I find that I have (once again) made it to the sunlit uplands of thirty.  On this occasion, I find myself forced to use base-17 for this statement to work, and would note that this is not one of the more practical number bases bequeathed to us by mathematicians past.  I suppose it could have some applications for a particular family of periodic cicadas – assuming that, once we are gone, they develop capabilities in the field of mathematics-  but otherwise it has little to commend it beyond permitting me to maintain a flimsy pretense of relative youth.  Otherwise, I would be forced to look to geology or cosmology to place my age in a broader, and more favourable, context.

At times such as these, it is perhaps appropriate to look back at one’s time on this earth and look forward to an end to travelling hopefully and the uncertain rewards of arrival.  However, if it is that sort of insight you are looking for you have very much come to the wrong blog in search of satisfaction.

Yesterday morning when I was from my bed untimely ripp’d by the 5am alarm, everything ached and I did wonder whether this was the future.  In fact, fairly simple analysis strongly implicated the past and my foolish vigour in the gym the previous morning.  If I’m honest, between the gym and the guitar, this middle-aged dog is making reasonable progress in his attempt to learn some new tricks.  Beware: should his mastery ever reach a level where he is confident enough to perform in public, he will be more than willing to bore a small (or, preferably, a large) crowd (and, it would seem, refer to himself in the third person).

For now, my faculties – such as they are (or were) – remain undimmed by the entirely unasked-for passage of time.  The hair may be greyer and I do need two pairs of glasses (though I have resisted the urge to take either into the shower) but, other than occasionally catching a glimpse of my father in the mirror, the constant near-misses by a speeding winged chariot have been pretty kind to the author.  (Well, if we ignore the fact that he is spending his Thursday evening in one of the less salubrious areas of Dublin airport – an area where bare aluminium is as close as a chap can get to seated comfort – awaiting a Q400 Dash 8).

I do, however, increasingly catch myself acting out a rather strange, almost caricatured, version of humanity.  Sometimes it feels as if I have done all the background reading, but lack some critical element of practical experience in the art of being a human.  On the whole other people don’t seem to notice – or are at least sufficiently polite (or scared) not to bring any failings to my attention.  Nonetheless, I can’t help wondering what they make of the strange collection of habits and tics (mostly borrowed, without attribution, from others) that, for what of something better, I am forced to describe as my personality.  Such introspection may not be helped by websites often asking me to confirm that I am not a robot.  I tend to reply in the affirmative: but can I really be sure?  Can anyone be sure that this post hasn’t been written by a sub-Turing AI?

It is such ponderings that bring us back to the title.  I have often been known to refer to myself as a terrible human being.  I tend to leave my audience to decide in which context those words should be interpreted (for myself, I tend to assume all possible contexts have some validity).  I suspect it is too late to do much to improve my simulation of a normal person – when I was younger, I felt I should make an effort (though never to a sufficient extent to do anything about it) to be more normal, but such impulses faded some time ago.  Still, there are probably a few “normal” human activities I should plan to fit in before I part company with my mortal coil: perhaps I’ll make a list one day…

Still, enough of this navel-gazing: the other passengers are starting to look at me strangely and this departure “lounge” really isn’t warm enough to remain topless much longer.  Here’s to the next 30 years – in whatever number base the gods are willing to grant them to me!

Frame dependent

My rather shaky understanding of Einstein’s work suggests that relativity does away with the idea of time being universal, instead when things happen depends on the location and motion of the observer. Indeed, the sequence of two events which happen in different places may appear different to different observers: and no observer has a priviledged position and can claim to be more “right” than another.  It should be noted that such “confusion” can only occur if the two events are too far apart for light from one to reach the other before it happens: in this situation, causality is king and our classical idea that A happened before B is correct.

Why, you might wonder, is he demonstrating his profound ignorance of the abstruse details of special relativity?  All I can say is that it seemed like a good idea when I formulated the high concept behind this post, however, the research needed to write the opening paragraph is causing me to have second thoughts.  Still, having started I will continue with the idea of time being somewhat frame dependent: never let it be said that the author is a quitter.

I have, for much of 2017, limited my live music excursions to the spheres of folk, jazz and the poorly-named “world” music (I continue to await a performance of extra-terrestrial music).  Not by design, these just happen to have been the gigs that have come up when I’ve been availale to attend.  These genres, in my locale at least, seem to attract an audience of the youthful and middle-aged.  On one occasion, I was the sole representative of the latter category which did render me a tad self-conscious.  I relied on the fact that I was young-at-heart or, failing that, at least soft-in-the-head.

