Religious observance

The regular reader might have deduced that I am not a terribly religious chap, despite (or perhaps because of) my possession of an O Level in Religious Studies and some fading – if once more detailed – knowledge of the literary oeuvre of St Luke (though not, I hasten to add, in the original Greek). I generally ignore religious festivals and saints’ days, except to the minimum level required by their impact on the functioning of civil society or their tendency to cause unnecessary crowding or travel issues.

It must be said that, over the years, I have enjoyed a lot of music written for ostensibly religious reasons: either through real faith or the fact that the church was a major source of funding for a jobbing composer in days of yore.  Some of this tends to be available, live, on a seasonal basis and I enjoy a bit of ritual as much as the next human (possibly more) and do like to enjoy music (as well as fruit and veg) when it is “in season”.  Indeed, as I type this post I am listening to Bach’s St Matthew Passion as a mark of seasonal respect.  I’m afraid this respect will not last as tomorrow I am hopping on a plane (quite a feat on the narrow steps of a Dash 8 Q 400) to visit Edinburgh to attend its annual science festival.  I suppose religion and science are not technically antithetical, but religion does have an unfortunate tendency to park its tanks on science’s lawn and then become rather obstreperous when its sacred heavy armour is assailed by facts.

Despite my rather secular nature, this year I have performed rather more of the standard rituals that accompany religious observance than for many a long year.  This started on Shrove Tuesday when – in some freak planning accident – I made and consumed pancakes on the traditional day.  I think these were my finest ever pancakes and I can’t help wondering if this was, at least partially, due to the timing of their creation and subsequent, all too swift, destruction.  Were the heavens trying to send me a message through the medium of crêpe pan and batter?  If so, I fear I must report that this particular lost sheep has yet to return to the fold – but I certainly enjoyed their culinary input (subject to its existence).

As the Ides of March passed, and I remained unstabbed by a group of my closest friends and colleagues, for the first time ever I found myself marking St Patrick’s Day in a somewhat appropriate fashion. I think we must, largely, blame peer pressure for my actions – though I am more than willing to admit that I enjoyed them.  In fact, I also made a passing genuflection to St Gertrude (of Nivelles) who also shares the day, despite never having been formally canonized.  Based on her miracles, she would be handy if you’re caught without a torch in a power cut or need ridding of a sea monster during a tempest but for some reason she became associated with cats in the 1980s.  I suppose it is very much to her credit that she continued to find gainful employ despite having died in 659: many lesser saints would have been enjoying a well earned rest some 1320 years after their death but Gertrude was taking on new responsibilities.  Was there a recruitment process and interviews, I wonder, or was (St) G the only volunteer?

My March 17 observances were very much based around two of the primary loci of my life in Southampton: the Talking Heads and the Guide Dog.  Both can offer that seductive combination of good company, beer and music.  On the 17th, the Talking Heads also offered me a chance to show off the broad, if somewhat random and pointless, collection of knowledge I have acquired (and failed to lose) over the years.  This was in the form of a special, Irish-themed quiz (not part of the continuing quiz “league” but a “friendly” fixture), and so would also provide an indication of whether I had absorbed anything over the last 30 months of flitting back and forth across the Irish Sea.  This was jolly good fun – as all of 2018’s quizzes have been, they have been a proper highlight of the new year – with just the right level of challenge for an alcohol-imbibing afternoon crowd.  I can reveal that I had acquired some Hibernian general knowledge over the years and my team did not disgrace itself.

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How to light your pint for St Patrick’s Day!

As the image shows, I even partook of a pint of Guinness – despite being some distance from St James’s Gate and my general view that the iconic stout doesn’t travel well from its homeland – as well as some rather fine mashed potato (not shown, I like to leave some work for the reader’s imagination) that was available to the early drinker.  However, I abandoned the Heads before the crowds and mean level of drunkenness became too great and – after lining my stomach – wandered down to the Guide Dog to make obeisance to the recently appointed patron saint of cats: a tenuous link I will admit, but not mine.  I surrendered height (not something I do lightly) as I was going to enjoy some great beer and some glorious swing thanks to the excellent Bad Cat: now with expanded repertoire!  They do, however, remain a lightening-rod for snow and I believe can be booked for any Alpine resort which finds its pistes a little shy of powder.

My alignment with the rituals linked to the Passion has continued to this very day.  Yesterday, despite the weather growing confused and attempting to re-enact Noye’s Fludde (without the music) I ventured out in search of hot cross buns.  My seeking was amply rewarded by the Art House – another of my local loci – which provided a particularly excellent example.  It then provided another as the first seemed to melt into air: I may yet wander out this afternoon in search of a third (as I believe things coming in threes is spiritually relevant).  However, I have made my own buns – albeit without crosses: not due to my (non-existent) militant atheism but due to my (all too existent) militant laziness.  While waiting for these to rise (the Easter-metaphors are everywhere – but luckily they did not take three days) I wandered down to the Guide Dog for a pint of Red Cat’s Minor Swing (in preparation, I did listen to the tune of the same name by Django Reinhardt as I take my drinking seriously): a lovely pint and another stunning pump clip.  On my journey I passed an extraordinary number of people carrying small wicker (or faux wicker) baskets.  I assume this can be explained by my proximity to a Catholic church and most seemed to contain iconic Easter items: the eggs, bunnies and the like which I remember were so prominent in St Luke’s account of the Passion.  However, one clearly contained a rather exciting looking sausage and much of a cruet set.  I am assuming this must be part of a Polish tradition: either that or the sausage has been added to the role call of seasonal (and seasoned) essentials since I parted company with the education system.  Many representations of the crucifixion can be rather graphic – carpentry and a bit of parable-telling are clearly great for the abs (and yet you never see them mentioned on the cover of Men’s Fitness) – but I always assumed they’d draw the line at showing the “holy ghost”.

