This post is the long-awaited sequel to Ground Zero, covering the continuing adventures of the Blog Soul Brothers, following their first meeting this past Sunday.  Taking my cue from Peter Jackson, I am planning to expand relatively modest source material into a nine hour CGI epic (OK, there won’t be much CGI – but I suppose I might inveigle on my brother to bring some of his critically-acclaimed Paint skills to bear).

When we left our heroes, they were enjoying a responsible half (each – budget limitations did not force us to share a single half) in a public house located in London’s trendy Islington.  What happened next will astound you!  (And people say I’ve learnt nothing from Buzzfeed).

Given that we had both made the trek into London and that I could not be certain we could sustain an entire day in conversation (not, in fact, a problem: I’m now fairly sure the act of talking could carry us through several days, if required – or even if not), I thought it might be an idea to organise some sort of structured activity for the evening.  Given the literary nature of our brotherhood, I naturally thought of the theatre – and while options are limited on a Sunday, the Finborough does offer a performance and via my (paid) friendship I could score us a pair of free tickets (I am an attentive “date”, but may be doing things on the cheap).  Thus it was we made our way, via the UK’s most famous resistance movement, to sun drenched Earl’s Court.  It is at this stage that the attentive reader will be starting to think (probably with some justification) that I have massively oversold what happened next.  Let’s just say that I was directing that particular sentence at those whose bar of amazement (and wouldn’t that be a great name for a piece of confectionary?) is set pretty low, and leave it at that.

I will admit that I had not massively researched the play in advance, beyond the convenient nature of its timing, and so it was that we attended the World Premiere of A Third by Laura Jacqmin.  The staging was very interesting, with the theatre re-cast as the interior of a New York apartment.  Most of the audience were perched around the edge, but some had to sit on the apartment’s furniture.  Having been set up by my brother (who nabbed the last edge seat), I found myself sitting at the dining table (though I didn’t remain here for the whole performance).  The “third” in the title refers to an established couple bringing in a third person (initially singular but later plural) to boost their enjoyment of the activities associated with, what I will in future (thanks to Adam Rutherford) be referring to as, gene flow events.  In consequence, all of the cast (of four) spend a substantial amount of the play in their skimpies (though the play also boasted the most costume changes I’ve ever seen at the Finborough) – and, given the very modest size of the theatre, the audience is very close to the “action”.  At various times, I found myself little more than an inch from some of the cast, and at one stage was moved from the dining table to the couch so that two of the characters could get physical (to quote Olivia Newton-John) without me becoming the unwanted meat in their amorous sandwich.  My brother found this very amusing, though I was far from the worst located of the audience when it came to close contact with the cast (and being at the edge was not as secure a defence as some had assumed).  Part of the joy of the play is watching the rest of the audience and their reactions to what is happening: the staging makes us all really rather complicit in the events portrayed.  It also became important after a certain stage that my brother and I did not look directly at each other for fear of collapsing in inappropriate laughter.

The play is rather good and deliberately funny in many places – and I had a chance to enjoy much more comfortable seating than is theatrically traditional.  The moral, if one exists, is probably that you want to be very sure you are the sort of people who can handle it before you invite a third party (or parties) into the marital bed (not just wish that you were such folk).  One of my main takeaways was the sheer size of the feet of one of the actors – they were massive: long, wide and tall.  I’ve seen smaller examples gracing CGI giants, and the rest of his body did not seem proportionately huge.  How the poor boy acquires shoes – or even socks – I don’t know, I suppose he may have them made specially.  Or perhaps he is allowed to keep his foot-based costume after each acting job?  Was it this hope of a regular supply of footwear which drove him to follow Thespis, I wonder?

Writing this post, I have been struck that my choice of play could be considered a slightly awkward one, given its thematic content and the fact this was the first time two people had come together in the flesh (as it were).  I would like to reassure readers that there was no underlying motive (and I have cross-examined my subconscious very closely on this topic) in my selection and I am not attempting to force anyone into a ménage-à-trois (or even à-quatre) against their will.

If I am honest, the real revelation of our evening at the theatre was the joy of going with a friend.  I have always gone stag to the theatre in the past, but discussing the play afterwards with my brother – first on the tube and then on the Southbank over a hot chocolate – was an absolute joy.  I suppose it probably helps that, as a writer, he is full of interesting insights and questions – but I had no idea what I’d been missing out on all these years.  I may start dragging him to the theatre on a much more frequent basis.  Perhaps this largely anti-social stance to culture of mine has been a dreadful mistake?

