The Seventh Sign

I shall not, today at least, be tackling the rather poorly reviewed, late 80s horror film which shares my title.  Nor shall I by providing any excessively generic predictions for those born under the star-sign of Libra, though what follows may cause the scales to fall from some eyes…

Back at the time the Seventh Sign was released, Oil of Ulay was still a brand: before it was renamed on a more global basis which new identity, in my mind, is always accompanied by the sound of castanets.  Back in those heady days where a, perhaps illusory, sense of place was still admitted by the mega brands that rule our lives, they used to advertise their products as holding back the “Seven Signs of Ageing”.  In those pre-internet days, it was never made clear what the signs were that their gloopy temporal dam was keeping from one’s face.  Perhaps one was expected to write off to Ulay HQ for details?

In the three (or more) decades that have passed since first seeing this advertising message, I have failed to use any of their products and so my face (and more besides) has been ravaged by many signs of ageing.  Melanin has largely fled the more visible out-croppings of my hair, which has itself moved to try and colonise new parts of my body: planting its follicular flags to support its extended claims to suzerainty.  My eyesight has followed the traditional path with presbyopia being added to the pre-existing roster of myopia and astigmatism. I also seem to take longer to heal, or perhaps it just feels longer…

All of these effects are considered entirely normal as one passes though middle age and have been well documented in more august journals than this.   A more unexpected consequence of the ageing process – and the one which I am proposing as the seventh sign of ageing – relates to my shoelaces.

The operation of my shoelaces in my childhood is lost to me, shrouded by the thickening mists of time.  However, for most of my adult life my shoelaces have, once tied, remained in that state.  Between 20 and 50, I only had cause to re-tie my laces on a mere handful (footful?) of occasions in total.  Since passing my half century, it is becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence.  It has now reached the stage where I cannot leave the flat without having to re-tie at least one shoelace: even for the shortest of foot-borne excursions.  Have I somehow lost the knack for tying laces?  Can I no longer muster the physical force necessary to keep my laces securely tied?  Should I accept my fate and just wear slip-ons for the remainder of my journey to the grave?

I refuse to accept this apparent diminishing of my vitality and capabilities!  I begin to imagine a conspiracy by “big shoe”.  Perhaps this commitment-phobia of my laces is not down to operator error but to changes in shoes and/or laces.  Does “big shoe” gain something from its consumers having to regularly bend down to re-tie?  Is it an attempt to boost the trip hazard to which we are exposing our more elderly citizens as part of a broad range of measures to defuse the pension time-bomb?  Is it an attempt to force us all into slip-ons or velcro fastenings, infantilising the populace and rendering us more pliable?  Now I have opened your eyes to the actions of a sinister cabal of cobblers and actuaries, we can resist.  The fight-back starts here!

Before we all become too carried away by the extraordinary brevity of today’s addition to the GofaDM canon, I’d like to mention another rather over-wrought advertising claim that came to my attention this morning.  Oil of Ulay may have claimed to be able to keep Chronos at bay using only some mid-priced moisturiser, but they have been seriously trumped by Apple.  The purveyor of hip (if expensive and far less intuitive than they claim) phones, tablets and computers has recently produced a new iteration of its somewhat popular iPad range.  In attempting to hawk this to the general public, Apple have strayed into territory usually reserved to the titular head of monotheistic religions.  In addition to claiming, somewhat implausibly, that their new product is “All Screen” – surely that would make it a screen, something we had for viewing slides way back in the 1970s? – they are also claiming it as “All Powerful”.  Even Almighty Zeus and Odin, the Allfather, did not claim to be omnipotent.  I can’t help feel that claiming to be all powerful is strongly heretical to all of the world’s main monotheisms: even if you can support an Apple Pencil (which does sound much nice to chew on then the typical Staedler example).  I’m also concerned that should I let such a device into my life, I shall have to increase the security on my Mead of Poetry and will always be worried that my tablet will wander off and ravage attractive young ladies using an improbable range of disguises.  Worse, this seems just the sort of claim that could encourage an historically rather laissez-faire deity to get busy with the thunderbolts. No, I shall be giving the new iPad a wide-berth and investing in some rubber-soled, lace-up(!) shoes: better safe then blasted to plasma by a vengeful god!

Apple carnage

Yesterday, I went up to London for a little theatrical fun.  Partly because this may soon become trickier with rail strikes on the cards, but mostly because Southwest Trains were offering a special offer fare: £12 return rather than the usual nearly £40 (I could also have taken some children for £1 each, but I lack my own and felt that abducting someone else’s would probably cause problems down the line†).  Southampton may only be 50% further from London than Sawston, but rail fares are approaching 200% higher – so this was quite a good deal (or the normal fare is quite a poor deal – and, on balance, the latter statement may be the more apposite).  The special offer does not include access to the services of TfL, so in the spirit of thrift I chose venues within easy (for me) walking distance of Waterloo.

