When worlds collide

In common with most people (or so I assume), my life is divided into separate spheres of activity.  Whilst I am common to all of these spheres – crouching spider-like at the centre of the multi-dimensional Venn diagram of my life – the other people who populate its many spheres have little reason (or opportunity) to meet or interact with each other. My work colleagues are on the other side of the Irish Sea and so would never (knowingly) meet my family and they, in turn, live at some remove from Southampton and so are unlikely to meet my local friends.  Even within Southampton, there is relatively little contact between my exercise, musical and theatrical friends.  This is not as a result of some sort of strict cordon sanitaire I enforce between these groups to enable me to live a range of totally inconsistent lives – as frankly, I’m not willing to put that much effort into maintaining a collection of separate vizards behind which I hide my true nature (no, I put all my skill at concealment into sustaining a single mask that none should ever discover the horrors that lie beneath) – but just the nature of engaging with somewhat separate communities of people.  There is some leakage of information between these communities via my tireless work attempting to make social media a fun place to be, but this has been limited.

On the Saturday just gone (or has it…?  Perhaps I should leave a philosophical discussion of block time for another occasion: I used to think of it is comforting, but now feel it is more horrifying) two of my many local worlds came together at a glorious celebration of the city’s extraordinary musical strength.  For the first time, the new NST City theatre staged a music gig – and hosted it in style!  This meant that friends from the city’s music, spoken word, gallery and theatre scenes were all present in the same building at the same time: the risk of them sharing stories about the author was worryingly high.  I could attempt some damage control, but mostly had to rely on the consistency of the image of myself I share with the world.  I think I got away with it… though I have come realise that the presence of my name on the donor wall is noticed rather more often than I’d anticipated.

I had not originally planned to attend the gig.  The headliners, Band of Skulls, while locally sourced were unknown to me and I had concerns about the theatre parking its metaphorical tank on the lawns of the existing local music venues: many of which are in a financially delicate situation (in common with most arts venues).  I do still have some worries on this account but hope NST staging gigs (which will always be somewhat infrequent events) can help to bring new audiences to other music venues in the city while also bringing new audiences to the theatre.  However, the main driver of my ticket purchase was the joint discovery that my friend’s band was opening for the Band of Skulls – who are much less frightening that their name might suggest – and people I know via Playlist, the Tuba Libres and the local music scene more generally were all involved in the orchestra who would be accompanying the headliners.  Who could I refuse?  (That question will be explored in a later post about earlier events: real life has left me with quite a backlog of content for GofaDM, you have been warned!).  As it transpired, I also knew the people in charge of the sound, recording and filming – and quite a sizeable chunk of the audience.

The gig was amazing: I feel it will be seen as a seminal event in the city’s musical history.  NST City makes for a very comfy space for a music gig and the sound and acoustic were really good.  The folks at the theatre also did a really good job of hosting their first gig.

It was a source of real joy to me that the first musicians to take to the stage in this new venue were all friends.  Kitty O’Neal and her band offered the space a glorious baptism of sound with familiar favourites and new tunes from their forthcoming album.  It feels like a long wait until its release in June, but I suspect the time will flash by…

After a short break, Band of Skulls and their orchestral accompaniment in the form of the Space Between Collective – all drawn from local musical talent – took to the stage: behind them historic film of Southampton and its liners played.  Unlike many of the audience, I didn’t know the band but really enjoyed their music which built from a relatively stripped-back start to a seriously rocking finish.  The orchestral accompaniment – unique to this one gig – gave their music a sense of scale and grandeur quite different from that granted by mere amplification.  As well as their own music, the set also included settings of locally relevant hymns and folk tunes.  All of this gave the gig I wonderfully site-specific feel – it literally couldn’t have taken place anywhere else.  By the time the bass player returned to the stage for the encore, wrapped in an enormous white sousaphone playing the opening bars of When the Saints Come Marching In, the whole audience was on its feet and joining in.  I was reminded of the opening celebration of Studio 144 (which includes NST City) when one felt that a significant chunk of the city was coming together in celebration of the city and what a great place it can be.  Chatting and eavesdropping in the bar after the concert, I certainly had the impression that everyone had a really good time and I over-heard several suggestions that this should be an annual event: a sentiment with which I would heartily agree!

