Transience

I have reached that stage in life when the last of the famous faces from my childhood are shuffling off their mortal coils.  At some level, this does feel somewhat as though my childhood itself is dying – though, in other ways, my inner child remains strong and vital.  Perhaps surprisingly given my current incarnation, it is not the loss of the musicians of my youth that affects me but people from the television and radio.  In my quondam days, music was little more than background (so far as I can recall), the main elements of my life were books (mostly speculative fiction), radio comedy and the television – mostly watching shows that will not have stood the test of time (and which I shall be careful not to re-watch to preserve the pleasures of my youth unsullied by the greater discernment of my middle age).

It was a few weeks ago that we lost Peter Firman, the last of the founders of Smallfilms, whose animated treasures were such a highlight of my early years.  This drove me to YouTube to seek out the first episode of Noggin the Nog and the Tales of the Northlands in which he starred.  This pre-dated even me – I must have seen rather later repeats – but even after more than 40 years it was so familiar and I had never forgotten Graculus.  I’m sure everyone has fond feelings for the television of their early years but I feel there was something particularly special and charming about the work of Smallfilms that later generations were denied.

Of course, with YouTube in front of me and my brain soused in nostalgia, I couldn’t leave it at just watching Noggin.  Eventually, I found myself watching one of the weirdest cartoons of my youth: Ludwig.  Adult me was unsurprised to discover that it was the brainchild of a Czech animator but I did find it much more luridly coloured than I remembered (probably because we only had a black and white television).  For those too young to recall this odd treat, Ludwig was some sort of admixture of an alien, Inspector Gadget, Loki and a classical music-loving egg who arrives unannounced in a forest and disrupts the life of its inhabitants.

It was only last week that we lost Jacqueline Pearce who played Servalan and Blake’s 7 and made such an impression on my pre-teen years.  Looking back, she was an extraordinarily strong female character for late 70s science fiction and rocked a rather unconventional look for the BBC of that era.  I can’t help wondering if she bears some (perhaps quite a lot of) responsibility for whatever feminist credentials I actually possess as she was an early example of a powerful woman (Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation, no less) with her own style – and it would be a very brave (and probably short-lived) character who would criticise her for it.

The deaths of these famous folk, many of whom are forever young in my memories, has helped to highlight the temporal distance from my childhood.  The feeling of having lived too long (in some ways only – no-one needs to stage an intervention or keep me away from sharp objects) has also been occurring more frequently of late.  I often find myself in front of the bathroom mirror of a morning thinking, “What, again?!”.  I think this is mostly down to the repetitions of life, and especially the need to constantly service the meat puppet which I have still failed to transcend.  I mean you feed it or shave it or wash it (or whatever) for the nth time (for large n) knowing full well that you’ll just have to do it again in a few hours/days.  By 52, there are certain activities that one has done too often to the same fleshy envelope and I find myself wanting some novelty.  Sadly, the technology does not exist for a full body transplant and I think I’m too old – and lack the inclination (and the wardrobe) – to transition to another gender.  I suppose I could get a tattoo or a piercing – but I am as inconstant as the wind and don’t really trust myself to want to keep the same image/text/hole into the medium (let alone the longer) term: I suppose I could have it somewhere I can’t see but that might rather defeat the purpose.

As well as the “What, again?!” moments during my brief, daily, dalliance with a reflecting surface there are also the “Not you again!” moments.  When I was young, I was more than happy with my own company – I guess my novelty value had yet to wear off – and while I had friends at school never really interacted with them outside the school grounds.  In many ways, this broad approach to life continued to my mid twenties and the introduction of alcohol into my life and, more significantly, my bloodstream.  I would then go to the pub with friends, have people over for dinner and occasionally cultural activities would be introduced.  This was broadly how my life continued into my forties, enjoying having a social life with friends but otherwise living a solitary life with cultural activities generally enjoyed alone.  If I spent a whole weekend with other people, I would have fun but be glad to return to my own space and company: though for a brief period would miss the stimulation other people provided.

