Fluff

Where does it come from?  Why is it almost, but not quite, always navy blue?

I fear this post may fall short in both the answer and originality departments (which continue to resist their long overdue, cost-saving merger), but there is a genuine puzzle at its heart.

My modestly-sized flat (or hutch, as one friend insists on describing it) has very pale beige carpets.  I would have chosen something a few shades darker, but when you’re buying second hand you have to take what you’re given.  What I have come to realise is that a large proportion of the workload on my vacuum cleaner is gathering up little pieces of generally dark blue fluff.  They appear (or breed) at an alarming rate, but where can they be coming from?

I am pretty sure that the human body (even mine) lacks the DNA to produce and shed its own fluff.  So either it is spontaneous generated – as folk once believed mice were – or it is being generated from the environment.  The primary fluff locus appears to be in my boudoir where I robe – and, even more excitingly (or maybe not) – dis-robe.  This would tend to implicate my vestments and the fact that many (though by no means all) are at the blue-black end of the colour spectrum might add some much needed corroboration.  Still, I will admit that my evidence is somewhat circumstantial and may not stand up in court.

Given the sheer quantity of fluff produced, I am forced to wonder if I am abnormally abrasive – in terms of my skin rather than personality (the latter may be true, but it seems unlikely to be causal in respect of my fluff mountain).  Some might blame my navel as a well-known repository for fluff (I mean in general, rather than my navel in particular), but this only yields an occasional harvest which I dispose of at the time (rather than casting to the floor in a fit of pique).

Given the volume, I could only blame moths if my wardrobe were playing host to Mothra (and her extended family).  However, despite the apparent high level of erosion my clothes remain pleasingly free of unintended holes.

None of these explanations explain why my non-navy cloth-based cladding seems immune from the effect and leaves no fluff-based trace on my floors.

It is all very perplexing…

Compressed music

I should make clear that I am not one of those people who bemoans the loss of vinyl, I’m more one of those astonished by its return.  To me, vinyl is like flared trousers, I am old enough to remember how dreadful it was the first time round and have no desire to relive that particular element of the past.  I willingly embraced the CD – though am less keen on the plastic cases they tend to come in.  Luckily, a fair proportion of my more recent CD acquisitions come in a much nicer cardboard alternative: it takes up less space, is much comfier in the hand and is probably better for the plant (or at least the main raw material for cardboard can be replenished more rapidly than it can for its plastic counterpart).  As a dweller in a small flat, I have also welcomed the digital download and its even more modest demands on my available physical storage space.  To the horror of musical purists, I then route my MP3 music via Bluetooth and a DAC to my hifi.  What an impoverished soundscape I must be supplying to my poor benighted ears.  I fear I can’t tell the difference: though I do revel in the absence of hiss and the immunity to scratches.  However, perhaps it is the losses occasioned by all this data compression that continues to drive my love for, and frequent attendance at, live music.

And so, as if by magical, we are delivered to the main topic of today’s thesis.  I have of late (well the last 6 months) attended a number of live performances in spaces that frankly struggled to contain the musical forces at play.  A number of these have taken place in the rather fine crop of craft ale bars that the Southampton area can boast in re-purposed commercial premises.  The Overdraft in Shirley – which as its name suggests is in an old bank – has wisely stuck to the single performer, usually wielding nothing larger than a guitar.  It is a lovely space and has an aesthetic that brings to mind how I imagine a similar venue would appear in the trendiest corner of Brooklyn.

The Butcher’s Hook, just over the Irwell in Bitterne, is somewhat smaller and sited in an old butchers – complete with much of its beautiful original tiling.  It was here that I went to the last Playlist gig.  This boasted Olivia Jaguers on a full-size concert harp, which I sat in very close proximity to.  Ambitious enough you might have thought, but the next act on was the local Gypsy jazz band the Manusa Project (very local, one third of the band lives directly above me and gave me lift home).  They include a full-sized double bass (and player) plus two guitarists – quite the squeeze with the harp and an audience.

