Going on charmingly

I’m not going to lie to you, dear reader: though you may find the next statement hard to fact check.  Counting chronologically in order of creation, this is the 800th post in GofaDM.  In most respects, this is little different to the 799th or 801st post – but our use of a decimal counting systems grants it some greater significance.  At the least, it should probably go down in the annals of, or at least as a footnote to, the history of poor ideas continued long past the point at which even a fool would have abandoned them. I pride myself that a fool must rise very early in the morning if he (or she) is to arrive before me, no matter how much they rush.

You might expect some celebration or razzmatazz to mark this occasion and some such is planned, but it will require a more significant degree of preparation – including some (or all) of equipment to acquire, fanfares to compose, wardrobe and make-up to prepare, venue to hire etc – before it can burst forth onto your screens.  In the meantime, the author’s life continues and grist for his blogging mill continues to arrive waiting for the humour to be ground out of it.  For now, I shall offer up a small haiku as an earnest of future delights:

The eight-hundredth post:

A million pointless words?

Finite life: wasted.

(For the avoidance of doubt, I am of the view that ‘million’ has three syllables – or better yet, kōans.)

On Friday night, the regular reader will be unsurprised to learn I was at a gig.  On the whole this need not detain us here other than to note that I had a whale of a time – I’m thinking right or killer, rather than sperm (the evening was sax-free) – and to note the philosophical revelation that came to me as Bad Cat delivered their rousing encore and the clock turned itself up to eleven (like all the best amps).  I recognise now that Cara Emerald intended the song as a warning, rather than a template for life, but my thought at the time was “it’s never too late for a Liquid Lunch”.  Reader, it shames me to say that I acted upon my new found insight that very night and did not make it back to my home (let alone my little trundle bed) until 4:15am.  This is the latest night on the tiles (or any other flooring) I have had since I was in my twenties.  Truly, if wisdom is a function of age, it is not a strictly monotonically increasing one.


Temptation, thy name is (Bad) Cat!

Talking of temptation, my resistance to the acquisition of an accordion is ebbing dangerously low.  Will our hero make it through this week?

The side-effects of my late night, and its vicissitudes, were remarkably mild but I was left a little tired and perhaps slightly more frayed around the edges than normal.  This may have had some impact on the several hours of English ceilidh dancing to which I applied my weary mind and limbs the following evening.  This is my fourth ceilidh-style session in recent months and you might expect me to be improving but I’m not entirely sure the evidence would fully support that thesis.

Trouble began when I was required to perform something rather alarmingly described as a gypsy meltdown (or that’s what I heard) followed by extensive spinning of my partner.  It may be that lack of sleep was a contributing factor, but this amount of spin applied to the middle-aged body did leave my middle-ear reeling (though that could have been appropriate) and its owner decidedly dizzy.  This manouevre was repeated with sufficient frequency that my vestibular apparatus never recovered its poise.  As a result, I became ever more dizzy and the dance only just came to an end before I was reduced to a crumpled heap, capable of little more than observing the hall spin around me.  Talking to my fellow practitioners of the Terpsichorean art, I was not alone in this and at one stage the inner and outer circles of dancers almost became conjoined in some strange Moebius strip formation.  Had I been less dizzy, my inner topologist would have been fascinated!

My finest moment – and the one for which this blog was entitled – was the waltz.  I think this may be the first time I have danced the waltz and I won’t claim that I am a natural (I shall leave others to argue that point).  However, there was a phase within the dance when, for the first time in my life, I felt not unlike Mr Darcy.  I will admit that I was a very poorly dressed Mr Darcy (I was in shorts for a start, but a chap gets very warm strutting his stuff on the dance floor) and I was very sweaty (see previous brackets) and I suspect the fictional original might have been more competent.  Nevertheless, there was about me an aura of Darcy and I’ll take what I can get.  I might also mention – much as I hate to blow my own trumpet (that’s a lie: I would love to blow my own trumpt, especially with a mute, but I have neighbours) – to any ladies (or gents or others) reading that I am on a little more than ten thousand a year!   I’ll admit that my apparent wealth does ignore the insidious impact of inflation over the last couple of centuries, but I reckon I could still make quite a catch!

My least fine moment was a dance that involved casting off into and out of multiple stars.  The eight, of which I was a part, never came within a parsec or two of coming to grips with this particular sequence of manoeuvres and the chaos that ensued would have kept a team of cosmologists busy for years.  If you thought the three-body problem was tough, trying doing it with eight nominally conscious bodies!

I like to imagine that all this dancing is doing wonders for my brain and body with its combination of serious concentration and vigorous physical exercise.  However, a part of me worries that the sweating might be explained more by 120 bodies being packed into a hall rather than any exertion on my part.  To manage the perspiratory issue, it was suggested that next time I should go topless (if I’m honest, a bikini was mentioned) but I think I might instead (and to spare my fellow dancers’ finer feelings) just eschew ceilidh during the warmer months (subject to their availability).