I feel that I probably ought to bring matters to a close before I wander even deeper into doctrinal matters: or worse, some dread admixture of heresy and blasphemy.  However, I do still feel that arranging to have an aspect of yourself nailed to a tree is a trifle passive-aggressive as a way to get the humanity to behave a bit better (and is taking a while to bear fruit): it makes angry post-it notes on the fridge look positively measured…  Suffice it to say, some level of observance of events spiritual in inspiration can be a great deal of fun if done with friends.

Curing the common cold

Frequent readers of GofaDM (for whom no reward scheme yet exists) will be aware that it likes to operate on the cutting edge of fundamental scientific research.  This post should only enhance that reputation and I am quietly confident of a call from Norway in the not too distant future.

For the past fortnight, I have been suffering from a cold, or a series of colds, or a series of infections with cold-like symptoms.  This has (or these have) been no common cold: it has followed a very odd trajectory of infection and defensive response from my body.  Twice it has vanished entirely for 12-36 hours, only to return with increased virulence once it has lulled my humoral response into a false sense of security.  The general sequence of symptoms has also not been normal: I am starting to suspect that I have been infected by a cold virus which is travelling backwards through time.  This could be massive!  We’ve always assumed that it would be people, or robot killing machines which inexplicably look like people, with a vendetta against one or more grandparents that would herald the future development of time travel.  However, I may hold living proof (assuming you are willing to admit that viruses are alive) that the humble virus has beaten us to it!  Could there be some dire warning from the future coded into the DNA (or RNA: let’s face it, time-travel sounds like the sort of thing a retrovirus would do) of my virus?  I shall attempt to preserve a sample for future scientific study.

Such an unprecedented attack on my body has led me to explore some novel techniques to defeat my assailant and return to rude good health.  I clearly needed to move beyond the basic regimen of regular hot drinks – often involving blackcurrant, lemon and/or honey – and the nightly ministrations of a nurse: in capsule form.  So, on last Saturday last, I attempted to embarrass the virus out of me with a dose of SHOCC and awe.

Saturday was my semi-regular evening of English ceilidh dancing under the auspices of the cryptically named SHOCC: I’m guessing the SH might stand for South Hampshire and one of the Cs is probably ceilidh but the remaining OC is a mystery to me (never having caught the US teen drama). Not only did my unwelcome guest have to endure a whole evening of me dancing, but it had to suffer this experience while I was wearing shorts!  This is my fifth session of English folk dancing in recent months and I think I am finally getting the hang of how to strip the willow: possibly aided by the very clear calling of Fee Lock.  Excitingly, on this occasion I had a chance to disrobe my salix to the Doctor Who theme tune thanks to Tickled Pink, who were providing the music.  They were a rockier band than on previous occasions, but enormous fun and the melodeon player took their name seriously sporting a glitter-coated, shocking pink instrument: please feel free to extemporise your own gag about squeezing the pink box.

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Tickled Pink: with box and snake!  Get thee behind me, Satan…

There is something really glorious about these dances – and, shockingly, it is not just my tripping of the light fantastic.  I would confidently say that there were people from every decade of life from teens to seventies (and could well have been some under 11s and over 80s too – but it seemed rude to ask) all having a good time together and interacting with each other.  It struck me as a shining – and all too rare – example of the civil society which de Toqueville felt was such an importance buttress to any democracy (guess who’s up-to-date with In Our Time).  I had a wonderful time, with my favourite dance being the only one to eschew the usual powers of two and daringly use triplets of people: it was both foolishly energetic and sufficiently simple to be doable.

While I could mostly forget my cold while on the dance floor, when I awoke on Sunday morning it became clear that I had not managed to shame the virus into leaving my body.  If anything, it seemed to have benefited from the exercise…

Last night, rather than sit at home nursing my nose and cough, I decided to take them to the Guide Dog and expose them to some beer, company and fine music courtesy of the monthly acoustic session in the Dog House.  The music, company and three pints of Red Cat’s Mr M’s Porter worked some magic on my diseased body but it was inspiration gained while in the Guide Dog which I shall credit with my excellent night’s sleep and much reduced symptoms this morning.  I decided that what I needed at bedtime, rather than some paracetamol based tablet, was a hot toddy.  A quick internet search revealed that I would need whisky, lemon, honey, a cinnamon stick, cloves and boiling water.  As luck would have it, I possessed all of the necessary ingredients.  The cinnamon stick was a little old, dating back to a purchase in Crouch End in the late 90s, but this was positively youthful compared to the cloves.  I have an almost full jar of cloves (I can’t have used more than a couple) which are so old that they pre-date the concept of Best Before dates.  They come from Madagascar and I think they may have been sourced before it separated from the African continent: or at least from the 1980s!  Yes, a majority of my friends may be younger than my cloves.  Nevertheless, they had not obviously gone off and so in they went.  The only whisky on hand was a rather fine Highland single malt – sourced from that nice Mr Aldi – so that added a touch of class to the act.

This was my first ever attempt to make a hot toddy and it was an absolute triumph.  I think my spices may have matured with age!   So good was my first attempt, that I immediately followed it up with another.  At this rate, I may actually manage to use up my cloves before their component hadrons succumb to inevitable decay.  Let’s just say that tonight another couple will be visiting that country from whose bourn no traveller (or spice) returns.

The scientist in me recognises that both dancing and the consumption of a rather superior hot toddy are going to be tricky to organise as part of a double-blind trial.  For a start, I feel the patient will probably know if she is dancing at a ceilidh and I’m not quite sure what a suitable placebo dance might be.  However, these are mere details which I feel can safely be left to other more plebian minds to resolve: I am an ideas man!  I think I can confidently assert that humanity’s millennia of suffering neath the yoke of the common cold are almost at an end.