I started at the National and a matinée of George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem.  This was huge fun – a comedy from more than 300 years ago, written by a man who was both destitute and dying, which is still laugh-out-loud funny.  I can’t even manage that today, whilst enjoying both good health and reasonable economic circumstances.  It also boasts some decent female roles – something many a more modern piece lacks.  The Olivier has a number of advantages as a venue, including excellent sight-lines which allows one to go for a cheaper seat without loss of amenity.  Even better, it’s economics do allow a play to run with a larger cast than my usual more fringe or regional haunts permit – and, very pleasingly, the production ran to five live musicians (for the avoidance of doubt, they were not discussing the football).  Finally, the refreshing of the NT’s public spaces – whilst incomplete – does seem to have made it feel rather more welcoming, which I think may be down to improved upholstery.  This did lead me to wonder if we, as a society, have under-estimated the importance of the upholsterer’s art?  Another possible future career for the author?

I then strolled up to 10 Greek Street for sustenance and to pick up some more recipe and cooking tips.  It seems I may need to experiment with passion fruit curd – assuming I can find the ingredients – as its partnership with Gariguette strawberries is simply divine.  Given the limited offerings in the typical supermarket, I may be stuck pairing it with an Elsanta (who, I presume, is the Spanish counterpart to our Father Christmas).

10GS is very handy for the Soho Theatre where I took my second dose of theatre for the day.  The production of The Harvest by Pavel Pryazhko had been recommended by one of my fellow “actors” (actually, he really was an actor) at the Glass Menagerie Playdate (he played Jim, and I’m still not worried).  Screen-based entertainment is often preceded by dire warnings as to its likely content, just in case you are unable to handle infrequent, mild slapstick (to choose but one example).  However, this was the first time I’d seen warnings when booking tickets for the theatre – though they were just as weird.  Before booking, I was warned that this production contained “large amounts of feathers and fresh apples”.  Is a phobia of fresh apples widespread in the populace?  Are apples, like nuts, prone to send the unwary into anaphylactic shock?  Suffice it to say, I was expecting apples – though was prepared to be disappointed – but the show certainly delivers on the apple front!  They are there in quantity both in wooden crates and hanging by strings from above: the last time I saw so many apples in one place was at Cam Valley Orchards (one of the things I miss following my move to the south coast).  According to the play, these were Queen Reinette, also known as Reine de Reinettes or (confusingly) King of the Pippins – this suggests both an unexpected degree of hemaphroditism and a surprisingly close link between Madame de Pompadour and Peregrin Took (one for the geeks, there).  For practical reasons (as will become clear), I would say that the apples used in the production were Bramleys – I suspect sourcing the number of Queen Reinette would have been a challenge (and significantly upped ticket prices).

The play is a pretty dark comedy, and whilst things start happily enough as time goes on an increasing number of the apples are bruised.  Later, apples are entirely destroyed in a number of increasingly violent ways.  One can sometimes forget what a visceral experience theatre can be (even when the viscera in question come from the fruit of Malus domestica) – certainly when compared to screen-based entertainment – and sitting in the front row I jumped more than once and was struck by a few flakes of Bramley (though was missed by more complete examples) – and could certainly have grabbed a few “windfalls” to take home (some residual sense of propriety just about held me back).  Once again, the Nuffield’s outreach had done me proud: the play was well worth-seeing and at an hour long didn’t overstay its welcome and meant I was delivered back to my coastal eyrie at a reasonable hour.  I must admit I am now very keen to source a Reine de Reinettes – and they do keep well (both according to the play and subsequent internet research by yours truly) – but I fear the illusion of choice offered by our supermarkets will deny me my fix.

† Weak pun fully intended.

My Snow White moment

As previously established, I have been living with a cough for a while – and recently this has been joined by some of the more traditional symptoms of the common cold.  I do not mention this again in the hope of receiving sympathy (as, frankly, I have nowhere to store it – but would note for future reference that I will rarely refuse a grape) but because of its importance to the narrative which follows.

Yesterday evening, I sat down – as is tradition – to enjoy a piece of fruit.  I have often had my mouth full of cox in the past, but last night something went wrong.  A small piece of my apple must have taken the road less travelled, and in conjunction with my cold-restricted airways (not an ideal name for an airline) I was rendered unable to breathe.  As a result of my modest abode and love of privacy, I am not shacked up with seven chaps of less than average height and adjectival names and so there was no-one available to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre (and as a procedure it is quite hard to self-administer – even for a gentleman gymnast).  The end of GofaDM (and its auteur) did seem to be at hand! (To avoid unduly raising of cortisol levels in my readers, I should reassure you that I did survive the incident).