To be on the safe side exertion-wise, I have been taking life fairly easy today – aided by my discovery (prompted by a friend on social media) of Waltz for Debby by the Bill Evans Trio.  Beautifully chilled jazz, with a title that fits into the theme of today’s blog: serendipity, old friend, you are spoiling me!

  • Gig mentioned: check
  • Obscure maths reference: check
  • Extended cosmology riff: check

Then, I think we can safely bring this post to its long awaited conclusion: please check that you have all your personal belongs with you before leaving.  Thank you for flying with GofaDM.




A Monday Villanelle

A modest degree of research will reveal that I am not writing this on a Monday, though thanks to the gloriously asynchronous nature of GofaDM you may be reading it on one.  Assuming that readers are equally likely to visit the blog on any day – which is by no means certain, or even likely – then there is a one in seven chance that you will encounter this on a day for which the Boomtown Rats held scant affection.  Further, I make no claims that consuming what follows on a Monday will, in any way whatsoever, improve the experience.

A while ago, in a moment of hubris, I promised a friend that I would write a villanelle.  At the time, I had only the haziest recollection of the nature of a villanelle, remembering only that it was a highly structured form of verse.  Inspired by a recent evening with Johnny Fluffypunk and a pair of ridiculously talented young poets (each a scant third of my own age), I decided it was time to deliver on my rash promise – though, when you read what follows you may feel it had more in common with a threat.

By way of introduction, I shall mention that I had a particularly enjoyable evening of music, good company and beer this past Monday and determined that I would prepare a post about it.  However, I am aware that (a) I can go on a bit and (b) reading about me having fun at gigs may become a little wearing.  To partially tackle these issues, I decided that my evening would make the perfect subject matter for my first (and – depending on the critical response – last) villanelle.  This will limit my natural loquacity to a mere 19 lines in a form where two of the lines are repeated four time – so a mere 13 lines of original content!  Or ‘one line short of a sonnet’ as I have yet to be described, but it can only be a matter of time…

I have chosen to use tetrameter, which I fondly hope is charmingly antiquated.  I can only apologise for the spacing of my tercets and quatrain: WordPress (or my skills therewith) seems ill-suited to the poet’s art (and to mine).


Reject the ever glowing screen,

Embrace Apollo’s métier,

Support your local music scene!


In ambered space do friends convene

With strings and reeds in vast array.

Resist the ever glowing screen!


Three hurdy gurdies intervene!

Girt by tunes: quelle belle soirée!

Support your local music scene!


Watch Lost or Stolen strut half-seen

In thrall to rhythm’s wild affray.

Resist the every glowing screen!


Songs full charged with power’s mien

Move hearts as bodies start to sway

Support your local music scene!


Such hallowed space: not evergreen?

Ne’er should dawn so dire a day!

Resist the ever glowing screen!

Support your local music scene!


Some visual support for the poetic imagery…

The Jazz (w)Age

For me, in many ways, last weekend both started and ended with sax.  That is not a typo, I was fully intending to reference Adolphe Sax’s invention for use in military bands as my weekend was bracketed by jazz gigs.  While thinking of M. Sax, I find myself wondering whatever happened to the ophicleide?  I feel it is time for it to make a comeback!

This seemed a good opportunity to fritter away some words on the subject of jazz (and me, obvs) as this marks the first anniversary of my regular going to jazz gigs.  Before January last year, I had occasionally been to jazz gigs both in London when I first lived there in the early 90s and at the Preservation Jazz Hall in New Orleans when I briefly visited that city back in 1990: an encounter which brought an end to my exploration of the Vieux Carré as I lost the desire to move on (I also had a frozen daiquiri, which may have contributed).  However, since that time I had largely ignored – and at times actively avoided – jazz.

An attempt to diversify my musical experience had tempted me to a few Nordic jazz gigs at Turner Sims in 2016.  However, it was on the evening of a dismal Sunday in January 2017 (not unlike today) that I decided I fancied some live music.  A quick search revealed that the Southampton Modern Jazz Club (SMJC) had a free entry gig on at the Talking Heads and as it was both close and free, I figured “what’s the worst that can happen?”.  As Dr Pepper (a self-claimed title rather than a formal qualification, I think) has been trying to warn me in a series of harrowing public information films since the late 2000s, there can be serious consequences from apparently harmless, trivial even, choices.

Since that fateful day, I have (on average) consumed more than one jazz gig a week and I have even indulged my filthy habit while away from home in both Cambridge and Edinburgh.  Indeed, I visited Edinburgh with the express purpose of attending its Jazz and Blues Festival.  It has gone even further and I have started indulging in jazz chords at home, using my piano and only my lack of skill has spared the guitar and clarinet.

