Channelling Gogol: Weak Too

The release of this post into the wild indicates that the author has survived a second week of being locked-down. So far as I can tell, my tenuous grasp on sanity has not suffered to any significant degree.  Or perhaps I am locked in some sort of fugue state, hallucinating the writing of this post.  If so, I trust that my jacket is securely fastened at the back and that I am located in a room with nice soft, sound-proof walls.

In fact, for the seven days that my cold took to run through its main-sequence course, I only left the flat once for the very short walk to the dustbin: otherwise, at no stage did my feet touch the ground (for the avoidance of doubt, they did touch the floor of my flat as I have yet to master hovering – or, some would say, hoovering).   Prior to the last fortnight, I would have assumed that being trapped in the flat for a whole week with only myself (and briefly a wasp) for company would have had a seriously deleterious effect on my mental health: not so much pushing me over the edge, as firing me over it with the aid of some serious rocketry.  It would seem that my hastily cobbled-together coping mechanisms have been an unexpected triumph (or at least a disciplined strategic retreat).

I will admit that alcohol has played its role, with some very fine local beers helping to allow the evenings so pass more (subjectively) swiftly.  It also helps that for most evenings I am attending, albeit without leaving the flat, multiple gigs which provides a degree of continuity with my previous life.  I think I am also becoming better at attending virtually, nattering with friends in the Comments field (where permitted) definitely boosts the experience of being “there” together.  The music gigs I attended at the end of last week had a proper live feel of friends coming together to have a good time, despite being separated in space.

I’ve also enjoyed to a couple of storytelling gigs via Zoom which worked really well as the host can see the audience reaction and again I really feel part of a shared experience.

Since we can’t actually spend time “with” friends and family any more – though, there is some hope that one day the current period of physical isolation will end – I find we are all making more of an effort to come together in both dodgy sound and glorious technicolor [sic] through a variety of video conferencing platforms.  None of these are ideal, but they are better than both nothing and anything that has gone before and I fear that holodeck technology still lies some way in the future.  Plus, it must be noted, that holodecks do not have the best safety record: I fear that the powers of the Health and Safety Executive have become rather seriously eroded by the 24th Century.

As previously noted, a video conference can serve as a virtual pub and forum for jigsaw critique: subject, number of pieces and ‘playa’ style were all up for debate.  On Monday, some friends and I participated in our own virtual pub quiz which was a very silly and drunken success: Tuesday was something of a write-off as a result as lockdown seems to intensify the strength and impact of a hangover (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).  This is due to become a regular feature of Monday’s (meaning the quiz, but I strongly suspect that the foolish- and drunken-ness may be entangled at the quantum level) and in a couple of weeks I shall be Quizmaster.  I need to start channelling my inner Waley-Cohen and/or McGaughey to devise some suitably fiendish questions.  I should possibly also prepare some suggestive opening or closing remarks involving Michael Portillo, or an alternative, slightly improbable, celebrity of my own choosing.  Following my quiz-based excess, I did ‘enjoy’ my first dry day of the lockdown which I seem to have survived without major issues.  It seems I can, if absolutely necessary, function without the psychological crutch of alcohol: though I would not recommend it!

Communal music playing is still proving a challenge, though the Steam Town acoustic session has moved online with a degree of success.  I have even been encouraged (virtually bullied) to massacre a piece on the piano in each of the last two weeks.  While my pool playing does improve after a couple of pints, I don’t think we can say the same for my ability at the piano: I suspect knowing there is an audience may also adversely impact my stress levels which are already somewhat elevated by the current circumstances and my chronic insomnia.  In a fit of insanity, I have just agreed to take part in a recital on Monday with two work colleagues using a Hangouts Meet: I believe one of them is rather a good pianist, so my Easter weekend may be (certainly should be) spent in a feverish whirl of practice!

Virtually, I have been able to join in on the guitar when someone else is playing as long as my microphone is muted: this avoids the issues of latency which otherwise bedevil the dispersed band of musicians.  It also removes the embarrassment that arises when I “guess” the wrong chord from the usual folk/pop choices of I, IV or V: you’d think I’d have a one-in-three chance of being right (higher if I stick with I) but this theory does not seem to hold in the real world.  Musician friends still have hope that the right app and a direct Ethernet connection might make a proper session or gig a reality but I have my doubts and success would expose my secret incompetence.

To add to my hand-balancing in the lounge and occasional excursions into the terrifying wasteland of “the outside” for victuals, I have added skipping into my fitness regime.  I did start this before the cold but managed to break my old skipping rope in the first five minutes.  A new skipping rope has now been delivered and I have started skipping in the little garden area behind the flat.  I am not one of nature’s natural skippers and my style is decidedly pedestrian (or, to be more accurate, clumsy).  Despite my lack of style, it does raise the heart-rate while allowing me to remain suitably distant from others: if they get too close, they receive a skipping rope in the mazzard!  Yesterday, I managed 300 skips and so today my calves are taking their revenge for this maltreatment.  I think I need to re-learn how to skip as I don’t recall these issues at primary school, then again I was somewhat lighter back then…

The foolishness of friends on-line has also been regular source of filips to the old mental health: as has creating my own foolishness to share.  I would particular recommend the rather odd, daily Bring Out Your Dead updates from Here in Spirit (which also provides some very fine fiddle tunes and some liquor) for a few minutes of diversion in your day: “May the blessings of Bob, and all in this house, be upon you“.  You may need to watch them at least somewhat in sequence to follow the narrative arc…

Some days do prove more difficult than others – last night in particular the long-term lack of physical contact with others (which had just hit three weeks) became something of a challenge: I had the inexplicable desire to hug a particular friend who I have never hugged and it would definitely be weird were we ever to hug as we are neither of us natural huggers, though do both regularly find ourselves the object of the verb to hug (in its transitive guise).  However, the writing of this post seems to have boosted morale (well, it’s boosted mine, I can offer no warranty – express or implied – for its impact on yours) and there is fun stuff to look forward to later in the day.  I still find myself mildly frustrated by my lack of productivity – I am yet to become an acrobat, professional musician or even the possessor of a clean and tidy home – but I have the impression that everyone (bar a few outliers, or nutjobs as I shall call then) is in a broadly similar ocean-going vessel, so I shall try and cut myself some slack.  I should note that I am ‘the boss of me’ both literally and metaphorically, but have yet to seriously consider either furloughing myself or letting myself go: well, I have somewhat let myself go, I haven’t worn trousers for more than a fortnight but I do still dress for the day and shave regularly.  We will see whether I can still make this boast in my next post…

 

Channelling Gogol: Week the First

So, I have now been confined to my tiny home for just over a week with only rare excursions to acquire essentials: food and alcohol.  Not necessarily in that order and I am certainly not wasting the alcohol on my hands: I am cleansing from within.

So far as I can tell, and as there are no independent witnesses this diagnosis has larger error-bars than usual, I have yet to go clinically insane as a result of my reduced physical horizons (some would say that I should have been diagnosed and sectioned before this whole incident began).  My screen time has increased rather dramatically, as this is now my only way to attend gigs.  I believe last night, I managed to spend time at five gigs by local (or once local) artists and had also managed to slot in a talk and another gig at lunchtime.  So, in some ways, business as usual or even slightly ramped up as I no longer have to physically move between gigs.  It would seem that as long as I can stream, there seems to be no shortage of entertainment available to me and little pressure to resume my subscription to Netflix to obtain my fix.