No, No, Nonet

Way back in the last millennium, I lived in leafy (and luvvie) Crouch End: technically, I lived in even more exclusive Highgate with my swanky N6 postcode – but that was an uphill walk all the way and thus rarely visited.  In those quondam days of my nonage (a word which charmingly means youth, even if that might be a stretch for my mid thirties), I would regular buy flowers to introduce a little of Mother Nature’s raiment, albeit some too-soon plucked threads thereof, into my flat and city-bound life.  Somehow as the years performed their entropic dance, I fell out of this habit.  For the last half-dozen or so years, my sole (invited) living (or dying: the two are inextricably entangled) housemate has been a single moth orchid: though I am now on my second example.  I would like to claim that the first one immolated itself on an unguarded candle flame but that would be pure, romantic whimsy on my part.  Despite a regime of benign neglect, peppered with a semi-regular diet of food and water, the orchids flower but infrequently in their slow decline under my care.  They make for undemanding but mostly rather dull companions.  We can perhaps begin to see why I have remained single all these years…

For the last couple of weeks, I have felt a little depleted and find myself infused with less than my usual complement of joie de vivre.  I might point to uninvited viral visitors as the cause, or an accumulation of black bile tilting my Galenic humours or, perhaps, the stubborn failure of Spring to throw off winter’s traces.  Whatever the cause, I found myself drawn to rather unprepossessing bunches of tight-budded daffodil stems as I wandered the fruit and veg aisle of Waitrose wondering why I had, once again, failed to prepare a list or any firm meal plan to aid my shopping expedition.  Inspiration and serendipity are fine things but not always adequate to the task of restocking the larder or leaving one’s home replete with all the elements of a week of tasty meals.

Reader, I must admit that I surrendered to temptation (as I have so often before: and hope to continue doing into the future) and invested a whole Pound Sterling on a bunch of these daffodils-in-waiting.  Rather than place them on a seldom regarded shelf, I decided to place them on my brand new desk.  This desk has worked wonders for my general living arrangements, creating a much improved work (and blog) space and led to the creation of a far more practical music nook.

The stems have far surpassed their limited promise and, from their pint glass home, keep bringing splashes of sunshine and resurgent hope into my tiny home.  Such has been their impact that they have acted as a muse to my versifying and I have composed a nonet in their honour.  This fresh poem recognises that I am not the first to have found inspiration from the scions of Narcissus’ self-regard, though I like to imagine I have become slightly less over-wrought by the whole experience and have reined in the horses of hyperbole to no more than a rising trot.

Daffodils

Solitary Wordsworth found a crowd

Of infinite extent, dancing

At Cumbrian water’s edge.

On newly purchased desk

My more modest host,

From pint glass, trumpet

Late starting,

Golden

Spring!

 

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Where the magic happens!

I think my desk will be more regularly attended by floral guest stars in the months to come.  These have provided a most excellent return on my £1 investment and, despite some failures by Purchasing, have not (yet) had to fill a hole in salad or casserole.

Your mother was right…

Well, obviously I can’t guarantee the title’s sentiment.  I get around a bit, but I am still some way from having met everybody’s mother – not even the much smaller set that represents mothers of readers of GofaDM.  Even for those readers whose mother I have met, I am unable to provide supporting evidence for all of their statements: to this day, very few mothers submit their statements to me for fact-checking before sharing them with their offspring.  In fact, if I’m being honest, all I can really say is that my mother was once right: if I transfer her wisdom from one domain to another.

When I was a callow youth (as opposed to the callow, pretend adult I am today) and was feeling under the weather, my mother would tell me that I’d feel better if I went to school.  I don’t think I was really convinced about the veracity of her statement at the time, and can no longer remember if I did feel better at school.  However, the idea has stuck with me over the more than three decades since I last had any reason to go to school: sick or healthy.

I currently have a cold: on Monday it seemed to be cured but by Tuesday afternoon it had returned.  I am forced to assume that on Monday (and Tuesday morning) I was in the “eye of the cold”: an unexpected parallel twixt virus and hurricane.  By late yesterday afternoon, I was feeling like a less-than-fresh corpse and had the energy for few projects more onerous than lying very still on a cold marble slab.  Recalling my mother’s sage advice (and lacking a marble slab), I decided that I would reject the option of spending an evening of couch-based wallowing in self-pity while watching the idiot box.  This is not the sort of positive mental attitude for which the author likes to imagine he is known in his role as the Norman Vincent Peale de nos jours.  No, I would find a gig and go to it: this virus deserved some fresh lebensraum which it was not going to find trapped in my flat (and flesh).  This is, after all, the only sort of occasion when I have a real chance to “go viral”.

The range of local options was limited, but there were a couple of bands on at the Talking Heads and following a quick listen to Spotify I decided I didn’t definitely hate their output and would take a punt: it was only going to set me back £6.60.  Maybe an evening on electronic synth pop would be good for my immune system…

My decision immediately started to prove its worth, the combination of bumping into friends and the evening’s first pint of Red Runner from Long Dog Brewery seem to work marvels on my cold: my throat was rendered less sore and my nose stopped running.  I cannot guarantee that Basingstoke-brewed beer will always work as an alternative to a Vicks inhaler, but it does have the advantage of being legal in Japan!  Gigs are always good for people-watching opportunities and last night one lad had a dragon on his shoulder (a cuddly, rather than a real one) and some very impressive (if rather heavy looking) boots.  I felt slightly under dressed in my low-rent Robin Ince cosplay (OK, I was in a cardigan and hadn’t made much of an effort, dress-wise).  This impression was magnified when the support band, Curxes, took to the stake.  The lead singer’s dress had something of a bride of dracula about it and her guitarist/percussionist/laptop jockey was wearing a voluminous one-piece poncho-esque item, which looked to have been hand-made from his mum’s curtains, and a massive papier-maché dog’s head (well, I think it was a dog – might have been a bear).  His costume was, I presume, home-made but I was pleased to see that he had properly hemmed his curtains: I may have been ill, but I still like to pay attention to detail.  Their set was really enjoyable with strikingly effective lighting at the beginning of one song.

