Boreas calling…

I have, as is not uncommon, been neglecting this blog of late.  Like a child with a new toy, I only have a modest surplus of time after we account for eating, sleeping, working, learning impractical skills and going to gigs.  I fear I’ve spent rather too much of this expanding the imperial scope of (N)YTMG: annexing new spaces both conceptual and geographical.  In some ways, this blog post is acting as displacement activity from the design of a postcard-format marketing tool/giveaway for my other baby.

This should just be a short entry into the canon, though I have thought that before at this stage in the creative process only to be proved horribly wrong before the end.

As the earth turns its northern face away from the sun, temperatures have started to fall and this morning, for the first time since the Spring, I have closed my windows – despite being at home.  Sadly, my reputation is not yet sufficiently fearsome to leave my windows open when away from home: the need to retain plausible deniability over the fate of those who have crossed me is slowing the process of instilling appropriate levels of terror in the wider public at the mere mention of my name.

Naturally, I have not done anything foolish – like turn on the heating (though I have popped on a cardigan) – but I do find myself still feeling rather chilly.  This is an unfamiliar sensation as I was fairly sure that most of my temperature sensing neurons were burned out years ago thanks to the fruitful conjunction of my mother’s advice and my own bloody-mindedness – as discussed in a very early post.

A few weeks ago, while with friends in the Guide Dog, the conversation took one of those Baroque turns that is all too common (well, it is when I’m there) – though unusually, given my presence, it did not descend into the gutter – and the idea of currying porridge arose.  I no longer recall why, though it seemed an excellent idea at the time and this week, I finally put this project into action.  To my normal porridge, made with a mix of almond milk and water, I added a healthy teaspoon of Madras Curry powder (a mere 5 and a bit years past its Best Before date) as I microwaved the oats.  The ancient curry powder had retained a surprising amount of potency, once again justifying my contempt for the concept of the Best Before Date.  I’ll admit I then muddled my curries by adding my traditional breakfast garnish of chopped nuts and sliced banana: creating something of the vibe of the Anglicised Korma (my cultural appropriation knows no bounds).  I can assure the sceptical reader that my transgressive culinary creation was absolutely delicious and allows the middle-aged chap to start the day with real zip.  I have repeated the process with higher doses of curry powder and, if anything, this improves the dish!

This morning, I reverted to my previous breakfast of uncurried porridge and it is possible that my body is experiencing withdrawal symptoms.  However, I am concerned that this feeling of cold is one of the Seven Signs of Ageing and that I will soon be running the heating through the summer, buying a tartan blanket to adorn my knees and forcing German toffees (with worrying hints of the far right) onto any young people who are foolish enough to visit me.

For now, I am comforting myself with the thought that my current obsession with hand-balancing is to blame.  This is moving along rather well – though I won’t be taking part in competitive b-boying for a few weeks yet – but it does seem to be having an unplanned effect on my body.  It appears to be re-distributing my substance somewhat, mostly upwards (within my torso at least, my head seems no fatter than usual), and, as I discovered earlier this week, also seems to have caused half a stone of former me to leave entirely.  I didn’t notice it leave, but I’m imaging a Great Escape style scenario with my bones’ meaty covering slowly tumbling from my trouser leg as I wander about.  I’m not sure I can really afford to lose this much of my already limited flesh but I’m having too much fun to stop.  I am currently trying to transition elegantly (or at least with slightly less of the vibe of a tower block, with poorly placed demolition charges, collapsing) from a head-stand into a Queda de Rins (QDR).

I am choosing to believe that this conversion of my fat into muscle (well, a chap can dream) and/or thin air has reduced my body’s insulation to abnormally low levels and this is the cause of my current chilling: after all, I barely have time to use Netflix….

Close Enough 4

The frankly disappointing follow-up to Close Enough 3.  By this stage, all the principle cast and characters have left the sinking ship and the cinematic release was extremely limited.  If we’re honest, Close Enough was (at best) mediocre and the attempts of Hollywood to defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics with increasingly desperate sequels have not been a great success.  Entropy has an inevitability that even death and taxes have to look on with a degree of envy.

However, all of that introduction was nonsense – though represents a worryingly large share of the reason for putting fingers to keyboard.  I have, for many years, used the phrase ‘close enough for jazz’ when further precision was unnecessary (or I was too lazy to continue with a task).  As this post will go on to explain (well, it might), I now spend a lot more time in proximity to the jazz community and so worry that (a) this phrase might be offensive to that community (LGBTQIA+J anyone?) and (b) jazz seems to require significantly more precision than I have previously believed.  I may be forced to retire the phrase from my rather threadbare wardrobe of idiom.

Until recently, jazz did not play a large role in my musical life (or, indeed, my non-musical life).  It really only figured in me occasionally hurling myself across the room to hit the off switch should I turn on Radio 3 to find jazz emerging from the wireless.  However, over the last year or so things have been changing as I pass through some sort of ‘jazz-puberty’.  Somewhere in my 30s olives became acceptable – and even desirable – to my palate (having previously brought nothing but revulsion) and it would seem that my 50s has unexpectedly delivered a love of jazz.

