Self-image: update required

In a doomed attempt to add a thin veneer of whitewash to the Stygian darkness of my soul, I am once again staying in a theological college while I visit Cambridge.  To boost my efforts, I did spend a chunk of yesterday evening in the Divinity School and may well taken in evensong later today.

OK, I’ll admit that any benefit to my soul (assuming it exists and is capable of redemption) is purely coincidental.  The college was the cheapest option for staying in the city and my other two visits to buildings with a religious bent are purely to enjoy the music contained within.

I have just returned from breakfast in the college refectory.  I found myself sharing a table with an older couple (i.e. even older than me) who enquired whether I was a student here.  Presumably, I have the look of one with a calling, a proto-vicar if you will.  My initial thought on being asked this question was that it was entirely natural.  I look just like a student and could easily be confused with those in their late teens and early twenties that make up so much of the corpus of the university.  After an embarrassingly long delay, it struck me that a theological college is likely to be dominated by mature (even ancient) students and as a man of 50 I really cannot pass for a student in anything but the very poorest of lights (basically, it would need to be pitch black!).

All rather telling!  Clearly, I continue to believe that not only do I feel like a student on the inside – and am, incredibly, still fooling (most of) the rest of the world that I am an adult – but part of me still believes I look like one as well, despite the daily reminder from the looking glass that I am a long way from the fresh-faced youth whose visage once greeted me of a morn.  My appearance might slightly belie my age, but not by 30 years!  How has this illusion of passing for gilded youth persisted despite the all-too frequent reminders of the true state of affairs?  Will a part of me still be labouring under this delusion if and when I hit 60, 70, 80…?

I feel I should offer a blanket apology to the young for continuing to act as if I were one of their number.  I shall work harder to update my self-image to something a little more consistent with reality.

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The Tyranny of Choice or an Exemplum of the Obesity Crisis

Earlier today, I wandered out to buy a new cover from my ironing board.  Oh, yes I’m doing alright and living the rock-and-roll lifestyle to the max.  My ironing board is knocking on a bit, it could legally buy and consume alcohol in the US of A with a pretty generous safety margin, and its cover is pretty threadbare.  So, I thought it was about time to treat it, and my clothes, to some swanky new threads.

My plan was thwarted by the discovery that ironing board covers have a size: they can at least be Medium or Large (based on the evidence of my eyes) and I assume a Small may be lurking somwhere.  I had no idea of the size of my own board, but the 21st century boards on sale nearby all seemed much larger than mine.  I had assumed this was probably just an optical illusion or a failure of memory – but investigation on returning home suggests not.

The smallest cover available was intended for a board of 124 x 45 cm.  I have now measured my board and found it to be a svelte 108 x 30cm: so all the covers on offer will be decidedly baggy.  I suppose it may be possible that ironing boards are wearing their covers loose this season – but I’m not wholly convinced that the ironing board is having a 70s moment and a fashion for flares is to blame.  Over the last quarter-century, while homes have been growing smaller, it would seem that ironing boards have been swelling: much like the human population.  Have ironing boards been growing to ensure that the increasingly obese ironing public can keep their marquee-sized clothing smartly pressed?

Whatever the reason, I find myself at a loss when it comes to finding a snugly fitting cover for my ironing board.  Should I be searching antique shops for some relatively mint covers from the early 90s?  Is there a homeware equivalent of the craze for vintage clothing?  Or do I need to find a friendly local seamstress to knock-up a bespoke number for my ancient companion?  I am loath to replace my old friend (cheap though it was when new) and I don’t have the space to store one of its modern brethren, so my search for a solution continues…

Over Sea, Under Stone

With apologies to Susan Cooper from who I have “borrowed” my title.  If any of you have not read the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan C (an unlikely circumstances I like to imagine among my readership), then what have you been doing with your lives?  Stop reading this nonsense and get onto it immediately!

The tale that follows will not involve any Old Ones – with the uncapitalised exception of the author – but is instead about a couple of recent music events in Southampton (neither of which were readily accessible to a U-boat).

Back when the current month was young, Southampton staged its annual Music in the City Festival.  Slightly annoyingly, this clashes with a similar festival in nearby Southsea, so the Hampshire music lover is forced to “pick sides”: I will admit that I went local, loyalty to my adopted home and all that (or you may prefer to assume apathy was the stronger driver).

Having started with some daringly staged outdoor music near the station, our hero headed “under stone” to the Lancaster Vault in the High Street.  Given the rather occasional use of this space for music, I can’t claim the sound was great – the balance between voice and instruments was sub-optimal – but the atmosphere when there is loud music playing and the space is full of bodies (mostly younger than mine) is incredible.  Forget stadium gigs – for my money the future of money is underground in vaults, crypts and the like.  I really feel Southampton could make better use of its historic subterranean spaces – though I will admit that the sightlines aren’t always great and they can be slightly dank, but I think resolving the sound issues would be fairly trivial.

I saw two splendid local bands Calcium and Mad King Ludwig and the Mojo Co who both out on a really good show: though the Mad King was the only one to go to the trouble of costume and make-up (and its not easy changing in a vault with no facilities!).