During the interval, I was able to nip to the Maple Leaf Lounge to catch up with some more friends (and sight some fresh merch in the flesh: I can see the sending of postcards making a comeback!).  I also had a chance to catch Charlie Hole for the second time in less than a week and find I have become slightly obsessed by the shape the his fingers when playing G on the guitar: two of them seem to naturally splay in way which mine really do (and can) not.  Is this a modest superpower?  Or am I very mildly disabled?  Perhaps we will never know…

I then headed back to see the headliners, Empathy Trap.  They put on a really good show, mostly in the dark with the lead singer lit from below with lights which rotated in colour.  It was incredibly atmospheric and was a really good fit with the music.  He was also very mobile – which combined with the low light, made capturing images for this blog a real challenge.  Not only did I enjoy the music and the stage show, but the band made the whole audience (~40 of us) feel part of one big family.  We were introduced to Christy on drums – and her additional gifts with lighting and van driving – and Sam on keys and electronics – and his high tolerance for alcohol.  The leader singer never introduced himself but a quick search reveals he’s called Isaac and was wise to ditch the beard.  I also learned about Adam, who doesn’t tour but has some sort of svengali-like producing role in the band.  Rather sweetly, Isaac dedicated songs to both his mum and his nan – who were in the audience.  I think that most (all, other than me?) of the audience (and not just Isaac’s family) already knew the band, but as a rube I found the evening had a really fun, inclusive vibe.

It is possible that my minimal expectations played their part, but I had a really a great evening: it might even end up being one of my top gigs of the year. For three hours, I completely forgot about my cold and I’m forced to tip my cap to my mother’s advice.  It has withstood both the test of time and the change of activity!  My dilemma tonight is:

  • do I take my virus to Romsey to see friends play, for the second time in a week, which will definitely be fun; or
  • do I take a chance on some less familiar music more locally, but limit my infective scope?

If this virus had any gumption, it would be forcing me to Romsey, but I think I still have free will (assuming it exists at all) so where will I go…

An evening of…

As this blog has probably made apparent, I have all the enduring attention span and constancy of a hungry butterfly with ADHD.  This might explain my preference for short plays and musical evenings offering an eclectic range of performers: they allow me to flit from one cultural bloom to another in my endless search for spiritual nectar.  Having said that, this selfsame blog does demonstrate my ability to stick with a project over the long term, despite (until recently) very little encouragement from outside the prison of my own skull.

This post will celebrate my ability to attend, and more importantly enjoy, an artistic monoculture, leaving me with the hope that the gift of attention has not entirely fled.

Long term readers will recall that last year I spent most of an afternoon and evening becoming one with Philip Glass‘s Music in 12 Parts.  Recently, BBC4 has produced a two-part documentary on Minimalism and I was watching the second part on the plane as I flew home from Belfast earlier in the week.  This covered Music in 12 Parts and I was excited (and more than slightly surprised) that I recognised the tone row in the final part: its inclusion an example of Philip’s impish sense of fun.  Clearly, even many hours into the hypnotic musical meditation, some part of my brain was still paying attention: go me!

While I was in Belfast, I was determined to go to a music gig but the options were rather limited.  I had the choice of seeing the “Irish one” out of One Direction or a night of traditional Irish music with three of the giants of the scene (none of which were familiar to me).  I went for the latter, but was nervous about the potential for a whole night of diddly-eye music.  All was well and in ZoDoMo I definitely chose very wisely.  ZoDoMo are Zoë Conway, Donal Lunny and Mairtín O’ Connor: she is a young (by my standards – but I think objectively too) fiddle player and they are a much older bouzouki/guitar and box player respectively.  They were stunningly good musicians – Mairtín, in particular, did things with the melodeon that I had never imagined were possible – and the music covered the folk tradition of Ireland but also of the US, the Scottish Islands, Bulgaria and even a hint of Brazil.  This being an Irish music gig, there were also stories from all the musicians, but Mairtín was the primary offender – and a lot of fun he was too!  I can imagine him entertaining a snow-bound pub full of people for a week (perhaps much longer) with an endless string of entertaining anecdotes and jokes.  It was a gloriously enjoyable evening and despite the claimed 80 minute run time, still managed to finish in just under two hours – and I, for one, would have happily stayed for more!

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In this layout (and as performed), DoZoMo.

On Thursday, inspired by my piano teacher who is tackling one of his piano pieces for his own pleasure, I decided to attend an entire evening of Debussy played by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (what a glorious name!).  I knew a small amount of Debussy, the Estampes and La Mer, but not much more and so a whole evening was a slightly daunting prospect.  However, it turned out to be a delight and there is a lot more to Debussy than I had imagined.  He also seems to have been quite a character.  I foolishly thought that his Études might be a good way in for me, but having heard them and read his description that they should be “a warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands” perhaps I’ll seek another point of entry!  It’s not that my hands aren’t remarkable, in their own way, but I’m not sure their best features are on display when applied to the keyboard.  Debussy also seems to enjoy rather eccentric markings of tempo (and more) in his pieces, with distant trumpets called for in one Étude.  Hard though the Études may be, the Book 2 Préludes looked even more of a challenge and I was lost in admiration for JEB’s pedal work and ability to handle sudden changes to (or simultaneous contrasts in) tempo, accent, dynamic and articulation.  JEB was also great fun as my guide to the much wider world of Debussy: his introduction to the Études added to my enjoyment and understanding of the pieces – plus, I’m a sucker for English spoken with a strong French accent.

This week has proved that there is joy to be had in sticking to a single theme for an extended period, even if that theme is (as it was late on Wednesday evening) trying to mine as much humour and, frankly, filth from the difference in the structure of the competing cream teas of Devon and Cornwall.  Sometimes leaving my preferred shallows and plumbing the some actual depth (though I’m probably still only snorkelling, to over extend this briny metaphor) brings its own rewards!

Gecko echo

Geckos, and indeed lizards of any kind, are not a regular part of my life in Southampton.  Despite being on the south coast, the climate here – and, indeed, in my flat – is not well suited to the thriving of members of infraorder Gekkota.  Too many frosts for a start – and there are more on the way, if the Met Office know their onions.  Despite this potentially ominous background, last week two quite different geckos formed the spine of my cultural week.