I’m not sure what the Olaf’s Tun in Woolston used to be as its interior betrays fewer clues as to its past life.  It is a small space, but bravely invited the 6-piece folk and ceilidh band Monkey See, Monkey Do to perform (with smaller than usual toy monkey).  This was the tightest squeeze yet, with the bassist and one of the violinists having to move each time a member of the audience (or just bar patron) wished to micturate (or more).

I must admit I do love music in a tiny space: it does make the whole experience very personal and direct.  MSMD have also promised to bring some Welsh folk to their next gig as it was the only one of the home nations neglected at the Olaf’s Tun.

Gigs pushing the available space to the limit are not always in small craft ale bars.  As part of the fund-raising for Comic Relief, the Turner Sims concert hall staged an Orchestral Decathlon.  This was made up of ten well-known favourites from the orchestral canon – including five symphonies and two piano concerti – performed by the same orchestra in a single day.  As audience, we arrived a little before 2pm and escaped just before 10pm.  The day was divided into three “concerts” each with a normal 20 minute interval and a 45 minute gap between them.  The wise concert-goer bought a packed tea and other snacks: I am a wise concert-goer (in this respect, and probably very few others!).

Turner Sims seats around 400 people, I’d estimate, but doesn’t normal host anything larger than a chamber orchestra.  For the Decathlon they must have had an orchestra of around ninety which left the stage area pretty full.  For the piano concerti the stage was very full!  For Shostakovich’s second, I was sat in the middle of row B (row A being under the Steinway) and effectively listened to the piece from inside the piano which was quite an experience.  For Rachmaninov’s second, I was still in row B but a little further across – so could readily have helped out playing any high notes.  I could also see, though not entirely focus, on the music.  There were an awful lot of notes, but I did discover that I could have accurately page-turned the piece a good 75% of the time – probably more with my glasses.

My most recent musical experience in a small space was at Hundred Records in Romsey: a very fine and friendly record shop.  I was there for the launch of the latest EP by A Formal Horse, a local band I “discovered” at a recent Maple Leaf Session.  This was once again a tight squeeze, so much so that the drummer could only watch from the side-lines.  It was a real enjoyable experience, boosted I feel from the critical input from the guitarist’s very young daughter who I fear may not entirely approve of daddy’s musical direction.

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Two-thirds of A Formal Horse, in concert!

Others may prefer their music surrounded by mud and twenty thousand of their closest (and not recently washed) friends or professionally produced in a stadium with impressive (and expensive) staging and light show.  Given me the real up-close and personal performance, preferably slightly shambolic and in not quite enough space, every time.  If you can throw in a home-made raffle, forgotten until slightly too late (as was offered by A Formal Horse) then you will have a fan for life!

Vernality

Spring is sprung!  Trees are greening and on my way to Salisbury I saw lambs!  And not plastic wrapped and divided into small pieces in a supermarket freezer as I usually glimpse them: no there was actual gambolling afoot.

Even on my way to the station, there were two sources of joy for my inner child.  First, a Southern Water employee probing the ground with the largest dipstick I have ever seen: it was at least 3 feet long.  Second, I saw a sign advertising a forthcoming operatic production, but it was partly obscured by some street furniture.  As a result, I can bring the world my new LGBTQA take on a Puccini classic: Adam Butterfly.  We may need to re-locate the action from Japan, where I suspect Adam was not a common name among the indigenes in the late nineteenth century, but such re-imaginings seem to be all the rage on the stage of today.

I nominally went to Salisbury to go to the theatre to see a play about the First World War, the end of an era and an almost love story.  I can’t handle too much sunshine without a little literary bleakness to balance it out!

As I travel by train, I reached Salisbury somewhat early as I like to leave quite a serious margin between my planned arrival time and when I actually need to be at my destination.  I never dibbed (or, indeed, dobbed) as a child but I do use trains quite a lot and it pays to “be prepared”.

