Disobedient digits

I have heard, or perhaps read, that if you cannot see your feet and a third party touches one of your toes, you will struggle to correctly identify the toe being poked.  I think most people are fine with the big toe, but thereafter are only accurate to ±1 toe.

I can believe this of toes, they are a long way from the seat of power (especially for we taller folk) and are mostly imprisoned against their will in shoes or sneakers.  Rarely are they allowed to operate independently of their fellows.  Such small acts of rebellion against central authority are only to be expected.

Fingers, on the other hand (and indeed the first hand) are molly-coddled their whole lives.  Only being gaoled in gloves or mittens to protect them from being nipped at by Jack Frost.  They have been given individual names and roles and are often invited to star in their own right.  As an occasional, if very bad, pianist my fingers have been given a lot of responsibility.  Indeed, often when seated at the old joanna, they seem to know where to go even when management hasn’t got the foggiest idea and is in a state of panic while the notes seem to dance across the staves.  I’ll admit that the ring finger can be a little shy, and doesn’t like to go anywhere without at least one of its two companions for company but, in general, I thought I could trust my fingers to follow basic instructions.

However, my attempts to master the guitar have made all to clear the limitations on my control of my own hands, especially the left one.  Even when I am staring right at them, the fingers of left hand still fail to follow even basic instructions.  When moving from G to D, I want to pivot on my ring finger: it, alone among its colleagues must not move and yet more than half the time it wanders off across the neck on some unknown mission of its own.  When playing scales (oh yes, I am teacher’s pet), I want all my fingers to stay close to the strings and yet they wander off like children on a school trip: worse actually, as they do so even when directly supervised.

I am far from convinced that I possess free will, but am increasingly sure that my fingers do.

Still, despite this mutiny by my own phalanges, I am making slow progress with the guitar.  At a gig last Sunday, while watching Jonny Phillips play I could recognise several chords and even more standard chord shapes.  Some of these, given a decent run-up, I can actually play: though there can be quite a long wait between chords (and a fair few extraneous sounds produced): it would be as well to bring a book to any gig at which I’m performing.  I can even speak somewhat knowledgeably about inversions and root notes, having been shamed into re-reading The AB Guide to Music Theory Part I following my stumbling attempts to identify broken chords at a lesson.  I think my guitar teacher now finds my attempts to create new chords from first principles (one note and string at a time, while visualising a piano) somewhat amusing and I strongly suspect I am his only student obsessive enough to try this.

Later at the same gig, there came a distant ray of hope.  The frankly amazing Marty O’Reilly made reference to ten years of his youth (mis-)spent in a shed with his guitar, smoking pot (him, not the guitar) as the source of his condign mastery of the instrument.  I don’t have a shed and am not entirely sure psychoactive substances will be a help – let’s face it, I already fear that my fingers are out to get me – but I’m only two months in to the process, so there remains the very real possibility for improvement by some point in my sixties.  In the meantime I thoroughly recommend going to see Jonny and Marty – the latter came perilously close to bringing a tear to my eye (something which music almost never does) – and imagine that one day (probably roughly cotemporaneous with the heat death of the universe) I might sound like that!

Advertisements

Fly-tipping

A “sport” many might consider easier than the traditional(?) cow-tipping, but I would beg to differ.  Some might imagine that the fly’s lower mass would make the task easier, but I would point out that your typical fly has its centre of gravity (and mass, for that matter) much nearer the ground than its bovine counterpart.  The fly further enhances its stablity relative to its mooing rival by dint of its two additional legs.  Perhaps most importantly, not only can the fly see the potential tipper coming from a much wider range of angles but also has the option of taking to the air: not something the earth-bound Fresian or Hereford can manage (without some sort of powered exoskeleton, which I think would be against the spirit – if not the rules – of the sport).

