I am but a fool

My last post gained some unexpected traction, which made slightly galling a scattering of rather obvious uses of words which, despite some similarities with the desired word, were clearly typos.  I believe these have now been fixed but as the author and proof-reader share a brain (or what remains of one) this cannot be guaranteed.

Given the above, you may chose to believe that the title represents a charming bit of self-deprecation by the author or, perhaps, some long awaited self-awareness on his part.  If you wish to retain either of these beliefs, I strongly recommend that you stop reading now.

With a scant fortnight to go until the most heavily-freighted bank holiday in the local calendar, I find myself forced to face up to its imminence (it has been immanent, at least in the retail sense, since September).  This post could be considered a form of displacement activity particularly coming, as it does, after the completion of a number of domestic chores.  Nevertheless, I insist that it is thematically relevant as it will cover a couple of Christmas themed gigs I have been to over the past extended weekend.

The first concert was a celebration of the Oxford Book of Carols, originally published in 1928 (the Oxford Book of Catherines is yet to see the light of day and anyone hoping to see the Oxford Book of Zadies must be planning to live well into the next millenium).  Our guide was the gloriously enthusiastic, even eccentric, David Owen Norris who really made the book, and unusually its preface and notes, come to life.  Among many lessons, we learned that carols are not just for Christmas but there are examples for many times of the year: especially harvest-time and May.  The audience were encouraged to join in with several of the carols – all of them new to me (while simultaneously being very old) – with surprisingly pleasing musical results.  In fact, the book appeared to contain very few carols with which I have any familiarity (perhaps none) though the older members of the audience seemed to remember more than me.  Nevertheless, it was a wonderfully enjoyable way to spend the early part of my evening, rendered even better by the provision of free mulled wine and mince pies to the singers after the show: tackling unknown carols can be very draining and current medical advice strongly advocates that participants should seek warming sustenance as soon as possible after any such undertaking.  I left the event filled with seasonal spirit and festive cheer, not bad for an outlay of a fiver! I am rather tempted to acquire a copy of the book and to try and bring a few of its gems back into more frequent circulation (at least chez moi): though I am slightly daunted by the authors’ expectation that the user should be able to transpose a complex piano part from C to E in their head while playing! (I shall have to rely on the use of tighter kecks to keep singer and accompaniment in a common key.)

Last night, I ventured by bike and train to darkest Netley (and boy was it dark!) to the recently restored Royal Victoria Hospital Chapel.  Despite it dominating the country park in which it now sits, it was remarkably hard to find by bike from Netley station.  As it transpires, my route was pretty direct despite being based on a combination of dead-reckoning and guesswork having briefly checked a map on leaving the station.  Even more surprisingly, I managed to find my way back to the much less obvious station in the pitch black relying on vague memories of trees and fencing with only one minor mis-pedal.

The chapel was once part of the world’s largest hospital but is now the only element that survives: but what a survival!  It is a very impressive building – with a lovely little cafe – and the new interior decor sounds a huge improvement on the previous brown (which I never saw).  I was there to attend the Christmas-timed (if not themed) Sofar Sounds gig.  I’ve been to a few Sofar Sounds gigs now and rather enjoy them, though recognise that they are not for everyone.  You have to book without knowing either where they will be held or which musicians you will be seeing (though I do sometimes have some insider information, though for legal reasons I never trade on this).  They are often held away from traditional venues and are designed to put the music and its purveyors at the heart of the experience: which is not always the case at music gigs.  Usually, most of the audience have to sit on a cushion on the floor, which I tend to do as part of my more general raging against the dying of the light despite the protestations of various of my joints.  I am always pleasantly surprised by the ability of Sofar to sell tickets for these gigs, given the general reluctance of people to go out and even more to go out and see something new.  I assume the international brand name must count for a lot of this success: visitors to a city (and more than 400 of them take part world-wide) might be more willing to try the relatively known quantity of a Sofar Sounds gig than to experiment with an unknown local venue.  Interestingly, the guy who started the whole thing was there last night and got introduced to me for his pains (an unexpected downside of his otherwise successful project).  I wonder if his examples offers any lessons here for more traditional venues…