I do miss actual physical contact with people, but video calling is not too dreadful a substitute and one that even a few years ago wouldn’t have been a possibility.  Taking advantage of this, I spent Wednesday night in a virtual pub (Stream Town, given that we couldn’t go to Steam Town) where matters grew suitably silly.  While the physical distance makes some forms of lunacy more difficult, others suddenly become possible as all participants are drinking in the privacy of their own home.  At one stage on Wednesday, for reasons I feel unable to explain at this remove, the face of one attendee was sketched onto the foot (the base) of another attendee by an artistic third.  Clearly the artist and the foot were physically co-located: though I feel in a world where telesurgery is possible, this need not be a hard constraint.  Could now be the time to start a Raspberry Pi/Arduino project so that our modern day sole artist can ply her trade without breaching the lockdown?  If nothing else, this foolishness demonstrated the heeling [sic] power of art: laughter burst forth across quite a span of south Hampshire.

With all of this extreme social distancing and frequent hand-washing (the flesh of my hands now has more of the feel of a thorny devil than of a middle-aged man), I found myself thinking on Wednesday morning that I should at least be spared my usual Spring cold.  Truly, we are the playthings of the gods for, before the sun had set, I found myself struck down with all the symptoms of a Spring cold.  There is approximately a 20% chance that I do have a, if not the, coronavirus: though I suppose I could have the more newsworthy variant, albeit in a mild and rather atypical form.  Just to be on the safe side, I have imprisoned myself in my tower and have not even let my hair down to allow a prince to ascend and ‘rescue’ me.  To be fair, given the current length of my hair, it will be several weeks before it will be sufficient to allow any minor royalty to use it to gain access to my garret: though with a haircut a distant dream, this may yet happen.

Luckily, the larder is fairly well stocked, though, annoyingly, the acquisition of the common cold seems to have significantly restored my appetite (I guess I’m now eating for two) and so food stocks are being depleted more rapidly than had been the case.  By the middle of next week,  I may have to send someone healthy out for provisions, just in case I’m at risk of spreading something more serious than some minor sniffles.

Being stuck at home, I fear I am degenerating in some ways.  I am now into my third day without socks and yesterday (a work day) I had a pint of Red Cat Mosaic Pale ale with my lunch.  At his rate, I could be giving Eliogabalus a run for his money before we are allowed to touch other people again…

With my renewed appetite, it is just as well that I can carry out a pretty complete hand-balancing work-out in the 6′ x 7′ space I can clear in my living room: sadly, I have yet to find any suitable point from which to hang my rings (oh-er!).  On Thursday morning, I even managed to have a full (and exhausting) PT session in the lounge via Zoom: I am now both working and working-out from home!  So, I feel there is some hope that, when this is all over, I will not have to be winched out through my massive front windows having grown too large to use the more modestly sized door.  In re-arranging the lounge to make retaining some degree of physical fitness feasible, I have accidentally stumbled upon a much better lighting and hifi solution for the room: something which has only taken almost seven years!

To spend some time away from a screen, I have been making good progress on my current, fascinating, read The Secret World by Christopher Andrew.  This is a huge tome and offers an alternative lens through which to view some major historical events.  It is subtitled ‘A History of Intelligence’ but Mr A could equally have gone with ‘A History of Stupidity’.  I can thoroughly recommend it and at some 760 pages of small print (I have to use my reading glasses) could prove a very handy companion in the days ahead.

In this locked-down world, the weekends are the hardest to manage.  During the week, the day is, if not filled, then at least regularly interrupted by work which provides a certain backbone of structure to the day.  At the weekend, I have to make my own fun which, in a life already far too self-directed, is not necessarily a boon.  Still, I shall muddle through.  This weekend, I shall be attempting to learn the skills required of a Dungeon Master with the hope that I can bring these skills to bear at the next Stream Town: I suppose the virtuality of the pub setting will allow us to more accurately capture the soft-porn-and-large-lizards vibe of Game of Thrones without risk of ejection or arrest, should we so choose…

Busy doing nothing…

Having overcome my earlier ennui, brought on by the lack of live culture and increased social distance, I feel I should be wildly productive by this stage.  This is especially true given all the nominally free time of which I now find myself possessed.  I regret to report that this is not case: if anything, without the pressure of the deadlines set by gig start times I have become less productive.  It would seem that my sense of urgency has socially-isolated itself from the rest of me…

Nevertheless, I have made some progress to moving my life onto a pandemic-footing.  You will be pleased to hear that I am now up-to-date with my filing and have finally managed to throw out some junk that I’ve been holding onto for at least 6.5 years.

I have also developed a compact hand-balancing routine (or indeed, small suite thereof) which I can perform in my tiny garret without excessive danger of injury either to myself or my furnishings: I just have to shuffle the dining “room” into the kitchen.  OK, I did have some help in the development process.  OK, yes, Freeflow Therapy did all the development, I just (mostly) managed not to forget the instructions (can’t a chap get away with some minor stretching of the truth?  I studied topology and the truth and any stretched versions are basically the same thing).  Having put the routine into practice, I seem to have discovered that working out at home is much more exhausting that at the gym: I have yet to decide if this is purely psychosomatic.  To be honest, as I am now training at altitude (the first floor) I was expecting to see my personal bests come tumbling but there is little evidence to support this theory as yet…  Still, the reduced space is, allegedly, allowing me to work on my finesse – so you may see me emerge from the current unpleasantness as a more graceful creature, but I wouldn’t raise your hopes too far.

Using the magic of video conferencing, late yesterday afternoon I did manage to constitute a virtual pub with a friend.  We each acquired a beer take-out from a local hostelry and then did exactly what we would normally do in a pub – drink beer and attempt to come up with stupid ideas – despite being separated by half-a-dozen miles.  There is a degree of latency, which in a less virtual pub session doesn’t usually kick in until quite a few pints have voyaged to their inevitable doom, but it seems an entirely practical reaction to the need to both be social distant and remain fully connected.   Ideas and foolishness always flow more readily when two or more are gathered together (in anyone’s name) and this continues to work in the virtual realm.  I find myself wondering if I can get a cloth backdrop printed (or embroidery or tapestry-work would be fine) which recreates the look of the Doghouse at the Guide Dog to minimise the disruptive feel of increased time at home?

My feeling is that the latency that exists on video conferencing means that musical sessions are not really feasible: although one of last night’s activities did give me some hope.  Prior to this last week, I was only attempting to attend as many gigs in Southampton and its immediate areas as I could.  Musicians (and others) seem to have responded to the enforced downtime and, in many cases, catastrophic loss of income, by staging gigs online.  As a result, I am slowly working out how to “attend” live broadcasts on Facebook and Instagram (and I suspect other platforms yet to be explored: I’ve been hearing more about Zoom lately than at any time since 1982 when Fat Larry’s Band were riding high in the charts.  However, without the need to be physically present there are even more gigs to “attend” than ever.  Luckily, you can attend them for a period of time after broadcast: still, not sure precisely how long so am trying to “catch-up” within 24 hours just-in-case.  Last night’s “gig” was the film made by Manu Delago of his album Parasol Peak where he and six other musicians ascended a mountain in the Alps, playing (and recording) tracks at various altitudes carrying their instruments on their backs in between.  Some of the tracks involved clinging onto perilous rock ledges while using a cello or piano accordion (to name but two of the instruments I would be unwilling to climb a mountain while carrying).  At times, they clearly couldn’t hear each other so he composed pieces for which this wouldn’t an issue: there was also some system of hand signals to maintain broad synchronisation.  I have also definitely seen experimental music where each player chooses when to move onto the next section.  I’m wondering if these approaches could allow a style of beat-free music to be played together via video conference?