Why, you might ask, have you been subjected to the previous paragraph?  Well, it is because the author was tempted to indulge in a little fly-tipping of late (based on its more common definition).  Actually, to be honest, he was more tempted to arrange a burial at sea (it is somehow a more romantic end), but as a species we have used the oceans as a dumping ground for far too long (presumably on the basis that out-of-sight equals out-of-mind which in turn banishes the unwanted matter from existence: something which even disposal in black hole may struggle to guarantee) and I felt it would be poor form on my part to add to their burden.

Following the emptying of the storage unit, I had some stuff that needed disposal.  This stuff could not be placed into the bin, nor was it substantial enough to count as bulky waste, and so it was up to me to take it to the tip (or recyling centre as I believe we should now call them – though that description would hold more water in South Cambs than it does in South Ampton).  In common with most municipal tips, my nearest one is not located or laid out in a manner which is friendly to the pedestrian or cyclist with rubbish in need of the last rites (but wishing to avoid them his- or her-self).   However, the city council is clearly worried that its traffic-friendly policies are not attracting enough precious vehicles into the city and hopes that the additional traffic generated by the tip will bring its dream of gridlock a little closer.  Having given my car away some time ago, I was forced to hazard my disposal trip on my bicycle.

On a positive note, the disposal process worked – my rubbish is gone and I am still walking (or cycling) through the shadow of the valley of death.  On the downside, I may be unable to have children: which, should perhaps be counted as part of the upside.  Does anyone really want these genes to be propogated?

I have been mountain biking though, in the interests of full disclosure, I should clarify that no mountain was involved.  BUT, I have ridden a mountain bike, off-road, on unprepared surfaces in terrain with closely grouped contour lines.  Technically, the areas involved in North Yorshire and the North Pennines did not involve mountains, just hills, but I think the principles of the activity were fully covered (including a sudden, unplanned dismount into a stream).  I thought this – and 3.5 years living in Southampton – had prepared me for cycling on uneven road surfaces: but I was wrong.

The route between my tiny home and the tip contains quite the worst surface (whilst metalled, I fear I cannot call it a “road” for fear of being called before an OED Board of Enquiry) I have ever had the misfortune to experience from a bike.  If anyone wishes to dislodge a loose tooth, sheep tick or unwanted limb or spouse, could I recommend cycling along Third Avenue (in either direction): it will do the trick.  I do seem to have retained most of my body’s vital appurtenances (and several of my fillings) – but the frequent, heavy impact between the saddle and my nether regions may have destroyed any residual hope for further grandchildren that my parents might have been nurturing.

I think I can say that the Romans would despair of what we have made of their legacy, at least in terms of their transport infrastructure.  Next time (if there is a next time), let’s just say that I shall be wearing a lot more padding “down there”, or should I embrace a future as a soprano?

Red Letter Day

Today, for the author at least, is a Red Letter Day.  Some might think tomorrow would have been more appropriate, after all that is the day that local jazz fusion band Red Letter release their first single, but I am only willing to go so far to make my life (and this blog) fit neatly into some broader narrative.

I moved to my current, modestly proportioned (OK, let’s be honest and say small) flat in Southampton a little over 3.5 years ago.  At that time, I hired a storage unit for 8 weeks to facilitate the donwisizing process of the move from a reasonably-sized two bedroom house with loft and garden.  Today, a mere 160 weeks later I have finally emptied that same storage unit.

This is not a great advertisement for my project management skills, having overrun the time budget by a factor of 20 and the financial budget by an even larger multiplier.  I believe that the costs of storing my junk exceeded its value many months ago – and given that I have needed to access almost none of it in 42+ months, I clearly had little (or no) need for most of it.

A serious attempt to empty the unit started last year, and I was making good progress – or that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  However, then came injury to my right foot and “the limp” and progress came to a halt as the process of transferring the unit’s contents to pastures new was wholly reliant on my ability to carry it (on foot) to its new home.  You will probably be entirely uninterested to know (given that no-one has asked) that whilst not fully restored, my right foot is much better and it can now perform most of its historic roles without bringing pain to its owner.