All good things must come to an end (as I believe the Second Law of Thermodynamics insists – it also has little succour to offer bad things) and so a little before eleven, we caught our separate carriages (as supplied by BREL and Siemens) home.  Conversation had to move to the form of SMS text messaging and my inadequate thumbs were pressed into service.  I am slightly surprised (and disappointed) that giffgaff have not emailed me to check if my phone has been stolen: in a twenty-four hour period I sent (and received) more texts than usually occurs in an entire year.

Is this the end for our heroes?  Did Southwest Trains defy expectation and actually deliver them to their respective homes in a manner congruent with its timetable-based promises?  Did anyone think to drop an unaccountably vitreous item of footwear before the clock struck midnight?

To be continued…


Ground zero

The Place:  Beneath the clock, Waterloo Station, London
The Time:  11:04 am (BST), Sunday 28 June 2015

The moment that all of creation had been leading up to (in common with all other moments) finally arrived on Sunday.  My blog soul brother and I finally met face-to-case, mano-a-mano (quite literally, hands were shaken) and what had only been virtual was physically instantiated.  Men (and women and many of the great apes) will count their manhood (or woman or ape-hood) cheap who were not there to witness that momentous occasion.  The earth itself was rocked upon its very axis – can it be a mere coincidence that today a leap second must be added to the day to restore temporal equilibrium?

As I waited ‘neath that clock (I will admit that one of us was slightly late – our thanks to Southwest Trains for making this possible – but even the most skilled of CIA interrogators would be unable to extract the name from betwixt my unwilling lips) – so resonant with previous historic encounters – I will admit that my heart rate was racing.  Had one (or both) of us been using a body-double for our blog presence?  Would we be able to live up to our screen personas?  Could I reasonably offer to remove a smut from his eye in this day of third rail electrification and modern diesel multiple units?

At this point, in an attempt to build quite unnecessary suspense, I will take a brief digression into the realm historic.  As research for this post, I discovered that our first encounter had taken place in late March when my brother followed GofaDM and I alluded to this fact (and his apparent lunacy) in the following post.  However, it was only early this month that our literary bond was truly formed and the level of inter-blog interaction reached its current peak – a level which has (at times) now exceeded the comment nesting capabilities of WordPress and forced us, fugitive, into the arms of Gmail (and beyond).

OK, I shall release you from your tenterhooks and return from this narrative suspension.  My blog soul brother and I get on ridiculously well in the flesh – and did so pretty much instantly.  It was like meeting up with an old friend, but even better as it was an old friend who has yet to hear most of my anecdotes (and vice versa).  Despite his protestations as to his conversational skills (allegedly atrophied by writerly isolation), he was more than able to hold his own against the word torrent that I am capable of generating.  We must have spoken pretty much without cease for three hours outside the Royal Festival Hall (I’m sure the commemorative plaque is being fitted even now) enjoying first the fresh air and then hiding (and filming) the unforecast and rather heavy rain.

At this point we had to make our way to Angel to join the walk which was very much the inciting incident for this narrative.  In Iain Banks’ novel Walking on Glass, one of the primary characters – Graham Park – walks from Holborn up towards the Angel on 28 June – and both being fans of the author, a replication of this walk organised by the writer of The Banksoniain (an Iain Banks fanzine) had given us the excuse to come together.  The walk was moderately diverting, passing through many scenes in the book and in the life of Mr Banks (and also fragments of the life and works of Douglas Adams – and, indeed, mine own).  I learned a number of things, but primarily that when it comes to climbing the mountain of literary obsession I am still back at basecamp (actually, I’m probably still at home preparing a day pack and selecting inappropriate footwear).  We wound up at the Hope and Anchor (which Iain referred to using a name rhyming with Hopeless Banker) in the northern reaches of Upper Street (not far from a bar which once barred entry to my brother-in-law).  I rather doubt that our fellow walkers imagined that we had only known each other for a small handful of hours when the walk began: I suspect some thought we were an item (and that I was punching well above my weight).