A long and very loud combination of coughing, choking and almost retching ensued and some transport of oxygen to my lungs was gradually reinstated.  I presume most of Hampshire were left wondering what the noise presaged, but no medical aid arrived (nor did a prince to kiss me better).  My eyes turned very red and liquids issued from most of the orifices in the body from which this is possible, but despite this I can confirm that there is no discernible erotic element to asphyxiation (well, not for me – though I suppose I do have very little interest in gland games, even in more ideal circumstances).  My life did not pass before my eyes, but the link between my predicament and that of Snow White did.  I suspect this would tell a psychologist all they need to know about me.  Despite my antipathy to the wasting of food, I should also admit that I did abandon the rest of the apple – sometimes discretion is the better part of valour.

I assume the apple-choking was an accident, perhaps brought on by inadequate chewing or eating with my mouth open.  However, if it was a plot to remove me from the picture by a wicked queen, then I suggest he (or she) may wish to check the warranty on their magic mirror.  A properly functioning, enchanted looking-glass really should not be pointing me out as the fairest of them all.  I’m sure I’m as self-deluded as the next man (probably more so), but even I am not under the illusion that I am that dishy – relatively well preserved though I may be for a man of my advanced years.

Conspiracy theory I

The world is rife with conspiracy theories – generally, involving governments and/or aliens and/or secretive (probably imaginary) organisations that have existed for millennia.  Few stand up to even cursory inspection and all rely on a degree of organisational ability which it is really quite hard to imagine the human race managing to field.   This from a species whose trains struggle when exposed to a few leaves!

As you might imagine, I am not going to posit such a high-level conspiracy – but, in keeping with most of GofaDM, something much mundane.  Over the last fortnight, I have observed two apparently unconnected products switching from blue to red.  Coincidence? I think not!  The “packaging” of both Waitrose Extra Thick Single Cream (viz the tub) and the iTunes (viz the icon) have made this transition.  Now, due to my extraordinary general knowledge, I am aware that Cardiff City FC also changed their uniform (kit?) in the same way back in 2012 – but I do not believe this is connected.

So, is Waitrose subliminally plugging iTunes or is Apple trying to point me towards the joys of Extra Thick Single Cream?  My own theory is that Waitrose probably led this shift.  For many years, single cream has been found in red pots and double cream in blue (whipped in green) – I’m not sure who decided (perhaps a Royal Commission), but I think we’re probably stuck with this association now.  So, their ETSC has been an anomaly for years – mutton dressed as lamb, as it were – and has now finally been brought into line with the rest of the world of cream (or at least the United Kingdom of cream: I’m not sure if we exported the convention to the Empire, less alone the rest of the world).

This would suggest the John Lewis Partnership have bunged a few used fivers the way of the Apple Corporation to “plug” the change in ETSC packaging.  It is quite a subtle plug (well, it was until GofaDM blew the thing wide open) – but perhaps the JLP have learned an important lesson from the whole U2 album debacle.  It would also be quite tricky (even given 3D printing technology) to supply ETSC via iTunes – though I (for one) would be willing to pay for this service (if the price were right).  For where ETSC leads, surely cheese must follow – and the ability to print you own cheese at home is surely the mark of a somewhat mature civilisation.  However, I could be wrong – perhaps Waitrose have been bribed by Apple to boost the flagging fortunes of iTunes (following the aforementioned U2 album debacle).

Do the tentacles of this conspiracy extend further than cream and downloadable entertainment?  Have readers noted a lengthening of the wavelength of reflected light from other products in the last fortnight?  For the avoidance of doubt, I’m fairly sure that iTunes and ETSC are receding from me at high speed – so I don’t think the red-shifting more normally associated with distant galaxies outside is implicated in this particular case.  Maybe the cost of the colour blue has increased recently?  Though I don’t recall any recent news stories about a shortage of blue caused by recent poor harvests – indeed, I vaguely recall hearing that blue is/are reforming.

If they don’t believe any of my theories, perhaps readers would care to posit an alternative theory which might explain these co-temporaneously shifting product colours?

40 Nights in the Wilderness

Well OK, it was only seven nights and it was in Norfolk, so no-one could take me to a high place to tempt me with dominion over all the kingdoms of the world, however, in terms of the world of 21st century communication it was very much a wilderness.

