As Melvyn Bragg, or more accurately, his guests have relatively recently revealed, the exact number and nature of the muses varied over the course of the Classical era.  However, given any list of the occupants of Mount Helicon, it seems hard to argue with the thesis that I have been least touched by the influence of Terpsichore.  Then again, I have never shared any of my Love Poetry with you (or anyone else for that matter) – so I could always be lying.  I’ll leave that thought with you while I gently pluck at my cithara and await the arrival of Erato.

As has been noted in this very organ before, I am not a natural dancer.  My attempts at dance are about as unnatural, affected and artifical as could be imagined.  However, 2016 has seen me adding increasing volumes of dance into my cultural mix: though only as a voyeur (so far).  My younger self would be horrified as he found dance entirely without merit – well, except for the unintentional laughter it often brought him (and can still bring me).  Current me has, in many ways, reversed into his current interest in dance.  My gateway drug, as it were, has been circus: an art form which continues to obsess me.  This last week did see me first fully successful essay of the back level, suspended from gymnastic rings.  I will admit I can only hold it for a couple of seconds – I can’t actually breathe at the same time and holding the position does burn through the contents of my lungs at an alarming rate – but it was pretty good for an old codger.

Quite often the acrobatics in circus include elements of what I take to be contemporary dance. Both of the excellent shows by Barely Methodical TroupeBromance and Kin – have certainly included dance which clearly carries the narrative, even to a clod like me.  Emboldened by seeing dance and enjoying it, even if mostly in terms of the physical feats involved (and trying to work out if and when I might be able to replicate them), I have been branching out into more overtly dance-based events.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Salisbury International Arts Festival in the summer sunshine and all three events I attended contained dance.  Blocks was a circus/dance combination staged around a set of gigantic Jenga blocks and so was playing to my existing interests.  You and I Know, by Candoco Dance Company, I literally stumbled across by accident when seeking cake (I never found cake and am still struggling with the trauma: Salisbury was a major disappointment in this regard on a Sunday afternoon).  This was pure dance, though using two disabled performers – one in a wheelchair and the other with only 1.5 arms – and was incredible.  These appetizers were both free, but for my third encounter with dance I actually parted with real money – and moved indoors.  May Contain Food by Protein was dance-based but also involved operatic singing and a small amount of nourishment for the audience.  It was nominally set in a high-class restaurant with the audience as the diners and dancers and singers as the staff.  It was quite the strangest piece of culture I’ve ever seen, but very interesting and entertaining (and the food – eccentrically described and consumed – was appreciated).  It seemed to please both young and old in the audience, so some forms of weird could be the way to go when it comes to increasing cultural engagement.

As well as what we (OK, I) might call popular dance, I have also tried something a tad more classical.  Between Christmas and New Year, I accompanied my brother-in-law to provide  moral support for his first ever visit to the ballet.  This was to see Sleeping Beauty at Sadler’s Wells which I think was a fairly modern production: well, it invoved two conveyer belts and some puppetry and very little in the way of tutus.  I enjoyed it greatly and it was also a big hit with the accompanying ballet virgin: his fears proving groundless.  Inspired by this success, when I was in Cambridge recently I went to see Life by the BalletBoyz.  This was amazing, and at times very funny, and not a tutu in sight (just a lot of rabbits)  : though the Arts Theatre is a dreadful venue in which to watch dance as the sightlines are way too poor (something that has never been a problem with theatre which still works fine, but is almost fatal to dance).  If the circus won’t take me, I think maybe I’ll run away to join the ballet: it can’t all be cruel Russian matrons and bleeding feet (as the children’s TV of my youth suggested).  Realistically, this probably isn’t a great back-up plan for my retirement from the desk job: whilst the physical feats of ballet seem less extreme than at the circus, you do seem to be required to make them look entirely effortless and, worse for me, graceful.  The nearest I’ve come to grace in my life is thanking the Lord for the food I’m about to consume at a formal dinner, though I suspect a good word for the kitchen or waiting staff would probably have been more productive.

Still, I do fancy taking up some form of dance to take advantage of my improving flexibility.  Probably something not too dependent on rhythm or grace.  Do you think 50 is too late to take up break-dancing?



Embracing eldership

And he’s back!  In more ways than one.  Not just a triumphant homecoming to the blog this weekend, but also to Cambridge.  Like the proverbial canine (26:11) I have returned to the site where I have previously thrown-up pearls of language – though to the uninitiated they may look more like diced carrot in a sea of something even less appetising.

This is my first visit to Cambridge in more than 10 months: my longest separation from the city in over a decade.  The locals do not seem to have been looking after it quite as well as I might have hoped.  The area around the station is even more of a mess than when last I left and is girt by an even denser forest of new blocks of flats (or, this being Cambridge, apartments).  Far worse than this, however, Fitzbillies has stopped offering dinner!  It’s all very well opening a new branch, but where is a chap supposed to dine of an evening?  What about his much need glass of Sipian?  I was forced to dine at my current local – The Punter – which did offer a decent meal and two very acceptable pints of Punter Blonde, but it wasn’t the same.  At my age, I don’t handle change well – which is, of course, why I shall be voting to stay in the EU: it is way too late for me to learn to handle a new take on European realpolitik.

My “digs” in Cambridge are at Westminster College – and very fine they are too.  I think one of the advantages of living in a tiny garret is that wherever else I lay my hat seems suprisingly roomy: though I did narrowly avoid staying in a space ominously referred to as “the Hobbit room”, a description which I believe refers to the ceiling height, rather than a requirement for furry feet.  Westminster is a theological college – a natural fit for me with my O-level in Religious Studies and my natural tendency towards sainthood.  A notice I spotted on my way down to breakfast was kind enough to provide this post’s title.  I think it may refer to an ecclesiastical position – not something I’m planning on taking up in the near term – but as I increasingly find myself the oldest person in the room, I feel it has broader application to my life.  Well, either that or it is a more upmarket way of saying “grab a granny”.

As I arrived at the college to check-in, I had to walk the wrong way down the receiving line for a wedding.  I was at serious risk of being showered with confetti – luckily, my choice of a bright red shirt reduced the risk of me being mistaken for the bride.  I think red weddings remain confined to the work of George RR Martin when he has lost his grip on a large number of characters and needs to reassert control.  Oddly, throughout my whole visit to Cambridge I seem to be being pursued by brides.  Lunching with a friend yesterday, I found myself directly opposite the main registry office with a procession of nuptials being celebrated in insufficiently warm clothing.  I also passed a hen party whilst walking the streets of the city: not a partciularly common site in broad daylight.

Despite the ready availability of potential brides, in deference to my accomodation, I remain steadfast in my commitment to chastity.  The expansion of poverty I leave up to the government (who seem to be doing a sterling job in this area) and I fear I shall never really come fully to grips with obedience: though again the government’s drunken lurching towards a police-state for all but the über-rich may assist here.  Have I divined the government’s hidden plan? A move to mass monasticism.  We are all gradually forced into poverty and obedience while ever rising house prices, to provide investment opportunities to the global criminal elite, mean that the prospect of a monk’s cell comes to looks like luxuriously spacious living.

Still, enough with the lodging-inspired attempts at satire.  The more important lesson of the weekend is that I have moved beyond Cambridge.  I shall always be fond of it and have firends here but home and my life are now very firmly based on Southampton