However, the primary skills I have been acquiring this week will serve me best in the fields of larceny and espionage.  I am becoming adept at carrying out a growing range of tasks without leaving a single fingerprint: avoiding DNA residue is still a work-in-progress.  When away from the house, without recourse to gloves (a cheat’s way out and likely to rouse suspicion), I hardly need my hands to make contact with any foreign body: even if they ask nicely.  I am also becoming good at reaching a supermarket being observed by the fewest people and at all times to maximise the distance between myself and those people.  It’s only to be expected that these skills would come naturally to me, as any readers of Baroness Orczy will know, as the Scarlet Pimpernel was aided by a Ffoulkes (one Sir Andrew): so these skills clearly run in the family!

A less obviously transferable skill I’m gaining is greater knowledge of where my hands are and, in particular, if they are en route to my face.  Prior to this week, they appeared to operate on the principle that any minute left without checking my face was still there could lead to disaster: without constant monitoring, my face would probably wander off on its own (or perhaps just fall off).  I think we have now established that my face is fairly solidly bolted on and such checks can be reduced to a minimum.

So while I may not have achieved that much of use in the last few days, I do seem to have avoided going stark staring bonkers: so I’m viewing my adaptation to the change of circumstances as a triumph!

 

 

 

N-n-n-n-nineteen

Were I the agent to Paul Hardcastle, I’d be strongly suggesting he dust off his 1985 hit and quickly re-write the lyrics to make them applicable to Covid-19.  While I was, conveniently, 19 in 1985 I have yet to be approached by Mr H to act as his representation but I do look likely to have quite a lot of time on my hands in the weeks ahead, so could prepare updated words on a no-sale no-fee basis.

With all this extra time, I rather fear that you dear, reader, are going to be finding a lot of new content appearing on GofaDM in the coming weeks.  Since less-and-less will be happening in my life (or so I assume), I suspect this additional text will largely serve to document the departure of the last remaining shreds of my sanity and my descent into madness (but who doesn’t love a bit of ska?).

Already, the pandemic has highlighted that the whole elaborate scaffold of measures I have constructed over the last decade or so to maintain some semblance of viable mental health does have a single point of failure.  A mere fragment of DNA in a lipid shell seems to be enough to finish off all live culture (though, at time of writing, yoghurt is still available), spending time being stupid with friends in pubs (and, occasionally other places) and going to the gym to hang upside-down.  This clearly indicates inadequate stress-testing of the scaffold and scapegoats are being urgently sought.

I am in the fortunate position that I have mostly worked from home for the past many years.  I have had to travel regularly across the Irish Sea for the last few years, but meetings are now all handled remotely (just as well given the loss of FlyBe and the absence of convenient flights).  My income should also be unaffected by the pandemic which contrasts sharply with most of my friends who work in the arts, peripatetic teaching and the hospitality industry.  It is not just the people that are in trouble but the venues, bars and restaurants where they perform and/or work (possibly an artificial distinction) which are under extreme financial pressure – and it is these places that form the basis of so many of the communities of which I am lucky enough to be a tiny part.

In theory, with fewer options to go out in the evening, I should be catching up on some much needed sleep: if not the full three months medically-induced coma I have been asking for.  However, I have been sleeping very badly which I would like to attribute to anxiety about the people and institutions I love but I would have to admit that my attempts to keep favourite pubs going single-handed may be a contributory factor.  I think this lack of sleep and more general heightened anxiety (mostly not about me, who I’ve largely had enough of by now) are probably behind the inanition that has plagued me all week: I seem to have been incapable of knuckling down and doing much of anything.  More strangely, on both of the last two mornings I have caught myself weeping for no reason around breakfast time (nothing to do with the quality of my porridge-making!).

So, I have decided that I need to do something about it and move on: I would describe unexplained morning tears as a wake-up call if it did not display a frankly Trumpian degree of insensitivity to my continuing insomnia.  I’ll admit writing some nonsense on the internet would not be everyone’s idea of taking a pro-active approach to improving their mental health but we all have to find our own way…

With this post out of  the way, I have some much deferred life admin to be getting on with.  Then, I am fully planning to be able to start a career as both concert pianist and blues guitarist by the time this virus has run its course: I just need to summon up the gumption to start practising and organise some remote lessons (either that or raid YouTube for likely characters sharing their skills).  It could even, finally, be time to write that long promised (and never delivered) sestina.

Added to all this, I have quite the backlog of unwatched television and films from recent months and a decent number of books just crying out to be read (they sound truly piteous).  I really don’t have time to faff around worrying and doing nothing.  I even acquired a Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set a week ago, so I should probably be building my own dungeon and/or dragon by now: not sure if I really understand the game as yet…

Plus, I have plans to try and replicate the “holding a stupid conversation with friends in the pub” concept using teleconferencing technology and take-out beer.  So, I’m afraid I haven’t got time to sit around here typing at you there’s just too much to do…

Renewed for another season

It has become a tradition of GofaDM that I write a post to commemorate another successful transit around our local, large-scale fusion reactor.  Admittedly, the planet and its orbital dynamics did most of the work – my own warping of local spacetime has failed to grow in the manner oft associated with middle age – but I did fail to expire despite the provision of some strong incentives by our political leaders.

I am, once again, staring 30 in the face: always a difficult birthday, especially when viewed through the prism of base 18.  Thanks to some overindulgence on the hand-balancing floor (and wall) yesterday, I currently feel all of my years and a whole load more besides.  I don’t think my mattress is being as supportive of my desire for greater thoracic mobility as it could be.  I have braved the damp to try some physical ‘hair of the dog’ which seems to be working rather better than its ethanol-based, and more traditional, counterpart.

To celebrate this arbitrary milestone on the long trudge to the grave, I shall be (broadly) acting exactly as normal (normal for me, you understand: I am not promising any effort to simulate normality as viewed from any wider context).  I have fitted in a little work and some hand balancing this morning, have an excursion to see my accountant this afternoon (don’t let anyone tell you that life is boring once you pass fifty) and will be having supper in Belgium (and Blues) before taking in two pieces of new theatre and a gig this evening.  I will admit that alcohol may pass my lips at some point before midnight…

I also have a little regression testing of (N)YTMG to enjoy this afternoon as we (meaning my more talented partner) make the bold move from ReactJS to the more progressive VueJS. This has introduced me to the glorious concept of the transpiler: Transpilers, Coders in Disguise!  Now there’s a TV series that could get the kids back into coding…

The title, in addition to providing a handy metaphor, has some broader relevance.  I find that when it comes to TV shows, once I’ve started I can usually make it through a couple of series (maybe a little further) before I feel it is time to call it a day.  Most film series I can’t help feeling should stop after one: to the extent that I rarely go to see the sequel of anything I enjoyed for fear that it will damage my feelings for its parent.