Last night, I cycled up to Turner Sims for some classical piano repertoire performed by Paul Lewis.  Here those not of pensionable age were very much in the minority (though I’d reckon our chances to come out on top were good, had a brawl broken out), which shouldn’t have been a surprise to me but the contrast with the audience of other musical genres was stark.  I’d moved from the oldest quartile to the most youthful decile: despite myself having aged several hours since my previous gig.  I was transformed from old codger to young whippersnapper in an instant.  I do worry about the sustainability of classical music given that most of its audience has more of the grave than of gravy (to paraphrase one E Scrooge) about it.  Should the “industry” be offering discount tickets to those of us in middle-age, to ensure a continuing supply of the newly ancient into the future?  Or have we been bypassed while they pander to the young?

I’ll admit that despite the new frame of reference I hadn’t entirely shaken off the dust of ages.  While marvelling at Mr Lewis’ phalangeal dexterity, I still had time to worry that his chosen shirt looked to be a real pain to iron.  Vertical pleats are no friend to the amateur wielder of the iron: perhaps he has staff or a single use policy?

Anyway, despite my relative youth, I have managed to deduce how to buy quiet throat sweets and even how to open noisy sweets without creating a disturbance (you do it in advance, rather than waiting for a musical passage marked pp) and that use of velcro fastenings in the concert hall is contra-indicated (buttons are your friend).  Sadly, many of those 20+ years my senior still seem to harbour the illusion that slowly opening plastic wrapped sweets or tearing velcro apart over a five minute period is silent, rather than oddly redolent of the dragging of fingernails across a blackboard.  I know the hearing undergoes threshold shift as we age, but I thought that affected higher frequencies: I suppose I will be able report on the truth of this in a few years time…

While I seem to be sticking the metaphorical boot into some senior citizens, I should describe the one regular experience which most gets the adrenaline (or epinephrine, if you prefer) flowing and my blood pumping.  After such a concert, my bike ride home takes me down the road on which most of the elderly have parked their cars.  As a result, it is a white-knuckle ride past doors being suddenly opened, unannounced reversing and abrupt pulling out by those for which the mirror (in all its incarnations) seems to have lost it appeal.  It can only be matched, for sheer terror, by returning home on the bike as the nearby catholic girls’ school discharges its students.  I am assuming that when it comes to the confessional booth, the tariff in Our Fathers or Hail Marys is pretty low for parental dangerous parking and driving.  As a consequence of the low cost of absolution, I make every effort not to place my mortal coil in the spiritual firing line as the bell tolls for the end of the day’s final lesson (lest it also toll for me!).

Of course, my views on these matters are subject to change (without notice) as time continues to takes its toll on my already limited faculties (or in the far less likely event of a Damascene conversion and acquistion of direct descendants).

Clinging on to youth

I find myself in the final week of what is conventionally (without the aid of a face-saving switch of base) considered to be my forties.  My roaring days are almost over but, on the plus side, I believe there is an end to rationing in sight.

I am trying to resist some of what I imagine are the mental changes which overtake people as they age.  Primarily, I am trying to dodge the lurch to the right, the decrying of all things young and new and the retreat into what is known and thus, presumably, comforting.  Resisting the call of the right (or for that matter the left) is made all too easy by its use of third-rate pantomime villains peddling their transparent falsehoods and the bitter bile of hate.  Avoiding descending into mental cliché is more of a challenge, but I am spurred on by the hope that there is more to life than re-runs (and re-makes) of what has gone before.  So it is that, in addition to consuming the blood of innocents, I attempt to fill my life with new (and relatively low risk, as measured in millimorts) experiences.  Of course, this could all be a post-hoc rationalisation (always better indulged in after a glass of Rhenish white) of recent activities or a feeble attempt to link a few disparate ideas together in the hope of forming a post.  Still, I think we can safely discount those more outlandish theories and return to the main thread of today’s symposium.