The first Gecko was the theatre company with their production The Wedding at NST Campus.  It must be said that the evening started rather well in the re-painted cafe of the theatre which is now offering Raiona from Red Cat‘s Untamed range of bottled beer.  At 6% ABV, this is rather stronger than I would normally consume pre-gig, but it was a smallish bottle and so I took a punt.  It was a very fine tipple and, in common with several of Red Cat‘s less mainstream offerings, the bottle label boasted particularly fine graphic design.  It suggests a slightly uncommon degree of care in their business. The whole thing was rather a work of art: covering at least four of the standard five senses.

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Imbibing the arts!

 

When I collected my ticket that evening, I discovered that the ‘play’ would be over in 80 minutes, no interval.  As I’ve said before, I do approve of any production where I’m home at a sensible time – or can catch a subsequent late gig.  Whenever I see that a play is much more than two hours, my heart sinks and I start thinking that, regardless of the excellence of any reviews, there is probably a better use (or uses) of my time.  I do feel that the role of the editor is foolishly over-looked in many areas of the arts: indeed, this very blog is clearly crying out for some attention from a whole team of editors but sadly the budget does not allow.  Not knowing of the lack of an interval, I had already acquired an ice-cream voucher (it reduces the cost) for use (and sustenance, once it had undergone a secular trans-substantiation) in the now non-existent interval.  So, the evening started with one of the less well-renowned pairings of foodstuffs: beer and ice-cream.  It is possible that the Raiona had gone to my head, or perhaps the sense of uncharacteristic adventure arose elsewhere, but I decided to sample salted caramel ice-cream for the first time: well, my heart has frankly been taking it easy for far too long and there is nothing like the combination of saturated fat, salt and sugar to force it from its comfortable lethargy.  While I can’t speak for my heart (though it still seems to be working), my taste-buds certainly enjoyed the sweet-and-salty treat and it seemed to sit very comfortably with the pale ale.

The ‘play’ itself was an extraordinarily original production.  It contained a lot of dance and physical theatre and the ‘text’ was in multiple languages – at least eight that I managed to identify.  The text was not translated, though I could follow the English and some of a couple of other European languages, but the acting and dance still managed to carry the narrative(s).  I cannot claim to understand everything that was going on – and I’ve spoken to a few other people how had the good fortune to see it, and neither can they (and we don’t really want anyone to explain it: some mystery in life is good) – but it was a truly amazing and entertaining evening.  It used a wider range of theatrical ideas – many I’d not seen before – than anything I have previously seen on stage.  For the second time in a month, I found myself slack-jawed in astonishment at the creativity of others.  I’d say it was about the importance of coming together, rather than allowing ourselves to be divided, and perhaps about over-throwing unjust rulers: so, not without a certain topical resonance.

The second Gecko was a young chap (not his real name, which is rather more mundane) who sings and plays the guitar – and provides some patter in-between.  I’d wanted to see him for a while, deducing he might be to my taste given that he had toured with Harry and Chris: the UK’s foremost proponents of comedy-jazz rap, who I discovered when they visited Southampton as part of the bi-monthly 451 poetry event at NST a couple of years ago.  My extrapolation proved accurate and the young lad provided a very entertaining, funny evening at the Art House.  He is very fine musician and a consummate and witty wordsmith – putting my own efforts in both areas to shame.

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Gecko, as viewed from the jealous author’s knee.

The guitar skills are coming slowly as I attempt to re-train my fingers at this late stage in their existence, but at least I am practicing them regularly.  Any efforts at the word-forge to improve my prosody are being far less diligently applied: I have vague plans to write a roundel and a nonet.  I am also developing my own form of poem based on the ideas of Oulipo and inspired by my attempt at a univocalic.  I want to try and write a poem where you can use all the vowels, but they must be used in order, i.e. AEIOU, after you have used U you must return to A.  I think this also has links with the ideas of the musical serialists of the first half of the 20th century.  Whilst this started as a wizard wheeze to develop a certain (admittedly low level of) fame, my new verse form is fiendishly difficult to write and places some very challenging restrictions on word choice.  I think I may have to allow the letter Y to be used whenever you wish (or need).

If I’m serious about the poetry, at some point I may have to write a second poem in a form previously attempted.  However, I’m not sure that I’m ready to tackle the difficult sophomore sonnet: at this stage, I’m still relying on beginner’s luck for significant input into my verse but fear this approach my be unsustainable.  Another challenge is finding suitable subject matter to explore through verse, the tightly defined form helps overcome the challenge of the blank sheet of paper (or screen) to an extent but you still need a topic and, in my case, some way of reining in may natural loquacity.   I have also started to worry that actual poets have access to my attempts (this being a public space) and I may be causing them actual pain.  I do encounter poets on a regular basis and there is a risk that they will wish to remonstrate with me for parking my poorly formed tanks on their lawn.  I may have to transfer the editing budget to personal protection…

In around 90 minutes, I am off to a Maple Leaf Lounge Session which, like ancient Gaul, is divided into three parts (albeit two sets thereof) and it strikes me this could work rather nicely with the structure of the roundel.  (I have a feeling that young Gecko singing in the background – from his latest album Volcano – might have brought much needed inspiration to my tired brain.)  Any lovers of Algernon Charles Swinburne may wish to start bracing themselves now…

Whim away

Yesterday, I was away from Southampton and its environs for most of the day.  There were at least two interesting events in the city and a very tempting option on the Isle of Purbeck – which would also have enabled a triumphant return to the site of my fourth-form geography field trip – which I missed out on.  I can only hope that I can still keep up with the missed plot threads of my extended life story.

This choice to abandon my adopted home for the day came about after I was struck by a whim (fortunately without injury) as I was cycling home from the cinema on Saturday afternoon.  As I write this, I have come to realise (as I did not then) that the whim may have been prompted by the film I had been watching – Ladybird – with its primary theme of the coming-of-age of a teenage girl.  The parallels with the author’s own life will be clear to all, but to keep the word count up I shall mansplain them anyway.  Certainly, I will admit that the attraction to our heroine of one male character, who spends most of the time with his head in a book, did not speak to my own teenage experience: then again, it must be admitted that I did not then (nor now) look much like Timothée Chalamet.  Perhaps more relevant, was the conflict between the heroine and her mother which is threaded through the film.  Again, I don’t recall that much of that sort of conflict in my own teenage years, but it may have prompted me to consider what a terrible son I am.  As a result, I decided that I should use the stimulus of Mother’s Day to return to the bosom of my family and thus provide my mother with a gift she might actually want, viz my physical presence (there’s no accounting for taste!).