At some stage, while living in Cambridge, I started going much more regularly to events (mostly classical music concerts and comedy gigs) at a small number of venues – something which started by accident when I went to see a friend of my parents whose orchestra was playing in town.  I enjoyed myself and the West Road concert hall became a regular haunt.  This meant that I tended to encounter the same people on multiple occasions and so got to know them.  However, it is since being in Southampton that this process has really taken off.  I can now have dozens of friends I see regularly around the city and can rarely leave the house without bumping into someone I know.  It is a lovely thing to be able to go out and expect (without planning anything) to meet friends: though it does rather eat into my reading time.

I think that my friends are becoming a much more important part of my life.  It is not entirely clear why, perhaps I am finally maturing emotionally?  It is not impossible as, relatively recently, after reading still falling by Sara Hirsch, I started to understand why people might want to enter into a relationship with another human: better late than never, eh?  I think I may have said this before, but think carefully before you read poetry: you never know how it might change you!

However, my preferred theory is that I am now bored of myself – I have lived with, what is conventionally thought of as, the same person for more than 52 years and the honeymoon period is definitely over.  I now find myself dreading having to spend a whole day – or worse evening – with only myself for company.  It’s fine if I have work or something else constructive (or which I deem constructive – which is not the same thing at all!) to do, but if I am free of responsibilities the prospect of being stuck with myself is not as appealling as once it was (more appalling).  Could this be an explanation for GofaDM?  Is it all a terrible attempt to escape my own company by inflicting it on the unsuspecting internet?  Does the fact that in recent months I have had loads of human contact, including more hugs on some days than the preceding four decades had delivered in total (I assume my childhood was hug-rich, but sadly cannot remember whether this is the case at all), mean that I had less need for this blog and explain my recent neglect?

Having said that I fill myself with a feeling of ennui, current me is way more interesting and entertaining company than past mes.  I really wouldn’t want to be stuck in a room with teenage or early twenties me – in fact, in many ways I’m not convinced that we are the same person at all.  Just because I share some faded and distorted versions of his memories, his genotype and a decayed version of his phenotype does not mean we are the same person.  This does lead to the thought that “future me” will disavow “current me”: though will be stuck with a lot of written proof of his existence.  I suppose everything is transient (though no-one has yet seen a proton or electron fall apart – so far as I know) and we should try and enjoy it, and the self doing the enjoying, while it lasts – and not worry overly much about the judgments that will be made by our future selves (they will always lack a certain perspective).

Advertisements

Sliding Doors

This may not be the post that any of us were expecting to mark my return to the blog after a 3 month absence.  I’ve had lots of ideas for posts, and many experiences that were probably more worthy of recording, but it was this afternoon that has finally made me return to the keyboard.  Some of this missing summer may later be immortalised in GofaDM or my future hagiographers may view summer 2018 in a similar light to Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance in 1926.  Then again, this post may be viewed as an odd postscript to my blogging career before darkness once more descends on this record of my life – only time will tell…

I have been feeling a trifle delicate today after having enjoyed myself to an immoderate degree yesterday – of which, perhaps, more later. So, following a rather extensive brunch catching up with a friend, I acquired some necessary victuals: aduki beans, rogan josh curry paste and a handful of bananas.  Should I choose to combine these in a single dish, I feel confident of making culinary history though perhaps not anything that would pass as edible.  After this pre-planned excursion, I would not have blamed myself (though others may) had I chosen to camp out under my duvet with some of the trashier charms of Netflix for company for the rest of the day.

As it transpires, I am a better man than this and so – pausing only to re-inflate my front tyre – I set off on my bicycle to the Highfield campus of the University of Southampton.  This weekend, that institution has been holding open days for the enlightenment of potential (or possibly actual) future students – or should I call them customers in this age where the market is in despotic command?  I could theoretically pass myself off as a possible mature student (in physical age at least) but I was noticeably older than most of either the proto-students or their parents and or guardians.  (By-the-by, who would want to be a mere ‘parent’ when the much more exciting title of ‘guardian’ is on offer?).  Luckily, my presence on campus went entirely unchallenged.