Given the last couple of weeks have been relatively dry (bar the occasional shower of sleet), I have been slowly emptying out room 3535 (the site of my secret shame).  A small proportion of its contents have been allowed into the flat, rather more have gone to the charity shop and the balance are on their way to landfill or recycling.  Given Southampton’s less than stellar recycling performance, I fear much of the rubbish will be making a small contribution to a new range of hills for Hampshire.  Still, in the dystopian future, which can only be months away now, landfill sites will provide valuable resources for the few, remaining humans as they scavenge a meagre existince from the ruined land.  Some local strong man (or woman or LGBTQA-equivalent) will be able to provide for their people from my once expensively-housed discards.

Just before noon today, the last items left storage and I signed out of the storage facility for the last time.  What a liberating experience!  The storage monkey is finally off my back!  I will be £146.16 per month better off from now on (I had to fact-check this sentence and was horrified to discover just how much the storage has been costing me, even more than I thought!).

Let this be a lesson to you all of the terrible cost of procrastination and the dangers of leaving your problems out of sight (if a mere 5 minutes walk away).  My life will in future operate on a strict one-in-one-out policy when it comes to possessions (though I will probably operate a batch process to minimise the admin).  Actually, it will need to be slightly more sophisticated than a mere count  (a duke?), the volume of the one(s) coming in and the one(s) going out will need to be balanced.  I must never again by tempted by the convenience of a loft, or worse yet garage or other outhouse.

I think that I will implement a new plan that by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil, my remains – including all my worldly goods – should fit into the one box of a little more than 6 feet in length.  In that way, those that come after me will not have a huge disposal task, but can instead treat all my junk as slightly exotic grave goods and inhume them with the rotting physical shell of their owner.  I recognise that there could be some timing issues with this plan, but I’ve spent much of my working life predicting the future which means I am quietly confident about estimating my own best before date (yes, I am aware that it could be behind me).

Frame dependent

My rather shaky understanding of Einstein’s work suggests that relativity does away with the idea of time being universal, instead when things happen depends on the location and motion of the observer. Indeed, the sequence of two events which happen in different places may appear different to different observers: and no observer has a priviledged position and can claim to be more “right” than another.  It should be noted that such “confusion” can only occur if the two events are too far apart for light from one to reach the other before it happens: in this situation, causality is king and our classical idea that A happened before B is correct.

Why, you might wonder, is he demonstrating his profound ignorance of the abstruse details of special relativity?  All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea when I formulated the high concept behind this post, however, the research needed to write the opening paragraph is causing me to have second thoughts.  Still, having started I will continue with the idea of time being somewhat frame dependent: never let it be said that the author is a quitter.

I have, for much of 2017, limited my live music excursions to the spheres of folk, jazz and the poorly-named “world” music (I continue to await a performance of extra-terrestrial music).  Not by design, these just happen to have been the gigs that have come up when I’ve been availale to attend.  These genres, in my locale at least, seem to attract an audience of the youthful and middle-aged.  On one occasion, I was the sole representative of the latter category which did render me a tad self-conscious.  I relied on the fact that I was young-at-heart or, failing that, at least soft-in-the-head.

Last night, I cycled up to Turner Sims for some classical piano repertoire performed by Paul Lewis.  Here those not of pensionable age were very much in the minority (though I’d reckon our chances to come out on top were good, had a brawl broken out), which shouldn’t have been a surprise to me but the contrast with the audience of other musical genres was stark.  I’d moved from the oldest quartile to the most youthful decile: despite myself having aged several hours since my previous gig.  I was transformed from old codger to young whippersnapper in an instant.  I do worry about the sustainability of classical music given that most of its audience has more of the grave than of gravy (to paraphrase one E Scrooge) about it.  Should the “industry” be offering discount tickets to those of us in middle-age, to ensure a continuing supply of the newly ancient into the future?  Or have we been bypassed while they pander to the young?