I’d arrived at the gig at 19:30 just as it started to rain and the sky was first riven by lightning.  I started to think about leaving at 23:00, at which stage it was still hammering down with rain and the city was illuminated by almost continuous lightning.  According to the lad manning the front desk it had been doing this the whole time, which I could believe given that Above Bar Street was less street and more surging river by this stage.  This did cause the romantic in me to imagine we audience members as the circle of the light defending something precious as the massed forces of the dark assailed our last redoubt: or that might be because I’m currently re-reading the Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper.    Luckily, the assault finally weakened around 23:30 and I could walk home in the relative dry, leading to me believe the Old Ones were victorious on this occasion!

NST City has its next gig on 11 May: I can’t imagine this can quite reach the emotional intensity of its first but I have high hopes for it and shall be there.  Hopefully, I will not need any of the four things of power crafted for the light – though I do rather fancy a trip to Cadair Idris and could fetch the “tomb of every hope” while I’m there…

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Abandoning my post

Probably the worst (work-related) crime any front line mail worker can commit, but as the Royal Mail has never offered me employment I do not anticipate being required to deliver my own P45 any time soon.  I do, however, feel a certain degree of guilt at leaving Southampton for two whole evenings to pursue my own pleasure in distant Edinburgh.  There were very few gigs on over the latter half of the Easter weekend, but I fear those few that were staged may have felt my absence all the more keenly.

Still, a chap does have to visit the more distant members of his friendship circle from time-to-time and it is always a joy to be in Edinburgh during its annual Science Festival.  So many opportunities to learn new and unexpected facts about our universe: fresh knowledge which will decay as the half-life of my engrammatic storage takes its inevitable toll.

Due to an absence of sensibly priced student accommodation, I was forced to stay in the rather swankier surrounds of Edinburgh Sixteen (though for the same basic price).  This was in Newington, an area previously unknown to me, which has excellent bus links into the city proper and some rather fine buildings and side streets.  My room was far nicer than I am used to (or deserve), though the pod-based coffee/maker-cum-kettle did prove almost entirely beyond my abilities to use.  I was not helped by the instruction sheet which was entirely diagrammatic and far more cryptic than the most complex symbolic reasoning test I have ever seen or taken.  I did manage to make two somewhat tepid cups of tea but with the Bosch Tassimo I seem to have encountered an alien technology beyond my ken.  My digs also offered a quite excellent breakfast: the best I have had in a hotel (or equivalent) for many years and at a very sensible price (cheaper than the inferior offerings of Travelodge or Premier Inn).  Following my return, I rather miss fresh pancakes and slices of warmed baguette before I face the horrors of the day: sadly, the resident chef is unwilling to put in the effort and so I shall stick with the porridge.

Arriving on Easter Sunday to glorious sunshine, I was a little worried as to the availability of locations to dine in the evening.  The influence of John Knox might still have been strong – and, indeed, many of my usual haunts were closed.  One of the few places open was the Café de la Poste which was also conveniently close to Summerhall where my Science Festival gigs were taking place (allowing a quickish dinner to be grabbed between lectures).  If more places had been open, I would never have thought to visit the Café (or realise it was there, hiding next to a Sainsbury’s Local) – I’d probably have grabbed a snack in the Summerhall Cafe – but how I lucky I was that my options were much reduced by the bank holiday.  The place feels like a perfect Parisien Bistro – but without the hassle of going to Paris – and furnished me with my best meal of 2018 to-date and a stunning glass of red (OK, there were two): in fact, my best meal fort a long time and I am lucky enough to eat well (both in and out) on a regular basis.  I even had a chance to show off a little (OK most) of my remaining skill with la langue Française: even better, it actually worked!  I plan to return to Auld Reekie in July for the Jazz and Blues Festival and the Café de la Poste will definitely be on my itinerary.  I wonder if I could sneak Bad Cat up in my hand luggage to complete the perfect left-bank vibe?

