Orange megaphone

“Where is he going with this title?” you may wonder.  The thought “Why has he been so poor at updating the blog of late?” might also have crossed your mind.  At most one of these questions will receive an answer (though not necessarily a satisfactory one) in the text that inevitably follows.

Southampton is a city of hidden delights.  Before moving here, I checked to see that it had all of my vital needs covered: an art house cinema, a theatre, a classical music venue, a John Lewis, decent rail links (in theory at least) and a blood donor centre.  A slightly odd list of needs – and certainly one which suggests I see myself as some way from the foot of Mr Maslow’s triangular hierarchy.  This post will cover none of these key conditions precedent to my relocation, but a lucky find that has oft been mentioned before in this blog will now be thrust into the limelight.

On my first visit to Southampton (as an adult, I may have come here as a child), to reconnoitre the town and view my flat-to-be, my first stop after leaving the station was the Art House Cafe for a spot of lunch.  No-one wants to meet an estate agent on an empty stomach (or, indeed, at all).  The internet had pointed out the cafe to me as a likely spot to offer some cake-centred breaking of my relatively brief fast.  The internet had not been economical with the truth and I was suitably fortified before my rendezvous.

Time passed (as is its wont).

I then discovered that the Art House also staged events, and so went to a few comedy nights there – at this stage, all starring Andrew O’Neill who managed to bring three different shows in a year.  After this lengthy introduction to their first-floor ‘venue’ (fools may rush in, but I don’t like to be so easily typecast), I branched out and started to attend some of their fairly regular musical offerings.  These have now become the mainstay of the rapid recent growth in my CD collection.

Going to a gig at the Art House is not unlike having the music performed in your front room – except, their venue is a little larger than my deceptively-spacious (OK, small) lounge and has a vastly better sound system (indeed, for my money offers the best venue sound in Southampton other, perhaps, than Turner Sims).  I nearly almost always manage to sit in the front row – offering good leg-room and allowing my glasses to remain in their case – as others seem to fear the potential for audience participation (though this has only happened rarely, despite my obvious star quality).  They also book the ‘talent’ and deal with all the admin and set-up (and down) – which is a major boon.

As a cafe, they can also provide drinks to satisfy both the temperate and the dipsomaniac, which can be consumed during the gig from ceramic or vitreous vessels (no plastic beakers here), and a selection of food, including cake.  Somehow, the lack of an interval ice cream is much easier to bear if a thick slice of cake is available in its stead.  Their cake is vegan – not something I have ever attempted to make at home – and I have no idea what they use in lieu of eggs (and will perhaps be happier remaining in ignorance), but the results are delicious.  As I have discovered over the last week, they also make the best mince pies in Southampton (based on my slightly limited, but growing, experience).

I have enjoyed some wonderful music there: recent highlights include the folk and gypsy-jazz infused work of Kadia (unusual, perhaps, for having a cellist on lead vocal) and the more classically strung delights of the Stringbeans Quartet (who improvised not one but two pieces in a key and style of the audience’s choosing: apparently C# Major is quite the challenge).

However, due to a recent rather dilatory approach to this blog, this post has been hanging around as an unfinished draft for quite a while and so the inspiration for putting digits to keyboard was a Sunday afternoon gig way back in October.  This was even more intimate than usual with myself lounging on a comfy sofa with a truly massive chunk of cake (and a responsible pot of tea) to enjoy some Hungarian indie synth pop from The Kolin.  I had zero idea in advance what they might be like, but the gig was amazing fun: the only disappointment being that they did not sing in Hungarian. How the band came to be performing in my local cafe/venue, on their four date UK tour, I have no idea but I’m grateful for the improbable juxtaposition.

The band have a certain fame for the use of body paint, rather than more traditional habiliments.  However, on the day they were fully clothed though I fear the drummer may have taken his style tips from the Swingtown Lads (perhaps ironically).  However, painting was still much in evidence – with some incredible face and body painting going on to one side of the stage (the stuff you see on children was as nothing to this) and a mural being painted on the other.  An afternoon at the Art House can truly be a gesamtkunstwerk.

The lead singer (keyboard player and driving force) of The Kolin as well as using a normal-seeming mike also used the style of microphone I had previously associated with taxi drivers and policeman for some lyrics.  For one song, he even used an orange megaphone (see figure 1).

Orange Megaphone

Figure 1: The title explained!

As you will glimpse, they are also the first band I’ve seen at the Art House who brought their own neon signage!  (You can also see a corner of the Muriel and the artist hard at work).

This reminds me of another great thing about an Art House gig: the performers seem to enjoy themselves as much as the audience.  It is wonderful to see musicians clearly having a really good time: it makes for a special evening (or afternoon) out.  While many of my readers may not have the good fortune to be local to Above Bar Street (oddly, not famed for its subterranean drinking dens), I suspect many a town or city will have a decent, independent music (and more) venue and at a time of year when people are making new resolutions might I suggest people plan to check out their local ‘Art House’ in 2016.  You probably won’t regret it (and I’m sure they could use your support) – and I’m taking no responsibility even if you do.  The buck doesn’t even slow down here.