My early arrival allowed me to take the short stroll from the station and across the water meadows to enjoy very fine views of the city’s cathedral.  This is a long way from the worst bit of time-killing I’ve had to indulge in over the years!

Upon my return to Salisbury station, chastened from the Harrowing of the Shire and the demise of love’s young dream, I was greeted by the Earl of Mount Edgecumbe.  Not a scion of the aristocracy looking to me for advice on achieving the common touch: though for a suitable fee, I am available to consult in this and many other areas.  It was the Castle-class GWR locomotive of that name (originally, and less confusingly called Barbery Castle) in full steam.  What a glorious and romantic sight it made with only Class 158 Sprinter Express DMUs for company.  However, I couldn’t help but think that with a station full of these – especially a well-canopied one, or worse yet Birmingham New Street – air quality would quickly become something of an issue.  Perhaps they are best left for high days and holidays…

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It’s only a chuffing earl!

Hang Time

One of the many joys of my somewhat Zen existence (I can only, pain-free, produce the sound of one hand clapping) is the constant novelty which it brings.

This last Thursday, on a whim (well, I still can’t ride my bike) I went to Turner Sims to see an Austrian chap called Manu Delago.  He was described as the world’s leading Hang player: I had no idea what a Hang was, but had assumed it was probably some fiendish, ancient Oriental game (or, possibly, instrument).  In fact, it is a musical instrument but it hails from the decidedly occidental town of Bern in Switzerland.  It was only made from 2003 to 2013, so is far from ancient but has, nonetheless, been consigned to history.

The Hang looks like two woks (minus their handles) that have been glued together by their rims.  The top wok has been knocked about a bit, as it has a number of dints and depressions in its surface.  The bottom wok has a hole in the centre of its base, into which a sort of chimney was at one stage inserted  The instrument is tapped, struck and stroked to produce a wide variety of tones in a similar tonal space to a steel drum.  Apparently, it acts as a Helmholtz resonator and not just as a pair of vessels for the creation of a tasty stir-fry.

Mr Delago was joined by a couple of Austrian (I assume) chums on a wide range of percussion along with voice, violin and keyboard.  The concert moved from the hauntingly beautiful to the violently rhythmic and was accompanied by projections and much more sophisticated lighting than is usual at the Turner Sims.  It was a very enjoyable and different musical evening (I bought a CD), but mostly appeared a serious, considered affair: just the occasional hint of Manu’s more mischievous side and his love of drumming really loud.

This impression did change when it came to the encore.  I had noticed during the main concert what seemed to be a coffee mug on the stage that hadn’t been tidied away, but as it transpired this was not an example of slipshod stage management.  Oh no, the mug and its contents were a key part of the first encore.  Manu and his percussionist returned with mugs (I’d only spotted one), now revealed to contain a toothbrush and some fluid (I’m assuming water) and performed a short (funny, but still musical) piece involving brushing and tapping their teeth, “popping” their mouths using the toothbrush and unexpectedly tuneful gargling.

Racism is an insidious thing and it is now clear that I had never thought of the Austrians as being funny.  This opinion will clearly have to be revised – as will the potential fun I can have in the bathroom just before bedtime.  Get your minds out of the gutter and/or your slacks, people!  I am clearly referring to dental hygiene.  I wonder if Manu would consider making his dental piece available to parents to encourage reluctant infants to keep their gnashers in tip-top shape?

The dawning of the age of my radius

We must start with two apologies (yes, I am using the royal “we”).  Firstly, for the gloriously contrived nature of the title and secondly for banging on (yet again) about my injury.  Other stuff does happen in my life and soon (I promise) some of it will make it to the blog.

Today, I returned to the Minor Injury Unit – and this time in the afternoon.  The Unit is much busier at 15:10 than at 09:10 – at least partly because children have had time to injure themselves by mid-afternoon (or so I deduce from the contents of the waiting room).