At the start of last weekend, I went to see Binker and Moses (and friends) at Turner Sims.  After a while, I was able to stop speculating as to whether Binker’s mother was a big fan of the poetry of A A Milne (does he have a sibling roughly six years his senior?) and really enjoy the music.  I was sufficiently close to the stage and at a suitable angle to see some of how the sax is played and it looks tractable at some level as it seems to share basic fingering with one of the descant or treble recorders (both of which I played back in the 70s).  This gig also highlighted what a great jazz instrument the tabla is (are?).

At the weekend’s close on Sunday night, the SMJC gig was billed as Ted Carrasco and Friends, though as it transpired it was very much Gilad Atzmon‘s show.  As so often with the SMJC, it was a truly incredible gig with some amazing jazz music and Gilad’s entertaining patter between.  On more than one occasion, he paid two saxes at the same time – which smacks of showing off!  Young Marius Neset is going to have to bring his A game when I see him in a couple of weeks in London: though, I’m quietly confident he is up to the challenge…


Double the fun!  Two reeds and no sign of Victoria Coren-Mitchell!

The very high standard of (often international) jazz musicians which Southampton manages to attract is a source of constant amazement to me.  Turner Sims stages formal gigs with tickets priced at around £20 and can seat a few hundred punters and has support from the Arts Council (among others).  The SMJC on the other hand relies on donations from at most a 30 or 40 attendees to pay the artists with bar receipts paying for the space and (perhaps) topping up the donations.

I will admit that I am scarred by my time as the treasurer of a musical festival in Cambridge and still count empty seats at paid gigs and worry about how the economics of the event are stacking-up.  My experience of gigs funded by donation was that the contribution averages £2-£3 which, given the modest size of the Maple Leaf Lounge, wouldn’t cover petrol money let alone a fee for the musicians. The creative world does seem to be afflicted by those who believe that exposure has a much higher value than can conceivably be justified.  I think the level of over-valuation can perhaps be illustrated by how rarely one sees an accountant, lawyer or CEO working solely for the exposure.

I hope that Southampton jazz patrons are more generous than classical music aficionados in Cambridge and I always try and pay as I would for a normal gig at the Heads (and often buy a CD – yes, I am very old).  Ted is the force behind the SMJC and I must assume that he must be very persuasive – or has a very impressive collection of blackmail material.  He is not from around these parts – or spent way too much time in front of US TV at a formative time – but he adds immeasurably to the richness of Southampton music by staging such great gigs every week of the year.  He is one of several folk this city would do well to appreciate and support.

During the week, I was in Belfast and looking for something to do on Wednesday evening.  The city has almost three times the population of Southampton (based on official stats), but it is often a struggle to find a gig to attend.  This may reflect my lack of knowledge of the local scene, but I compile a local Gig Guide, which graces this blog, using the same tricks with which I research Belfast.  The guide shows that most nights Southampton can offer multiple gigs within walking distance of my home.  There is rarely nothing to do, more often than not there are far too many options: some nights we are into double figures (more if you go deeper into the suburbs).  I’m not sure that the city recognises its great good fortune and I’m sure it makes far too little of its riches when selling itself to the wider world.

So, if any readers find themselves at a loose end in Southampton on a Sunday night – and feel they will be able to cope with an escalating jazz habit – they should hie themselves to the Talking Heads and support the SMJC!

Transcending flightlessness

As this blog has observed before, I have to cross the Irish Sea on a regular basis for work.  Despite being in possession of a number of unwanted (and, if I’m honest, fairly useless) superpowers, I have yet to master unaided flight and so I am forced to rely on commercial airlines – and mostly FlyBe – to effect these journeys.  For the first year or so of my migrations, this process worked improbably smoothly but more recently delays, cancellations and unexpected visits to Cardiff (only its airport, so far…) have become a more regular feature of my life.

On Tuesday evening, I headed out into the torrential rain to catch the bus to the airport.  All was well as my bus arrived at the airport, but by the time I had dashed the few tens of yards from the bus stop to the terminal FlyBe had cancelled my flight.  This late decision-making is not unusual, it is almost a trope that they will wait until I have arrived at the airport to cancel my flight – though I strongly suspect that the decision is made much earlier.  On Tuesday, while no reason was given I suspect it was down the heavy snow that was alleged to be coating the whole of Northern Ireland.

Having re-booked on a flight the following morning, I decided that my evening, and at least some of my journey to the airport, should not be wasted.  My ride home takes my past the Turner Sims concert hall, so I stopped off there to enjoy an evening of piano mastery by Marc-André Hamelin.  This was a great deal more enjoyable than a flight in a Dash 8 Q400 – though unlike the flight, there were no announcements telling me to sit back and enjoy the experience.  The Dash 8 is basically a rather cramped bus with wings and any enjoyment I find in the experience will have been provided by myself: in the form of a book, some music or some iPlayer content.  I will admit that on the rare occasions when I am not in a seat from which the view of the outside world is largely obscured by the aircraft itself, and when spared heavy cloud cover or darkness, there is some enjoyment from looking out of the window – but again, I feel FlyBe have made only modest contributions to the beauty of the British countryside.