There are days (many of them) when I feel that my life (or its author) has not so much ‘jumped the shark’ as pole-vaulted over a whole frenzied shiver of the creatures accompanied by a full orchestra and firework spectacular.  I sometimes wonder if our ancestors had the right idea (or had it forced upon them) and lived fast, or at least with a modest degree of urgency, and clocked-off relatively early for a well- (or  ill-)deserved rest.  I did find myself in conversation yesterday state that I was intending to give up breathing for Lent.  Tt takes up so much time and uses a lot of concentration when I’m trying to perform more complex physical manoeuvres which could be better applied elsewhere: could I just take a pill at mealtimes instead?  Still, despite the species apparent pell-mell race towards regions infernal using only a surprisingly polluting handcart, I find that I am still having an awful lot of fun with this whole living nonsense – so perhaps I’ll stick around for another season or two, though perhaps I should look at hiring new writers…

Besides, until the sale of the flat in Cambridge is complete, I’m not sure I have the budget to hire a suitably skilled assassin to take me out (Paddy McGuinness will not be invited).  I suppose there is a chance that my mortal coil will be shuffled off by dear old COVID-19, which would be irritating as I continue to view it as a jumped-up head cold with delusions of grandeur.  If I’m going to be taken down by a virus I want something more impressive and with a much better name: if I’m not at least bleeding from the eyes, I’m not going…

Anyway, the two pints of West Coast IPA in the fridge won’t drink themselves (or they better not!), so I should stop speculating on the timing and method of my exit strategy and have a bite (and sup) of lunch.

Finally, let me declare this extended birthday weekend officially open!  Feel free to cut any ribbons you have to hand…

Cook’s tour

As a child my interest in cooking was rather limited.  I was aware that it took place in order for food to appear on the table in front of me at regular intervals.  I also knew that for certain processes, hanging around the kitchen could enable pre-meal scraps to be scrounged from the process: the licking of spoons and the like.  I was always especially fond of the delicious ‘scum’ that formed on the top of the jam: oddly, no-one has ever seen fit to market this as a product and I haven’t made jam in nearly 30 years…

It was when I left home to go to university that I came to realise that food did not just arrive by magic.  I also discovered that the pre-made food available from the supermarkets of the mid 1980s was terrible.  As a result, I had to learn to cook in a hurry – and using very basic equipment.  Initially, I had little more than a mini-oven/grill but could still create moderately interesting food.  I remember somehow making omelette Arnold Bennett: though I seem to recall using tinned tuna rather than smoked haddock (I don’t think haddock had learned to smoke in those far off days: they are probably vaping now…).

In my second year at university, I had access to a single ring and a slow cooker.  This significantly expanded the scope of my culinary creations.  I can clearly remember making orange and lemon flavoured sponge cakes in the slow cooker: they had a slightly different texture than a more traditionally baked cake, but were moist and very tasty.  From my third year, I had access to a full kitchen and I have retained that access ever since.

I will admit that I am a lazy cook, I usually want to eat NOW and don’t like getting my hands dirty if at all possible.  This means I am generally reluctant to make dishes that have very long lists of ingredients or long preparation times, especially those that need to rest, soak or chill for extended periods.  There are also some processes that can be used in cooking with which I would feel less than confident, especially those that require fine motor control given that my hands and general mobility are somewhat agricultural in nature.  I also have very out-of-date (i.e. mid-80s student) views about the cost of ingredients which surface in unexpected places, e.g. I would usually think twice about the bootless extravagance of any recipe needing more than two eggs and view tinned cherry pie-filling as a luxury product.  However, I will spend ridiculous amounts of money on ingredients that did not form part of my student diet as they are unaffected by my internal auditor: I am nothing if not maddeningly (to me at least) inconsistent.

From my university days, I have generally cooked at least one meal per day from basic ingredients – and, more recently, often two such meals.  Pretty early in my adult life, I discovered the joy of cooking for others.  For a start, it somehow gives me licence to attempt more exotic, complicated or just plain expensive recipes than I would feel were suitable for satisfying my own quotidian hunger.  Guests also approach the food I’ve wrought afresh and without the long backstory that accompanied planning the menu, buying the ingredients and then preparing and cooking them: I can then share in their reaction.

In recent years, my cooking for others has become more infrequent: partly, because I am usually out every evening doing something cultural.  It had fallen to one major Fish Supper every other year on New Year’s Eve: as has been documented before in GofaDM, I am the Fish and actual fish may, or may not, make an appearance within the meal (knife-related accidents can cause actual Fish to appear in the meal, but I seek to avoid this).  My time on Lundy (see The Lundiary for more details) along with my recent sharing of a range of Frankenfoods with friends (and their largely positive reactions thereto) reminded me of how much I missed cooking for others.  So, in late November, I resolved up my game and the frequency with which I cook for friends.

From Christmas to mid January, evening cultural events can be rather thin on the ground and so I decided I could squeeze in a Fish Supper at the end of December.  I seem to recall that this had 7 or 8 courses: which is not unusual, though I don’t recall precisely when the Fish Supper was subject to course-inflation from its initial format of starter, main and choice of two puddings.  For one of these courses, I made fresh pasta (broadly tagliatelle) which I did live at the dining table: largely for reasons of practicality, as it is the best (or only) location where I can mount my pasta machine.  I had made fresh pasta once before, about 18 months previously, and I’ll admit the live process did not go entirely smoothly.  In the fullness of time, beautiful fresh tagliatelle did emerge from the machine but prior to this, the cook was suffused by a degree of panic – which I believe improved the floor show for the audience.

Having tidied up the debris from this meal, mostly a matter of loading and emptying the dishwasher, I found myself enjoying the relatively spacious feel of the flat.  Prior to the arrival of guests, I’d had a decent tidy-up and the results of my efforts continued to pay off into the early days of 2020.  Liking this feeling and having few other excuses – beyond basic self-interest and the dregs of my self-respect – to keep the place tidy, I resolved to have guests over for a meal once per month in 2020.  Given that I don’t want to interfere with my hectic cultural calendar, it was time for the Fish Supper to make way for the Frankenlunch!  I decided that a Frankenlunch would tend to be a weekend event (as neither myself nor my putative guests are independently wealthy and are stil beholden to “the man” during the week), commencing around 13:30 with the aim to finish by around 17:00.  The intention was for a light lunch format with a more modest number of smaller courses than has tended to characterise the Fish Supper.  The hope is guests may be able to perambulate their way home without too obvious a waddle

Frankenlunch 2020/1 was staged on the 17th and broadly followed the planned format: though I found myself unable to resist making five courses.  It was partially inspired by my desire to “use up” a magnum of champagne given to my by a (presumably) grateful client some years ago and which was taking up a lot of storage space.  So, the menu was designed around courses that the internet suggest go well with champagne: as it transpired, this did not restrict my creative scope to any significant degree.