Each time I visit the MIU, my injury receives an upgrade – which is nice, I suppose, but I would rather burn my upgrade potential on airline seating.  Talking of which, I have travelled on a lot of Bombardier Q400 Dash-8 aircraft operated by FlyBe (well into 3 figures by now) over the last eighteen months and they have all been much the same.  However, my flight last night had much comfier seats, better fold down tables and even window blinds!  On the downside, it appears to lack steps on the rear exit – but that seems a small price to pay.  It would seem that there are five of these deluxe Dash-8s in the FlyBe fleet, acquired from Republic, but those of us commuting across the Irish Sea don’t see much of them (or maybe I’ve just been unlucky?).  Forget paying extra to choose my seat, can I pay extra and choose my plane?

Anyway, back to my wrist!  Some fuzziness in my x-ray image has now been revealed as a fracture of my radius – the larger of the two bones in the forearm.  I presume the pair with much most of us are issued are referred to as a diameter?  Luckily, such fractures heal well – though the doctor did point out that my age was somewhat against me here (I didn’t have the nerve to tell him I was only 30, albeit in base 17).

I have now been issued with a set of exercises to perform each day to restore strength and mobility to my wrist and have to return to the Unit in 4 weeks: unless I am pain-free, in which case I am free to return to normality (or as closely as I can approximate that state)!  Already, the pain is much reduced and most of the exercises are a dead doddle: so I am hoping to beat the standard ten week recovery time from such a fracture.  However, I do need to acquire tennis ball (or similar) as part of my therapy – not sure the rather cubical juggling “ball” I am currently using is quite the ticket.

I have also been given a new removable cast.  This one is smaller, smells significantly less bad and is a better colour – especially as we move into Spring and the area around my wrist starts to tan (well, a chap can dream).  However, I am still riven by cast-envy: a man working in the box office at Turner Sims must have a similar injury, but his removable cast is a stylish, and in parts shiny, black.  This looks like a Borg-issue cybernetic implant and looks way cooler than either of my casts.  Is this one of the benefits of “going private”?  Or merely of assimilation into the collective?

Right hand, left hand

Sorry to disappoint fans of the Welsh musician and erstwhile housemate of Elis James (actor, anecdotalist and broadcaster), but this post will not be about him or his music: though feel free to check out his oeuvre.  As regular viewers will have guessed, this post will be about me!

Since my glorious (if brief) attempt at unpowered flight last week, I have been learning to appreciate the important role my left (and non-dominant) hand plays in my life.  Despite being a very long way from ambidextrous, old leftie plays a surprisingly large role in my day-to-day existence.

My left hand, it seems, does far more than steady things while my right hand performs those activities that require fine motor control.  It is my left-hand that has to hold the saucepan while I scrape out its contents, for example, a task which has proved rather painful given the author’s predilection for the work of M and Mme Le Creuset: cast-iron may be durable, but it isn’t light-weight.  My left-hand also seems to have a major role in dressing, particularly the use of buttons, and laundering of both textiles and the self.  As a result, I may recently have been a little more dishevelled, less recently laundered and further from my most recent shower than has been traditional.

Being unable to cycle, I have been forced to use the bus far more often than usual and share my journeys with the great unwashed (who are, I suppose, now my people).  I use the phrase “the great unwashed” deliberately, as a substantial proportion of my bus journeys start at Southampton Airport which is clearly close to the university’s sport grounds and the young folk who avail themselves of its facilities, do not extend their participation to include the baths or showers before boarding the bus.  As a result, a fug of youthful exertion pervades the top deck – to which I can now add my own, less piquant, musk.

My injury has certainly made me appreciate the problems the elderly and disabled may have with so much modern packaging: bring back the paper bag!  I have spent the last week or so praying that there won’t be a jar that needs opening, as I fear this may be beyond me.

Anyway, my pack of sometimes frozen peas and beans have done their work, and with regular application to my hand and wrist have reduced the swelling to almost nothing.  As my hand and wrist have healed, a remaining source of enduring pain in the wrist was revealed.  It had also become clear that my left wrist could bear almost no weight at all.  So, yesterday morning I toddled back to the Minor Injury Unit to get it checked out.