When historians come to write the history of the twenty-first century, I think they will recognise this first meeting as a turning point for humanity.   Of late, geologists have been pondering when (or if) to switch to a new geological era – the Anthropocene – but I think this discussion has now been superseded.  On 28 June 2015, we passed from the Holocene into the Blogocene era.   It was truly an historic day – and at this stage, it was far from over!

The Blog Soul Brothers will return in:   AWKWARD?

The Exiles

Tomorrow, I am going on a Graham Park themed walk and so have been brushing up on my Walking on Glass (as discussed before, engrammatic collapse means that my earlier readings have been lost).  I have been using a PDF copy supplied by my blog soul brother, but am just returned from reclaiming my own physical copy.

As I may have been mentioned before on this blog (or, if not, on another) the vast majority of my personal library languishes in a storage unit some five minutes stroll from my abode.  This is costing me a small fortune and, had I been more organised, I could have had bookshelves in solid gold installed in the flat by now at lower cost (though I wouldn’t recommend it as the weight of the shelves would put a lot stress on the fixings and, indeed, the wall).

I try not to visit my black site storage too often as the books exiled there call to me and beg to be restored to their rightful place (by my side).  They are stored in cardboard packing boxes marked with the legend “BOOKS STORAGE” in a number of hands, none of which show any obvious promise in the art of calligraphy, in an almost (but not quite) entirely random order.  There is just enough pattern in the packing to give me hope, only for it to be cruelly dashed.  In consequence, I have to search through several boxes to find a specific volume – and so am brought face-to-cover with so many happy memories, so many old friends.

Every time I visit them, a few manage to worm their way into my bag, or secrete themselves about my person, and are re-patriated.   To counter my lack of willpower in the face of the literary, I only carry a very small bag with me when I visit the deportees.  This time a mere seven managed to smuggle themselves back with my intended target.  If I’d had a bigger bag, I would have struggled to keep the number of restorees into double figures.  Having been exposed to them, I just cannot resist their siren calls.

Also rescued from purdah was a physical copy of my earliest writing in the GofaDM style: dating back some twenty-five years (just be grateful blogging hadn’t been invented way back then!).  Looking at this example of my juvenilia (aka SSC814OP), I learn two things: (i) I still find myself funny and (ii) my style has moved forward very little in the last quarter of a century (which may explain (i)).  It can’t really be published here as the references are way too specific to my work at the time and some of the people mentioned are still among the living.  Frankly, I lack the time or financial backing to tackle a major libel prosecution at the moment.  I think that even under the Thirty Years Rule this particular document may have to remain under wraps – though I might be tempted to allow a selected few a brief glimpse of a time when my mind was marginally less disturbed than is now the case.

Pastry sarcophagi

You can’t imagine how close those post came to being named “Pies!” but, when push came to shove, I just couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t abandon my role as a very low rent Araucaria.  This could have been my big chance to connect with the “common man” on a topic of broad interest, but I’ve blown it (yet again).

With my honey trap unbaited, I shall just inform the reading elite that for my lunch today I ate a pie.  “So what?” comes the swift riposte.  Well, I was at home at the time and I hardly ever eat pies at home (except of the mince variety in the run up to Christmas, and, for the sake of the argument, they do not count).  I have not eaten a pie in my primary domicile (other than exceptions previously noted) this millenium – and perhaps not since the 1980s.  It is not that I have anything against pies – there is no vendetta involved nor have I been dissed by a bridie – no, it is the pastry where I draw the line.  Unlike other carbohydrate-heavy augmentations to a meal (e.g. crumble, sponge, cobbler), the making of pastry requires the forced breaching of mixing bowl containment: it is the mess caused by rolling out (and the use of my limited work surface area) to which I object.  As a result, my rolling pin rarely sees the light of day – but should come in handy as a defensive weapon should I ever need to confront an intruder (it’s a toss up between that and a Le Creuset frying pan – but I think the rolling pin better satisfies the requirement for “reasonable force”).