My reason for going to the campus was on the off-chance of seeing some musical friends performing as part of the weekend’s rich calendar of events.  With my not infrequent gift for timing, I arrived just in time to hear the dying notes of the final musical performance of the weekend.  However, from this apparent failure was salvaged a crumb of hope in terms of the suggestion that the friend of a friend – a student of acoustics – was manning an exhibit relating to 3D sound in a car and was bored and might welcome visitors.  As I make it a principle of life to leave no straw unclutched, I wandered round the Hartley Library to a black Toyota estate and three young acoustics tyros.  What a splendid decision this turned out to be!

On entering the car, I found myself in an environment not unlike a sauna and facing a small box – roughly the size of a shoe box – covering the passenger’s sunshade, with six small speakers of various shapes facing me.  Not the most pre-possessing of objects but it was a thing of marvels (and has probably led to some useful weight-loss).  From these six speakers – all visibly in front of me – emerged the most incredible, immersive surround sound experience.  It knocked the highest spec, 5.1 hifi home cinema sound system into a cocked-hat – and without any trailing wires!  Sound was clearly coming from behind me – so much so that it was impossible not to look round.  In a piece of nostaglia, one of the pieces of music chosen was the theme from the Money Programme of my youth.  I also heard tell of a truly amazing cinema at Bower and Wilkins with probably the greatest sound system in the world which needs a medium-sized room full of amplifiers just to make it work.  Now, how can a blag myself a visit…?

Way back in 1990, I had the opportunity to do a PhD in acoustics at MIRA (the Motor Industry Research Association) and I found myself wondering about the path my life might have taken had I taken up that option rather than joining the electricity industry.  Perhaps somewhere in the multi-verse, another me is a giant in the field of acoustics – though, in those days, the technology I was viewing probably wasn’t even a distant dream and I would probably have spend more time trying to reduce rattle and hum in 90s hatchbacks.  Less exciting perhaps but still a laudable aim which may have reduced later U2-based suffering…

However, this was only one of the technical, acoustic marvels the afternoon held.  The lads at the car pointed me to an even more amazing demonstration in a nearby building.  This used twenty nine speakers in a unit that would sit at the top of a car’s windscreen and would allow the driver and passenger to listen to entirely different music (or radio or podcasts) without disturbing each other – another cause of vehicular arguments could end within my lifetime!  It isn’t quite perfect, there was a little bit of bleed-through – but it was astoundingly close.  Moving a mere 18 inches delivered a total different sonic feed: almost like magic.  The system also offered an even more immersive 3D soundscape than the six speaker system in the Toyota.  The future of acoustics and sound reproduction looks to be incredibly exciting and in very good hands!

As interesting as the sound system was its manufacture using a mixture of 3D printing and CNC (Computer Numerical Control) milling was as exciting.  The latter has moved on massively since the later 1980s when one of my first jobs was writing an algorithm to schedule jobs on a Makino MC65 milling machine.  The student demonstrating his amazing speaker system had a little cubic bauble which had been milled from a block of aluminium that very day using a 5-axis milling machine.  It had been milled out in an almost fractal geometric design and it was rather beautiful and sparkled in the light.  I did, mostly in jest, consider attempting to over-power the poor lad and leg it with his jewel-like piece of engineering – but managed to restrain my more larcenous tendencies.

It was a truly eye-opening afternoon seeing what a mere handful of young people in one department were achieving.  It was also fascinating hearing them talk about the co-operation with other universities and organisations and the really open-minded problem-solving between departments within Southampton University which was making their work possible.  It really brought home to me the amazing work our universities are capable of and how interconnected modern scientific, technological and engineering development has to be.  It was one of the best examples of a university engaging with the public (viz me) I’ve ever had the good fortune to be a part of.  Perhaps unfortunately, the weekend wasn’t entirely intended to work in this way – but it was a first class demonstration of how a university can enthuse the public with how they are spending our money.  The work these young people were engaged in – on, I suspect, fairly minimal salaries – will be the foundation of the technological marvels that we will take for granted in a few years time.  We will also probably credit the Apple’s of tomorrow for the miracles, rather than the young people of today and the current public investment in their work.

The University of Southampton (along with many others) has not had entirely good press of late – but it seems important to remember that along with their issues they do important and fascinating work.  I also feel that there are a lot more opportunities for deeper engagement with the public than they are currently using – though, I will admit that this afternoon could have been tailor-made to charm me, given my slightly strange past, and might not have had universal appeal…