Having been x-rayed from four angles, the charming Simon (he really was!) revealed that I had certainly fractured my triquetrum (no, I’d never heard of it either – it sounds more like something of interest to the pursuivants of arms) and perhaps another bone or two of the unexpectedly large number that make up the human wrist (and mine).  The triquetrum fracture was unequivocal as a small piece of me, opaque to x-ray, was clearly where it wasn’t supposed to be.  I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen an x-ray of my insides, which was rather exciting and I could happily have spent much more time with both Simon and my radiographer discussing the technology and my anatomy – but I don’t think NHS budgets would really permit such an indulgence, so I reined in my enthusiasm.  I even felt it was probably too much to ask for a copy of the photos to adorn this post (or even my walls).

Following the discovery of my fracture(s), my left wrist has been imprisoned in a removable cast, night-and-day,  until at least 5 April – when the orthopaedic consultant will take a look at how (or if) I’m healing.  The removable cast seems a better bet than its plaster cousin as I can take it off to wash or to scratch an itch, but it is rather strong smelling (a feature which I hope will fade with time).  I think it is supposed to be flesh-coloured, but luckily, my liver retains some function and so it is a very poor match to the rest of my arm- it’s closer to magnolia, if anything.  I can’t help wondering if its makers have even seen living human flesh.  Still, it should work nicely for garnering sympathy and reduce the chances of me inadvertently setting back my recovery: it also makes me look slightly bionic, but new superpowers have yet to manifest.  On the downside, it has rather put paid to guitar practise and the piano is also somewhat of a challenge: though it is perhaps forcing me to improve my fingering.

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You probably can’t see it, but there is a removable cast on my wrist!

Let’s hope that trapped in its camouflaged splint, my wrist will hurry up its recuperation and allow me to resume my various, annoyingly wrist-dependent, hobbies.  Either that, or it will finally be time to master the one-handed pull-up and press-up!

He does all his own stunts, you know

This blog may have given the impression that I live surrounded by carrara marble (less expensive that I’d thought) and precious metals, bathe in Santovac 5 (not a practical or desirable bathing fluid, but reassuringly expensive) and have an extensive staff (below stairs) to cater to my every whim.  If so, you have been misled: I don’t have so much as a cleaner, let alone a stunt man.  Frankly, I’m not sure that in my quotidien existence I’d have enough use for a stunt double to make it worth hiring one on a full time basis: though this week one might have been handy.

Somewhere in the cloud, in an unfashionable corner of Facebook, there is a short video from Tuesday of the author performing a near-prefect back lever on gymnastic rings for a good two seconds.  The more tech-savvy among you may be able to track down this screen gem.  As the title of this post suggests, this is the actual author and has not been faked.  On this occasion, I was fully in control of my movements – or I was until the oxygen ran out (I cannot yet breathe in the full hold).

Later that evening, thanks to the malign efforts of a feline assailant, the author performed another acrobatic manoeuvre but this time without so much control.  As I was cycling up to the theatre, a ginger cat (its colour is not relevant, but is included to add substance to the account) decided to hurl itself under the front wheel of my bike.  If I am known for anything, it is for my lightening reflexes, and so I was able to stop the bike without hitting the animal assassin.  Despite liking to think of myself as a dangerous maverick, it would seem that I am still bound by Newton’s Laws of Motion.  So, while my bike stopped very quickly and efficiently, my own journey did not cease at quite the same time.  As a result, I sailed over my handlebars and landed in a crumpled heap on the road, somewhat entangled with my bike.  Sadly, there is no footage of this incident, but I like to imagine that my passage through the air was marked by its singular grace before my travels were brought to an abrupt end by the tarmac.