The programme of music was particularly fine and my favourite was probably the 4th Sonata (in E flat Minor/G flat Major) by Samuil Feinberg – a composer entirely new to me.  However, the concert was perhaps most significant for a change in the author.  I have for many years (>20) attempted to sit on the left-hand side of concert halls for piano music, so that I can see the pianist’s hands.  I’m not entirely sure what insights I have been expecting to obtain from this observation, but I think my piano playing makes clear that few, if any, have arisen.  However, on Tuesday I found myself – for the first time – devoting significant CPU time observing his feet!  Truly, I have started to integrate use of the pedals into my core identity.

My observations that evening led me to two new insights.  The first is that I am excessively lead-footed when using the sustaining pedal: for me it is a very binary option – no shades of grey.  The second followed from the first and is that I find that I am – or at least can imagine being – better than my digital piano.  This was not a situation in which I ever expected to find myself. I know that the piano sound is sampled and so not entirely like that of a real piano.  I also know that the keys are only pretending to have the haptic feedback of hammers striking strings.  However, I never expecting that my own dull senses would ever become aware of these compromises for the sake of convenience (and cost and space).  I lay the blame for the unanticipated discernment of my ears and hands on my piano teacher: he it was who let me loose on a grand piano.  It may represent a continuing, serious risk of head injury and not be particularly grand – but it has opened my senses to a bigger (dare I say, grander) world.  The grand still manages to shock me whenever I use the una corda pedal and the entire keyboard shifts slightly to the side.  However, the main issue is that the sustaining pedal on my instrument seems to be either off or on, but I want to play with more nuance.  I also think I’m reaching the point when playing Scarlatti where I want better feedback from the keys to improve the musicality of my performance.  This is particularly true when playing the same note multiple times, especially when responsibility has to shift from one hand to t’other.

It comes as something of a shock at my advanced age to find that I am rather less lumpen than I had always believed: it feels quite late in the day to start editing my self-image.  However, after returning from another gig last night where the Steinway D was in action, I did find myself searching on-line for digital pianos with more convincing keys and pedals and a better soundscape than the Kawai CA65 can provide.  What has happened to me?  Am I turning into an audiophile?  Am I about to start buying vinyl?  I’d assumed at this point I could focus my efforts on settling into the slow decline to the grave, but instead I seem to be wallowing in the new and acquiring unexpected skills.  Maybe there is still hope for unaided flight!

To finish this tale, I should report that the following morning FlyBe did manage to successfully transport me to Belfast.  I was disappointed to find the city snow free – though there was a dusting on the surrounding hills – and no need to attach tennis rackets to my feet so that I could yomp into the city.  To be honest, I needed a boat more than snow shoes given the torrential rain that afflicted the city for much of my stay.  I did finally directly encounter snow on the Thursday – though this was in the car park of the Banbridge Outlet shopping centre which, to the best of my knowledge, does not double as a regional airport.


Actual snow! Sadly, no time to fashion a graven image.  And you doubted the romance of business travel!

Seeing off 2017

This post was supposed to have been written rather earlier in 2018 but somehow I seem to have become distracted by other matters.  Then again, a man who constructed an entire post around an abandoned loaf of sliced white or, in the early days, the genetic purity of the ruddy duck was probably always going to struggle to stick to the point or, indeed, any over-arching plan for a frivolous blog of his life.

I trust that a few readers are still clinging on to the last tatters of their most recent annual resolutions or have managed to maintain their temporary new dalliance with an absence of ethanol or animal products in their diet.  I expect the country’s gymnasia are quietening down again and many members will already have paid their last visit of 2018: though will continue to pay a direct-debited sacrifice to fitness for many months yet (it certainly satisfies one measure of “losing a few pounds”).  To be honest, a bit of extra post-Christmas carriage has probably been a boon given the rather stormy nature to the start of the year and helped to keep a few feet on the ground, despite Eleanor doing rather more than picking up some discarded rice.

In many ways, I ended 2017 much as I lived through the rest of it and managed to find at least one ‘gig’ for each of those ill-defined days that lurk twixt Christmas and the New Year.  The monthly acoustic (mostly folk) session at the Guide Dog restored much needed live music to my life after a two day absence on the 27th.  It was at this event that the first of two incidents of me being recognised over this period occurred: on this occasion my ‘fan’ explained that she had ‘seen me in pubs’.  She had me bang to rights, I think you’ll agree!

The following evening provides some more music but mostly poetry, the highlight of which was when a friend – who had bought some poems he wrote in the mid 90s just-in-case – found himself headlining the gig (or at least going on last).  Let this be a warning to you all: never carry a poem if you aren’t willing to use it!

On the Friday, feeling that I had unfairly been neglecting the Joiners, I spent my evening at a gig expecting to know none of the bands on offer – but the options were limited and it seemed worth a punt.  This became the second occasion that week for me to be recognised, this time as a member of previous audiences.  It would seem that I have become the Troy McClure of Southampton gig audiences, “You may remember me from such audiences as…”.  I had great fun at the gig: as it turned I had seen one of the supports (Myriad) before, but Eyes to the Skies and The Collision were both new to me and enormous fun.