Having ascertained that my sister could handle an extra mouth at the lunch table, I then looked with mild horror at the impact of rail-replacement bus services on my planned route (or any even remotely feasible rail-based alternatives).  I could have driven, but I was already feeling rather tired and driving really takes it out of me – which I think we can blame on lack of practice – so I decided to persevere with the public transport option.  This did mean devoting almost five hours to travel a mere 100 miles, which does not speak well of the UK’s transport infrastructure (Southern, we are looking at you) but, as I noted during the journey, is still well ahead of anything achievable by my Paleolithic ancestors with their (allegedly) faddy diet.  The journey worked as advertised – including a longish layover in Brighton giving me a chance to wander its Laines to snigger at its more hipster denizens (and discover the existence of the bongo cahon – which I suspect is a marriage made in regions infernal) – and my rail-replacement bus was a very comfy coach which took me on the final leg of my epic voyage through south coast sunshine.

I was so glad that I made the journey as I had a really lovely time with my family, even though I did discover that several of them had been hiding a rather worrying Homes under the Hammer habit (you think you know people…).  I don’t see them – or any friends outside the Southampton area – as often as I should.  This failure is probably down to the sheer number of local friends and obligations to support them and my local scene more generally.  There is also, as recently diagnosed by one friend, a fear of missing out – or FOMO as I believe the young people would say.  Finally, I think there is the inconvenience of travelling any extended distance (and the scope for it to go horribly wrong) and the love of a short walk home to my own bed after any excursion.  Still, I am sneaking up to Edinburgh at Easter to see my friends up there – so I just need to try and fit in a visit to Cambridge to assuage the few surviving tatters of my conscience.

The journey did also enable me to collect my birthday present from my sister who knows my rather better than I though (or hoped!).  While wrapped, the size and weight suggested she had bought me a house brick but when I opened my gift back at home I discovered it was very “on brand”.  It was Cards Against Humanity – which I have been vaguely feeling I needed to own for a while – and describes itself as ‘A party game for horrible people’: so ideal for me!

I was offered a lift back to Polegate on my return, thus cutting out rail-replacement buses (or coaches) and speeding my return home significantly.  As a result, I was able to catch some jazz with the Sound of Blue Note at the Talking Heads by stopping off on my walk home from the station in the pouring rain (I did hope the sky might run out of water during the gig, but that hope was in vain).  Initially, I didn’t expect to stay: I was feeling very tired and had been watching a BBC4 documentary on west-coast minimalism on the train and the jazz just felt odd after it.  However, the chilled jazz tunes quickly worked their magic on me and by the second set I was totally under their spell. One should never under-estimate the reviving power of culture and its ability to convert a dozy drone back into a productive member of society!

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Rejuvenating jazz!

 

Sharing the sound

I am rushing this post to press while you, dear readers (or at least those within a reasonable commute of Southampton) have a chance to act upon it.  Well, some of it – other parts should remain valid for rather longer…

Yesterday evening I spent at the Talking Heads at an annual event called Share the Sound (is this the earliest a title has ever been explained, I wonder?).  I think this grew out of the music department at the University of Southampton but is not limited to its alumni: either as performers or audience (though I like to imagine I could pass as a mature student – in terms of physical, if not mental, age – if pressed).  It gives some sixteen local (and youthful) ensembles a showcase over two nights each March and the music is of a frankly annoyingly high quality.  Last night was the first night of this year’s extravaganza and so there is still a chance to see tonight’s line-up which holds more established acts (or at least more acts which I can confidently say I have seen before and can thus recommend).

Yesterday evening’s gig was really well attended, especially given that the weather in Southampton would have suggested to most people that it was time to gather animals in pairs and start loading them onto a boat in the hope of re-populating the earth some time in late April.  The level of attendance was not solely a function of the number of members in each ensemble: though many were quite numerous and this does help (especially if any come from large families).  The size of many of the ensembles did lead me to worry that our universities are not teaching young musicians some fairly basic economics: if there are six of you on stage, that modest gig fee has to be stretched awfully thin!  I did notice that a number of musicians appeared in multiple ensembles, which is certainly one way to improve their earning potential.  I believe that one Ben Lester wins the prize for membership of the most ensembles last night, drumming in three separate groupings.  He is some way from the record, so there is still all to play for tonight.

I was only expecting to know the headliners last night – and they had new tunes to sate the music-hungry throng – but I was royally entertained for the full four-and-a-half hours of the gig (a sample of the acts – basically the one’s captured mostly in focus – can be seen on the slideshow below). My favourite “new” band was Slate/Sound, composed of a trio of musicians I knew from other contexts, playing some truly glorious jazz funk.  I would encourage you to seek them out, but they technically don’t exist and have zero on-line or social media presence.  It’s a refreshingly bold approach to marketing: I shall be interested to see how it works out for them.  In the brief gaps between bands, the Heads was full of friends to chat to and share the latest chapters of our respective soap opera (or sitcom) lives.  Sadly, far too many of them to do proper justice to – how do other people with more than three friends cope?  This is a new problem for me and I fear that I am still adapting.

