Journey to the Pole

Not the North or South Poles – these have been done too may times before and I feel any sense of achievement remaining must be very modest.  Plus, I’m not very keen on wearing a jumper – though I am having a modest rapprochement with that particular garment could this be the bony fingers of old age?) – which I believe is considered important if one is to avoid a chill.

No, I chose to visit one of the several Poles of Inaccessibility.  Again, in my desire to the tourist hordes I avoided those listed on Wikipedia in their North, South, Oceanic or various continental flavours.  I tackled a far more challenging Pole.  A place so difficult to reach that an attempt to visit it made up a substantial chunk of a recent More-or-Less episode on the subject of labyrinths and mazes.

My Pole of choice lies in the city of London which I visited yesterday (and, indeed, on Saturday) to defy those whose stock in trade is terror or those who thought I should have been #reeling.  OK, I was going anyway and was not going to allow a small bunch of coins to interfere with my plans.  I lived in London and regularly used London Bridge when folk hoping to kill me where willing to go to the effort of learning a little basic chemistry and constructing explosives.  I will admit I did catch a slightly earlier train to be “on the safe side”, though that decision was probably more strongly influenced by my train into London on the previous which had lost the ability to recognise signals before it reached Micheldever and then limped into Basingstoke before retiring hurt.

Going in early worked like a charm and my train made it all the way to Waterloo without coming down with anything and was even slightly early.  This gave me the chance to have a quite splendid – if artery-challenging (but they do love a challenge!) – brunch (though as I had it at lunch-time, would that make it supper?) at Spuntino.  This was my second time at Spuntino – the best tentacle of the Polpo empire (which I like to imagine has 8 branches) – and it is now very much a favourite.  I love its distressed decor with the ghost of its previous life still visible, the friendly staff and most of all its delicious if often hard to fathom food.  I think it is supposed to exude a Brooklyn vibe – which it does for me, but then I’ve never been to Brooklyn.  Both my courses yesterday were loosely based on the idea of toast, but far tastier and worse for you than any toast I’ve previously consumed.  They also offered the option of having a Dutch Baby for dessert: but I drew the line at this: Brexit may mean Brexit, but I feel one can go too far.  (I believe that no youthful Netherlanders were harmed in the making of brunch, though a pancake or two may have lost their lives.)

After this filling lunch, I strolled in a rather leisurely fashion towards my goal.  I find it’s best not to approach it too directly or to let it see you coming.  In my perambulations (no, I was not wheeling a Dutch baby around London), I found myself in the delightful and almost empty (which it might not been on a weekday lunchtime) Postman’s Park which contains the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice.  This does not limit itself to those members of the Royal Mail who have valiantly lost their lives trying to ensure that the post gets through – not a single mention of a vicious dog – but instead mostly relates to fire or drowning.  Slightly frustratingly, the memorial does not reveal if the sacrifice was in vain or not – part of me likes to imagine that it was (but, as previously discussed, I am a Terrible Human Being).

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The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

With this inspiration, I continued on my heroic quest hoping that it would not end in my own self-sacrifice.  Tracing part of the much depleted London Wall (sadly not a patch on its Southampton counterpart – our city fathers might not have retained much of the historic centre, but our wall is surprisingly complete), it was not too long before I reached my goal: St Giles-without-Cripplegate.

You may find this an unimpressive feat, but let me tell you that while it can be glimpsed from many a vantage point within the Barbican complex few indeed are the travellers who are able to reach its once hallowed environs.  Once I had arrived, I could look across the water to the crowds in front of the Barbican centre reclining from a choice of a myriad of benches within the empty churchyard empty: well, but for one other hardy explorer.  However, as he had used dogs and oxygen, I feel the laurels were very much mine to claim having travelled unsupported and with minimal equipment (a good book and a pair of glasses).

To briefly leave today’s conceit behind, I was actually travelling to the Barbican centre itself – but it is always good to invoke the spirit of Scott or Livingstone on any trip to the theatre.  In keeping with their spirit, I have decided to claim the area around the church and name it the Ffoulkes isthmus.  I know the locals probably already had a name for it, but I’m British and that sort of nonsense has never stopped us in the past!

I went to see a truly amazing theatrical “event” called 887 by Ex Machina (which I think is basically Robert Lepage and friends).  Last year, I saw their (his?) Needles and Opium which was incredible with its use of a rotating cube and projections: if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.  I think 887 made N&O look like a walk in the park.  887 was incredibly technically complex and involved a huge range of styles of theatrical story-telling.   During the two hours you only see Robert Lepage on stage, but during the applause it did become clear that it used at least seven stage-hands (ASMs?) to make it work and there were three people sitting near me that also seemed to be controlling aspects of the show.  It is not just very clever, it was also a great afternoon of theatre and entertainment.  I even joined in the standing ovation – and not just to give my knees and buttocks a slightly earlier stretch.  If you ever have a chance to go to one of his shows, I’d strongly recommend you don’t let it pass you by.

