Embracing the young

Only with their consent, obviously.  If I’m entirely honest I lack the confidence to initiate a hug and so limit myself to reciprocating when young folk (or even those much older than me) start the process.  While I was alive during the 1970s (yes, all of them), I have no intention of joining many of its stars in jail (or the grave for that mater, but I fear this latter project may ultimately prove beyond me).

Hug

This is the size I need emojis to be, if my fading eyesight is to have any chance of identifying the emotion being expressed.  Otherwise, I am an emoji Vulcan.

Since I arrived in Southampton, nearly four years ago, my life has changed in ways that I never anticipated (despite a career in forecasting).  A surprising amount of this change has been caused by my tendency to talk to people, especially bar staff.  A couple of years back, I was acquiring liquid sustenance at Turner Sims talking to the young chap serving me when he invited me to a free gig his band were playing at the Talking Heads the following night.  In the spirit of adventure, which is such a mark of my life (well, as long as there is no risk of physical danger or getting my hands dirty), I found out where the Talking Heads was located and went to the gig.  How bad could it be?  (Very much my ‘goto’ phrase when offered an opportunity – yes, I know I should be using subroutines).

I am probably now averaging 4-5 gigs per week and spend very few evenings at home (as I have other, non-musical cultural activities to fit in as well).   So, be careful where your spirit of adventure takes you: some adventures can be addictive!  Some of this upswing in activity can be explained by my desire to support the arts in the current financial climate and some from the Talking Heads having moved rather closer to my tiny garret.  However, I suspect the primary drivers are the way I daisy-chain my life and the interaction between my tendency to chat to strangers and to prove oddly memorable to them (then again trauma can lead to particularly vivid memories being laid down).

I’m not entirely sure where my tendency to talk to strangers came from, as I’m fairly sure it was frowned upon when I was a child.  I think some of it may arise from my attempts to simulate empathy (and thus more readily pass as human) but mostly because other people often provide a very cheap form of entertainment if you talk to them (just watching them can also work, but such observation does need to be performed with care and it’s best not to focus for too long on a single target: however funny they may be).

I am even less clear why I should be memorable – though the name must help (but I’ve found it is in no way a necessary condition for others to remember me).  I do tend to sit in the front row in gigs – I claim this is for the legroom and it also obviates the need to wear my glasses (which we can probably put down to vanity) but I suspect a small part of me is always hoping to wangle a part in the show.  However, I’m not sure why this should cause musicians, comedians, actors or bar staff to remember me – they must see far more audience than I see performers and I don’t think I’m that unique looking (so anonymous am I that I frequently fail to recognise myself in reflective surfaces).

Which brings us to the daisy-chaining…  Whenever I see a band or musician I know, I will invariable see a couple of other acts that I don’t on the same bill – and I may well find I enjoy their music.  Added to this, I’ve discovered that most musicians are in more than one band or group in addition to any solo outings.  So my knowledge of the local music scene rose exponentially – well, it did until I ran out of spare evenings!  This may have reached its apogee last Friday when I went to two gigs, but there were at least four others within a few minutes of my home which I also wanted to be at.

I have now reached the point where it is almost impossible to go to any cultural activity in Southampton without meeting people I know: either on stage or in the audience (usually both).  One of the enjoyable oddities of my cultural excursions to London is the strange anonymity they usually offer.

When I see a band or musician I like I tend to follow them on Facebook as this has proved the most efficient way of finding out when and where they are gigging.  However, as I now know a lot of these people to talk to and/or drink with I find myself as Facebook ‘Friends’ with them as well.  While I am still some way off Dunbar’s number, my list of Facebook friends has risen deep into double figures in recent months.  This has enriched my Facebook feed but also had a slightly odd effect on Facebook’s attempts to sell stuff to me.  There are now fewer offers of singles in my area and catheters (hooray!), but more offers of trombone related memorabilia (modified rapture!).  Much as I love the trombone, I fear I lack the room or embouchure to keep one myself.  I also worry about the impact on my poor neighbours were I to take it up.

Whilst I do go to some gigs with musicians around my age, the vast majority involve musicians who are yet to clock up even half of my own orbits around the sun.  A substantial proportion of the musicians I know are current or recent alumni of the University of Southampton’s music department – and what a fecund department it is!  I am now friends (in some form) with more freelance musicians, peripatetic music teachers and bar staff than I had even imagined.  The creative young have to manage matrix ‘careers’ in a way that I never had to – which I find rather impressive, though I fear it may not prove a workable option far into their thirties.  It has been a real privilege to spend time with such talented young people, though it does cast my own rather more modest achievements – suspended as they have been over a much longer timeframe – into rather deep shade.  Still, it is probably good for my soul (subject to its availability) and is almost certainly keeping my inner old codger at bay (or at least more frequently on the back foot).

 

Journey to the Pole

Not the North or South Poles – these have been done too may times before and I feel any sense of achievement remaining must be very modest.  Plus, I’m not very keen on wearing a jumper – though I am having a modest rapprochement with that particular garment could this be the bony fingers of old age?) – which I believe is considered important if one is to avoid a chill.