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Watching the young folk, I feel there were some lessons that I can share (to add to the sounds):

Firstly, I noted that there seems to be a fashion among young front men to wear frighteningly tight slacks.  I favour a skinny jean myself – partly for their practicality on a bicycle and partly to show off my rather shapely pins – however, by comparison to many a young singer last night I wear parachute pants.  Their jeans were so tight that while I cannot imagine how they either put them on or remove them – I assume they were sewn into them before going out and would be cut out of them at the end of the evening – little else was left to the imagination.  The risk of deep vein thrombosis must have been minimal, but an awful lot of blood must have been forced into their upper bodies.  They would surely also have suffered from much reduced mobility around the hips: bending over looked if not impossible then very ill-advised, I’d guess a friend would be needed to assist with shoes and their lacing.  On the basis of last night’s trews, I think Malthusian concerns about the world’s population reaching 10 billion by mid-century are probably over-stated: I don’t think most of the current crop of young blades will be in any position to carry on their genetic lineage. Their hopes of siring issue will have been, quite literally, crushed.

The second lesson relates to stagecraft when playing the guitar or bass.  However, slimming the colour or patterning of your top, if you stand edge-on to the audience the resting position of your instrument will make all too obvious any additional ‘timber’ you may be carrying around the midriff.  It is always going to be the better option to face your audience and, where possible, to avoid the use of a thrust stage.  I myself, plan to perform from a seated position as benefits my advanced age and to avoid any such issues arising.

(By the way, readers should not assume these two lessons cannot apply to the same person.)

I shall only be able to catch the end of tonight’s sonic sharing (another gig to attend), but I will have my spies at the full gig to harvest any further lessons.  Should this post have inspired you to join us, feel free to say ‘hi’ and/or stand me a pint!

A pain in the hand…

…is worth two in the bush.  Or so the old saw (almost) goes, however, I should point out that I am not medically (or arboreally) qualified and if you have even a single pain in your bush you may wish to seek a medical (or horticultural) opinion.

My lifestyle does place quite a lot of pressure on my hands, involving as it does hanging from rings and bars in various improbable configurations, and learning to play both the piano and guitar (not all at the same time, yet…).  So, I initially assumed that it was something I had done when I noticed an odd subcutaneous lump in the palm of my right hand a couple of weeks ago.  Well, either that or I’d been abducted by aliens (or the CIA) and they had implanted some sort of ‘device’: it was only a matter of time before this blog came to the notice of an alien (and/or foreign) intelligence.

Icing the lump had little effect, other than making my hand very cold, suggesting it may not have been soft-tissue damage caused by my unorthodox response to the mid-life crisis.  Given an impending blood donation, I decided to see my doctor to discover if it would have an adverse effect on the quality of my blood: I have my reputation for a quality product to protect!  The diagnosis was pretty swift and, as it turns out, it was not my fault: assuming we excuse me of blame for being a man in his fifties (I blame biology, my parents and time – plus my failure to die).  It would seem that I have Dupuytren’s Contracture which sounds like a Robert Ludlum novel, but is actually some sort of thickening of a tendon in my hand.  This may grow worse – in which case there are some options involving radiation, needles or knives – or stay the same or go away (but seems unlikely to hatch and lay waste humanity).  However, for now I should continue to act as normal – including hanging upside-down as much as I want – though I can massage it, if that would give me pleasure (though there was no suggestion that this would do any good).

The contracture is named after a Napoleonic surgeon – Guillaume Dupuytren– famed for two things, in addition to diagnosing an ancestor of my lumpy palm.  He treated Napoleon for his piles and published the Treatise on Artificial Anus.  What a man to be associated with!  For the avoidance of doubt, I would like to stress that the southern exit of my alimentary canal is still the factory issue.

For now the lump is only very rarely a problem, though it is mildly annoying both when mixing with a wooden spoon and vacuuming: I think I just need to make a minor adjustment to how I hold the relevant equipment.  However, earlier his week my hands – especially the right one – were complaining to their line management through the medium of pain (it is probably time I provided them with a suggestions box).  As my skill with the piano grows, I can practice for longer and am playing more complex repertoire.  Some combination of Bach’s Invention in A Minor and Scarlatti’s Keyboard Sonata Kk.1 has been making my right hand actually do some real work for the first time in years (perhaps ever).  Some of this increased workload occurs while the fingers are somewhat stretched – especially given my dreadful (or heroic, even maverick, as I like to think of it) fingering.  There is a lot of stretch available twixt thumb and index finger, but the other fingers do like to hang out as a tight-knit little gang.  I think that over time they will learn to cope better with these brief periods of separation but for now their anxiety is expressed through aching.

Exploring a little deeper into today’s theme, as part of an attempt to shake-up my regular meal options earlier this week I decided to replace the traditional fruit sponge with a fruit crumble (baby steps!).  For fruit I went with some gooseberries, harvested fresh from my parents’ garden in 2015 before being plunged into a series cryogenic chambers (OK, my parents’ freezer and then mine).  Once defrosted these formed rather a liquid substrate on which to float the usual mixture (which, via the miracle of heat and chemistry, would become sponge) and it struck me that the smaller particle size of a crumble would be easier to apply and less likely to sink.  As I am generally a manual cook, I rubbed the cold butter into the flour and sugar mix using my hands (rather than using some sort of electric mixing device or domestic servant – not even an electric domestic servant).  This is not a long process but apparently uses the musculature of my hands in a novel manner, leading to a flood of pain-based complaints to the neural equivalent of HR (the thalamus?).  I am hoping that if the crumble becomes a more common feature of my home dining – which it might given the scrumptious success of this attempt – that the rubbing-in will strengthen my hands for even the most challenging piano piece!

In the final piece of hand-related news, my left hand is finally starting to find chord shapes somewhat successfully on the neck of the guitar.  It is also able to produce a range of barre chords without requiring enormous – neck-snapping – force to be applied to the unfortunate instrument.  There is, for now, still quite a substantial delay in moving from an open chord to a barre chord, so I will still need some sort of diversion to distract the audience at these times: perhaps this is where my comedy stylings or poetry could be brought into play?  Still, I am confident that practice will deliver mastery as it has for the skills recently acquired.  For a long time nothing seemed to happen or improve and then, suddenly, I discovered that I could “just do it” as if by magic (but in fact by moderately diligent application: sometimes you can just wear the universe down!).