I’m not sure exactly where it started, it may have been going to a Southampton Youth Jazz Orchestra concert with friends (their choice) or experimentation on my part with the Norwegian jazz of the Daniel Herskedal trio (one has to try new things to avoid stagnation).  It started innocently enough, with the odd jazz gig every couple of months: it seemed under control.  I felt there was some modest subset of the world of jazz which I seemed to enjoy live, but I retained my loathing for recorded jazz in all its forms.

Then, early in 2017, I was sat at home early one Sunday evening wondering if there was some nearby culture I could attend to sooth the transition from weekend into working week.  I noticed that the Talking Heads had a free (to enter) gig courtesy of the Southampton Modern Jazz Club (SMJC) in their front bar.  This was less than 10 minutes stroll from my abode and I figured “how bad can it be?” – if it was just too awful, I could just slip away in a convenient break and still have most of the evening to myself: mayhap a little tatting would provide purposeful employ for my my idle hands?

As it transpired, it was the jazz some way from awful (certainly not practically walkable) and the Sunday evening SMJC gig has become a regular feature of my weekends.  I’ve also been going to other jazz gigs locally and enjoying myself – I’ve even started buying CD on jazz (argh!).  What has happened to me?  I was expecting the deteriorating eyesight, greying hair and annexation of my flesh by wrinkles as the years performed their ineluctable dance – but no-one warmed me about this love of jazz!  Should I have taken Oil of U/Olay more seriously?

I think this process reached some kind of watershed last weekend when I went up to Edinburgh to visit a friend, but primarily to attend the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival.


One of the 7 signs of ageing?

I had a brilliant time with a wide range of jazz from young and old with practitioners from Scotland, Scandinavia and the US.  It also helped me to realise that jazz takes place in the sort of venues I associate with all the best culture: small, dark and sweaty (and, if possible, underground!).  My two favourite gigs (in a very strong field) both occurred in such spaces: the Alan Benzie Trio in the basement of the Rose Theatre and the Fraser Urquhart Quintet in the Jazz Bar.  The Festival also taught me that if an old jazzer invites a younger colleague over, it may be to jam but is more likely to relate to a need to fix their wifi or TV.

In an attempt to boost the appeal of the GofaDM, this post will now be offering scope for audience participation: oh yes it will!  At a gypsy jazz gig at the the Talking Heads on Tuesday, I confidently stated that the cucumber was not a jazz vegetable (this was not apropos of nothing, but made sense – of a form – in a conversation I was engaged in at the time).  This then raised the question, “so what is a jazz vegetable?”.  Clearly the currently popular supermarket apple is not a jazz fruit, despite its nomenclature.  Cavolo nero is musical but clearly operatic, as I demonstrated to the horror of those present.  I eventually proposed that celeriac was a jazz vegetable and subsequently think that the Jerusalem artichoke and okra might be.  It is here, dear reader, where you come in: what do you consider to be a jazz vegetable?

Sobering thoughts

Fear not, I shall not be boring you with tales of my seasonal flirtation with temperance.  Like the weather, I have eschewed the concept of a ‘dry January’, though I haven’t been quite so contrary.  As I cycled to PlayDate on Wednesday evening, I couldn’t help but think that a kayak or punt might have been a more practical transport choice.

No, I shall instead be boring you with thoughts around the terrifying proximity of death.  Fear not, I’m not expecting to be visited by a slender chap with a scythe any time soon – for a start, I’m really not famous enough for my number to be up during the current month.  Cancer does seem to be cutting a rather broad swathe through the famous who have accompanied me through my life to date.  Some had major roles and others were more minor players, but their departure from the stage of life has left me at least somewhat bereft.  I suppose at my age I probably need to come to terms with an increase in players leaving stage left, even those not pursued by a bear.  Perhaps it is a part of human nature (or maybe just mine) but there is more emotion associated with the unpicking of one of the threads from the tapestry of our lives, than there is when a new thread is added.  I keep finding myself reminded of a couple of lines from Lord Foul’s Bane:

Death reaps the beauty of the world–
bundles old crops to hasten new.

by Stephen Donaldson: never more so than this morning, as a TOG of many years standing.

In a mere four weeks, I attain what is considered to be a significant age: with the same score, in a different field, I would raise my bat aloft to a smattering of applause from the pavilion.  However, before we go any further, I should make clear that I don’t feel my age – or what I presume my age is supposed to feel like.  I may not be quite as smooth-skinned as was once the case, my hair increasingly refuses to have any truck with melanin and the accommodation in my eyes has reached the stage where even Foxton’s would be embarrassed to describe it as a one bed apartment, but I am fitter than I have ever been and am suffering from no obvious loss of functionality (and would claim some gains).  I continue to act as I always have done – but now with added hanging upside down.