No, I chose to visit one of the several Poles of Inaccessibility.  Again, in my desire to the tourist hordes I avoided those listed on Wikipedia in their North, South, Oceanic or various continental flavours.  I tackled a far more challenging Pole.  A place so difficult to reach that an attempt to visit it made up a substantial chunk of a recent More-or-Less episode on the subject of labyrinths and mazes.

My Pole of choice lies in the city of London which I visited yesterday (and, indeed, on Saturday) to defy those whose stock in trade is terror or those who thought I should have been #reeling.  OK, I was going anyway and was not going to allow a small bunch of coins to interfere with my plans.  I lived in London and regularly used London Bridge when folk hoping to kill me where willing to go to the effort of learning a little basic chemistry and constructing explosives.  I will admit I did catch a slightly earlier train to be “on the safe side”, though that decision was probably more strongly influenced by my train into London on the previous which had lost the ability to recognise signals before it reached Micheldever and then limped into Basingstoke before retiring hurt.

Going in early worked like a charm and my train made it all the way to Waterloo without coming down with anything and was even slightly early.  This gave me the chance to have a quite splendid – if artery-challenging (but they do love a challenge!) – brunch (though as I had it at lunch-time, would that make it supper?) at Spuntino.  This was my second time at Spuntino – the best tentacle of the Polpo empire (which I like to imagine has 8 branches) – and it is now very much a favourite.  I love its distressed decor with the ghost of its previous life still visible, the friendly staff and most of all its delicious if often hard to fathom food.  I think it is supposed to exude a Brooklyn vibe – which it does for me, but then I’ve never been to Brooklyn.  Both my courses yesterday were loosely based on the idea of toast, but far tastier and worse for you than any toast I’ve previously consumed.  They also offered the option of having a Dutch Baby for dessert: but I drew the line at this: Brexit may mean Brexit, but I feel one can go too far.  (I believe that no youthful Netherlanders were harmed in the making of brunch, though a pancake or two may have lost their lives.)

After this filling lunch, I strolled in a rather leisurely fashion towards my goal.  I find it’s best not to approach it too directly or to let it see you coming.  In my perambulations (no, I was not wheeling a Dutch baby around London), I found myself in the delightful and almost empty (which it might not been on a weekday lunchtime) Postman’s Park which contains the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice.  This does not limit itself to those members of the Royal Mail who have valiantly lost their lives trying to ensure that the post gets through – not a single mention of a vicious dog – but instead mostly relates to fire or drowning.  Slightly frustratingly, the memorial does not reveal if the sacrifice was in vain or not – part of me likes to imagine that it was (but, as previously discussed, I am a Terrible Human Being).

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The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

With this inspiration, I continued on my heroic quest hoping that it would not end in my own self-sacrifice.  Tracing part of the much depleted London Wall (sadly not a patch on its Southampton counterpart – our city fathers might not have retained much of the historic centre, but our wall is surprisingly complete), it was not too long before I reached my goal: St Giles-without-Cripplegate.

You may find this an unimpressive feat, but let me tell you that while it can be glimpsed from many a vantage point within the Barbican complex few indeed are the travellers who are able to reach its once hallowed environs.  Once I had arrived, I could look across the water to the crowds in front of the Barbican centre reclining from a choice of a myriad of benches within the empty churchyard empty: well, but for one other hardy explorer.  However, as he had used dogs and oxygen, I feel the laurels were very much mine to claim having travelled unsupported and with minimal equipment (a good book and a pair of glasses).

To briefly leave today’s conceit behind, I was actually travelling to the Barbican centre itself – but it is always good to invoke the spirit of Scott or Livingstone on any trip to the theatre.  In keeping with their spirit, I have decided to claim the area around the church and name it the Ffoulkes isthmus.  I know the locals probably already had a name for it, but I’m British and that sort of nonsense has never stopped us in the past!

I went to see a truly amazing theatrical “event” called 887 by Ex Machina (which I think is basically Robert Lepage and friends).  Last year, I saw their (his?) Needles and Opium which was incredible with its use of a rotating cube and projections: if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.  I think 887 made N&O look like a walk in the park.  887 was incredibly technically complex and involved a huge range of styles of theatrical story-telling.   During the two hours you only see Robert Lepage on stage, but during the applause it did become clear that it used at least seven stage-hands (ASMs?) to make it work and there were three people sitting near me that also seemed to be controlling aspects of the show.  It is not just very clever, it was also a great afternoon of theatre and entertainment.  I even joined in the standing ovation – and not just to give my knees and buttocks a slightly earlier stretch.  If you ever have a chance to go to one of his shows, I’d strongly recommend you don’t let it pass you by.

I would not, however, advise the inexperienced to attempt to reach St Giles-without-Cripplegate.  I have been training for this sort of expedition for years and I would not want to have any reader’s blood on my hands following a failed attempt to emulate your hero.