What happened next, says quite a lot about me – though does not necessarily show the author in the most favourable or logical light.  Having come to rest, I lay there for a moment or two cursing my assailant – who had vanished into the night by this stage (it failed to leave any insurance details or make any sort of apology, but I suppose that’s cats for you).  I then returned to my feet and checked for witnesses and whether I would need to attempt to “style-out” my unconventional dismount.  My isolation confirmed, my first concern was for damage to the bike.  This seemed ok and so I mounted it again and continued on my way.  This involved a degree of discomfort, but seemed to go alright until I came to park my bike at journey’s end.  At this point, I believe my body moved from embarrassment into shock and I felt quite unsteady on my feet.  Nonetheless, I made it to the foyer of the Nuffield Theatre looking only slightly like Banquo’s ghost.  At this stage, I went more fully into shock – which is an interesting experience, lots of tingling in the extremities, a reduced ability to form coherent sentences and feelings not unlike those that arise just before you faint.  Luckily, at this point I was surrounded by people who know me (and that I do not normally look like one of the undead) and had access to a chair: so I sat down.  Staff at the Nuffield manage to rustle up a glass of coca cola (which seems the modern, more rapidly conjured equivalent of hot, sweet tea) and so unusual did I feel that I actually drank it.  I soon started to feel much more normal (or at least like myself, which may not be the same thing) and it was only at this stage that I decided to ascertain the damage to my body (a rather long time after checking the state of the bike). There were cuts, grazes and contusions along with some minor bleeding on my legs and some discomfort from my hands which had presumably broken my fall.  Inspection of my cycle helmet, which was the only serious protection I’d provided to my body, indicated that it had not had been called upon to serve in the “incident”.

Most of the damage to the author was of a nature that he regularly inflicts upon himself by his inability to walk round objects, preferring to take the short cut through them, but the damage to my left hand and wrist was more severe.  As a result, I decided against cycling home and thought the bus would be a better option.  A friend decided that this was not appropriate either and, while was eventually convinced not to take me straight to casualty (without passing Go), insisted on driving me home and on regular text updates that I was still numbered among the living.  (*** Spoiler alert *** I survived)

I must say that if you are a Friend of the Nuffield Theatre you are not part of  a one-way friendship, or it certainly hasn’t been that way for me.  Being a “regular” definitely has its perks when it comes to arriving at a venue in a sub-par condition.

So, I had an unexpectedly early return home (without my bike) and decided to start icing my left hand with a freezer pack.  Yesterday morning, with my left hand/wrist still giving me gyp, I took myself to the Minor Injuries Unit at the nearby Royal South Hampshire.  On the basis of this trip, I would suggest that the NHS is now a provider of car parking with a small healthcare side business.  Signage to the various car parks was extremely clear, but that to any kind to medical facility substantially less so.  Still, having found the MIU and filling in an extensive form (not ideal with damaged hands), I was seen very quickly.  It seems unlikely that I have broken anything, I’ve just strained or sprained my wrist and I was told to continue with exactly the attempts at self-medication I was already using (on my recent performance when it comes to self-diagnosis, a career in the medical profession must be on the cards).

I have now moved on from the rigid freezer pack to the more malleable form of a bag of Waitrose Essential Peas and Beans (broad and french) to soothe my sprain (well, it was that or a pack of frozen broccoli, which I felt would be less conducive to a swift recovery).  Yes, this is dangerously middle class but I hope it is speeding my return to full function.  When required, I take painkillers – but mostly I can function without.  My left-hand is fine for typing and can play the piano and guitar a little, though fff and barre chords are currently ixnayed.  I’m right handed but make a surprising amount of use of my left (as I am now discovering), but I am slowly finding work-arounds.  Even remotely heavy lifting is currently out of the question (as are gymnastics) and buttons are surprisingly challenging: but life can broadly continue as usual while I heal.  I must admit that the lack of serious exercise is starting to get to me already, I’m trying to think of a workout that can be performed without use of my left-hand – but the options seem limited.  I may have to use a treadmill and actually run: urgh!

Pleasingly, my wrist has finally become somewhat swollen: there is little more dispiriting than being a brave little soldier when nobody knows you’re injured (another positive of this post).  I am also taking this is a sign that the process of recovery is underway…