Based on yesterday’s guitar lesson my new skills have opened up huge new vistas for my guitar playing: frankly, almost too many.  I had to take hurried notes when I arrived back home in an attempt to remember all the possibilities.  This is the second music lesson in the past week where I have felt like Hannibal Smith, in that I have been loving it when a plan comes together.  I am also unkeen on flying and as mad as a box of frogs, so I can – in a single person – cover 75% of the A-Team.  As a consultant, I do – from a certain point of view – survive as a soldier of fortune: battling in my case against a range of Microsoft products and my own stupidity.  So, if you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find me (not too hard, just start going to gigs in the Southampton area) maybe you can hire the F/2-Team!  (GofaDM welcomes careful readers to the exciting world of hexadecimal fractions.)

A new light

As the last post revealed, Southampton has recently been covered by a blanket of snow.  The combination of rising temperatures and (a bumper crop of) falling rain have cleared it from even the best protected of natural pockets (though, for all I know, some may have been preserved in the freezers of the city’s more eccentric residents).  While it lasts, and before it is transformed to filthy black slush by the action of salt and tyres, it rather transforms the landscape. Many of the city’s imperfections and the litter and detritus of daily life are hidden from view. Larger objects, and especially buildings, that remain unburied are garnished with snow: highlighting features that the eye might fail to notice under more normal conditions.

A good layer of snow changes the soundscape of the city too.  Traffic was much lighter than usual, leading me to wonder if there was a snow-related boost in local air quality: though, oddly, it made my sneeze more than normal (my natural cussedness revealing itself once again!).  The traffic which remains leaves a very different sonic trace as do pedestrians with their footsteps crunching through the crystalline white.  Snow acts as the city’s soft furnishings, smoothing the harsh edges off sounds.  I feel someone should have developed a filter or effect to apply to electronically reproduced sound, so that music (or anything else) gives the acoustic impression of being listened to while surrounded by snow.  A project for any sound engineers with time on their hands…

A covering of snow also presents everything in a more literal new light, with objects lit from both above and below.  I suspect this is a great time for those with a double chin to capture an al fresco selfie: though as a man with barely one chin, I have been unable to test this theory myself.  Also, I’m not sure any lighting (other than total darkness) would overcome the terribly awkward appearance that overtakes my face whenever I attempt to capture a selfie.

Having now justified the title in a literal (as opposite to literate or literary) sense, I can now neatly segue into the land of metaphor (or, if you prefer, wander off topic).  The past few days have caused me to see a few other things in a new light.  Even as I sit here, I can see that my music stand is branded “Tiger”: nothing unusual there (if any animal springs to mind when seeing a music stand, it is clearly the tiger) except that I have owned this music stand for many years but only noticed its link to Frosties  about 48 hours ago.  I would make a terrible eye witness!

There was something of a dearth of gigs while the snow lay deep and thick and even (well, lay at least) at the end of last week.  This was bad news for me, I had to fall back on Netflix and staying in, but also for a lot of musicians and music venues (and I suspect other small businesses) that lost out on expected revenue and, which given the generally parlous financial state of such bodies, could be catastrophic.

As well as offering my couch some unplanned quality time with my buttocks, I used some of the time released for an especially long piano lesson.  In general, the hour-long length of my lessons is more of a notional concept than a reality but even by our standards this was a marathon session.  I’ll admit that I did arrive a few minutes late as I was distracted by a pair of long-tailed tits playing in a tree on the way over (I think the long-tailed tit is the most charming of all the local wildlife and it is always comedically pleasing seeing a brace of them).  There is something of the mountain climb (or more hike – I’m not using ropes and pitons) about learning the piano.  At each stage when I feel I am approaching mastery of a set of skills, I discover that what I have been seen laboriously ascending is not the main peak but a very minor foothill and a whole vista of far higher peaks is suddenly revealed.  This happened again on Friday and I am now trying to play a series of chords in a more legato fashion, involving exceeding cunning application of different amounts of pressure and speed of movement from adjacent fingers on the same hand.  I may also wish to start ‘feathering’ the pedal.  The acquisition of these skills is complicated by the relative poor haptic simulacrum of a grand piano which I use for practice while at home.  I am contemplating applying my gymnastic skills to the career of a cat burglar: however, rather than stealing jewels I will use my ability to slip into buildings containing a grand piano for a little practice.  Juxtaposing my hobbies, if you will.

Saturday afternoon, witnessing three virtuoso guitarists in action at the Art House, also suggested that my hard fought ability to mostly play the chord sequence G C Am G D G broadly correctly (if not necessarily quickly) has left me mere millimetres above the valley floor.  Will McNicol, Steve Picken and Clive Carroll were doing things with their fingers that I’m not convinced mine will ever be able to replicate.  Nevertheless, and in common with improving on the piano, it is going to be a lot of fun trying and if recent years have taught my anything it is that an old dog can (eventually) learn new tricks.

The final use of the shoehorn to fit an ugly sister’s foot of an idea into the glass slipper of the title will turn to my blood.  Just before the snow descended, I cycled the steep hill to the General Hospital to give of my corpuscles (and associated fluids) for the greater good (and a mint Club).  In the last year or so, NHS Blood and Transport have begun to text me a few days after each donation to say where my blood had been used.  It is always interesting to imagine a little bit of me living a new life in another town or city, but the text over the weekend was particularly exciting.  My armful has been issued to Birmingham Women’s Hospital and so a small part of me is now living as a woman!  This may have happened before, but this is the first time I can be certain that some of my cells are properly in touch with their feminine side.  In our unequal society, their earning potential and life opportunities have probably taken a bit of a hit, but they will probably feel this to be a small price to pay for escaping my company.  Some of me is experiencing the world in a new light (at least for a few weeks until it is replaced by the new host’s own cells) which is lovely reminder of how much we have in common.  It is oddly miraculous that we can share such an essential (personal, even) part of ourselves to help another – and be rewarded with biscuits from my childhood for the privilege.  It’s nice to know I have some vague utility in this world, even if it is provided by the entirely autonomous operation of my body.

A quick pre-lunch pint and its reward!