The bands were all incredibly youthful, leaving me feeling particularly ancient and talentless: what was I doing at their age?  A Levels, I seem to recall and both reading and listening to radio comedy (not much else springs to mind).  The audience were also, mostly, young and so there was a lot more moshing and pogoing than I normally experience at a gig.  I do love this as it gives a wonderful energy to affairs, but I do find myself worrying about the motor control of the young people and the risk of them landing on my relatively unprotected feet.  I think I may acquire a pair of steel toe-capped shoes for such events where I can enjoy the youthful exuberance without fear of a crushing defeat (now, that’s what I call a pun!) style incident.  On these occasions, I usually assume that other people of even roughly my age are either parents (or grandparents! Arghh!) of someone on stage – and can often confirm this: the lovely young lad fronting Eyes to the Skies name-checked his mum in the audience way more often than I imagine happens at the O2, I seem to recall she volunteered to ferry much of the audience round the country when he goes on tour.

On Saturday, I voyaged by posh bus to Winchester to see a friend play in the Oxfam music shop.  It may be slower (usually) and more expensive than the train, but you do get a much broader range of sights from the top deck of a bus as it wends its way towards Alfred’s city.  It was during this gig that I was unable to resist purchasing a second-hand book of 15 keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.  This was an excellent buy and the first example (the D minor Kk.1) is bringing a lot of pleasure into my musical life as I attempt to play it.  The range of second-hand keyboard music available was impressive, though I was left with the impression that children in the nineteenth century were much more gifted at the piano than middle-aged men in the 21st: repertoire for the young written by Schumann looked impossibly difficult to me.  Or does this explain its presence in a charity shop?

I even bumped into my sister (OK, we had arranged this) and, despite the range of excellent pubs that Winchester offers, find myself accompanying her to a local Weatherspoons.  Oh, the shame of it!  The things one does for family, still I suppose I did get a pint of Upham’s Punter out of the deal!

In the evening, I was back at the Talking Heads to send off 2017 in style with three of my favourite local bands in action.  The combined forces of Tenderlore, Jack Francis and Shy Boy provided a perfect musical conclusion to my year.  The evening ended, unexpectedly) with a pilot for an exciting new reality TV series, in that it comprised a relative ordinary activity made dramatic by the injection of unnecessary temporal jeopardy.   It did lack a formal judging panel, though the process was accompanied by a degree of badinage which I feel could have evolved in that direction.

A young guitarist due to travel back to Leicester the following day for an important party starts the attempt to purchase his advance rail ticket at 23:50, before the prices go up at midnight, using his mobile phone (I find the young often embrace the Japanese concept of Kanban to a greater extent than is strictly necessary).  As a musician, this attempt was made using an account with £0.01 in it, and so also required a money transfer from an account which probably contained slightly more money.  As the last few minutes of the day ticked over, tension mounted.  Would he make it before the prices went up?  Midnight came and went, and prices seemed not to rise but still the abortive attempts continued.  Sadly, I was forced to leave before discovering the outcome – did Matt make it to Leicester?  A future blog post may reveal the answer, if I ever discover…

On New Year’s Eve itself, I followed my own tradition of spending it with friends: eating, drinking and in wide-ranging conversation.  This year was an away fixture for me, so I was able to eat like a king (actually, I suspect way better than any king and with less emphasis on swans and too many lamphreys) without having taken much part in the preparation.  I did lend a hand beating a couple of egg whites into stiff peaks, but that was mostly to try out my friend’s rather excellent balloon whisk (it contained a contra-acting internal element I had never seen before, but did stiffen my peaks in record time).  I was also inspired to make my own pasta as it was made to look both easy and fun.  I have already bought the OO flour (I decided N-gauge would be too fiddly) and will soon start scouring charity shops for unwanted pasta makers going cheap.


The cryptically named ‘agog’, cruelly dropped from the Septuagint, was very tasty!

At times during the evening, background music was provided from various programmes my friends had recorded from Radio 3.  An unexpected number of these seemed to be music written for coronations – perhaps to remind me that I was dining royally – and many by William Walton.  “Crown Imperial” seemed an obvious enough title for such a piece, but I was foxed for an embarrassingly long time by his piece “Auburn Sceptre”.  This frankly sounded more like a piece to written to accompany saucy movies for (or about) the strawberry blonde than for a formal state occasion.  It was eventually pointed out that the piece was called “Orb and Sceptre”, however, I am still hoping to use it to choreograph some adult “dance” using a ginger friend or two (or more, I’ll admit my knowledge of adult dance is quite basic).

Reading back through this post, I wonder if I am less aiming at becoming official blogger to the Southampton cultural scene and more the scriptwriter for a new batch of Carry-On films.  Still, it is always good to have some achievable goals for the new year!