So why did I relent?  Well, I didn’t: the pie was obtained last Sunday from the annual, local farmer’s market (which I feel is a sub-optimal frequency for such an event).  The original plan was to consume it on my journey to Brighton to hear the Esterhazy Chamber Choir sing in celebration of 500 years having elapsed since John Sheppard’s birth (well, probably – record keeping was not to a modern standard in, or around, 1515).  An anniversary which I am quite certain has been widely honoured by GofaDM readers: I’m sure performances of his Media Vita have been a vital part of everyone’s 2015.  So little did I know about pies that this plan was doomed to failure by the need to cook the proto-pie at 180°C for twenty five minutes.  I had plenty of cooking time available on my journey, but sadly Southern Railways do not even provide the option to charge your phone let alone run a small oven.  A very short-sighted policy, if you ask me.

So, anyway today the pie and its primary contents, of shiitake mushrooms and asparagus, were consumed in a single sitting (appetite is author’s own).  The cardboard box which once housed the pie is rather beautiful when fully unfolded: a partially-stellated dodecagon.  It also carries a very detailed list of ingredients, including the exact balance between pastry and filling (9:16) and the percentage share of its various high-value contents.  I’d not seen this before – though it may have been common for years – but feel it is a very welcome development in food labelling.  Without this level of detail, one can easily be fobbed off with a pie which is mostly pastry or, for example, a chicken and ham pie with almost no ham (unless one is willing to perform the pie-equivalent of an autopsy at the time of purchase, and few retailers allow a potential buyer to insert his scalpel before money has changed hands).

The pie itself wasn’t at all bad and the ratio of filling to pastry well within the Goldilocks zone.  However, it wasn’t a patch on the amazing pies I have sampled at 10 Greek Street where, by some arcane method unknown to me, the filling to pastry ratio must be nearer 90:10 (and the pastry itself is simply divine).  Perhaps this is another reason why I rarely attempt a pie at home: having been exposed to such perfection, my own tawdry efforts will always fall short.

Marx’ missive anniversary

I’ll admit that I have not fact-checked the title, but there must be a fighting chance that Karl penned some sort of letter on June 28th.  However (and there’s one in the eye for Michael Gove), there can be no doubt that tomorrow is a red letter day for GofaDM.  One (of the many) alternative titles for this post was “When blogs collide!” for, in little more than twenty-four of your earth hours, my blog soul brother and yours truly will finally meet “in the flesh” at a location rich in historic resonance.

The most eagerly anticipated encounter since the Rumble in the Jungle, though hopefully with less bloodshed (I certainly don’t plan on going down in the eighth) and probably with a smaller live audience.  Every lifeform within the light cone of central London must surely be holding its breath (or local equivalent) for the first truly great event of the third millennium of the Current Era (and those beyond must be desperately seeking the tachyon).  A day that will go down in (and possibly on) history.

In my forty-nine (and a bit) years on this unfashionably damp lump of rock, this rendezvous is without precedent.  Given the extraordinarily wide-ranging interactions we have enjoyed via WordPress, in some ways I know my brother better than people I’ve known for decades – where more traditional conversation rarely takes such Byzantine pathways through language and the human experience.  There is definitely something to be said for each participant in a conversation being allowed a thousand words or so before their interlocutor is required to participate (and perhaps some preparation time and access to a small Reference Library): I, at least, can achieve a much higher level of superficiality and/or foolishness under such circumstances.

Heretofore, our passionate, literary affair has been pursued entirely in text (and some judicious application of his legendary Paint skills on the part of my brother), like some modern day, blog-based Abelard and Eloise.  Like them, our interaction has scandalised a community – and almost spawned a new Widget for WordPress (I believe A+E spawned more traditional issue).  I trust that unlike them we will both be left physically intact and free from constraining convent walls – one can take historic parallels too far.

Given the hype, today I find myself in a frenzy of preparations for the main event.  Is it too late for plastic surgery?  What should I wear?  At my age, I generally only meet new people when suited and booted – but this seems overly formal.  Following this week’s Thinking Allowed, should I affect the black roll-necked sweater with a Gitane(s) perched insouciantly between my lips (a plan which will be fine unless I light it, at which point my pretence at left-bank, intellectual sang-froid will be cruelly exposed by a coughing fit).  Alternatively, having massively enjoyed Victoria Coren-Mitchell’s recent series on How to be a Bohemian (if you missed it, you should really seek it out on iPlayer) should my dress embrace the avant-garde?  Should I go with the round glasses or the square?  (For the Playschool massive, I will admit that I have no arched glasses – yet).  Traditional advice would suggest that I should “be myself” (or avoid that altogether), but who am I?