I was staying in a place without wifi, but in this age of 3G (soon to be 4G) communications hadn’t expected that to be an issue.  I possess a modern smartphone which usually allows me to remain in touch, and even blog, when away from the wifi – but not, it transpires, in Norfolk.    Whilst O2 makes up a substantial portion of the atmosphere (though less than in the past), its rays struggle to penetrate the county of Norfolk.  For much of the week, even a weak 2G signal was hard to come by – service seemed even worse than in Wales which, at least, has the excuse of its challenging topography.  I found only three places with a 3G signal: Wymondham station, Norwich city centre and, weirdly, Barton Turf staithes (which was the most remote location I visited – but obviously a priority for O2).

I know that Norfolk and its inhabitants are the butt of many a joke, with the locals allegedly being shocked by the electric light and the wheel – but in the case of modern communications this would seem to be no joke.  Norfolk must lie beyond the hegemony of the iPhone (which is now so ubiquitous that even I have one, which goes to show how far from “cool” Apple has sunk.  Then again, these days it does rather seem to have given up innovation to spend more time with its lawyers) as many of its features are unusable over most of the county.

Still, the isolation was a learning experience for yours truly.  Whilst I am not of the generation that has a panic attack if unable to check their mobile for more than 5 minutes, I found that do like to check on my electronic “life” every couple of days.  I also found that I missed the iPlayer: the radio was once again rendered all too missable.  It would seem that whilst I like to visit the countryside, I’m a city boy at heart (yes, I know that technically I live in the countryside – but I’m only a short, flatish bike ride from a university city and Cambridgeshire seems to be at least 1G ahead of its northern neighbour).  This can, perhaps, be demonstrated by my activities since my return.  With the Cambridge Film Festival in full swing (like the pendulum of a recently wound clock or a busy playground), over the least couple of days I’ve managed to take in films from Québec, Catalonia and Greece – a geographical span of art house cinema which I suspect only a city can furnish.  All the films had their appeal, though my favourite was Starbuck from French-speaking Canada – well, I say French-speaking, but the film did remind me of what terrible French they speak in Québec (which proved quite useful when I visited a few years back, as I also speak terrible French and so managed to communicate rather successfully).  However, before this degenerates into pseuds corner and I mention my plans to take in some Estonian cinema tomorrow, I should allow this post to fade to black.

Kiwi fruit

Frosts last May mean that I am now dependent on the supermarket for my dessert apple needs.  Modern storage techniques mean that I can still buy British apples, but the range is rather diminished – with most of those that remain being rather recent additions to the canon which first grew (or were first bred) in New Zealand.

This coming week I shall be sampling the offspring of a Braeburn and a Royal Gala, the Malus cultivar known as Scifresh.  Presumably fearing that this  rather industrial name might not be appealing (or apple-ing) to consumers, they are more commonly known under the apple-ation of the Jazz apple.

Jazz is usually used as a modifier to indicate something transgressive, borrowed from its original application to music.  Jazz mags are on the borders of legality, jazz cigarettes lie somewhat beyond and jazz hands are surely never acceptable.  However, the Peelers (surely the correct term for policemen who handle apple-related wrong-doing) have not yet felt my collar, so I must assume that jazz apples remain legal, for now.  If apple cultivars are to be made illegal, might I suggest that the full force of state coercion is first brought to bear on the Golden Delicious – if nothing else, surely this sorry excuse for an apple could be banned under the Trade Descriptions Act!

Fatuous Flavours

Waiting at the checkout in Budgens (yes, I don’t only frequent Waitrose – I am a man of the people) to pay for my caster sugar and copy of the Mortician’s Gazette (the weekly that makes your day) my eye was drawn to the proximal display of sweets.

One of these was a packet of bubble gum which boldly advertised its flavour as “atomic apple”.  Now, I love alliteration as much as the next man (I would refer you to the title of this post for but a single example) but this struck me as an alliteration too far.  According to my dictionary, atomic has a number of meanings – but only one of these could even remotely apply to an apple, viz: of or relating to the atomic bomb or atomic power.

Not an obvious choice for an adjective to apply to a flavour, especially given recent events.  Is it one of a series of such flavours? Radioactive raspberry, nuclear nectarine or Chernobyl cherry perhaps?

Or perhaps the adjective applies to the apple?  Now I have munched my way through scores of different varieties of Malus domestica, but never a nuclear one.  Would they perhaps glow in the dark?  A song of yesteryear (1924 apparently) posed the musical question, “Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost over night?”, perhaps this gum (if applied to the bedpost) could be used as a night light.

I assume the atomic apple itself would be a cooker (rather than an eater), perhaps they would even cook themselves.  The atomic apple does have the sound of the sort of labour saving nuclear invention dreamt up in the 1950s.

Or is this a brave attempt by Messers Hubba and Bubba (disappointingly – as a fan of the Scottish play – no Messers Toil or Trubba) to soften the public up prior to a resurgence of nuclear power?