This headlong pursuit of novelty has found me, not once but twice, attending an event at the London International Mime Festival.  What have I become?  As so often, many a younger me would be appalled.  In 2016-me’s defence, I must say that neither event was what I would have called mime.  No white-face make-up, no Breton shirt and absolutely no walking into the wind whilst trapped in a  box.  Either mime has moved on, or my stereotype was dreadfully wide of the mark.  This blog has already covered Circa – more circus-cum-classical-recital than mine – so I shall merely mention my second ‘mime’ event: Celui qui tombe.  This was unlike anything I’d even imagined, let alone seen, and is almost indescribable.  There were elements of circus, dance, grandmother’s footsteps and some surprisingly competent choral singing all set on, under or dangerously near a large wooden platform which hung, dropped, teetered, spun and swung above the stage.  There is so much more in heaven and earth (and the Barbican theatre) then is dreamt of in my philosophy.  I eagerly await next year’s LIMF and have acquired a Breton-style shirt in preparation.

I have recently discovered that Southampton University stages free lunchtime concerts, an analogue to those I used to attend in Cambridge, on (some) Mondays and Fridays in term-time.  As with so much local culture,  this discovery did not come easy and even now I usually only know one is happening by attending its immediate predecessor.   These concerts have introduced me to the piano music of the rather interesting Brazilian composer Almeida Prado – who I suspect would otherwise never entered my life, to its detriment.  As well as classical fare, there is often a performance by a jazz-influenced student group.  Via this route I experienced the delights of a saxophone quartet: boasting the full range from soprano to baritone.  The former, to my eyes, looks like a blinged-up clarinet whereas the later is a hefty beast and could, in time of thick fog, be used to keep ships off the rocks.  As well as the amusement engendered by the instruments, I also enjoyed the  works of Alfed Desenclos and Joe Cutler.

In fact, in 2016 I have been tipping my toes a little more seriously into jazz-infested waters and have actually paid to see it performed.  There seems to be a lot more to the world of jazz than the traditional form I heard in New Orleans or the totally unlistenable version I occasionally catch on Radio 3 as I race across the room in search of the off switch.  By far my favourite, so far, was this last Saturday night and came from Norway (probably in the hope of a little warmth and sunlight).  The Daniel Herskedal Trio were wonderful – and supported by a 15-person string ensemble drawn from the university – producing music that I am going to describe using the phrase ‘restless serenity’.  It was also the first concert I’ve attended where the tuba took centre-stage as soloist.  It is a much more versatile beast than I had imagined – it can offer so much more than a basso-profundo ‘oom-pah’ – and I’m convinced that young Mr Herskedal was producing polyphony from it (though I have no idea how).  I think he should also be credited as the first person I’ve seen on stage at Turner Sims to wear leather trousers: a look which I feel he pulled off with some aplomb.

This concert also confirmed my escape plan, if ever life in these isles is made untenable by the meddling of our political classes.  Yes, folks, I shall be emigrating to Norway – though I may have to overcome my aversion to wearing jumpers first (a vest can only take a chap so far).  Still, BBC4 has been doing its best to prepare me for life in Scandinavia: so I think I should cope.  In the pre-concert interview, it became clear that their musical culture is rather impressive.  Ayolf, the excellent jazz pianist with the trio, had just finished a couple of weeks going around the primary(!) schools of Oslo introducing them to improvisational music.  Even in the better funded school music of my youth, I only had Mrs Spicer and a recorder or two to launch my musical education.  Today, when the heirs of Thomas Gradgrind have taken over education policy, I fear jazz may be a rarity in the UK’s primary schools: we can’t afford any distractions from the training the little darlings up to serve the business needs of yesteryear.

So folks, enjoy me while you can!  Before long,the temptation to seek more enlightened policies to the Arts (and much more besides) may grow too strrong and I’ll set sail across the German Bight and up towards Fisher and the Utsires.  Payback for the Vikings, at last!

Feeling my age

This is, of course, a very different proposition to acting my age.  I have largely avoided acting my age, and when I am called upon to portray an adult in a public setting then “acting” is very much the mot juste.  In this context, I am very much NOT a follower of Messrs Stanislavski and Strasberg – I go with the “just pretending” school.