On reflection, the ship of first impressions sailed long ago and Vlogging a Dead Horse does rather reveal my lack of sartorial depth.  That is the problem with so extensively blogging my existence, there is little that the determined reader cannot deduce about the author by this stage (though I continue to remain an enigma to e-marketers – and myself).  So, I think I shall dress for comfort (rather than style – as if this latter were ever an option) in a manner compatible with the forecast weather conditions.

Unusually, readers may be offered two different points-of-view on the epochal events of tomorrow.  Or I suppose we could live-blogging the whole day?  (If that is even possible with WordPress). This could mean that I have a little less licence than usual when preparing the narrative for the GofaDM audience.  Alternatively, we might just both agree to lie outrageously about what happens in the desire to build the legend.

Eternity, here we come!

[Daigo sighs]

Twice during the course of flaming June (an adjective which, thanks to the wonderful flexibility of English, works both if the sun shines and the mercury rises or if the heavens open and the all-pervasive chill seeps into your bones), I have chosen to spend an evening at home watching a film.  On both occasions, I have decided to go for something light and amusing, a rom-com perhaps, but somehow I have actually ended up watching a foreign language film about the preparation of the dead for their final journey.  I should make clear that on neither occasion have I regretted my choice of viewing: the correct decision was made and I really loved both films.

I am beginning to suspect that this says something about me, probably something slightly worrying.  It would certainly suggest that the part of me which believes itself in charge of decisions doesn’t know me very well (and so should probably steer clear of Delphi), but fortunately the aspect of the self invested with executive control is rather better informed.  Concerns might also be raised that I am becoming excessively morbid – or, and worse, may be acquiring a penchant for necrophilia.  I would like to reassure readers that, as of the time of going to press, I have managed to resist the urge to make the short stroll up to Southampton Old Cemetery for any purposes other than the purely historical or to enjoy its still living flora and fauna (via my eyes and ears alone).

The first of these films was Atmen (Breathing) wherein a young offender finds a new direction working for the Vienna coroner’s office.  I believe this has been covered in a previous post, and so need not detain us further – other than to say that it rewards a second viewing.

This evening, by the power of Netflix (well, I don’t seem to have transformed into an overly muscled superhero – so perhaps I am saying this in the wrong location or holding the incorrect object aloft.  One can only imagine how many failed combinations of place and article Prince Adam tried before He-Man made an appearance), I watched the Japanese film Okuribito (Departures) about a chap who gives up his dream of being an orchestral cellist and by chance finds redemption in a new career as an encoffinist.  In many ways, not a vast amount happens – at one stage a car is driven relatively quickly, there is a scuffle at a wake and our hero shouts once, briefly – but two hours passes very enjoyably.  Unlike many shorter (and most longer) films, at no stage did I feel the lack of a decent editor.

The actor playing our hero (Daigo), and who is slightly older than me, is irritatingly well preserved and also wrote the film.  Back in the eighties, he was in a very successful boyband – which may give some hope to the current crop of bedroom pin-ups when fickle fashion moves on to the next new thing.  Having said that, I’m not expecting any serious arthouse cinema out of the ex-members of Blue or The Wanted in the near (or even distant) future (and yes, I did have to Google the names of boy bands for these references).

I have a feeling that Departures may be the first Japanese language film I have seen (though as previously discussed my memory is now failing rapidly) – and, equally important, heard.  The film reinforced my view, acquired after hearing Kenta Hayashi sing, that the Japanese language forms a beautiful soundscape, with none of the abrasiveness I have come (quite possibly wrongly) to associate with Chinese.  As I don’t speak Japanese (but am rather tempted to try) the film was provided with very thorough English language subtitles.  It would seem that these are intended to serve both the non-Japanese speaker and the deaf reader of English.  As a result, every vocalisation is given a subtitle, as is each use of music, and by far the most common subtitle was [Daigo sighs] – and so we achieve titular enlightenment.

Among its many delights, the film introduced the ancient Japanese idea – from a time before widespread literacy – of giving a meaningful stone (more a pebble based on the examples in the film) to a loved one: a kind of ready-made sculpture, from long before Marcel Duchamp, if you will.  This struck me as rather a fine custom, but some thought would be needed to ensure a reasonably common understanding of the meaning invested in a specific pebble.  One would not want to give inadvertent offence, especially while equipping the now aggrieved party with effective ordnance.