We made it!

Before I start with the content of today’s post, just a little AOB missing from yesterday’s offering.

One of the key take home messages from my viewing of The Force Awakens was the need to visit Skellig Michael: it seems to have very well maintained stairs and would, I suspect,be quite a bracing location.  I’ll have to see if I can tag it onto a work trip across the Irish Sea come the spring.

Continuing with my engagement with popular culture, I must admit that I’ve never watched Gogglebox.  Normally, I love recursion but this seems a little to meta even for me: though I have seen the play-within-a-play trope several times, so perhaps I’m just being a snob.  However, yesterday afternoon I did catch Francesca Stavrakopoulou live tweeting Raiders of the Lost Ark: which was very amusing.  She is professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion (so rather eclipses my own O Level in RS) and has some forthright views on the movie.  As I write this, she is giving the Temple of Doom the same treatment.  I think there could (and should) be a TV series where domain experts make fun of classic movies that intrude on their areas of expertise.  A Gogglebox for the Only Connect viewer, if you like.  And now, we can return you to your normal programme – though I’m afraid theology will raise its head once again…

Today is the winter solstice and so we have survived through to the shortest day (well, unless you are reading this from beyond the veil).  I have (somehow) resisted the urge to visit Stonehenge, despite its proximity. From tomorrow, we (in the currently fashionable northern hemisphere) should start to notice a real stretch in the evenings: according to the Met Office (and they are rarely wrong) we denizens of Southampton should have a whole additional minute of afternoon daylight in which to revel come the morrow.

With the exception of changing day-length, it is otherwise quite difficult to believe that we are well into the second half of December.  We rather seem to have given up the outmoded concept of seasons and replaced it with a constant, rather windy (if mild) monsoon.  I am forced to assume either that some very large, if unreported, fold mountains have developed nearby or that the weather is properly jiggered.  As a result, I have had to work rather harder than usual to engender some minor hints of Christmas spirit in my resolutely curmudgeonly frame.

At the weekend, I wandered over to Lewes to enjoy the Esterhazy Chamber Choir’s Christmas concert.  This was most enjoyable, but some of the more modern carols did wander into unexpected doctrinal areas.  I am familiar with the idea of Christ as the Lamb of God, presumably linked to his gambolling round the Holy Land a few years back.  However, on Saturday I discovered that he is also an apple tree (just plain weird, and no hint as to the variety: do we think of Jesus as an eater or a cooker?) and as linked to ‘springing’.  I do wonder if the idea of his ‘springing’ might help to explain the Easter Bunny – he did, after all, emerge from some sort of underground ‘burrow’ after three days.  Sadly, the carol itself did little to clarify the potential connection and made no mention of the ickle baby Jesus laying chocolate eggs: though that would certainly count as a miracle (on several counts) and perhaps even a mark of divinity.  Returning to the idea of Jesus springing, I am now wondering if he is some sort of messianic Zebedee?  Will the final trump by a loud ‘boing’ followed by our Redeemer telling all that it’s time for bed?

Anyway, that’s probably enough heresy for one post – though not my heresy, I acquired this unorthodoxy in a proper church.  I have also watched the Shaun the Sheep Christmas episode and completed my annual viewings of The Muppet Christmas Carol and Arthur Christmas.  I am as ready for winterval as I’m ever going to be (though I may yet squeeze in a listen to Tom Lehrer’s Hanukkah in Santa Monica to provide a little religious diversity).  Let’s hope I haven’t peaked too soon!

Actually, if I’m honest, the primary reason for this post is as a displacement activity to put off the fateful hour when I must start wrapping seasonal gifts.  I like to do my wrapping on the 22nd, because then the presents are interred for three days in their papery tombs before rising to general jubilation.  I like to feel that I am, in my modest way, prefiguring the Passion even as I celebrate the Pagan turning of the year (and, of course, a deity being born in a branch of Prêt-a-Manger: luckily, hygiene standards have improved since the first century and livestock is no loner welcome in sandwich emporia).

Throbbing digit

I feel certain that habitués of GofaDM will have come to rely on it to help them stay abreast of popular culture.  It is surely the first port of call for those wishing to evince a passing knowledge of the latest scandal to strike the X Factor (Reggie and Bollie were robbed as I understand it) or who has triumphed on Strictly (a member of the previously Unwanted) just-in-case they find themselves trapped in the snug with a young person and need to make conversation.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should make clear that I have never knowing seen – and less importantly heard – more than a few seconds of the X Factor, I rely for all my knowledge on this (and so much else besides) on the live blogging skills of Stuart Heritage.

However, I don’t always outsource my interaction with popular culture and occasionally surf the zeitgeist in person.  So, last Thursday morning I set off on my velocipede to see the latest instalment in the increasingly numerous films of the Star Wars trilogy.  Might this be an option for the Church of England?  We’ve been stuck with just three members of the Holy Trinity for quite some time now, surely adding some CGI-heavy new members could be a way to bring in the young people and boost declining church attendance?   Or perhaps it’s time to re-boot the franchise and go back to the beginning with a dark, new origin story for the faith?  I’ll admit that there might be some doctrinal issues involved with these options, but the church has made bigger U-turns and it’s not like I’m espousing the Monophysite heresy.

