Without me

This post will enter dangerous new territory to consider a world without the author.  The whole ethos of this blog is structured around the centrality of the author to his own little world and the implicit assumption that this view is shared by a wider demographic.  The unexpected number (i.e. the fact it exceeds zero) of visitors to my digital domain has only worked to reinforce my opinion that my life, ramblings and bad jokes are far more important than could be justified by a more reasonable, objective measure.  The last post (not the Bb bugle call, but the post whose production directly preceded this one when viewed from the light-cone of the author) has proved alarmingly popular: though I would explain this by reference to its sharing be a young(er) person, rather than by ascribing any particular merit to it.

I cannot be alone, among those who have accepted that they are not (and would not wish to be) immortal, in wondering how the world (and indeed, the wider multi-verse) will muddle along without my presence.  I strongly suspect it will be fine (or at least largely unaffected for good or ill – fine might be overstating matters given recent current affairs) when the long awaited decree absolute in the divorce between me and my mortal coil is finally granted.  I have worked hard to ensure (OK, have wandered through life in such a way) that any ripples that I make in the pond of existence have minimal amplitude and soon dissipate.  The odd pub, cake shop and cultural venue may notice a brief dip in income but I like to imagine that they will survive my demise.  Though, frankly, once I’ve paid by obols to Charon and taken my terminal boat trip, you’re on your own folks!  My responsibilities (and insomnia) will be at an end!

Obviously, as part of my departure I shall be establishing a series of amusing (hopefully, flaming) hoops for those who wish to inherit my billions (currency to be confirmed) to jump through.  I fully intend for my will and funeral to be as far from plain vanilla as I can legally accomplish: is a tontine still possible?  I want them to be discussed for years to come as simultaneously a high and low watermark in the art of dying.  I want Hollywood to be fighting over the 18 certificate movie rights!  I want outrage in the Daily Mail and the Socialist Worker!  Actually, I’m making this sound rather good: I may have to fake my own death just to enjoy my funeral and the reading of my will.  I knew there was a good reason for moving closer to the sea!

You may wonder why GofdDM has suddenly taken a turn to the macabre or morbid. Others may, long ago, have decided that beneath the shallow veneer of self-obsessed whimsy it is darkness all the way down.  I couldn’t possibly comment on this theory, but am quite pleased that you might imagine that anything at all lies below intellectual shallows displayed in this forum.  However, there have been a couple of recent events which have made me realise that elements of my life continue without me.  Also, the previous post considered my position if a huge proportion of humanity were to be wiped out, so it only seemed fair to consider the position of the rest of humanity if it should (contrary to all natural justice) be that me that bites the bullet!

earth without me

The earth without me – spot the difference!

A much earlier post established that one of my nicknames appeared to by living an existence independent of me – and I like to imagine that this has continued.  However, this was merely a world 2 object (to mis-use the work of Karl Popper) and recent events relate to world 1 objects.

Of late, the National Blood Service has started to send me texts identifying where my blood goes after it has been donated.  To be honest, I’d prefer a postcard – but I will admit that their budget is probably better spend on their core business of blood collection and distribution.  When I say where it goes, they don’t send me the name, address and vital statistics of the recipient, merely the hospital where it was returned to a human host (or, depending on your point of view, first introduced to a human host).  Donation 92 went to Frimley Park – I place the rest of me has never visited – and donation 93 to Stafford (which I have visited but once).  It has been good to see that once it has left its fleshy prison (something which it seems increasingly keen to do given the rapidity with which my lie-down is overtaken by lemon squash and biscuits), my blood is getting out and about and exploring the country.  If only it retained some psychic link to its original home, I could deal with the challenge of too many gigs to attend and only one body to do the attending.  Equally, were it to be given to an EU national (something I would encourage, it would be nice to think a small part of me is living in Paris or Barcelona), could I reverse-inherit an EU passport?  Would any of the new host’s skills somehow rub off on me?  I fear I may have jumped the Lamarkian shark here and will stop before my scientific credentials are completed destroyed.

I am (tomorrow) going off to the Cambridge Folk Festival.  This will be my first, real multi-day festival which is likely to involve a field and mud: though I do feel a muddy field makes a more appropriate substrate for folk music than it does for grime or emo (to name but two).  Wish me luck, I may need it!  I am not camping, but staying in the relative luxury of student halls – and if it all gets too much for me, I can easily retreat into the city and its own cultural delights.  So, I like to think this is very much a halfway house to full festival-going and an approach commensurate with the dignity of a man of my advanced years (though clearly not to me, I have largely outlived both my dignity and my shame by this point.  They have very much played the same sacrificial role in my life that a painting did in that of Dorian Gray).

