impossible to find the donor centre – it is only signposted long after you can actually see it.  The building does have a very large sign on its side which proudly bears the word “Southampton” in a truly enormous font – presumably to aid those who were taken to the hospital drugged and wearing a blindfold (perhaps as part of some sort of stag-do jape) and have no idea in which city they stand.  In a tiny font, the same sign is (just about) willing to admit that this is the Blood Donor Centre – which can be easily read from as far away as six feet (further if the visitor has thought to bring their telescope).  Upon leaving, I discovered that the centre is only a few feet from the main entrance – but totally inaccessible to those burdened by wheels.  Apparently, the situation is so bad that even the senior management have noticed – perhaps having spent the first few months of their appointment trying to find their office – and are planning to improve the signage.  Next time I visit I shall carry a large ball of yarn (or a hefty bag of breadcrumbs) – just in case!

Death and taxes

Before we begin the post proper, I should warn you that the author is feeling rather pleased with himself (verging on smug) and, even more worryingly, seems to be referring to himself in the third person.  The reason for the former will become clear in due course, the reasons for the latter you will have to decide for yourself.

As the title suggests, today’s post will tackle universal themes in an attempt to broaden the appeal of GofaDM.  Working backwards (through the title), in the UK, as the beginning of April looms, we are told that “tax doesn’t have to be taxing” – most recently, so far as I know, by Moira Stuart (unless someone else has captured this highly desirable gig).  For rather more than a decade, the splendid folk of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Personal Tax Service have managed my interactions with HMRC – helping to avoid unwanted interactions with HMP and fines, despite my occasionally erratic approach to the process.  However, for reasons unknown, the RBS have decided to abandon this nice, safe business – perhaps to spend more time on its core business of irresponsible gambling?  Anyway, this leaves me to worry about the future earnings of the lovely people who have been looking after me over the years and to find a new accountant to take over the keeping of me on the straight-and-narrow tax-wise.

I have decided to go local with my new accountants, so rather than a remote presence by phone or mail, I can be a real physical nuisance invading their lives.  Their offices are a mere 5 minutes stroll from my urban garret – so it will be all too easy to drop-in unannounced (though obviously, in an ideal world, I’d prefer to place my card on a silver tray and then be formally announced by a suitably-attired butler).  Anyway, in the sunshine of yesterday afternoon I wandered up the road to drop off the paper formalising our new relationship – thus saving the cost of a stamp and any post-related delays.  As I was already halfway to the Common, I continued on my way for a stroll through managed countryside and to check on the progress of Spring.  The season was making satisfactory progress and so I rewarded myself with an ice-cream cornet for my fiscal prudence and supervisory acumen.  I have decided that in future all tax-related correspondence will be carried by hand (either left or right) on a sunny day, so that the messenger can enjoy a walk and an ice cream – which brings a whole new meaning to having plain-vanilla tax affairs.

To maximise the chance of the availability of sunny days, it seemed wise not to leave preparing the data for my tax return until the last minute (and winter).  So, given the rather wet and windy weather today in Southampton I have spent the morning compiling all the information needed for my tax return.  This represents a personal best for me, time-wise – hence, a portion of my smugness.  Well, almost all my tax affairs are in order: “the man” has yet to render unto Caeser (or even me) his P11D – and apparently may not do so until the second half of July (I guess these things can’t – or won’t – be hurried).  Still, when it does finally come I shall be ready and, on the first ice-cream friendly day thereafter (though readers should bear in mind I did have an ice-cream on the seafront at Bexhill on Boxing Day), I shall deliver my tax documents to my accountants.

However, that isn’t all.  Oh no!  Not only did I sort out my tax this morning but, for the first time in my life, I took a proper grip on the disposition of my pension.  I rather feared I was over-invested in the UK – and found these fears were extremely well grounded (even more so than expected).  So, time for a little geographical diversification of my risk.  Luckily (though this is no coincidence), I have prepared the groundwork for this using the advice from another bright chap with time on his hands (OK , a bright chap with …) and the excellent advice of John Kay.  Mr Kay’s advice came in his book The Long and Short of It (subtitled “finance and investment for normally intelligent people who are not in the industry”) which despite the subtitle I found very informative (and amusing): it is also, by some distance, the pinkest think I own.