I hosted four friends for this inaugural event, which was more people around my dining table than ever previously achieved and did require the acquisition of some new crockery in John Lewis’ sale:  years of exposure to my clumsiness had meant that most of my crockery was only available in sets of between one and four items, rather than their original families of six.  I assume, were I to live long enough, evolutionary pressure would lead to larger litter sizes from my flat ware…

Inspired by this year’s NYE menu in Lewes, we started with individual cheese soufflés.  I had carried out a practice run on these, partly process-wise but mostly to calibrate my oven for temperature and ramekins for size: recipes do seem to be based on the Platonic ideal of a ramekin but never give its dimensions and real-world ramekins are very varied in their volume, diameter and form. As it transpired, the process is straightforward and rather satisfying, my oven is slightly cooler than it claims and my ramekins appear to be close to the Platonic ideal.

As I think will now become a standard for all 2020’s Frankenlunches, I then prepared a ‘live’ pasta course with walnut pesto, mushroom and chilli.  Experiments during the week had pinned down the key driver to the successful conversion of dough to pasts via a machine: make sure the dough isn’t too thick or it braids.  I’ve also worked out how much pasta to prepare per person for a ‘starter’: around 50% of the lowest value discovered through internet research.

For the main, I had planned to cook scallops but one of our number was a better vegetarian than I (not hard, I’ll admit), so I simultaneously prepared a vegetarian alternative.  This used King Oyster mushrooms in lieu of the scallops which are not a bad substitute in appearance and have a decent texture and absorb flavours in a not dissimilar way (and the name, at least, maintains a seafood vibe).  Due to chronic indecision, I did not decide how I was going to cook the scallops (both real and simulated) until they were in the pan cooking.  I used elements of several recipes and my own slightly drunken ideas: the champagne was history by this stage and I can confirm that the client was more grateful than I’d appreciated (or deserved).  I kept it fairly simple with a ‘sauce’ formed from garlic, chilli, butter, lemon and a little white wine, which worked rather better than its rather ad-hoc creation deserved, served with a rocket and watercress salad.

For dessert, we started with a memory of Lundy and an apple and forest fruits crumble (just once, I’d love to visit this fruitful forest with its eccentric seasons!).  This was followed by a dark chocolate nougat semi-freddo: though I will admit that I did not make the nougat.  However, I do have a sugar thermometer and I rather fancied giving this a go but it does seem to need an electric mixer or more than the standard issue of hands.  John Lewis does have a Kitchen Aid mixer heavily reduced at the moment, but do I have the room?

The first Frankenlunch appears to have been a great success: I had fun and the guests were all convincing in their expressions of approbation (and none were professional actors).  I rather like the lunch format, it somehow seems more relaxed and to carry less cultural baggage than an evening meal and its associations with the dreaded dinner party of sitcom and stage.  As the meal neared its end, without anyone bursting(!), I did a quick and dirty calculation of the cost of the food.  I reckon that in terms of ingredients, I probably spent a little under £40 in total: so £8 a head for a five course lunch which seems infeasibly good value.  There would be some cost for electricity in the cooking and chilling and some costs in consumables (baking parchment and the like) but I think these would be mere pennies.  There was some labour involved – mostly chopping and beating – but only a couple of hours of prep and some more time cooking live.  The costs compare very favourably to the £9.50 I paid for, an admittedly very nice and filling, pizza last night when I arrived home from the excellent Personal History of David Copperfield.

One of my friends, and guests, does seem keen on me monetising my limited culinary skills: I can follow basic instructions (mostly) and even go off-piste to a degree (usually when I have either forgotten to acquire an ingredient or have something already in the larder which needs using up).  My divergence from any given recipe has usually proved successful, or at the very least interesting and/or educational.  His original plan was for me to sell slices of Frankenmas cake to young people at the gates of their place of schooling which I can’t help feeling could bring me into conflict with the law and some parents: a middle-aged white man trying to ply minors with rather alcoholic fruit cake would probably be viewed amiss.  I think the latest plan is to have paying guests who take their chances with the menu and my ability to deliver it.  They will also be exposed to my sense of humour and rather informal approach to meals, which may not suit all comers.  I believe my friend sees himself as my agent in this new role, so I feel he has an incentive to keep me safe from unwanted legal entanglements…

I have already started thinking about February’s Frankenlunch and am considering making the project more challenging by not repeating a dish during 2020.  This seems like a great idea now, but future-me may be cursing current-me by the autumn (or indeed, well before!)…

The Lundiary: Lundy-parture

It is my sad duty to report that today’s will be the final instalment of the Lundiary.  I think it will be important to dwell less on the lack of future episodes of my adventures on Lundy and more on the fun I had while I was there and have subsequently shared with you.  Nevertheless, you may wish to read these final words with a loved one or trained psychiatric professional: just in case you are over-taken by grief…

Lundy-parture

In which our hero leaves the island and is cruelly forced to return to his real life…

I rose before dawn to watch the sun come up over the Bristol Channel and make the most of my last hours in this alternate reality.  As I come to leave the island, I can’t help noticing how little of the entertainment I brought with me I have consumed: I haven’t even finished one book!  Instead, the island and my companions would seem to have provided all the entertainment I needed: albeit, not always wittingly..

During the night, N had prepared a limerick to be added to the house’s Log book: once again with a nod towards both the weekend’s theme and my more prophetic writings in this diary:

To Lundy came seven, all told,

Of whom one would return to the fold

What fell to the rest

None dared to attest

Lest the blood of the listener run cold…

 

I like to think we have provided a useful corrective to the slightly saccharine sweetness and one-upmanship of many of the previous entries in the Log…

I broke fast and performed some final packing.  I felt it was important to organise a group photo in our “garden” using the deckchairs that came with the house (alibis don’t make themselves!).  The sundial acted as a tripod for my phone, using its timer and a mad dash by the photographer (me) – as all selfies were taken in days of old. No doubt future historians will analyse this photo to identify which of the group were still alive at this stage and which are but bodies that have been posed to give the semblence of life…

Finding that I was on the fourth flight out, I had a couple of final, precious hours to enjoy the warm sunshine bathing the island.  I took the opportunity to visit the church (entry to which did not cause my spontaneous combustion) and to wander down to the slightly unimpressive castle (not one of Henry III’s finer offerings, perhaps he was too busy bickering with his barons) with its views of the southern tip of the island and across the blue waters separating us from the north Devon coast.

Then it was time for the short stroll up to the heli-field and the flight back to reality.  The waters of the Bristol Channel were crystal clear as I flew back to the cows of Hartland Point, who seemed singularly unimpressed by my return.

The long drive back was broken in Chittlehampton (a Swiss Littlehampton?) for a pub lunch, in North Devon’s CAMRA pub of the year.  To reach this pub from Hartland, one has to drive through Umberleigh – which I felt I could remember, from the Flanders and Swann song Slow Train, as having fallen to the axe of Dr Beeching.  A little research revealed that, Umberleigh-verbly, the village still has a working station with regular trains to Barnstable and Exmouth.  (No, I’m not sorry: I think that pun may be my finest ever work!).

I arrived home in time to enjoy a little supper before an hour of antagonist training to return my body to its fighting, hand-balancing best.  I then adjourned to South Hampshire’s CAMRA pub of the year – The Guide Dog – with its range of well-kept hoppy ales to ease myself back into my real life.