While I am away, my guitar will be gigging without me.  Interestingly, it has never gigged with me – though today I did use a capo for the first time (and my capo is very fine, a real capo di tutti capi) and learned to bend.  Nevertheless, I am far from ready to take to the stage – unless you wish to clear a venue – so I am leaving it the hands of a far more capable performer.  I feel that it is good for my instrument to get some proper gig experience in -well before its owner.  It’s probably best if we don’t both have first gig nerves at the same time – and I’m pretty sure I can internalise enough stress for the both of us.

So, even while I’m very much alive (or am I?) my possessions and even my very substance are already learning to live without me.  I suspect there is an important lesson here about our own unimportance – even in our own home and as its sole resident.  But I shall leave that for my readers to draw, I’m having fun here in the shallows!

Lord of the Dance

A title that even I wouldn’t have the bare-faced cheek to claim.  For me to justify the epithet, the human race would have to face an extinction-level event which would make the plague needed to raise me to the position of king of these isles look like a mild case of the sniffles.  Nevertheless, these past few days did raise the faintest glimmer of hope: of my mastering some form of dance rather than of the extinction of the species (the latter task I feel I can safely leave to our leaders – both foolishly elected and otherwise).

Southampton and its environs offers quite the cultural mix to the diligent seeker after divertissement.  On Wednesday, feeling exhausted after a night wrestling with the jazz-status of a range of vegetables, I did bestir myself to go see the launch of Huddlehood.  This is a new (temporary) public artwork which I will struggle to explain: it involves two ‘shells’ painted in a very cheerful shade of yellow containing a range of hoodies and hats designed to be shared by a number of people from 2-12 (in number, the age range could be somewhat greater).  There were also some ‘benches’ decorated in highly magnified images of carpet.  I cannot claim to understand it – despite talking to the artist – but I left feeling re-energised with my joie-de-vivre topped-up.

Huddlehood from afar and in amongst it!

Brimming with positivity, on Thursday I went to Bournemouth to see the sea and undergo mild exfoliation as the fine sand of its beaches was hurled against my body by the bracing wind.  I rather fear this might have been the last of the summer as since then Southampton has fallen into a rather premature autumn.

Upon my return, I headed to the Guide Dog (a particularly fine public house but a short stroll from my rude shack) to watch the Wickham Morris and Red Stags Morris perform a range of dances involving both sticks and handkerchiefs (not at the same time).  I think this was to celebrate a new mural of the Earl of Peterborough (the third of that name) – one time resident of the area – but it was gloriously entertaining.  Late in the performance, the audience were invited (even encouraged) to participate and I somehow found myself in formation, clutching two brightly coloured hankies in my nervous hands.  I’d been hoping for sticks, but I think the morris-folk were right to go with the less dangerous dance implements in my inexperienced mitts.  I will own that my willingness to participate may have been enhanced my my earlier consumption of several pints of the Red Cat brewery’s excellent Kairos.

I have to say that I think I’ve found my terpsichorean métier!  I feel I was noticeably less terrible at Morris than at any other style of dance I have previously attempted.  I think with the expenditure of very modest effort I could acquire a working mastery of the art!

Morris and Me

Grace in motion!

I had been thinking for a while that a flip-flop wearing serial killer could be a very effective plot device.  The sinister flip-flop sound in the dark would be very atmospheric.  However, I now think a killer morris man (or woman) would be even better: the sound of the bells emerging from the fog would be truly terrifying!

After the dance, many of the dancers and all of the musicians (plus some extra musicians) retired to the Dog House (the back room of the Guide Dog) for an impromptu folk gig.  This was wildly enjoyable and I have never seen so many accordions and melodeons in action in a single room before – plus a flute, several fiddles, a hammer dulcimer and a couple of bodhráns.  I am now fighting the urge to buy an accordion: I can play the piano (somewhat), so how hard could it be?  I feel the instrument also offers the player a cardiovascular workout, so in many ways it would represent an investment in my future health!

Friday I wandered as far as Winchester to see Jero Ferec and friends (and/or colleagues) staging a masterclass in flamenco.  My companions, based wholly on the length of my legs and general lack of excess weight, felt I would make a natural flamenco dancer.  Based on my own observations (and some limited self-knowledge), there seem to be rather a lot of skills required for flamenco, beyond vaguely appropriate body shape, all of which I lack.  So, I think I shall stick with morris for the time being.  Perhaps, if I am cursed with immortality, I may have the time to tackle flamenco, but for now I can’t even click my fingers in the required style.