Idiosyncratic additions

As you will discover, I am not all that enamoured of personalisation – but before we can all make that discovery together, I think we need to tackle the mastodon in the chamber (and no, I did not call upon M. Roget for aid).  I refer, of course, to GofaDM itself.

Some might suggest that this blog is the ultimate act of personalisation: claiming as I am a small strand of the web hanging, as it must, between a couple of its less travelled interstices.  I will own that there is some element of truth in this viewpoint, which could no doubt be winkled out using an epistemological mass spectrometer, but I would view GofaDM as a work of ex nihilo creation rather than being representative of the lesser vision needed for personalisation.  Hopefully, having confused the readers with that polymer of polysyllables I can now move on.

I am not a chap who goes in for much personalisation of my stuff.  This may be because, as a lone wolf, I already organise, plan and (whisper it softly) personalise enormous amounts of my time on this earth – and so like to leave some of my existence to the whims of others.  This doesn’t always work out perfectly: my new gaff has black granite worktops and my kitchen scissors are also black, so I spend an annoyingly large part of my life looking for them.  Despite their silvery blades, their camouflage is surprisingly effective.

It may also be that I exercise (or, indeed, exorcise) my ego via other routes than the making of transitory changes to the appearance of my desktop.  I suspect that The Library – or rather its real world instantiation – is one of these thoroughfares of the ego.  This may itself merely be but a single lane of the far wider boulevard, laid on by my superego, whereby I attempt to stuff my head with as much data as is feasible (and try not to worry about any surplus being forced dripping from my every cranial orifice).

I have owned laptops for years and yet the desktop is still as chosen at the factory and the icons are in whatever default order is provided.  I am, as noted before, quite unable to write in books – and am even somewhat averse to the authors doing so (I am generally willing to take on trust their ability to write their own name).  The walls of my garret are plain white (to match the ceiling and woodwork), though I will admit they are adorned with some rather fine art (largely produced by friends) which takes the edge off my apparent asceticism.

It is only after nearly 5 years (and 620 posts) that I did anything to personalise this blog – and so over-riding the decision made in summer 2010 to pick the first theme on the list provided by WordPress.  Some of that latest customisation only occurred after my blog soul brother led the way, bringing to my wayward attention whole swathes of functionality of which I’d never dreamt.  I am still very much the Padawan to his Master in this field (though, controversially, remain unbraided), but my age should spare me from some of the opprobrium which would be heaped on a younger blogger with such a basic presentation.

As I was marshalling the thoughts that would be shunted together for this post, it struck me that I have no idea how (or why for that matter) anyone should stumble across this blog.  I rarely encounter the blogs of other – unless they come knocking at my electronic door – and GofaDM makes few concessions to the casual reader or seeker of either enlightenment or entertainment.  The post titles are (if I’m honest) wilfully obscure and my attempts at tagging are little better.  Even should a fellow human be washed up, like driftwood, on these shores he may find his new island home a somewhat hostile environment.  The posts are packed with the nichest of allusions, baroque vocabulary and needless excursions into foreign tongues.  As an example of the hostile local wildlife: in a relatively recent post I parenthetically stated that “wry can lead to egotism” – a phrase which I still think is genius, but does require the reader to know that the consumption of rye bread can lead to ergotism (caused by a fungus) and to find a weak pun (weak, but there probably aren’t many more out there in this field) about this worthy of their time.  So, I am mystified as to how folk arrive here and, even more baffling, why a few (and evidence is growing that at least some of these are conscious entities) choose to stay (other than their excellent, if inexplicable, good taste – obvs).

Why has he chosen today, or all days, to write on this topic you might wonder (if you haven’t been drained of the will to live by this stage).  Well, I saw a car with the licence plate MR 61 AND this morning.  This strikes me as probably having been personalised in the hope of being read as Mr Gland (or Mr Bland – but even, if this were your name, would you pay to advertise the fact?  Unless it was personalised by an enemy…).  As a result, I decided the driver must be an endocrinologist and (more relevantly) began thinking about the topic of this diatribe.

Aha!  Revelation has just taken me forcibly from behind: I have no time for customisation of my stuff because all my free mental and physical resources are engaged in personalising my mind!  Given that it worked for the Bible (which I think can still boast more readers than GofaDM), I shall finish with my Revelations.