The return of the Ethenyl Group

I was taught chemistry in the late 70s and early 80s and so defer to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) when it comes to chemical nomenclature.  If you are going to chlorinate ethene (please don’t, it makes for a very unpleasant compound which is highly inimical to life) and then polymerise the results you will produce polychloroethene.  Sadly, I would seem to be in the minority and people insist on calling it PVC, or vinyl for short, for which we must blame a wine-obsessed German who first coined the term in a footnote, of all places.  I dream that one day I too will coin a neologism in a footnote that will still be in regular use 167 years later!

Vinyl, in the form of a rigid circular disk bearing music carved into a spiral groove, is making a major comeback.  It no longer seems to be limited to those who regard the Victorian butcher or lumberjack as their paragon of style, but has broken into the zeitgeist.  I continue to resist its lure on two main grounds: (i) I can remember vinyl records the first time round and just how annoying and impractical they were and (ii) they require hugely more physical storage space than either CD or MP3 and, despite physicists suggesting that it is being created at an accelerating rate, I am rather short of space.  In researching this post, I can now point to the very unpleasant nature of its constituent monomers as a third reason to avoid it.

Despite this resistance, I do find myself in vinyl record shops on a rather regular basis having visited examples in Romsey (Hundred Records), Winchester (Elephant Independent Record Shop) and (last night) Southampton (Vinilo Records). Each of these visits has been prompted not by the presence of vinyl but because the shops were playing host to live acoustic music sets.  These have always been absolutely glorious sessions despite the spaces always being small and rather cramped.

Though I have only a very limited interest in vinyl, I find that I am rather fond of vinyl record shops (or at least the local examplars).  This fondness must derive from an element of nostalgia, though I was never an habitué of record shops in my youth.  I think a larger element can be explained by the appeal of the visual aesthetic of these stores.  In these days when it so easy to buy stuff on-line (well, right up until the delivery) there is probably a need for shops to provide something that the internet cannot.  Book and record shops both provide the opportunity to stumble on something as a result of an unexpected juxtaposition, which on-line stores seem incapable of replicating.  Perhaps they also offer a secular meeting space where slow browsing and a form of contemplation is encouraged.  For me, there is also something very comforting about a bookshop: probably something about being surrounded by words, many of them in a form which I have yet to read.  There is probably some of that feeling in a record shop, but I think there is also something about the artwork of vinyl LPs.  The LP has a scale – and so a certain majesty – that a CD lacks and when a few are displayed on the wall they give a record shop something of the feel of a rather intimate art gallery.  They also tend to offer more interesting background music – even when not hosting a session – than many stores.  As a result, I tend to feel guilty that I cannot support these shops – though if they do offer CDs, I can (and try to) make a direct financial contribution via that route.

Last night was my first trip to Vinilo Records, central Southampton’s take on the vinyl record shop.  I went to see a mixed bill of music and poetry, but may well return for the vegan hot chocolate – made with almond milk and tasting rather different to dairy hot chocolate, but still delicious – and excellent ginger cake which the store offers.  They also offer coffee and tea and a modest range of other sweet treats.  It was while drinking their green tea that a thought about that particular beverage finally crystallised in my mind.  On its own, green tea always has a slight hint of sardine about it: there, I’ve said it.  Normally, I drink it as ‘green tea with lemon’ which removes the fishy element, but as a pure green tea that piscine under-note is always there.  Is it just me that feels this way, or can others detect a hint of the ocean in green tea?  Should I be seeking medical help?

Anyway, I seem to have digressed, how unlike me!  Vinilo is sited in an unprepossessing building in the city centre and you can easily walk past and miss it (as I have).  The interior decor is simple and slightly distressed, but does contain a very fine cactus (see below).  For the gig, most of the windows were shuttered which created a wonderfully intimate setting.  The evening alternated between poetry and music, with decent gaps in between for conversation and refreshments.  It was a near perfectly constructed evening and we were done by 9pm – so no need for a late night!  Sometimes in US TV or film dramas set in New York, characters will go to Brooklyn for some sort of amazing cultural event and I would once have wished that such delights were available closer to home.  With events like last night’s, I need wish no more: Southampton offers an extraordinary range of cultural events of a range that (in some areas) would probably put a city, allegedly so good that it was twice-named, to shame.

Last night started with the very affecting poetry of Chloë Beihaut, followed by the chilled musical vibe of Kitty O’Neal and her band in fully acoustic mode.


What a glorious cactus!  Tempted to have one chez nous… (Don’t think the band would fit in my tiny flat though, sadly)

Then followed the amazing vocal delivery of Joshua Jones with powerful poetry from a Llanelli youth and life on the oft-ignored, more difficult side of 21st century Britain.   Finally, Joe Booley finished the evening with his elegiac songs and guitar harmonies (which later in the evening soothed me to sleep via the miracle of Spotify).