One the whole, I do not feel my age – unless there has been a dreadful accounting error and I really am only 22 (or thereabouts).  Over the summer, a number of incidents illustrated the distance between my internal view of my age and actual chronology have been allowed to diverge over the years.  I have realised that when in the company of “proper” adults – generally, but not always, those of my age or greater – I feel rather like a child who has been allowed to stay up past his bedtime and as though I don’t really belong.    With those aged around 20 (±5), I feel as though I am among equals and act as though I am just one of the gang – which I presume they must find a little disconcerting (or just creepy), but probably endure as I’m quite good about buying the beer.  When availing myself of the cake at T H Roberts in Dolgellau, I felt far more at home with the very youthful staff then with the more stricken-in-years clientele – despite being much close in age to the latter.  I suspect there must be quite a backlog of updates to my self-image waiting to be installed in a cloud or buffer somewhere – and long may they remain there!

My pretence at continued youth is also being bolstered by my gymnastic exploits.  A little while ago I learned that one of the other clients of Brightside refers to me as “the gymnast” (as though this were my profession – which luckily, for my continued solvency, it is not) and today discovered that I am a major topic of conversation among their wider clientele (in my absence, fortunately).  It would appear that I am a marvel of the age (or at least, my age) – though to be honest, it is just practice and a bit of application on my part.  At the risk of frightening the horses (you will be seeing a lot of leg), here is a picture of me practising one of the progressions towards the elusive back lever.

Just hanging around

Just hanging around

The more perspicacious reader may have noted that my head seems very pink (née red).  In my defence, I would point out that I am upside-down and this is a hold – but I will admit that I do not recall seeing this same effect on real gymnasts.  Luckily, according to the Mortician’s Gazette, I see that some gymnastics is to be televised next week so I shall have an opportunity to check out the head-directed blood-flow of the participants.  I suppose it may be that hanging like a very distended bat is not a highly regarded activity in proper gymnastics…

So, why you may wonder should I be feeling my age?  Well, partly it comes down to hanging around with the young and recalling an incident from my adult past, only to discover it occurred before any of them were born.  This can really take the wind out of a chap’s sails.

However, the spark that ignited this post was going to see the film Pride a week or so back.  The film is excellent (if you haven’t seen it, you really should) and (mostly) set in 1984 – the year in which I took my A-levels and started university.  Yet, even to me it feels like a period piece and I was shocked to realise that I was basically an adult when it was set.  The vehicles, in particular, look to be from a bygone age.  It made my feel very old and to wonder if it is time for me to start buying Werther’s Originals, carpet slippers and a tartan rug.

NO!  I refuse to act my age!  I refuse to wear anything made of fleece!  I shall re-double my efforts to grow old disgracefully.  I feel in need of a new age-inappropriate hobby to take up (to add to the gymnastics).  What do people feel about seeing a man of 48½ on a skateboard?  (I promise to eschew the strangely sculpted facial hair and pony tail).  I’m also willing to entertain suggestions for other pursuits which would allow me to retain my juvenility – but, be warned, if I like the idea I may act upon it and you may later be exposed to photographic evidence thereof!


The folk at Google are changing their Privacy Policies and seemed keen that I read some marketing guff they had prepared to make these changes seem to be both reasonable and for my benefit (despite neither being the likely reality).  Within the Overview they made mention of their Ads Preferences Manager, of which I had been previously unaware, so I decided to check it out.

It would seem that my preferences for advertisements delivered via Google products are derived from my on-line behaviour.  Many of these are at least plausibly linked to reality, and they have correctly deduced that I am a man.  However, rather distressingly, Google has decided that my age is 65+.  65+!  Yes, to Google I am already a pensioner.

I haven’t noticed a lot of ads for walk-in baths or funeral insurance (though, on the plus side, no salesman has called) being delivered to my browser.  However, perhaps I just missed them as I tend to ignore advertisements wherever possible (or maybe I’m becoming forgetful given my advanced on-line age).

I eagerly await my free bus pass!

Little Miss Marple?

There are many indicators of one’s advancing years – the youthful appearance of the (few remaining) policemen is oft cited, as is walking upstairs and wondering why you have done so.

These I am used to, but today brings far more alarming news.  Apparently, I am now older than Miss Marple!  As a fan of Joan Hickson’s seminal portrayal of the elderly sleuth, I felt secure in the knowledge that this day was some decades in the future.  Not so…  Disney have just cast Jennifer Garner (38) as the spinster of St Mary Mead.

Or so I assume, unless Miss Marple is one of Roger Hargreaves’ less well know Little Misses?  A female counterpart to Mr Nosey perhaps?