I’ll admit that despite the new frame of reference I hadn’t entirely shaken off the dust of ages.  While marvelling at Mr Lewis’ phalangeal dexterity, I still had time to worry that his chosen shirt looked to be a real pain to iron.  Vertical pleats are no friend to the amateur wielder of the iron: perhaps he has staff or a single use policy?

Anyway, despite my relative youth, I have managed to deduce how to buy quiet throat sweets and even how to open noisy sweets without creating a disturbance (you do it in advance, rather than waiting for a musical passage marked pp) and that use of velcro fastenings in the concert hall is contra-indicated (buttons are your friend).  Sadly, many of those 20+ years my senior still seem to harbour the illusion that slowly opening plastic wrapped sweets or tearing velcro apart over a five minute period is silent, rather than oddly redolent of the dragging of fingernails across a blackboard.  I know the hearing undergoes threshold shift as we age, but I thought that affected higher frequencies: I suppose I will be able report on the truth of this in a few years time…

While I seem to be sticking the metaphorical boot into some senior citizens, I should describe the one regular experience which most gets the adrenaline (or epinephrine, if you prefer) flowing and my blood pumping.  After such a concert, my bike ride home takes me down the road on which most of the elderly have parked their cars.  As a result, it is a white-knuckle ride past doors being suddenly opened, unannounced reversing and abrupt pulling out by those for which the mirror (in all its incarnations) seems to have lost it appeal.  It can only be matched, for sheer terror, by returning home on the bike as the nearby catholic girls’ school discharges its students.  I am assuming that when it comes to the confessional booth, the tariff in Our Fathers or Hail Marys is pretty low for parental dangerous parking and driving.  As a consequence of the low cost of absolution, I make every effort not to place my mortal coil in the spiritual firing line as the bell tolls for the end of the day’s final lesson (lest it also toll for me!).

Of course, my views on these matters are subject to change (without notice) as time continues to takes its toll on my already limited faculties (or in the far less likely event of a Damascene conversion and acquistion of direct descendants).

Accolades

It would seem that whenever more than two people come together in some common endeavour, however vaguely defined, they like to take time out each year to award themselves prizes.

Corporations like to boast of the prizes they have received, though usually without explaining anything whatsoever about the process by which the recipient of an award was determined.  I strongly suspect the principle of “Buggins turn” applies in many cases.  Still, it probably has the desired effect of motivating the troops – given the human propensity to extract pattern and meaning from even random data – and may even shift a little extra “product” (though not to me).

I think it is only the Arts (defined fairly broadly) who imagine that the general public might consider their annual prize giving newsworthy and indeed would actually watch the ceremony and care about the results.  I must admit that the Oscars, BAFTAs, Grammys et al do very little for me.  They are selected on an arcane basis, but which seems to link somehow to the genre and the Y-chromosome and skin-based melanin content of the participants.  Often a nomination, or worse yet a prize, will put me off viewing, listening to or reading a piece of work.

There have been exceptions: way back in my mid-20s I read the Nobel Prize winning The Grapes of Wrath by John Seinbeck and thought it quite excellent (though rather short on laughs), despite a deep and abiding hatred of John Steinbeck inculcated in me through being forced to read his work at school.  To this day, it remains unclear which of us had changed in the intervening decade: I like to think that my teenage disapproval caused JS to retrospectively up his game.

In the last month, I read the Booker long-listed (and other prize winning) book The Sellout by Paul Beattie.  This book is utterly brilliant and a properly funny (if savage) satire.  I have only two complaints about it: (1) that it has ran out of pages far too soon and (2) that the descriptions of the hero’s fruit left me drooling.

I guess the lesson here is that awards committees cannot be relied upon to be wrong at all times.  By wrong, of course, I mean not in agreement with the polymath, paragon and all-round good egg that is the author.