I particularly love the photo of Joshua on the left: nothing to do with my skill with a camera (if you take enough photos, a few are bound to turn out OK), but because it captures something of the magic of the evening and the space.  I feel Southampton should be using such images to promote itself as the truly great place to live that it can be.  It is not just home to a million traffic lights, a similar number of alarmingly brazen rats, some dreadful road surfaces and West Quay: there is an amazingly vibrant arts scene which I am still discovering.

Conversation with friends, three interesting new voices, great words and music and delicious cake in a lovely, welcoming space: what more could a chap ask from an evening!   It might even re-start my career as a tennis ace (in a game where aces are low, obviously).  A very fine investment of £3.

Mumm’s the word

My life since moving to Southampton a little more than 4 years ago has moved, and continues to lurch, in unexpected directions.  I would like to claim that this is not my doing and that it has just “happened” but, in my more honest moments (catch them while you can), I might admit that I have at least (unintentionally) facilitated some of the change.  Much blame may adhere to my willingness to talk to people and (far worse) occasionally listen to them as well.  Further fault may lie with my use of “going out” as a defence against the acquisition of more physical “stuff” which I do not have the room to store.

I shall use my day to illustrate the curious nature of my life, lest any readers be tempted to follow in my footsteps.  The snow may indeed there lay dinted, subject to its availability (I struggle to dint the rain, deep and damp and even though it may lie), but my goodness is debatable (at best) and I lack crown or eponymous square in Prague (I’m sure these last two are mere oversights and will shortly be brought to a satisfactory resolution).

I woke – always a plus at my age – and having hawked up the worst of the fluid to have collected in my lungs overnight (I’m a martyr to cattarh at the moment) dressed, performed my ablutions and tidied away the laundry.  So far, so mundane I think we can agree.  I then put in a solid stint practicing at the piano and like to feel some progress was made.  Adding in the trills to my Scarlatti did have the useful effect of forcing me to assume the correct fingering at several points: it’s also a lot of fun to trill.

I then went off to have brunch with a friend at Mettricks Guildhall.  Yes, I have become someone who brunches: something I never saw coming, as while I have often inserted meals in the long stretch between breakfast and lunch I have always done so somewhat surreptitiously and left them unnamed.  However, this has become a roughly monthly Sunday ritual which is great fun – who could complain at the felicitous conjunction of good conversation and good food?  Given the nature of the vegetarian options on the menu, I generally find myself enjoying avocado toast which also offers the vague chance of being mistaken for a millennial (albeit one with a long paper round).  The concept of the millennial seems a flexible one, but including me within it would move beyond flexibility into bursting.  However, I may be having some success as in the last couple of weeks I have been described as both forty and a handsome young man.  As a result, I am expecting to be appointed as ambassador plenipotentiary for SpecSavers at any moment.

Usually, I follow my millennial toast (grilled bread is all to ready to see an imminent apocalypse) with some cake but today Mettricks was woefully short of cake, so I returned to an old habit and had a toasted teacake.  This used to be my cafe staple and after today, I believe abandonment of the earthy virtues of the teacake for the flight charms of cake may have been a mistake.  My teacake my have been bifurcated inexpertly (or at least asymmetrically) but it was buttery deliciousness incarnate.  The teacake revival starts here! (Though, I shall not be giving up cake – merely augmenting its consumption with yeasty treats).

From brunch I flew – or at least walked briskly – to St Michael’s Square to a Mummer’s Play.  This was an enormous amount of fun with modern references blending seamlessly into ancient tradition.  A decent crowd could almost forget the biting wind as St George, Father Christmas, Jack Finney(?) and all played out scenes of battle, death and resurrection and the ability of folk of good spirit to put Beelzebub and his dripping pan to flight.  In fact, the devil was not the only thing put to flight – a new £5 note was tugged free of the dripping pan and danced around the square in the gusting wind – watched by all (who needs fireworks?).  At one point, it looked to be seeking sanctuary in the church but at the last minute the age-old enmity twixt God and Mammon saw it leap salmon-like back up into the air.  It was finally caught with extraordinary (one might say cat-like!) grace by a friend of mine to cheers from the assembled throng: it seemed somehow to bode well for the year to come!


The crowd tries not to see a stricken St George in need of urgent medical attention as a metaphor!

It is a tradition of the Mummer’s to retire to the Old Red Lion pub in the High Street after their labours and it seemed churlish not to join them.  I had never visited this particular hostelry before, though I have now learned it is the oldest pub in the city.  It is a very Southampton historic building in that (a) you would never know it was there (I must have walked past it dozens of time) and (b) whilst it has an amazingly historic interior this is counter-balanced by a giant screen showing Sky Sports obscucing a goodly chunk of it.  If one ascends the stairs to the gallery area, one can peep behind the screen to see a full suit of armour ‘displayed’ for almost none to see.  This seems a metaphor for Southampton and its cultural jewels – of which it has a myriad – in that unlike, other brahser cities, we do not boast about them but instead often do our best to hide them.  The city gives up its cultural bounty reluctantly and only to the determined.