The Science Festival provided some excellent talks, but there were two stand-out sessions.  The first was entitled the Seduction of Curves and very much lived up to its title.  It was one of those talks that changes the way you look at things forever – I am now constantly on the look-out for the various forms of catastrophe: the cusp, fold, swallowtail and butterfly.  Give me a wine glass and I you will find me holding it up the light to look for an astroid.  The speaker – Alan MacRobie – was very entertaining, if probably slightly mad and (I suspect) somewhat of trial for his long-suffering wife.  I now find myself in need of an acetate sheet with a moiré pattern, though will try to resist laying it onto people to better understand their curves.  His anecdote about asking a bunch of his Cambridge engineering students about (a) whether their oil rig would float and (b) which way up it would do so will stick with me for a very long time.  As it turns out (a) is pretty easy to answer but (b) is rather harder – even for something as simple as a chair leg.  Sometimes very basic physical processes are surprisingly hard to predict or properly model: and it is always a joy when an apparently simple question leads to unexpected complexity.  So much fun was the talk, that afterwards I bought his book – despite it being a hardback and costing significantly more than my usual book-buying budget.  I am saving it for later and may have to read it at home given its racy mix of mathematics and nudity!

I was lucky enough – due to the unexpected swiftness of Lothian Buses – to be the first visitor to enter the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art (One) on Easter Monday morning and had a ball trying to apply my half-remembered knowledge of catastrophes to its various three dimensional artworks.  Did I truly find a hyperbolic umbilic?  It is always lovely to be the first into an art gallery, for a long time I had all the works more-or-less to myself.  I went to see works by Ed Ruscha and an exhibition of Modern Scottish Art – both of which were very good and thanks to Ed, I shall never look at car parks in quite the same way again: his photographs from the air elevated some (while empty) to artworks, with hints of the Nazca lines or even Bridget Riley.  The gallery does have a couple of stunning Rileys, which I could – given the chance and a comfy chair – stare at for hours.  However, the stand-out for me was a several series of photographs by the South African artist Robin Rhode which depicted a performance artist interacting with a series of wall paintings.  These were incredible having elements of dance and circus as well as abstract painting and even stop-frame animation.  The creativity and imagination of some people leaves me slack-jawed in amazement.

My second stand-out science talk was all about brewing, given by beer writer Pete Brown: which does suggest a possible future career for the author.  This was a really enjoyable talk about the contribution from each of the barley, yeast, hops and water to the flavour of one’s pint.  The talk was illustrated with three very fine canned beers from Brewdog: I’m usually slightly ambivalent about Brewdog, I like some of their ethos but do find their ABV rather high for a man of my age with a desire to enjoy several pints and remain awake/conscious/in control of his limbs.  However, Jet Black Heart and King Pin were both delicious and sensible session ales; Native Son was also lovely but a tad strong for everyday consumption: probably safest to consume it when already in bed as a night cap.  I’ll just share a single fact from the talk which is the importance of the Burton snatch to the brewing of the finest India Pale Ales: I shall leave the reader the joy of discovering why that might be the case (you may wish to engage Safe Search before satisfying your curiosity).

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Despite the Easter Monday weather veering randomly between heavy rain and blizzard for much of the day (often within a single minute), I had a splendid time in Edinburgh.  Regular readers will be pleased to know that within a minimum number of hours of my flight heating Southampton (or Eastleigh) tarmac (in a controlled fashion) I had hied myself to a local gig: for (and by) local people.  Nevertheless, I should perhaps leave my Southampton security blanket behind a little more often: I’m sure the city will cope fine without me!