I finished the evening watching the Sea Slugs and their take on afrobeat in a pub too cramped to permit dancing, which was probably just as well.  Still, very enjoyable and my first time in the Cricketers – which was rather a decent pub and even closer to home than the Guide Dog.  I choose far better than I knew when I moved to Southampton!

Close Enough 4

The frankly disappointing follow-up to Close Enough 3.  By this stage, all the principle cast and characters have left the sinking ship and the cinematic release was extremely limited.  If we’re honest, Close Enough was (at best) mediocre and the attempts of Hollywood to defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics with increasingly desperate sequels have not been a great success.  Entropy has an inevitability that even death and taxes have to look on with a degree of envy.

However, all of that introduction was nonsense – though represents a worryingly large share of the reason for putting fingers to keyboard.  I have, for many years, used the phrase ‘close enough for jazz’ when further precision was unnecessary (or I was too lazy to continue with a task).  As this post will go on to explain (well, it might), I now spend a lot more time in proximity to the jazz community and so worry that (a) this phrase might be offensive to that community (LGBTQIA+J anyone?) and (b) jazz seems to require significantly more precision than I have previously believed.  I may be forced to retire the phrase from my rather threadbare wardrobe of idiom.

Until recently, jazz did not play a large role in my musical life (or, indeed, my non-musical life).  It really only figured in me occasionally hurling myself across the room to hit the off switch should I turn on Radio 3 to find jazz emerging from the wireless.  However, over the last year or so things have been changing as I pass through some sort of ‘jazz-puberty’.  Somewhere in my 30s olives became acceptable – and even desirable – to my palate (having previously brought nothing but revulsion) and it would seem that my 50s has unexpectedly delivered a love of jazz.

I’m not sure exactly where it started, it may have been going to a Southampton Youth Jazz Orchestra concert with friends (their choice) or experimentation on my part with the Norwegian jazz of the Daniel Herskedal trio (one has to try new things to avoid stagnation).  It started innocently enough, with the odd jazz gig every couple of months: it seemed under control.  I felt there was some modest subset of the world of jazz which I seemed to enjoy live, but I retained my loathing for recorded jazz in all its forms.

Then, early in 2017, I was sat at home early one Sunday evening wondering if there was some nearby culture I could attend to sooth the transition from weekend into working week.  I noticed that the Talking Heads had a free (to enter) gig courtesy of the Southampton Modern Jazz Club (SMJC) in their front bar.  This was less than 10 minutes stroll from my abode and I figured “how bad can it be?” – if it was just too awful, I could just slip away in a convenient break and still have most of the evening to myself: mayhap a little tatting would provide purposeful employ for my my idle hands?

As it transpired, it was the jazz some way from awful (certainly not practically walkable) and the Sunday evening SMJC gig has become a regular feature of my weekends.  I’ve also been going to other jazz gigs locally and enjoying myself – I’ve even started buying CD on jazz (argh!).  What has happened to me?  I was expecting the deteriorating eyesight, greying hair and annexation of my flesh by wrinkles as the years performed their ineluctable dance – but no-one warmed me about this love of jazz!  Should I have taken Oil of U/Olay more seriously?

I think this process reached some kind of watershed last weekend when I went up to Edinburgh to visit a friend, but primarily to attend the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival.

ejf_logo2017

One of the 7 signs of ageing?

I had a brilliant time with a wide range of jazz from young and old with practitioners from Scotland, Scandinavia and the US.  It also helped me to realise that jazz takes place in the sort of venues I associate with all the best culture: small, dark and sweaty (and, if possible, underground!).  My two favourite gigs (in a very strong field) both occurred in such spaces: the Alan Benzie Trio in the basement of the Rose Theatre and the Fraser Urquhart Quintet in the Jazz Bar.  The Festival also taught me that if an old jazzer invites a younger colleague over, it may be to jam but is more likely to relate to a need to fix their wifi or TV.

In an attempt to boost the appeal of the GofaDM, this post will now be offering scope for audience participation: oh yes it will!  At a gypsy jazz gig at the the Talking Heads on Tuesday, I confidently stated that the cucumber was not a jazz vegetable (this was not apropos of nothing, but made sense – of a form – in a conversation I was engaged in at the time).  This then raised the question, “so what is a jazz vegetable?”.  Clearly the currently popular supermarket apple is not a jazz fruit, despite its nomenclature.  Cavolo nero is musical but clearly operatic, as I demonstrated to the horror of those present.  I eventually proposed that celeriac was a jazz vegetable and subsequently think that the Jerusalem artichoke and okra might be.  It is here, dear reader, where you come in: what do you consider to be a jazz vegetable?

