Sore labour’s bath

No, don’t switch off!  This has nothing to do with the on-going attempts by Her Majesty’s opposition to devour itself (very much down to the lights by now): the title is taken from Macbeth and is one of a whole serious of poetic allusions to sleep made by our hero in Act II Scene II.  It just goes to show that mental collapse following regicide is no excuse for turning out second-rate verse.

If this blog has a theme, other than the author’s dual obsession with himself and cake, it is with sleep and my continuing inability to capture enough of it.  I’ve read more books and articles on the subject of sleep than many people have had hot dinners (though admittedly, most of the people to whom I refer will be babies), but despite having some of the strictest sleep-hygiene this side of an S&M club (where I presume Michael Saint is the presiding deity or demiurge) the balm of hurt minds continues to elude me on a regular basis.

I have even started eschewing any sort of screen time for a good hour before heading up the wooden hill (ok, across the carpeted hall) to the shire which hosts Luton Airport (a place historically oft confused with Paradise – though not, to my knowledge by Milton): but my abstinence availed me not.

However, this week I would appear to have found a solution to my night-time woes.  I have a Canadian cognitive scientist, Luc Beaudoin (as reported by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian), to thank for my currently well-rested state.  I will admit that I have slightly augmented his mental trick to take in elements of the ISIHAC game Word for Word and some elements of the old Ffoulkes’ family game of Bonio Boards.  Given that I am already in the dog house for failing to explain an allusion, I had better cover off that last sentence for those not lucky enough to both by fans of ISIHAC and cosanguine with the author.   In Word for Word, panellists attempt to come up with a serious of entirely unconnected words while Barry Cryer attempts to convince us that a word-pair was a popular beat combo in the 60s: I, of course, would suggest that they are playing tonight at the Dublin Castle (£6, £5 concessions).  Bonio Boards used the cardboard inserts found in packs of the popular 70s dog biscuits (well, they were popular with dogs and pokers: Poker, I should perhaps add, was a villain who would snaffle any chunks or crumbs of Bonio left unguarded by a foolish canine.  He did not wear a mask – which I now feel was missing a trick) to list a series of noun categories, e.g. countries, cheeses, famous dogs etc.  The players would then have to generate entries in each category beginning with a randomly chosen letter.  I presume this was against the clock and I cannot recall how the boards were marked – but it was what passed for entertainment when I was young and Pokemon had yet to be invented or released into the virtual wild.  So, younger readers, you may have no future and be unable to retire from your call centre-serfdom until you are 130, but just look at the improvement in entertainment options you enjoy!

I now lie in bed and start by choosing a letter: generally one which is worth more than 1 point in Scrabble.  I then attempt to come up with as many words (trying to stick to nouns) beginning with that letter as possible, while ensuring that no two adjacent words have any link.  If this proves too easy, I’ll add complication by also using Bonio Board-style categories or fixing the first two letters of the nouns or fixing the first letter and running through the second letter alphabetically or only allowing (or disallowing, as per Many a Slip) n-letter words (for suitable n).  This is suprisingly hard to do when tired and keeps any other unwanted mental activity at bay.  As a result I fall asleep quickly and, should I wake during the night, quickly return to the chief nourisher in life’s feast (well, if we exclude cake: but I expect cake was less readily available in Glamis in the distant past).  It even seems to work in the recent heat and when sunlight is streaming through my curtains.

I’ll admit that the trial is currently short, and that I lack a control-me who has been relying on older method to partake of great nature’s second course, but so far the results have been very promising.  In fact, it is almost too successful and it is becoming much more critical that I correctly set my alarm clock.  I wouldn’t like to say that I’m cured, but for the time being if I appear to be dozing off during a conversation it IS because you are boring and not down to a lack of sleep on my part.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not being sponsored on the number of quotations from Macbeth I can slip into a post.

Three Nights in Southampton

I have, of course, spent rather more than a trilogy of nights in Southampton – despite my regular excursions across the water to Hibernia – but in the interest of brevity will limit the scope of this post to the a recent run of three.  This post is both a response to a lot of recent fun and to the discovery (indirect) that some of the more priviledged indigenes of the Chichester area seem to view Southampton as a Hampshire based dystopia, a south-coast Somalia if you will (a reference which may be a tad dated).