Nevertheless, my cultural activities of a couple of weekends ago did give me pause for thought (though I shall resist creating a tenuous link to religion, for once).  In the afternoon, I went to see Nuffield Youth Theatre‘s brilliant production of Girls Like That: defying the notion that audiences only want to see people like themselves on stage or screen.  This may come as a shock (so steady yourselves), but I am not now, nor have ever been, a teenage girl – the demographic making up the entire, twenty-strong cast – and nor do I expect my future to hold the promise of teenage-girlhood.  Neverthless, the production was wonderful and those in charge of our television schedule might be interested to know that you can have twenty people on stage (and not so much as a hint of a Y-chromosome) without the end of the days being announced by the final trump (I believe that particular event is taking place on the other side of the Atlantic) and an equestrian quartet.

Before the play started, I was supporting the arts by partaking of a bottle of beer (it’s not that I want to you understand, I see it as my duty in these times of austerity) and, as is so often the case, chatting with the youthful barman.   In my head, I clearly think that I am roughly the same age as your typical undergraduate – just with a more detailed and personal knowledge of the 1970s. – and I have, of course, been a barman.

In the evening, I went to see the glorious Alessandro Taverna (Alex Pub, in English) perform at the pianoforte.  I saw him several years ago in Cambridge (before he was famous, assuming that he now is) and he was just as brilliant as I remembered.  As so often at classical music, a significant portion of the audience were eighty, if they were a day.  As I was musing about finding myself in the lowest quartile (decile even) of ages once again, a terrible thought struck me.

I am closer in age to most of the pensioners in that audience than I was to young James who’d served my (nearly) pint earlier in the day.  Arghhh!

Some mistake, surely?  I suspect the reason this seemed so improbable to me is that my mental age is becoming an ever diminishing fraction of my chronological one.  I think the former may have become ‘stuck’ at some time in my teens.  I made it through 2015 without petrol, let’s see if I can make it through the remainder of this life untroubled by adulthood…

So many questions…

But only time (and space) to pose a few of the queries that have recently foxed me in the hope that somewhere out there in cyberspace (so wrong, a Greek steersman starts with a kappa – see below) a reader may be able to offer the gift of enlightenment.

Last week, I suffered from a cold sore in an inconvenient, and unusual, location.  It was still on my face, but had migrated away from my lips (which usually play host to the herpes simplex virus) and was heading for my right eye.  Is this migration one of the mysterious seven signs of ageing which Oil of Olay (née Ulay) have been banging on about all these years?

Anyway, the new location of the viral eruption made shaving seem rather a risky option –  with either a prolonging of the attack and/or copious bleeding seeming to be likely consequences.  So, as I had no formal events planned, I allowed my beard to grow for a good week.  I am not a great fan of the beard – it tends to itch after a while and now has rather more in common with Santa Claus than I would like – and so was rather pleased when I could finally banish it.  I feel that its removal took years off me – and this led me to wonder if there is any point in a chap’s life when the addition of a beard will make him seem younger?  Or are they always ageing?

My studies have now moved on to Plato – and in particular his work known as The Laches.  In addition to Socrates (who I’ve realised was an extremely irritating cove), this involves two Protagonists: Laches and Nicias who were both Athenian generals from the Peloponnesian wars, though I don’t think my earlier reading of Thucydides is going to help with my next assignment (and why does WordPress have the author in its dictionary, but not the key adjective from his masterwork?).  The generals’ names are pronounced as Lay-keys and Nick-e-ass, so why have the Greek middle consonants been transliterated to produce a soft consonant in normal English speech (and any Romance language for that matter)?   You might think it is to avoid confusion between transliteration of chi and kappa but no, as Nicias is spelt with a kappa and Laches with a chi.  It can only have been done through incompetence or to (successfully) confuse later scholars.

When transliterating from Chinese to English there seems even less excuse for such behaviour as there is no original alphabet to preserve.  If the Chinese phoneme exists in English, it should be perfectly possible to reproduce it so that the transliterated word can be pronounced phonetically.  So why is Feng Shui – a concept debased in translation to re-arranging your home furnishings – pronounced fung shway?  What are we gaining from using the current, totally mis-leading spelling?

Who is in charge of transliteration anyway?  I feel they may have been subject to insufficient oversight – not that I’m volunteering to take-over, you understand, I’d just like to see greater consistency.

My final query comes from my travel over the recent holiday weekend.  The Highways Agency often seems to ensure that roadworks are tidied away over holiday periods: I presume to reduce travel delays.  Network Rail takes precisely the opposite position and schedules its engineering works explicitly to occur during holiday periods: to maximise delays?  How can it make sense for such diametrically opposed positions to be taken for the roads and rails?  Only one position can be correct, but which is better?  As Harry Hill used to say, the only way to find out is: FIGHT!