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Calcium: or most of them (16 protons worth, say)

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The Mad King (rare “top-on” shot) and some of the Mojo Co

Calcium were new to me, but the plan is to see them next Sunday in the more traditional space of the Alex pub.  The Mad King I first caught at the tail end of a Maple Leaf Session at The Talking Heads (one of the highlights of alternate Friday evenings in Southampton) as a solo pianist and was hooked.  He is very much the showman and the most extraordinarily deep and gravelly voice emerges form his (relatively) tiny elfin frame.

Later music was at, the perhaps more conventional surroundings of, The Notes Cafe and provided by Manoir Dreams – a multinational gypsy jazz collective at whose gigs it is impossible not to have a great time – and The Alaskan Pipeline – described by the NME as providing “prettily constructed forays into subtle melancholia” (though this may have been from a gig where they weren’t being heckled by their own small children).  These later musical treats did not fit with our title’s theme but were accompanied by the most stunning double rainbow I’ve seen for years (made all the better as I’d managed to switch venues without being covered in the torrential rain which provided one of the visual spectacle’s key drivers).

Earlier this week I went to a gig in another stone-built, historic space in Southampton: this time in God’s House Tower.  I must say for a deity, He (or She) has allowed the place to get into a bit of a state: OK, it’s a 13th century gatehouse that once opened on to the sea, but you’d think someone omnipresent and similarly powerful could have run round it with a duster and the Dyson.  As it transpires, given the absentee – if celestial – landlord, the fine people of a space arts are slowly trying to restore it as a new arts space for the city.  Along with a select few others (those who bought one of the very reasonably-priced tickets), I was there for the first gig in a new music series for the city named Playlist.  The space may not be finished, without heat and a little rough-around the edges (and indeed away from them) but it was a beautiful place to watch music and had excellent acoustics.  We were warned to bring a cushion, but the chair provided was more comfortable than many I’ve been offered in a “proper” venue and my cushion went unused.

The gig had a brilliant programme: both musically and in terms of the mix.  I loved the combination of classical and folk music and found myself wondering why more gigs aren’t structured with such a combination of genres (I suspect economics may rear its hand-wavy head here).  We started with Gaspar Cassado‘s cellos suite played by Nicola Heinrich before switching to Tenderlore‘s brand of alt folk.  Tenderlore are one of my favourite, local folk groups (and that description works even if we lose the words ‘local’ and ‘folk’), but this was the first time I’d heard them play fully acoustic (amps were not big in the 13th century).  Their music is so beautifully constructed and in that space you could really here every note and harmony.  The headline act was Elizabeth Kenny playing the theorbo: and I doubt that many cities could boast a gig headlined by the 13-stringed giant of the lute family!  This was very pleasing for me as I’ve recently become slightly obsessed by the theorbo (and the impracticality of moving one around) after one of my Twitter community tweeted a link to a piece by Robert de Visée.  Talking about tweeked link musical obsessions, can I commend Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as performed by the Melodica Men to the house?  If there is no convenient gig by Manoir Dreams, then their performance(s) on YouTube should bring a smile to even the stoneist heart.

Ms Kenny opened her set with a suite by M. de Visée: I was thrilled and visibly so (and as I was sitting in the front row ended up chatting about him afterwards to the lutenist).  Possibly even more excitingly, she finished with a brand new piece written for the theorbo by Ben Oliver entitled Extending from the inside.  The fact that new theorbo music is being written almost makes my believe this world/country may not be heading for hell in a handcart: as it was, I contented myself by shaking the composer by the hand.

The venue and the music would have been enough to make a magical evening, but there was one further treat.  Someone had kindly brought free sustenance down from London to encourage the gig-goers to provide some written feedback.  This was in the form of baklava (light and dark): a Mediterranean sweetmeat which I have sampled before and never found very impressive.  Clearly, I have never had good baklava: this example from Tugra, in trendy Stoke Newington, was dangerously gorgeous.  I think it may have been (dare I even think this thought?): better than cake!?!  I am currently trying to contrive a visit to Tugra to bring back as much of the stuff as I can carry: I think I may take my trolley to increase my transportational capabilities.  If anyone happens to be passing Stokey (as I believe the local’s call it) please bring me back some baklava – you will be handsomely rewarded!

There is no moral to today’s story, except perhaps to note that I chose far better than I knew when I moved to Southampton.  I remain an unreasonably lucky chap that there is so much good music (and indeed other culture) on my metaphorical doorstep (cleaned, as you would expect, with an equally non-literal donkey stone).

Just watch the tumbleweed

There hasn’t been that much new content here of late – I have been too busy doing (or at least observing) and not busy enough writing about it.  Still, with today’s post I think you will come to view the recent silence in a much more positive light.

Last night, whilst playing word games to try and ease my diseased mind into the arms of Morpheus I came up with two “jokes” and thought I’d share them with you as some sort of punishment for your loyalty

“Joke” the First

As you may have deduced by now, I see myself as a conceptual artist.  My latest series of thought provoking masterpieces are an attempt to marry the work of the upholsterer and the pâtissier to create a whole new artistic genre.  It will be the first in a line of edible furniture, so that a chaps (like myself) need never go hungry again.  My first work will be the filo sofa.  Makes you thnk, eh?

“Joke” the Latter

For this witticism, you should imagine a conversion between two people that I will call Abel and Bernoulli.

A:I am terribly allergic to both cats and dogs.  In fact, most mammal’s affect me.

B: What happens to you?

A: My eyes stream, my nose runs and my throat becomes really sore and tickly.

B: Fur cough?

A: These no need for that sort of language, I was just describing my symptoms.