I will start with Thursday and a stroll to the wilds of Shirley.  The evening proper began with a stiffener at the Overdraft: a craft ale bar which brings a hint of Brooklyn to the south coast (as long as you don’t look out of the windows).  Despite being a craft ale bar, it is usually easy to “keep it session” (as we PCDs say) from the ever changing selection of cask ales.  So the author retained the vast majority of his sobriety for the short stroll up to the Santo Lounge.  The Lounge is a sort of bar-cum-cafe, but on Thursday night played host to a little corrner of Spain.  Jero Ferec, guitarrista of this parish (or at least with links to one nearby) was peforming: with three female colleagues from Spain providing the bulk of the cante and baile.  It was an incredible night of music, complex rhythms and energetic dance: by the second half it seemd the whole cafe was enrapt.  I was left with a strong desire to go back to Iberia and brush up my horribly rusty Spanish (though I fear I will still struggle with the pressure to eat very late at night).  In case you were worrying, the evening – in common with all three I shall be describing – also offered some excellent cake: it is, after all, thirsty work watching people exert themselves for my entertainment and it is very dangerous to partake of liquids without the natural safety harness we find in cake.  Also, with the gig being free, I felt it was encumbent on me to support a local venue via the method of cake consumption (it’s not that I wanted to, more that I felt an obligation, you should understand).

The photo above I have “borrowed” from my Facebook feed as it appears to have been captured by a vastly more competent student of the photgraphic arts than I (he or she may also have brought better equipment – not that doing the same would necessarily have improved my own efforts by much, merely weaken this particular workman’s tool-related attempts to shift the blame).

Friday evening brought another free gig, this time at the Notes Cafe with the folk-inflected trio Tenderlore, who I had always assumed were local.  However, researching this post indicates that while they met at university here, they hail from across the south: Rob from the traumatic (to me) site of my driving test(s).  If I slept at night, I would no doubt still be haunted by nighmare visions of the hills and junctions of Herne Bay.  A totally different musical vibe to Thursday night, but the blending of voices and strings (and the occasional ‘ting’ from a glockenspiel) with music both complex and catchy made for a really enjoyable night.  It was also my first encounter with the U-bass, which is a bass for the player with limited carrying capacity – basically a ukelele with massively thick rubber strings – which is suprisingly effective (and I imagine, comfy on the fingers).  One of the best things about the modest gigs I go to in Southampton (other than the intimacy of the experience) is that not only the audience, but also the band are usually clearing having a really good time.  Even Rob was unusually smiley (not that I’m an expert on the effusiveness of his facial expressions, but I was under the impression he was known for his poker-face).  On this occasion, my cake served to protect me from the risk of an unaccompanied rosé: well, it is summer and I’m confident in my almost complete lack of sexuality (plus it was on special offer – and my momma didn’t raise no fool!).

On Saturday evening, for the first time in this post, I had to part with money (though not very much) to go to a gig: this time at the Art House Cafe.  This was the most unknown of the week’s musical offerings: an Italian group called Armonite who play violin-rock (not a concept of whose existence I was previously aware) with influences from the prog-rock of my youth.  They were amazing – and by some distance the loudest thing I’ve heard at the Art House.  Their set alternated between their own compositions and violin-rock versions of film scores.  Having heard the latter, this is definitely the best way to score a film (well, perhaps not during the quiet bits).  I (and the lucky few in the audience) had a ridiculous amount of fun and will have no cause to count our manhood cheap: as some 7 billion of the rest of you might.  Below is a ‘selfie’ taken by the band of themselves (the 4 youthful Italian-looking chaps in the foreground) and the audience (general older, less Latin in apppearance and further away).  For the avoidance of doubt (and anyone who knows what the author looks like), the expression on the face of the chap standing to my immediate right has nothing to do with me: I suspect he may have a medical condition (or have imbibed not wisely, but too well).

I feel the violin, at least in its electric form coupled to a Pod HD500X (which is the coolest looking set of effects pedals I’ve ever seen) , may have missed its métier.  It’s all very well en-masse in an orchestra, but perhaps its natural home is fronting some hard rock.  The bass was also rather an impressive beast: 5-strings and the biggest head I’ve ever seen on a guitar-derived instrument.  It looked like it weighed a ton.

In my recent gig-going, I have seen a wide range of stringed instruments wired for sound, even a viola: though that was an acoustic instrument with a mike.  I have never seen even a partially electrified viola da gamba: let alone a fully electric version.  And don’t get me started on the theorbo or the violone.  I think I’ve identified a gap in the market and will be going into production, just soon as I can clear my current to-do list and get myself vaguely organised (so, don’t hold your breath or anything fragile, folks).

Three nights, three great gigs, three totally different styles of music, musicians from three countries.  To paraphrase a local musician, Southampton “is not a shit-hole”, though this is not (as yet) the city’s motto.  (I apologise for the language, but I’ve heard worse of Radio 4 at 18:30, so it can’t be that shocking).  Sometime it almost has too much culture: on Friday there were at least two other gigs I was tempted by in the city:  I need to work on my tele-prescence (or cloning – though I refuse to live with any of my clones, one of me is quite enough).