And so finally we have navigated the post round to its true subject which is, of course, me (well, isn’t it always?).  I had a very pleasant evening with friends yesterday, starting with dinner at Enoteca and then off to see Papillon peform at the Art House.  The music was excellent and I spent considerable time (a) studying and (b) being astounded by the guitar playing skills of Nic Rizzi.  My own axe-wielding has a long way to go, but I did learn something useful about barre chords by watching him in action.

However, it was during the earlier meal that one of my friends granted me perhaps the greatest accolade of my glittering and much-lauded life.  Yes, ladies and gentemen, I am CONVENIENT!  Other folk might wish to be thought witty, attractive or debonair (please add your own adjective of complimentary desire) but I know my level and if there is one thing I can guarantee in my friendship offering it is my convenience.

So, if anyone out there is looking for a convenient friend for nights out and perhaps more (I realise my whole plan to start and blog a relationship is not moving forward with particularly great dispatch) you know who to call¹.

¹Hint: the answer to this question isn’t always Ghostbusters.

DOMS

Yes, the title is supposed to be in capitals and an apostrophe is not missing as this post is (almost) entirely unrelated to anyone called Dominic (or Domhnall for any Irish readers).

DOMS as an acronym for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, something the author finds himself suffering rather acutely this morning.

I have had two (2!) colds during January – the first time I’ve been hit twice in one month by the sniffles since the mid 90s.  I guess a lot of the bands from that era are re-forming, perhaps I’m just tapping into the viral zeitgeist?  This, coupled with my travels across the Irish Sea, have rather interfered with my physical regimen of late and this does leave a chap more at risk of DOMS.  Given some rather severe physical jerks peformed by yours truly on both Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, my current pain is not wholly unexpected: but the process does still retain an air of mystery.

I ceased serious physical activity (if we ignore use of the bike and some brisk walking) at 11am yesterday morn.  I was free of aches and pains when my head hit the pillow just before midnight (some 13 hour later).  When I awoke at 01:30 (not intentionally, I would stress – my obsession with the 1A peak does not stretch that far) I found that everything hurt.  What had happened in those 90 minutes?  Had the concentration of some biochemical clock reached a critial level freeing the pain?   Does being horizontal bring it on?  If so, should I take lessons from a horse in how to sleep standing up?

Whilst I ache in many places – and there is some indirect pleasure to be gained from the feeling of a job well done, or at least an ageing body punished for its failings – the most urgent pain comes from my gluteal area.  This makes sitting down rather less comfortable than one would hope.  In fact, possession of buns if not of steel than perhaps at least of apatite (the tastiest mineral, and several steps below steel on the Mohs scale – never say this blog isn’t educational!) is much less desirable than one is led to believe.  If the buttocks both lack padding and are firm(ish) themselves, there is a lot more pressure on any chosen seat to bring the comfort and all too many fail the test.  I can see the attraction of bringing one’s own “booty” to chair, sofa, bench or pew – though I fear my genetics make this an improbable outcome without surgical intervention.  While I know sitting down is bad for me, I am unable to use a healthier squat for any length of time: I may be relatively fit for a chap of 50, but only in certain limited modes of operation.  I also suspect that squatting, whilst better for the back may well put some strain on my whinging “ass” (to use the American vernacular).

To add insult to injury, when I emerged from beneath my duvet this morning I looked like Tin Tin.  No, I had not (sadly) turned ginger overnight nor acquired a white Wire Fox terrier (an unexpected link to Montmorency – what a literary breed the Wire Terrier is!) but my hair had acquired the Belgian hero’s disinctive, soi-disant quiff (surely more of a DA?).  Let’s just say it is not a look I can pull off with any panache…

Maiden Aunt

Not alas, the sister of a parent who can keep a batsman firmly pinned to his (or her) crease – though surely such folk must exist – but instead a rumination on my role (or one of them) in life.