Before tucking myself into my own bed, I found myself wondering if any of these events had really happened – or was it all just an amazing, implausible dream?  Somehow, when my days have dwindled to a precious few, I must ensure that this diary is returned to the island as the definitive record of these events…

 

To A Louse

This marks the second occasion that GofaDM has used this one poem by Robert Burns: and, this second outing is even referencing the same (and final) verse.  This post was inspired by the usual collision of recent events and some unifying juxtaposition: in this case, the line “To see oursels as ithers see us!“.

I am possessed of an age, level of privilege and laziness that means I don’t really adapt my persona very much to different audiences.  I am a tad less frivolous at work – though probably tone it down less than people might imagine (or fondly hope) – and I will adapt my content (f not the presentation) to somewhat suit those who have the misfortune to encounter me in the wild (again, this adaptation is much more limited than most would consider desirable).  However, having somehow arrived at a semi-viable public face, I really haven’t made the necessary investment to generate an alternative.

On the whole, I don’t spend very much time considering the impression I make in the minds of others.  I generally try to be polite (that would be my upbringing) and would not like to be considered thoughtless: though recognise that I will often fail in this latter wish given the all-too-limited scope of my thinking.  As I’ve noted before in this blog, I seem to be more memorable than I consider entirely explicable: my relative generous nasal inheritance and height can only explain so much and I otherwise consider myself to be entirely unexceptional.  Admittedly, as I have to extrapolate other people (animals, aliens etc) from the contents of my own head, I am doomed to be the least interesting character in my life: though I can still spring a few surprises.

While, I believe, we are all supposed to view ourselves as the hero of our own narrative, I tend to view myself as, at best, a half decent NPC still waiting for the main protagonist(s) to arrive.  I am, perhaps, living my life as some sort of Vladimir or Estragon doomed to forever wait for a companion who is maddeningly late and may, conceivably, not arrive until I myself am late…

Several incidents in recent weeks have led me to believe that the “me” that exists in the minds of others can vary markedly from the idiot that I have been sharing my life with for nearly 54 years.  They appear to believe in the existence of a far more virtuous and emotionally useful human being sharing my body than I have ever had any reason to believe might exist.  Pace Terry Pratchett, I generally assume I have all the empathy of a ‘well aimed half-brick‘ though have come to realise that being physically present and either listening, or providing some form of distraction, can offer a degree of modest utility in the right circumstances.

I fear that most (if not all) of my soi-disant virtue consists in me indulging my general propensity to seek divertissement and any more positive outcome is merely an unintended byproduct…

Cultural events and gigs are generally very successful in replacing the ululating nonsense circulating around the inside of my skull with something more pleasant.  Indeed, the last couple of weeks, with its rather short commons in this area, have on a couple of occasions forced me to spend an evening in: alone!  I really don’t understand how people manage to do this on a regular basis: I would very rapidly need to be sectioned.  (It is worth noting at this stage that I would be a terrible flatmate: I have lived alone for far too long!)  (N)YTMG – at least in its initial very basic form – was a natural outgrowth of my regular gig going.  It now acts as a very handy tool for me in planning my life (to the extent that this occurs) and I hope encourages and/or helps others to attend more gigs, thus increasing the likelihood of future gigs and so delaying the day when, for lack of any alternative entertainment, I find myself running (probably walking briskly or cycling, if I’m being honest with myself) amok with an 8.25″ cook’s knife.

Other humans are also a source of fascination and their skulls tend to be filled with rather different nonsense than my own.  For a relatively small investment of polite interest, many are willing to share at least some of this content with a third party, viz me.  Over time, this leads to some of them becoming friends which seems to increase their willingness to share their nonsense and, even better, join me in the creation of new nonsense.  My fond hope when starting this blog, nearly a decade ago, was that it would become a way to generate new foolishness through interaction with other people.  That hasn’t really happened, but going into the real world and as a result meeting and interacting with other people in the flesh has proven far more successful: who’d have guessed?  (Probably most people, certainly those with any knowledge of human evolutionary biology or anthropology.)

I find myself trying to maintain functional acquaintance with a volume of people which now safely exceeds Dunbar’s Number.  This is enormous fun, though quite the challenge for my middle-aged brain.  Luckily, you almost never need to refer to anyone by their name – and never in their presence – and so the fact that it may not be readily accessible to me is far less of an issue than might be imagined.  All of these people – and more besides who I don’t yet know but who seem to know me (or who I have unforgivably forgotten) – have some impression of ‘me’ which I imagine has at least some connection to the ‘me’ that I project, with some vague intentionality, into the world but is mostly their own invention.  All these impressions will be different and none are likely to be terribly representative of the ‘real me’: even assuming that such a thing can be considered to exist.  Given the odd (to me, inexplicable) positivity with which people generally seem to respond to my presence, I am forced to assume that their versions of ‘me’ are a significant upgrade to my own.

Were I the sort of man to make resolutions, and were I the even more insane type who would choose to do so in the depths of winter, I might plan to be more like the much better ‘me’ that other people see (or confabulate).  Sadly (or happily) I’m neither of these people.  However, inspired by having now listened to 70% of the available episodes of the quite excellent How Do You Cope with Elis and John, I have arrived at the rather nebulous thought that I ought to take better (by which I mean some) care of my mental health.  Given my progress with other major projects, I think we can all expect to see some real fruits arising from this thought at some point in my mid-70s: at around roughly the same time that my own personal Godot forcibly enters my life via the medium of a high velocity bullet to my grey matter…

 

 

The Lundiary: L’un deux Trois

With mere seconds to spare, our hero remembers that today is Sunday and the world is owed its next fix of the Lundiary.  So, without further ado, here goes…

L’un deux Trois

In which our hero shows off in front of a bunch of strangers, a roaring fire is finally achieved and a formal dinner is enjoyed…

I wake to once again find everyone in full possession of their mortal coils.  I am anticipating a blood bath tonight…

[At this point, shrew damage to the manuscript is severe and only the following cryptic phrase can be made out: Ed]… coffee dipstick…

After breakfast, and a final larder re-stock from the shop (cornering their last remaining bottles of Lundy Single Hop Pale Ale), A, H and I set off on an organised walk led by the traumatised warden from Lunday evening’s talk.  This helped to fill in some more of the island’s fascinating and turbulent (even before I arrived) history. We were assailed by ponies (having abandoned their hospital grazing), finally got to see the very limited remains of one of the downed He 111s (the last 75+ years have not been kind, as my father will attest) and I had my first good look at the west coast of the island (sadly no sign of any IPA: maybe it comes from the ale-equivalent of aquifers deep beneath the ground?).

It was whilst walking along the greensward covered clifftops of the west coast, perhaps inspired by the climbing skills of the local goats, that conversation with the warden turned to my life in hand-balancing.  For some reason, I then decided to demonstrate both a QDR and a Grasscutter to the party – almost all of whom were complete strangers. My performance was somewhat compromised by the uneven terrain and my overly restrictive clothing (we can all be grateful I did not decide to disrobe to a more practical level but remained in “hiking casual”) but I suspect it was the first time that Lundy has seen such an outdoor display.  I was forced to recognise that I am a terrible show-off given even the slightest pretext. So far as I know, the only photographic evidence of this particular foolishness is held in the cameras and clouds of the aforementioned strangers: though either A or H may have captured the scene in the furtherance of some future blackmail scheme (though frankly, the expedition probably holds more fertile grounds than me balancing on one hand).