Waking in Hoxton

A couple of weekends back, I spent the night in London.  On purpose, you should understand, I didn’t miss the last train home and have to sleep on a park bench.  This is something I very rarely do as it is normally hideously expensive (even on a park bench) – however, I suddenly realised that London has a university (several, in fact) and perhaps I could revert to student life in the capital as easily as in Cambridge or Oxford.  I had been vaguely aware of the option for a while as one of my former offices – sited opposite Bankside Power Station (or Tate Modern as I believe we are now supposed to call it) – was converted into student accomodation some years ago and I’ve always fancied sleeping at my old desk (or at least its location – I fear the desk may be long gone).  The challenge would be in booking the right room, websites are not really designed to accept a description based on a relative location referenced to the building’s fourth floor frontage or its historic usage.

Whilst I could have stayed in NGH, my business in town was in the soi-disant centre of hipster culture on the borders of Hoxton and Shoreditch.  So, I found myself staying in an outpost of the Univeristy of Westminster for the very thrifty sum of £36 (or about €5 as I believe it is now).  I will not try and claim the room was luxurious, though the shared bathroom was suprisingly nice (not at all like my own student days), and I had to forage for my own breakfast – but it was perfectly comfortable and the cheapest night I’ve spent away from home in many a year (well, excluding the kindness of friends and family).

As mentioned above I was staying in Hoxton, but failed to spot a single penny-farthing nor any particularly baroque examples of facial hair.  Frankly, I was the most eccentrically-dressed person I saw – not that I want you to think I spent a lot of time regarding myself in reflective surfaces.  I am beginning to think this whole idea of the hipster is a practical joke promulgated by the MSM and providing much need employment for a few out-of-work actors.  I did have pizza for my supper and when I asked for some eating irons was told “we don’t do cutlery”.  They also didn’t do plates – only paper ones – so I’m not sure if this was a hipster-affectation or some sort of phobia of washing-up.  Or is it some adjunct to the thoroughly discredited idea of paleo dining?  As a result of their fork-embargo, my fingers were rendered horribly oily and I will not be dining in that particular establishment again: though the pizza itself was very good, I don’t like getting my hands dirty.

Brunch on Sunday morning was a much more satisfactory affair, as 8 Hoston Square has not embraced the post-cutlery world.  This was a treat: a leisurely and delicious meal (literally comprising all I would normally eat for both breakfast and lunch) in the liminal space between indoors and outdoors (doors?) overlooking Hoxton Square.  None of the usual urgency that seems to infect my Sundays, with errands or things I ought to be doing pressing at my conscious mind: I could listen to 6 Music, read my book and watch the world go by.  I think I ought to start instuting a regular Sunday brunch option at home, perhaps with friends, to recapture the atmosphere of that morning with a different and more exciting menu than my standard breakfast fare.

Why, you may wonder, was I in Hoxton at all?  Well, I was at ARGCOM Fest: which over two days offers nearly 50 Edinburgh comedy previews (though one person you could never catch more than 16) in the less used spaces of Shoreditch Town Hall.  In a rare feat of self-control, I limited myself to a mere twelve across the weekend.  I rather like ARGCOM as it is rather a good simulation of the Edinburgh Fringe: overly warm rooms, in spaces normally unused (or used very differently) with uncomfortable chairs.  This is how comedy should be!

It was a lot of fun, and really nice having a 5 minute walk “home” on Saturday night rather than 2+ hours making my way back to my tiny garret.  My three top picks – each very different – would be:

Max and Ivan: despite complete failure of the technology and the show not being quite finished, this was very funny indeed and included a nice bit of acrobatics from Max in a very tight space with a wet floor (he’s a braver man than I).

Ahir Shah: clever and very funny, if slightly disturbing as at regular points in the show he would refer to me by name (though I feel I was representing a form of “everyman”).

Andrew Hunter-Murray: also plagued with technical issues, but very funny.  I had to play a character in this one, which mostly involved me wearing a hat and mask: from which I can confirm that a mask is a very impractical choice for a super-hero, it jiggers your vision in all directions.  I did also receive a very sweaty hug from a QI elf, which is not something I can claim every day.  I may now have to aim to complete the full set…

The weekend did tempt me to spend a little more time in London, and less time commuting back and forward to Southampton.  However, I do feel a liitle bit of a traitor going to culture in London, it is in some ways the “enemy”.  I always feel I should be supporting a more local option and reducing the need for artists of all stripes to have to leave Southampton to live in cramped penury in the capital.  I comfort myself with the fact that I probably go to more local culture than anyone else in Southampton in my desperate search for divertissement: unless you know better?  In which case, I’ll try and up my game!