All of this sudden lurching towards financial responsibility was complete by half-past one – and that included time to make and eat my lunch – which explains my cat-like self-satisfaction (however, I did shower in the traditional manner, rather than licking myself clean).  At this rate, I may even be able to pass for an adult by the time I draw my pension – assuming I make it that far (the date does seem to have been receding faster than I’m approaching it of late).

What about death, you may ask?  Well, as part of my pre-cornet stroll around the Common, I took a small diversion and had a stroll around Southampton Old Cemetery.  I have to say that it provides all you could want in a graveyard by daylight (it is positively archetypal), and can only hope that at dusk a mysterious mist (and nothing else) rises from the ground.  A salutary reminder, perhaps, of where all this financial responsibility will lead and a useful counterbalance to my current elevated levels of smug.  But, more importantly, it provided a second unavoidable element of life with which to grace the title.

Meta B2.198

The title may make more sense if I note that the (natural) log of 9 is 2.198 (to four significant figures).

I decided it was time for a metablog as I have just discovered that GofaDM has sailed past its 600th post without even noticing.  This is not entirely my fault: the not noticing that is (WordPress no longer places this information on quite such a regularly viewed screen is in yesteryear), responsibility for the 605 posts can really only be laid at my door, unless you would prefer to blame society, my genes or my parents.  Given my daily (and still losing) struggle with brevity, this suggests there must be approaching half-a-million words of nonsense that I have now broadcast into the void.  OK, not wholly into the void: WordPress reports well north of 8000 page views, and this excludes the 104 poor unfortunates who receive an email whenever I give birth to a new cry for help (and they can’t all be bots – or is this how SkyNet begins, bots driven insane by the gibberings of an idiot?).

I can’t be sure as to the exact number of words used in GofaDM as WordPress does not offer a facility to count them (and I’m not pasting 605 posts plus comments into Word).  However, I have discovered it does offer Omnisearch – which promises (I kid you not) to “search everything” (though it gives no clue as to how long this might take).  I have mislaid a bunch of keys so I shall try it out on finding those later, if this succeeds I may finally be able to settle the uncertainty about what happened to Lord Lucan and Shergar.  Watch this space!

Given the sheer volume of stuff written about me (sometimes indirectly, but always by me) and the uniqueness of my name, I would have hoped for extraordinarily well focused advertising messages to bombard my web life.  This hope had been cherished in vain (in at least two senses of that word) – the ads that hit my screen seem woefully poorly targetted, and as a result are very easy to ignore.

I suspect if I could analyse the words used in this blog there would be some used with abnormally high frequencies.  I would imagine that the continued use of these causes a groan in the regular reader – or possibly the downing of liquour, for those indulging in a GofaDM drinking game (which if no-one else has devised, I should perhaps start work on) – whenso’er they recur.  I suppose this reliance on stale formulations could be considered part of my signature style, or more likely an indication of my twin failures of imagination and originality (which would make great names if anyone does have unnamed twins to hand), and may help later literary historians separate authentic GofaDM posts from the myriad fakes I like to anticipate.  Nevertheless, I shall try and avoid becoming a living cliché (to the extent I am so capable).

I rather fear that my tendency to obscure-up (one possible converse of dumbing down) and overuse of unexplained allusions mean that I should probably upgrade the Glossary.  In the absence of this update (which readers should expect to continue for the foreseeable future), readers may wish to revise UK radio comedy since 1950, cladistics, the game of Contract Bridge and the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, Flanders and Swann, PG Wodehouse and Douglas Adams (among others).

Ultimately, I have come to realise that the audience for this blog is myself – should it happen to make its way to a clone or a parallel-universe version of me (probably with a goatee), through some unexpected topologically feature of the spacetime continuum, all to the good – and so remain oddly touched (an alternative name for the blog, perhaps?) that others take the trouble to read the thing.  I rather fear I will continue to write it in the hope of some form of catharsis or a lucrative publishing deal presenting itself – until then, it’s just us.