Stopping and plucking

It would be embarrassing to admit how long it took me to settle on the title.  For a while I was going to quote Milan Kundera and go with “the idiocy of guitar music is eternal” but as will become clear I am not really in accord (a-chord?) with this sentiment.  More importantly, it seemed a pity not to allude to the rhyming potential of plucking – and with this re-casting of a work by Mark Ravenhill I can squeeze two terms relating to stringed instruments into a three word title (a pleasing economy of form for the lapsed mathematician).

It seems to have been a while since GofaDM covered music, so I thought we might have a gig report.  Anyone know if the NME still exists?  If so, are they hiring?  On second thoughts, I suspect any job might involve rather a lot of late nights and I am in serious need of my beauty sleep: if I look like this (please see the updated photo of the author plastered across this blog, which I think demonstrates once again his inability to take a selfie) when relatively well rested, I hardly dare think of the consequences to my already ravaged visage should I be further deprived of sore labour’s bath.

On Saturday evening, I once again toddled over to the Arthouse Cafe to sample their musical wares.  First on the bill was Willowen – of which I had previously seen only a third – at full strength, i.e. three people and, not as Google tried to convince me, one rugby player (though the overall rest mass may have been similar).  Their brand of quirky indie folk (their description, not mine) was great fun and so another CD has been added to my collection.  However, on first sight they did look as though one person from each of three different bands had arrived on stage together following some sort of booking error: their music, despite the trio having been separated by geography (I think other separations are possible, or at least not directly ruled out by the Laws of Physics) for six months, proved that they did, in fact, belong Cerberus-like to the same musical body.

Whilst Willowen‘s performance did involve a range of stringed instruments, they were all played using techniques that I had previously observed.  Frankly, I thought I’d seen every possible option but the second act proved me wrong.  Kenta Hayashi does play the guitar in the normal way, and with the aid of a whole heap of looping kit can accompany himself on the guitar and with percussive and vocal effects.  However, he also played it in a whole new mode – laid flat across his lap and striking the strings with the side of his fingers.  I suppose this is a little like col legno in the classical canon, but without the bow (and so the legno).  I wondered if it might relate to a typical mode of play for a Japanese stringed instrument, but my research has drawn a blank – so perhaps it’s original?  It certainly helped to make for a very interesting and entertaining set.  Another curious insight from the evening was that sung Japanese sounds far less alien that I would have expected, though I’ll admit my sample size remains quite small.

Talking of looping, performing as a one-man-band is a lot more straightforward than in days of yore.  You can set yourself up with just a single instrument and a bit of electronic kit, though I fear the battery pack could be a bit of a killer out on the road, and still have a huge musical and sonic repertoire at your disposal.  I am constantly amazed at the range of sounds and musical styles that can be produced with the humble guitar.  It can act as a itself and as a decent substitute for a harpsichord and a cajón; the strings can be plucked, strummed, struck or bowed (and no doubt more besides).   Add in the player’s voice and a little beat-boxing ability and you have a fair chunk of an orchestra available while retaining the option of using public transport with relative ease.

All of which suggests that I really should be getting to grips with my own guitar, which I have had for twenty years but have barely played (except for brief and sporadic bursts of rarely repeated enthusiasm).  I had been put off by tuning – but this can now be aided with a simple app, or done for you by a robot (amazing, but true – though it doesn’t look much like a traditional sic-fi robot).  I have also been put off by steel strings, which tear your fingertips to shreds – but have now seen very good, professional guitarists (Eyes Like the Sky, a previous Arthouse guitar discovery, being a splendid example) using nylon strings.  All my excuses thus fled, I suppose you will be expecting some sort of guitar-based musical performance in an upcoming post.  Fair enough, I suppose, but it might be timely to remind all readers that patience is a virtue (though, disappointingly, not one of the seven deadly virtues).

The Balkanisation of the Gym

Look.  You do know that I can hear you groaning?  I will admit that you have come up with the correct response, but not for the right reason (so it doesn’t count).  This will not be further tales of my mid-life crisis which, eschewing fast cars and/or women, I have chosen to spend hanging bat-like from bar or rings.  Vampires are still cool, right?  Or should allow age-related decay to have full rein and hope that zombie-chic is still in?