Last night’s bill of fare offered four local bands – at least one of which I had, disgracefully, never seen before (I’ve almost seen them several times but that really doesn’t count).  They covered a diverse range of musical styles but happily the audience seemed to be there to enjoy themselves and there was a really great atmosphere.  A ‘good’ audience can really help to make a gig a night to remember, it’s a real boost if they are an active part of the experience rather merely being physically present (in which role they could be replaced by a similar number of cardboard cut-outs or a single matte painting).  I had an absolute ball and even, egged on by Route2Roots (the last band), ‘danced’ to the last of the songs (and not just as an excuse to stretch my legs – though I’ll admit that did act as a spur).  Only one of the bands played a Christmas song and Wild Front‘s rendition of We Three Kings was one of the best, and most haunting, I have heard in many years.  It also marked the third time I’d seen their lead singer perform in the last ten days: though I wish to make clear that I am not stalking the poor chap, it is purely a coincidence.

There will likely be more music with at least a nod to the season over the next couple of weeks and there will definitely be more dancing as I am at a ceilidh on Saturday.  However, for now I really ought to return to putting some festive preparation into my own life or Tuesday week will find me playing the role of a woeful, modern-day Æthelred.  As I wave adieu this wordy procrastination, I shall leave the explanation of my choice of title as an exercise for the reader: it is not just at gigs that the audience should be an active participant!

A new banking crisis?

It is, of course, well known that bankers are unpopular with very many people.  This is based on their misdeeds over much of the last decade – misdeeds which I suspect continue little hindered by contrition or conscience – where they gambled with enormous sums of other people’s money and (largely) lost.  I think the fact that many were paid huge bonuses to lose their employers vast sums of money (as it rather soon transpired) which may be more galling to the general public.  Away from banking (and a few other privileged sectors of the economy), large bonuses are not forthcoming however much of your employer’s money you try (or even manage) to lose (unless one considers a P45 a bonus).

Still, I am not here to convince you to transfer your money from the bank to your mattress – particularly if you happen to be a princess: that way lies chronic insomnia.  Though, having said that, if one were to place one’s trust in the Slumberland Savings Bank then you could only ever lose the money entrusted to their care – whether that loss be as a result of fire, theft or third party (the third party does seem to be so much more dangerous than the second or fourth – if only there were some way to bypass it altogether).  This contrasts with the financial services sector which, by the miracle of derivatives trading, can lose many times the amount of money which would otherwise languish beneath one’s sleeping form.  So, perhaps my mattress idea is not quite as foolish as it might have first appeared – and the beleaguered Spanish economy could well benefit from wealthy old lags retiring to enjoy its coastal sunshine.

Which, circuitous route, brings me to my actual point.  Whilst it is well known that much of humanity despises bankers, I begin to think this might have spread to the super-natural realm.  I fear Mother Nature (Gaia, if you will) or perhaps All Mighty Zeus has been offended by their antics and is (quite literally) raining down ineffective retribution upon them.

In recent years, it has become widely believed that bad weather inevitably accompanies a bank holiday – those official days off which the State so generously grants to some of us.  I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to check whether this is actually the case, or merely the result of biased human perception and memory.  Today, I found myself wondering whether this was also the case in the days when such holidays were still more closely linked to a formal religious occasion.

As the day began, I left Scotland – where it was (and still is) a normal working day – and the sun beamed down on my upturned apple cheeks.  However, as I headed south through the country I entered England – where today is a bank holiday – and the sun vanished to be replaced by continuous rain.  The evidence of the previous couple of weeks suggests that Scotland does not generally have such a favoured-nation status with those numinous forces which control our weather – so I conclude that there was something special about today.  I may be seeing causation where only correlation exists, but I posit that the supernatural world has sent rain to England to dampen the spirits of bankers on their day-off.  Sadly, this no doubt well-intentioned attempt to deliver a little divine retribution has generated rather a lot of collateral damage to the plans and happiness of the majority (non-banker) population of England (ironically, much like the banking crisis itself).  Is it wrong to yearn for those ancient days when angry gods were much more focused in their choice of delivery mechanism, viz the thunderbolt?  Is it time to rename our State holidays after some less offensive profession?  Nurse or Fireman holidays, perhaps?  Just an idea, but surely worth a try…

He who makes things sprout

The second four day bank holiday of 2012 is upon us, and once again Tlaloc is giving unstintingly of his benison.  Perhaps stung by criticism that his previous offerings have not been wholly effective in delivering us from drought, temperatures have also plummeted. No longer will the water companies be able to complain that the rain is evaporating before it can enter their reservoirs.