The early bird

According to received wisdom, catches the worm.  I must admit that I am unaware of any research by vermicologists that would suggest worms are especially early risers – and it strikes me that the presence of early birds would place some evolutionary pressure on the worm massive to enjoy a lie-in.  I suppose it may be that worms love a rave and are returning to the earth in the early morn, fuddled by drugs and dance, and fall prey to their feathered foe – but again, evidence to support this hypothesis is scant (at best).

Still, I think that’s enough from ornithology corner as this post is less about birds (or even worms) and more about me: your feeble attempts to feign surprise are fooling no-one!

As July burst forth into 2017, I was in London to enjoy the Actually Rather Good Comedy Festival (or ARGCOMFEST as it is more punchily known).  This offers me the chance to see 16 Edinburgh previews (from a set of 48) over the course of a single a weekend (and without eating into the mornings).  I think I am growing in maturity when it comes to visiting such events: no longer do I attempt to make use of 100% of the opportunities on offer and leave exhausted with my brain reduced to a barely functional paste.  This year, I limited myself to a mere 11 previews and arrived back home in Southampton on the Sunday evening in a sufficiently viable state to enjoy some modern jazz in the latter part of the evening.  One of the joys of ARGCOMFEST is that of the 48 acts on offer over the weekend, exactly 50% can boast a substantially higher proportion of X-chromosomes than can the author – thus closely modelling the population as a whole.  Somehow, despite this highly unusual situation, the world failed to implode.  Still, it would clearly be dangerous to draw any conclusions from this one event and the industry (which doesn’t exist) should continue to apply the precautionary principles and treat female comedians like plutonium, i.e. enforce decent physical and temporal separation between them for fear of critical mass being achieved and dangerous amounts of energy (and/or laughter) being liberated.  I had a great time and my buttocks have almost recovered from the seating provided.

To make for a more relaxed experience, I stayed in London on the Saturday night and once again used my standard choice of accommodation when I’m paying (and sometimes when I’m not): student halls of residence.  This time, I stayed a stone’s throw from Waterloo in a shabby, but perfectly serviceable room which provide a decent night’s sleep, a hot and vigorous en-suite shower and even breakfast.  Having the morning to myself, I took the bus up to Piccadilly Circus to sample the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.  As I was the sole passenger, I viewed this journey as being chauffeur-driven in a particularly large, red limo.  Central London is surprisingly civilised before 10am on a Sunday morning!

So swift was my transport that I arrived at the RA a good 10 minutes before it opened.  This might have been considered slightly annoying, but as part of the exhibition the quad in front of the building was furnished with giant, ‘arty’ beanbags.  I have never been terribly impressed by the beanbag as furniture in the past, but I have now realised the error of my ways.  I had several giant, stripy beanbags to myself and reclining in the summer sunshine surrounded by beautiful architecture, with arts and comedy on the cards, may well have been the highlight of a very enjoyable weekend.

IMG_20170702_095723098

The author’s skill with the selfie shows little sign of improvement!

Somehow, I did summon the energy to leave my perch – though it was oh-so tempting to stay – and enter the exhibition proper.  The RA was a revelation at 10am: I had the Summer Exhibition largely to myself – only a few other early risers had made it – which made for a much more relaxed viewing of the art.  It also struck me as delivering a particularly fine crop of artworks this year, particular snaps must go to the room hung by Yinka Shonibare for its many delights.  A giant photograph of three presumably Muslim women astride scooters with a couple of friends, all wearing niqab, is one of the most joyous images it has ever been my pleasure to encounter.  Even thinking about it to write this post, I can’t help smiling.

Leaving the RA, I wondered up towards the horrors of Oxford Street to catch my bus to Shoreditch for ARGCOMFEST part 2.  This would normally be a pain fighting past people and traffic, but it wasn’t.  Regent Street had been closed to traffic for some sort of street event – which involved fake grass and a gazebo (probably other things as well, but this is all I can attest to) – which also took out several side streets.  What a joy London is with the traffic removed!  That part of the city was in a state only normally glimpsed in post-apocalypse movies (but without the near mandatory zombies) or in car ads (the urban variety, rather than the empty twisty mountain road variety).  Surely, we can find some way to do this more often in more cities: think of the reduced stress and the happier city dwellers and visitors and the improvement in air quality and reduction is noise.

I think my forthcoming dictatorship (my bid for world domination will start with the UK, taking advantage of Brexit chaos and the clear incompetence of both government and opposition) has a new objective.  Traffic-free city centres!  I might sweeten the pill by providing free urban beanbags, in lieu of the rather hostile benches which tend to be provided by the current authorities.