This blog has noted before that I would make someone (or ones) an excellent maiden aunt despite my total lack of ability at cricket and my possession of a volume of Y-chromosomes that would normally lead to instant disqualification.    For a start, I use far more allusions to the game of bridge in everyday conversation than is normal – especially as I haven’t played the game in more than a decade.  Of late, my inner aunt seems to have been moving ever closer to the surface and it can only be a short while before she is engaged in a knock-down, drag-out fight with my inner child for mastery of my declining years.

In my cultural outings, I often find myself able to observe young people “up close” and often for substantial periods of time.  This is not just my inate voyeuristic tendencies, but the fact that they are often performing on a stage (or where one should imagine a stage, though technically one does not exist) directly in front of me and it seems rude not to watch.

As a brief digression, this brings me to another one of my ragtag collection of unusual and not wholly utilitarian super-powers.  I seem unable to attend any theatrical production without at least one member of the cast getting their top (and often more) off.  To answer the naysayers who may think the old fool has wandered into a gentleman’s club (a place where I suspect one is very unlikely to encounter a gentleman, or at least one meeting my definition thereof) while not wearing his glasses, I can assure you that these are excursions to the proper theatre and not to venues where dancing takes place on the sort of surfaces normally used to rest a tray or mobile computer.  It may be that theatre is hoping that torso-based nudity will bring the punters in or that I am subconsciously choosing productions where stripping is required, however, I am assuming that something about my prescence must be causal.  Perhaps fortunately, this power only rarely shows itself outside the theatre, for now at least…

This leads us neatly to the first aspect of my maiden aunthood: the young and theatrically inclined really need to be eating more.  Every man-Jack (or woman-Jill) of them, almost without exception, seems worryingly close to emaciation.  They make me look overweight, something which would only be medically viable if I lost around a foot in height (I’ve tried just eating or drinking more, but it doesn’t seem to work).  We are told there is an obesity crisis afflicting the young (and the not so young), but most of my test subjects give the lie to this idea.  My other sample of young people, who could probably be described as music/jazz geeks, share this tendency to a willowy lack of physical substance.  I had even less flesh when younger than I do now – training as a middle-aged gymnast has helped place some minimal meat on my bones (though I fear I’d still make more of a low-fat starter than a main) – but I don’t remember being this skinny, even in my famine poster-child days.  I find myself worrying that these youths may inadvertently snap a limb live on stage should they be struck by a falling leaf or flying athropod.  I’ve started to wonder if I should be bringing a good square meal or two with me to each gig: or would this be viewed as odd?

The second indicator of my changing status relates to the idea of “feeling the benefit”.  I first noticed this at the Joiners – a rather famous local music venue which I’ve started visiting in 2017.  I have even used the gents, despite strong warnings not to (they really aren’t that bad, I’ve seen much worse).  During the cold January evenings, I noticed young people in the audience – and indeed on stage – continuing to wear their full outdoor clothing long after they had transitioned into the relative warmth of the venue.  My inner aunt was very concerned that when the music ends and they are cast back out into the frosty external air they wouldn’t feel the benefit of their warm(ish) clothing – an issue likely to be exacerbated by their general lack of adipose insulation.  I have, to-date, resisted tendering any advice in this direction (but it’s not been easy).

The third indicator came at an open-mike might at the Talking Heads.  By some distance the best performer on the night was a young lad sporting several haircuts, what I would consider an unwise volume and distribution of tattoos and lobe deforming ear ornamentation.  You might have thought that one of these aspects of his appearance might have brought auntie Stuart to the fore, but no, (s)he was far more worried that he didn’t seem to be getting enough sleep.  As an insomniac myself, I fear there was little advice I could offer the chap but still feel I should perhaps have given him a quick talk on sleep hygiene (not that this knowledge has ever done me much good).

So far, I have manage to resist spitting on my hankie and scrubbing a smut or simlar mark off the face of a stranger, but I feel it can only be a matter of time.  Is there some sort of Aunts Anonymous with a 12-step programme that I can join?  Or am I doomed?