I have noticed that a significant number of exercises have been claimed by Balkan nations.  For some time, I have been attempting the Romanian deadlift, the Hungarian push-up and the Bulgarian dip (which is delicious and based, I think, on the humble chick-pea).  Yesterday, I was introduced to the Turkish get-up – a manoeuvre requiring not only strength and agility but also a significant grasp of choreography.  How the Ottoman Empire grew to such a size, when they have rendered the process of rising from the floor, palliasse or bed (I have failed to properly research Ottoman sleeping habits) so challenging, is a marvel.  I presume most never made it out from under the duvet, but those few that did then found conquering huge swathes of Asia and Europe a relative doddle.

Pondering the naming of these exercises, I wonder if they were one of the many bones of contention (a whole ossuary’s worth) that led to such misery and bloodshed during the nationalist disintegration of first the Habsburg and then Austro-Hungarian empires?    Given that this acrimonious break-up continues into the current century, it is probably only a matter of time before Montenegro, FYROM and Croatia have their own, national physical jerks (I’d like to imagine the last will involve a tie).  Still, I suppose it is important for a country to retain its physical culture.

Most of these Balkan exercises are somewhat niche in nature with only true athletes, like myself (stop sniggering at the back), attempting them.  However, there is one which those lads who otherwise prefer to stick with the bench press and bicep curl for their exercise regimen use on a very regular basis.  I refer, of course, to the regular need to Czech oneself out in the mirror!

(OK, even I’m embarrassed by that dénouement – but not enough, it would seem, to keep it to myself).

Chamber pot

The angst-ridden last post may well be nature’s way of suggesting that I’ve been spending too much time in my own company and that it is time to get a job again.  Actually, the Last Post is usually the signal for a good, long lie down – though probably only if you were in the military and when delivered by a Bb or Eb bugle.

This post will be substantially more frivolous – though I like to think lays out a rather sensible thesis (and one which will NEVER be taken up).

It has been reported that the Houses of Parliament are in a bit of a state – and, unusually, this is referring to the fabric of the buildings rather than our elected (and unelected) representatives.  Apparently, it will cost almost £6 billion to put this to rights – which does seem rather a lot of money (it’s around a seventh of an HS2, for instance) and suggests some rather serious neglect over the years.  I reckon the Westminster work of Pugin and Barry could be worth a few quid to developers.  I’m not suggesting we demolish the existing buildings, but I’m sure they’d be worth a fortune as exclusive riverside apartments or an upmarket hotel.  Rather than costing money to maintain them, I reckon we could net a tidy sum by selling them off.

With this nice little nest egg, we could build two brand new chambers and ancillary office space at much lower cost.  Despite its appalling extravagance and terrible cost overruns, the new Scottish Parliament only cost around £0.4 billion.  However, I think we can do much better than that.   I’d say either of the Houses could be slotted into my local branch of Dunelm Mill – a building which I reckon only cost a few thousand quid to build.  Even with the costs of fitting out the interior, I’d suggest that by using retail or light industrial park units we could knock up a new parliament for significantly less than £10 million – and there would be plenty of onsite parking.

As we are starting from scratch, it seems lunacy to build the new parliament in London with its sky-high property prices and high costs of labour and living.  I suggest we take this opportunity to move somewhere cheaper and more central to the nation.  I was thinking about Stoke as a possibility: it has decent road and rail links and I seem to recall they were recently selling houses off for under a fiver.  If the State bought a few of these and converted them into flats for MPs, parliamentary expenses should tumble.

Some may worry that this plan wouldn’t work with parliament being so far from the financial and cultural hub of the UK, but many other countries have proved this can be really quite successful: the US and Germany spring quickly to mind.  We could also move the key ministries out of London and sell off those buildings as well.  At this rate, the deficit will soon be a distant dream and all without having to cut any services (though we could still do with delivering them more efficiently and effectively – so there will be no opportunity for laurel resting in my brave new world).   As an added bonus, a new powerhouse for the north (well, north Staffordshire) would be born.

As a good citizen, I offer this wizard wheeze to my country with no hope of personal reward: the knowledge that I will have helped the nation that nurtured me will be payment enough.  I keenly anticipate the establishment of my planned Parliament in the Potteries!