Hidden heritage, crouching armour (not shown, the reader must discover it for themselves)!

Having toasted my discovery with a little ale, I returned home to attempt to move my corporate email over to its new server.  This should be simple enough: export the old emails from Outlook, connect to the new server and import the old emails.  A doodle one might think, well one might think that if one had spent the last 50 years in a coma and had never experienced the work of Microsoft and its ilk.  I exported my old emails, all 2GB worth: fine.  I changed server: fine.  I imported my old emails: not so fine.   When I attempt to look at my old emails Outlook just says, “nothing to see here, move along” (I paraphrase).  This must count as the last efficient storage of nothing in the history of computing, using 2GB to store the sweetest of Fanny Adams!  It is as well I am not possessed of god-like powers, or the entire western seaboard of North America would have been destroyed in an expression of my divine wrath that would make the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah look like a walk in the park (nothing mentioned in the news, so far)….  Still, I have two half-solutions which might eventually form a whole – and can now view long millennia in Purgatory as a well-deserved rest.

I am shortly off to enjoy some keyboard-based jazz, which should bring my blood pressure back to the sort of levels which preclude diamond formation, and so shall bid you, dear reader, adieu!

Taking the scenic route to my ears

We truly live in an age of technological marvels and I’m not just talking about sliced bread or the fact that our every thought – at least as expressed in the physical realm through movement or word (spoken or typed) – can be sucked into a vast database which spits out an almost (but not quite) entirely irrelevant marketing message to accompany it: often while sodium ions are still crawling across the synaptic gap to generate the next thought.

As I ate my breakfast this morning, I was listening to James McVinnie (a chap with whom I have shared a beer which, according to the customs of my tribe, makes him my brother) playing Mad Rush by Philip Glass on the organ (no sniggering at the back, please!).  Unremarkable – if slightly pretentious – you may think but until relatively recently this would have been impossible except for those at the very top of their local monarchical or imperial court.  However, even more astonishing was how this music came to my arrive at my ears.

I was listening to the concert on Radio 3: not ‘live’ but using the iPlayer.  So the original sound of the concert had been digitised and its data compressed to make its way, via cable and thence luminiferous æther, to my laptop.  It then took to the æther once more to cross my lounge by Bluetooth – involving further data compression – before my DAC attempted to reinstate some of what had been lost and produce a richer, analogue signal to reproduce through my corner reflex cabinet (OK, my hifi).  From there it made its way as vibrations through the congested airspace of my modest apartment into my thoroughly immodest ears.

However, this already complex journey was only a part of its rather roundabout route to my auricular apparatus.  The concert was original recorded by the good folk of Radio 3 at LSO St Luke’s: a rather fine Hawksmoor church, but one which does not boast an organ (and this is not false modesty on its part, it was removed – along with its font – in 1959 to allow it to spend some time as a dramatic ruin: very much a career path I’m considering myself).  This does render an organ recital a bit of a challenge as the full church organ may be the least portable of musical instruments: unless a reader know better?  Luckily, James came armed with two MIDI keyboards, a pedal board and a laptop (and I assume some sort of amp).  The laptop contained the sampled sound of the organ of a Dutch church: one which unlike LSO St Luke’s has retained its organ and, I like to imagine, can still generate a full 12 inches of “Stifflute” and bring its “Choir to Swell” when the occasion calls for it (the organ console is truly the gift that keeps on giving!).  Through a miracle of modern computation (and I’m assuming some reliance on the work of Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier) this sampled organ had been be-housed into the acoustic space of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and it was this chimeric sound which the ‘organ’ produced.  This already geographically complex sound then interacted with the acoustics of St Luke’s before being recorded by Radio 3.  As a result, my breakfast listening was a sonic palimpsest of a church in the Netherlands, King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, St Luke’s in London and my front room.  This struck me as such a remarkable and miraculous conjunction of sound and place that I felt compelled to write a blog post about it.  It didn’t hurt that it allowed me to use the word ‘palimpsest’ without it appearing too contrived.

The sheer volume of computation that must have been needed to bring Philip Glass’ musical vision to my ears is almost beyond imagining: not to mention the key- and pedal-board skills (both by James and a myriad of unsung programmers).  The audio purist might imagine that interposing all this mathematics and these approximating algorithms between the music and the listener would ensure that nothing musical could possibly survive – how very long far from the truth the strawmen (and I’m assuming they would mostly be men) they would be.  As I masticated my way through my porridge, the music retained a significant emotional punch and my day was not allowed to continue until the piece had finished.  My eyes may have moistened a little: partly in response to the music but also to the near miraculous method by which it came to my ears.  An almost unremarked upon feat (if we ignore my own current logorrhea) that would have been impossible at any time prior to the last handful of years.  We live in a veritable age of miracles…  and stupidity…  and horrors… (so, pretty much like any other ages then).