On the walk back to the pub for lunch, I took the opportunity to score my third lighthouse: a hattrick!  The Old Lighthouse is no longer operational: it was built at the highest point on the island – which is good – but in a location frequently hidden by fog – not ideal for a lighthouse and so was replaced by the lower, but less fog-prone, North and South Lights.  This meant that I could ascend the rather steep spiral stairs to enjoy the views from the lantern – and the island looked glorious drenched in November sunshine. Surrounded by all that glass, it was positively toasty up there, and so with my stomach crying out for lunch I did not tarry but hurried on back to the Marisco Tavern for a much needed repast.

It is perhaps at this point that I should mention the urinals at the Marisco Tavern.  They are not part of the tavern itself but lie adjacent to an outbuilding. They are roofless (as I am in pursuit of a pun) though are mostly surrounded by a chest-high wall (depending on the height of your chest and which side of the wall you are standing: it is effectively rather lower for the voyeur than it is for the active player) and, during the daylight, afford glorious views to the east as a chap divests himself of surplus fluid (and also views, glorious for a certain audience, to the west if you are standing to the east).  In many ways, quite the finest experience of its kind I’ve had, though, should it be raining and blowing a hoolie, the micturator will be exposed to the full fury of the weather – which I would imagine can teach a degree of bladder control in the Lundian drinker… I’m afraid that while the ladies’ equivalent is also outside, it is fully contained in the outbuilding which the urinals flank.

Returning home, and with fresh – if sub-optimal – kindling purchased from the shop, A once again set about his stove-based attempts at arson.  After much endeavour, and using our remaining large chunk of purloined wood, our larceny and his endeavours were rewarded with a proper blaze. So much had been sacrificed for this exothermic reaction but, in that moment, it all seemed worthwhile!

The afternoon was also a chance for me to actually attempt to play some of the various, small musical devices I had brought with me to the island.  The bones provided rather too much of a challenge and the fetish eggs rather too easy – and thus lacking in satisfaction. Against this background, I turned to the woodwind in the hope that it would represent the baby bear’s porridge of the musical scenario.  With H cracking the rawhide whip of sarcasm at my faltering efforts and A providing a consistent rhythmic base, I managed to produce a half-decent stab at the folk tune Four Up (penned by our old friend Anon, transcribed by D) on the descant recorder.  Clearly, my music-making has been lacking this stricter approach to teaching: though I’m not sure I’m ready to book music lessons with a dominatrix just yet…

Before dinner, the company came together to consider what we should write in the Millcombe House Visitors Book (or Log, as it was rather nautically named).  To maintain the theme of the weekend, I hurriedly composed a limerick on the cheery topic of mass murder (reproduced below) and we added to this a (N)YTMG sticker: you always have to be thinking about the brand!

Seven friends once came to Lundy

Only one of them went home on Monday

The lack of axes or saw

Made disposal a chore

Dismembered; might they be found one day?

For our formal dinner, aided by my willing commis chefs, I prepared a mushroom and leek risotto followed by a luxurious bread-and-butter pudding with a marmalade twist.  The latter was a bit of a worry as (a) I was using a half-remembered recipe serving two which I had lost more than a decade earlier and (b) H had revealed her anathema for the conjoining of bread and butter in unholy matrimony (though was fine when either partnered with other foodstuffs or in an open relationship).  Lit by flickering candlelight and seated in the formal dining room, the group’s last supper was a huge success: perhaps aided by none of the guests banging on about some form of highly personal, if metaphorical, anthropophagy.  Everyone claimed to enjoy the food – even the bread-and-butter pud – and, had I made more, I reckon it too would have been willingly consumed.

Following dinner, C, N, D and J returned to the Marisco Tavern to play their second gig.  I found myself too tired after the day’s excitement, and opportunities to show off, and decided to stay home in front of the fire.  A and H joined me for a little beer and conversation. It was during this rather languorous evening that H was afflicted with her own prolonged sequence of out-gassing incidents.  Shortly thereafter, she and A repaired to bed and I remained to finish my beer and yet more loose leaf Assam tea. It was also now that I enjoyed my own brief encounter with our pygmy shrew housemate: who I have named Scamper (in honour of an earlier Secret Seven).

I think we must at this point address my own growing addiction to loose-leaf Assam tea.  I do consume this at home, but limit myself to two cups per day and never partake after 6pm.  In both cases, these restrictions are not purely budgetary but relate to my chronic insomnia and concerns about the impact of caffeine on my, already compromised, ability to sleep.  On Lundy, I was approaching 10 cups a day (with consumption still rising) and was drinking it all evening – with no obvious adverse effect on my sleep. I fear for my beverage budget going forward, freed as my consumption now is from all restraint…

Once again, I found myself laying me down to rest with Aunt Agatha: inertia is a powerful force!  As I prepared myself to be encircled by the comforting arms of Morpheus, I found myself reflecting (oh, the irony!) that there is a real danger of me becoming some kind of vampire, sucking the youthful vigour from those many years my junior.  Despite my antiquity, I realised that I had spent most of the weekend not with my housemates of roughly similar age but with the much more youthful (chronologically at least) A and H. Am I in denial of my middle age (and not even its early stages)?  Or is it just that sharing a sense of humour and mischief is a bigger signifier than age? The improv attitude that when presented with a stupid idea saying “yes, and…” is gloriously, and foolishly, empowering! At a time of inter-generational warfare (which I suspect does not distinguish it from any other time), I shall try and view my hanging out with the young as important missionary (or ambassadorial) work and not as desperately creepy.  I like to imagine that further adventures, worthy of serialisation, await our cabal of three (assuming we survive the night)…

The Lundiary: Lunday Too

I would certainly make no claims to be a wise man and this gift would probably not be considered suitable for a king, but on this eve of Epiphany I bring the next instalment of the Lundiary!

For those of you returning to work after two weeks away, indulging in the modern rituals of midwinter, this could provide a much needed, alternative topic of conversation…

Lunday Too

In which our hero travels to the utmost north, the island’s peace is rent by un coup de vent and a crime is committed…

I was first to leave my room and head downstairs in hope of breaking my nightly fast.  Having fortified myself with a cup of loose-leaf Assam tea, I thought I should unload the dishwasher to make myself useful to the group – and avoid an early eviction.  This did not go to plan as it quickly became clear that the dishwasher had made no attempt to live up to its name. A little investigation showed that the machine had been run using a 6 hour delay, which had taken it into the period during which the island has no power.  A little button stabbing and I was able to turn off the delay and the gurgling music of robotic washing-up began.

H was next down and revealed an unexpected vein of asceticism with her preferred breakfast of dry bread: though she did eventually move towards hedonism with the addition of a fried egg.  We were then joined by A and his complex experiments with a cafetiere and the island’s 3-bean-strong coffee. This appeared to be 3 beans out of a possible 5 on what I presumed to be a linear scale: though I suppose it could have been logarithmic (or even exponential).  As a non-coffee drinker, I found I was unprepared for the degree of ceremony and complexity of process needed to deliver an acceptable cup: I wouldn’t have been surprised had a pipette been produced and some titration performed. I think the final formula was to use 5/3 of the normal amount of coffee: which seemed a simpler solution than the rather time-consuming methodology had suggested.