I seem to have wandered into theology by mistake, let’s see if we can turn this post around and return to JJ’s latest.  Unusually for me, I went on the opening day (to the general public) of the film: this did not so much reflect excessive keenness as a look at the 5-day weather forecast which suggested it might be my last, best chance of visiting the flicks without getting very wet and windswept (I still got slightly wet).  I eschewed the 00:01 sold-out showing as the older I grow the more highly I rate the benison of sleep: so the chance of communion with my duvet was always going to beat anything Hollywood could produce.  Instead, I went to the 11:45 service (aimed primarily at the senior citizen) which was largely empty: patience and common sense unusually swiftly receiving their just reward.  Despite the relative antiquity of some of the cast, the film did not seem to prove a big draw for the pensioners of Southampton.

Out of deference to those who have not yet seen the movie, I shall avoid any spoilers – but I can say that the film is good fun.  Perhaps slightly too many nods to the original trilogy, but the new cast were very good: I think John Boyega may become a national treasure well before his time.  I have to say that the passage of time has not improved the standards of health and safety used by the bad guys – and the good guys are little better, though less over-manned.  There is also great joy to be found in spotting British actors (and a wide range of Scottish accents) in minor roles, my personal favourite was a brief glimpse of Harriet Walter.  I would also note that Rey had suspiciously good fingernails for a scavenger: they may not have heard of guard-rails in that distant galaxy but they would seem to do some excellent manicure work.   I didn’t spot a nail bar in the film, but perhaps one will appear in a subsequent director’s cut.

So, I think we can all agree that my finger is well and truly on the pulse – which should excuse the next ten posts on obscure Belorussian theatre of the 18th century.

Not even a hint of a banana

Regular readers will be aware of the slightly eccentric route I have taken to navigate the mid-life crisis.  Not for me the easy answers offered by fast women or loose cars: oh no!  I have avoided the lure of the quick fix and have instead opted for the long, slow (and at times painful) plan of eventually running away to the circus, once I have managed to train my body to handle the rigours of life as an acrobat.

My escape to the big top is proceeding surprisingly quickly given my age, height, general clumsiness and the complete lack of any suitable preparation during the first 48 years of my time on this earth.  However, I suspect that I am racing against time’s winged chariot to some extent: whilst I grow fitter, stronger and more flexible, I am probably not immune from the deleterious effect of the passage of time on my ageing casing of all too human flesh and bone.

The front lever is pretty much there and I am making strong progress towards the back lever: I can already maintain a new manoeuvre I have christened the ‘flying squirrel’ for a few seconds and so all that is needed is for me to be able unfold my lower legs.  My biggest current challenge is to achieve the planche – which I am moving towards, albeit at a pace usually associated with things geological.  One advantage of the planche is that it requires no equipment beyond my own body, and so can be practised anytime, anyplace, anywhere (well, modesty and basic courtesy permitting).  Re-assuringly, the current phase is recognised as being the most difficult area of progress and at some stage matters should improve.  At present, the horizontal is only very briefly feasible when I am folded up, but long-term I should unfold and then remain thus indefinitely.  As one way to respond to the sense of urgency (or piquancy) lent my endeavours by the finite span of a human life, I have been seeking new ways to tackle the problem and accelerate my progress.  This week, this involved use of a bench to work on the rather tricky task of keeping my arms straight whilst holding my body aloft but horizontal.  There does exist a photographic image of this attempt, but it can never be released into the public domain.  Whilst the exercise itself is perfectly innocent, the image in question could easily be mis-interpreted to yield an entirely different (and frankly filthier) interpretation.  On the plus side, my arms are straight but the position is quite hard to hold and it is proving quite difficult to sort out what to do with my legs (not an uncommon issue in my life).  Apparently, matters are much more straightforward if one is already able to do the splits.  I never imagined that I would find myself in a position (ha ha!) where the ability to do the splits would be desirable and am still far from sure I can imagine a future in which this ability actually exists.  Still, my adductors et al are more flexible than they used to be, so perhaps one day…

Whilst on the subject of my inflexibility, I discovered recently that my shoulders are also holding me back.  I was under the foolish impression that they must be really flexible given the wide range of implausible positions I have been forcing them to assume: how wrong was I?  If I try and raise my straightened arms up and above my head, they stubbornly remain a long way from the vertical, let alone starting to descend down behind the (famous) back of my head.  Still, at least I can work on this with only a towel (preferable bath) as equipment and so have being do so in hotel rooms while away for work.  I think this may be slow going, but other parts of me have revealed unexpected mobility so I remain hopeful.  Once my shoulders can move a little more freely, the hand-stand, and all the other skills to which it lies as a vital precursor, should be mine for the (slow but steady) taking.

To provide inspiration for this continued foolishness, on Sunday I am off to the circus: only as a visitor for now, but one day I may be invited to stay…