Still, the good offices of the Aztec God of Rain have not been beneficial to all.  The water companies’ gain must be balanced against the adverse effects on so many outdoor events, whether Royalist or Republican, planned to mark the Jubilee and into which so much work has gone.  It was obvious to me that planning to hold the Jubilee over a bank holiday weekend was going to be asking for trouble.  You’d think that after 60 years as monarch of these rather damp islands the Queen would know better – but, as she has never had a 9-5 job and famously doesn’t carry money (much like myself), perhaps the whole bank holiday concept has rather escaped her notice.

Then again, perhaps it wasn’t Her Majesty’s fault: after all, it was the government (only Her’s in name) who moved the bank holiday at the end of May from its traditional temporal location, a weekend of high temperatures and glorious sunshine, to its new date and the cold, wet conditions we are currently experiencing.  I fear the poor saps can’t even organise bread and circuses successfully (a failure which rarely boded well for the rulers of Ancient Rome) and sadly, unlike the taxes on pasties and static caravans, I fear it is too late for a U-turn to do much good.

Still, I’m sure my fellow countrymen (and women) will be able to cope with a little (or more relevantly, a lot) of rain – let’s face it, we are rarely short of opportunities to practice.  After all, is this not the country that invented the mac?  And did so long before Apple came along and claimed the name, making it far more cool but far less waterproof.

Late April Fools

A think tank (which I suspect has as little to do with thinking as it does tanks) has garnered significant press coverage (and a mention in GofaDM) after deciding that UK GDP would be significantly boosted if we did away with bank holidays.

If we temporarily accept the hypothesis that GDP is the best thing a nation can produce, and put to one side the fact that any gain is likely to benefit the very few at the expense of the many, I still fear that this “analysis” contains more schoolboy errors than the entire output of St Custard’s.

Off the top of my head, I could point to the following silly mistakes:

  • The huge loss of GDP recently caused by the Banks might have been slowed (or even reduced) had they taken a few more holidays.
  • The UK actually makes very little (trust me, I’ve tried buying stuff we make and it’s not easy), we are mostly a service economy.  I’m not sure how many more haircuts, insurance policies and the like it is actually possible to sell (legally) in the extra days provided.
  • Many people seem to do most of their consuming on bank holidays, without them I fear for the future of the DIY, sofa, travel and tourist businesses to name but a few.
  • It is a common fallacy that working more hours produces more “stuff” which I thought  Cyril Northcote Parkinson had de-bunked pretty successfully back in 1955.  Whilst it is dangerous to generalise from a sample of one (particularly if that sample is me), I find that not only does it take me longer to do anything when I am working longer hours with less time off, I also tend to make more of a hash of the thing being done.

So, I fear that this plan would result in a poorer, unhappier nation which produces less work of a lower standard from an even smaller number of sectors – and one in which our bankers have way too much office time on their hands to produce dangerous, marginally legal (from the wrong side of the margin) financial products.

But, none of these represents the main thrust of my argument to retain – and indeed increase – our bank holidays.  My argument is, in fact, hydrological.  Over this current bank holiday weekend, most of the UK has seen more rainfall than in the preceding three months put together.  If the government is serious about tackling drought – and the very severe (and real) economic impact thereof – it should be increasing our quota of bank holidays.  Given the well-established fact that Tlaloc is a big fan of the bank holiday, we need to appeal to him to offer us his beneficence (in the from of precipitation) by adding some extras: especially in that difficult and dry September-to-March period where there are so few (and those that do exist are dedicated to other deities who are frankly failing to deliver on the cold, warm or occluded fronts).