I would not, however, advise the inexperienced to attempt to reach St Giles-without-Cripplegate.  I have been training for this sort of expedition for years and I would not want to have any reader’s blood on my hands following a failed attempt to emulate your hero.

Mayday

Do not worry, I am not in immediate need of rescue – or at least no more so than usual.  I shall be discursing on the traditional holiday rather than the cry for help (or the deadly butterfly-toting Bond villain).  Wordpress does not like me using the word ‘discursing’, but it is a perfectly valid word, if archaic: so I shall raise a small number of fingers to ‘the man’ and continue.

People make a wide range of choices for their May Day celebrations.  The psychotic supreme leader or gerontocracy that traditionally run totalitarian states seem to prefer having a large proportion of their military forces paraded in front of them: usually sporting both silly hats and walks.  I know one chap who by 5am was not only up, but about and in town performing (I assume with other like-minded folk) in a bout of Morris dancing.  The lone Morris dancer is a very sad and lonely sight: even if there is no-one there to observe him.  Do his bells make a sound?

At 5am on May 1, I was still safely nestled neath my duvet: I may be a fool, but I’m an old fool and time in bed sleeping is rarely wasted or later regretted (which is more than can be said for many of a chap’s waking hours).  I did eventually stir and after a light luncheon took the train up to London to visit the Barbican Centre.  This is my fourth visit in the last 12 months or so, and for the first time managed to walk from Moorgate tube station to the Barbican and back (later) without going the wrong way or becoming hopelessly lost.  For my next trip, I think I can safely leave behind the reel of cotton and the 800g sliced loaf and rely on my own navigational ability to brave the heart of the labyrinth and then later emerge unscathed.  For any of you who were worrying. no man-bull hybrids were harmed in the making of this post.

I was visiting the Barbican Centre to listen to Philip Glass’ Music in Twelve Parts: a four hour extravaganza of musical minimalism suspended over 5.5 hours once the (3) intervals were included.  I have heard a small amount of Mr Glass’ percussion music in the past and some of his film soundtrack work, in particular to the film Koyaanisqatsi, but this was going to be something of a leap into the musical dark.  Still, I somewhat knew the chap organising and directing (from the keyboard) the gig (having twice shared a pint or two with him: which I think in many cultures would make us brothers) and follow the viola da gamba player on Twitter (surely, everyone must follow at least one viola da gamba player on Twitter, or how do they sleep at night?) so I figured it would be worth a punt.  Also, in purely economic terms, it was one of the cheapest concerts I’ve ever been to in terms of a pence per minute rate.

You will be pleased to know that my punt paid off handsomely: I had a glorious afternoon and evening.  It quickly became weirdly engrossing in a way that I imagine meditation or mindfulness is supposed to.  I felt oddly cocooned in music and it was slightly shocking once each segment came to an end and I was forced to face the real world again for the upcoming interval.  For perhaps obvious reasons, the piece is rarely played (despite being shorter and less stressful than most of Wagner’s output) and this was the first time it hadn’t been played by the Philip Glass Ensemble: so it was also  a fairly[sic] unique  – or at least once in a generation – experience.  I did find myself wondering how the musicians maintain their concentration and remember which ‘repeat’ they are in: I become confused/lost within even a couple of repeated phrases in a piece of music so would have been entirely at sea in the hypnotic soundscape of Philip Glass.

The intervals were also quite stressful as it was in these brief interludes that the audience had to attempt to refuel with the victuals needed to make it through the next three parts (of the twelve).  The Barbican did not make this easy of us: the Members’ Lounge was closed all day and the centre has few eateries.  I booked at table at one of these for the long interval (1 hour) only to be told when I arrived to eat that they had stopped serving food two hours before.  Not a welcome message I can tell you!  I had to make do with a merely adequate wrap and brownie combination from a snack bar in the basement.  The Barbican really isn’t very accommodating to the tapeworm-infested or merely hungry visitor: it has very limited options and going “off-site” to find and eat food in an interval of only an hour is quite a challenge.   It would really require a native guide and access to motorised transport.  In this respect it contrasts rather unfavourably with the Southbank Centre which has a huge range of dining options within a short walk and a vastly lower chance of becoming lost on the way.

Still, it did expunge some of the blot from its copybook in the short intervals.  The Jude’s brown butter pecan ice cream I had in interval one – continuing with the sense of adventure that characterised the day – was very tasty and the elderflower and ginger martini I had in interval three was divine (if rather too expensive for everyday – or even every year).

Overall, I had a brilliant time and must take my hat off (sadly left behind on the train on my way home, please don’t blame the martini) to James McVinnie for organising such a wonderful gig.  I eagerly await his next offering…