Eventually, everybody appeared – indicating no deaths or unexplained disappearances during the night – and breakfasted in their own way before we headed off in our various directions to explore the island.  

Having already been south on Lunday, I determined to explore the far north, via the east coast where possible, to attempt to see some of the fauna advertised in the previous evening’s talk.  After leaving downtown Lundy, I first passed the ruins of the island’s hospital which was now being used by the local wild ponies as a place to graze. I couldn’t help wondering if I had been granted a vision of the future of health care on the mainland…

I didn’t see a fellow human being for a good 90 minutes – and then only at a distance – which was a joy, if unexpected on such a small island.  Instead, I saw some stunning scenery and most of the larger fauna of the island, all of which – with the exception of the Lundy ponies – were equipped with horns.  I must admit to being slightly disappointed that in their commitment to horned beasts, the island’s previous owners had somehow missed out on the unicorn: which, legend has it, would have been drawn to me (and my ilk).

I was also treated to some stunning coastal views and made several attempts to stare at the island’s beaches through my rather inferior binoculars – I think they may actually make it harder to see things in the distance – in the hopes of seeing an amusingly named seal: I seem to recall one was named for a bite-mark on its buttocks (I assume as a mammal, a seal would have at least vestigial buttocks).  I became good at convincing myself that various vaguely seal-shaped rocks were alive, but I don’t think I can honestly say that a saw an actual seal.

As I was alone, I was fully able to indulge my inner child: heading out onto every granite outcrop, running joyfully over the more even ground and leaping from rock to rock like a somewhat arthritic mountain goat.  Had there been drifts of autumn leaves, I would have kicked my way through them: sadly there are few trees and both they and the island struggle to retain their leaves given its propensity to strong wind.

Eventually, I reached the far north and it’s associated lighthouse and, as I did so, the sun burst through the cloud cover.  I spent many happy minutes sat on a seat (or flatish slab) of granite (which had retained less of the heat of its formation than I might have hoped) watching the waves crash against the island and several of its smaller rocky neighbours.  It was very easy to imagine a ship being wrecked against its shores: as I fully intended to get wrecked in the Marisco Tavern later that evening. 

Shortly after leaving the lighthouse, I bumped into A+H who had headed north via the west coast.  I joined them to return to the northern light and we then started the walk back towards the pub and some hope of a late lunch.  Our yomp back did involve a few diversions to look at sights of interest, including Tibbetts: a house which once acted as a look-out for the Admiralty and which visitors can stay in (though I’d warn you it possesses neither running water nor electrons and is a goodly hike from the pub).  As we stood in the early afternoon sun, admiring the view to the east, it was noted that the air was totally still and that the island was eerily silent. With impeccable comic timing, A’s digestive tract chose that precise moment to let forth a great burst of flatus (via the lower of the two potential output ports) irrevocably rupturing the peace: first with its own trumpet blast and, shortly thereafter, with laughter and recriminations.  I feel this is likely to become the defining incident of the expedition and I fully expect the promontory between Gull Rock and Halfway Bay to be renamed in honour of this coup de vent.

When the laughter finally died down, we continued back towards the pub – pausing to say hello to the huge pigs, who I assume are unaware that the island shop sells ‘Lundy bacon’ – and a much needed lunch.  At the pub, I was tempted to introduce us as ‘travellers from the north country’ but I’m afraid the expression on the barman’s face rather put me off such frivolity,

Foodwise, I went for the soup and cheesy chips, on the basis that little could go wrong with the preparation of either item.  A chose the ‘Lundy pizza’: in theory this was like a normal pizza but one that was transitioning towards a new life as a calzone, giving it a shape slightly similar to that of the island.  In practice, this item would not have been out of place in the armoury of any Discworld Dwarf, easily matching the Battle Bread of B’hrian Bloodaxe in its potential use in a combat situation.  Dropped from a new centimetres onto its plate it sounded like a hunk of granite – which I assume was one of its key ingredients – and threatened to break the plate. Manfully (or driven by hunger), A managed to consume a surprising portion of this very hardtack: amazingly without any obvious loss of dentition.

It was during lunch that H commented on my NHS glasses: these were Rayban specs which I had previously considered to be rather cool.  H attempted to convince me that NHS glasses were now viewed as peng by the young folk, but I fear the damage has been done and I will never be able to look at them in the same way again (though will continue to look through them).

We then headed back home to rest and recoup after our exertions.  A and I attempted to create man’s red flower using the rather limited remaining kindling and the coal briquettes which had been acquired from the shop on Lunday.  Whilst the kindling would burn, it somehow managed to so without creating any heat; unhelpful both for the fire’s human audience or any real hope of encouraging the briquettes to start burning.  We did consider sacrificing some of the less critical furniture to the project but (possibly) wiser counsels prevailed. We were also hindered in our twisted fire-starting by the rather porous nature of the bag of the bellows provided: their provision of air was decidedly asthmatic.  A eventually got some sort of meagre heat from the stove but its range was limited to a few inches.

In the evening, we all went up to the Marisco Tavern for dinner: a much more successful meal than lunch and none of the food could easily double as a throwing weapon.  It also gave us a chance to use the library (which lay around us as we ate) to do some further research into the island and its history. I must admit to feeling that they were a little short on decent geology texts.

The rest of the party, being actual musicians, had brought their instruments to the bar and played a session in the main bar (this had been previously agreed, it wasn’t a very small scale flashmob).  The music was great fun and seem to go down well with our fellow islanders: indeed, the band was invited back the following evening. A band should always have a name, and a A, H and I came up with a number of options: I think Heinkels Go Down was my favourite (perhaps as it reminds me of directoire knickers which I believe were known as Messerschmitts during the last war as they “came down without a fight”).  I can only ponder what 40s undergarment was referred to as a Heinkel). Another contender, was Loose Ladies of Lundy though I fear my surrender to the alcoholic temptations of the tavern has rather blurred my memory of the reasons why… 

The fireplace in the Marisco Tavern was merrily blazing, albeit exhausting rather more of its smoke into the pub rather than into the night air.  By its side, was a huge basket of kindling and another of hardwood logs and the like. These proved an irresistible temptation with A using the diversion created by the music to liberate a couple of chunks of likely looking wood and concealing them in my rucksack.  So, in many ways, I acted as the getaway driver for this daring raid: or act of xylarceny as I am calling it.

The young folk (A, H and I: the last only fitting the description if it is considered in geological terms) left before the music had finished to avoid ending up entirely kippered.  We also had a yen to look upon (and consume) some ale that was a little less brown: we had some bottles of Lundy Single Hop Pale Ale from Madrigal Brewery awaiting us in Millcombe House.  We also made an attempt to break-up the first of our recently acquired wood into a more usable form to get the fire going. The wood was cloven into smaller chunks using the sub-optimal equipment available in the kitchen (I once again regretted leaving my axe at home) but the results in the stove were disappointing.  As we lounged in the sitting room, in front of the merest hint of fire, A + H saw a pygmy shrew scamper across the room and then disappear: perhaps into a network of secret tunnels which are riddled throughout the house?

Tiredness made it desirable to head for our respective beds and I found myself without the energy to change room, so I once again slept in Christie: awaiting the inevitable murder…. 

As the days of the week return to their normal order, the adventures of the selected seven will continue next Sunday…