Secrets from Mexico

Way back in the Autumn, as the leaves fell (or were untimely ripp’d from their trees) there was rather a lull in the production of blog posts.  During this hiatus, we here in Southampton enjoyed Mexico Week!  (Please insert your own andales and arribas, as you see fit and your conscience allows.)

I think Mexico week may well have been more widely observed across these Isles and certainly 2015 was a big year for Anglo-Mexican cooperation: no I hadn’t notice either, but apparently it was.

I made it to two main events during the week – which was focused around El Día de los Muertos – both of which yielded unexpected secrets (OK, spoiler alert: one of the secrets was not that unexpected)Winding backwards through time, the second event was a concert of Mexican-composed guitar music given by Morgan Szymanski: with added artworks inspired by each piece.  This was an excellent concert and the CD purchased therefrom is now my preferred choice of lullaby music, when played at low volume as I attempt to breach the high walls Morpheus has placed around his citadel.

Prior to the gig, there was a free workshop in danzón, which whilst Cuban in origin is actively pursued in Mexico.  There was also a chance to attempt some mambo.  The event was graced by a very good live band, comprised (I think) of students from the university.   It was at this workshop, and despite the best efforts of the teachers and my fellow learner dancers (several of whom were from Latin America and all of whom risked physical injury), that the final nails were hammered into the coffin of my hopes to be a dancer.  I have no natural rhythm, I can merely count and then mechanically attempt to reproduce the four, very simple steps involved in danzón.  I’m pretty sure that the Japanese have built robots that could out-dance me – and look more human while doing so.  On the plus side, the dread level of concentration required to produce even this dismal performance left my a sweaty and exhausted wreck: so this my offer an alternative method to encourage sleep.  Not for me the counting of sheep, but the imaginary attempt to reproduce a simple dance.

I pin my remaining (undead) hopes on freer forms of dance: I’m rather tempted by break-dance at the moment.  I think my gymnastic skills could be used to conceal (or at least, distract from) issues in other departments.

The first event was a lecture on Art and Power in Mexico by Dr Jago Cooper: who in addition to his sterling work on BBC4 documentaries is also in charge of the Americas at the British Museum.  Whilst his talk on Mexico was very interesting, the highlights (and secrets) came from the insight into how BBC4 documentaries come to be.  We learned that on BBC4 the academics are allowed to use more and longer words than when aiming at the thickies who watch BBC2 and are even permitted the use of subtitled interviews!  Even so, the word count is surprisingly low: at about the level of an undergraduate essay.  The History department is also rather restrictive on the subjects about which documentaries can be made: apparently, no-one is interested in the Americas (please don’t tell the Yanks or the special relationship will become an even more ironic appellation than is already the case).  If you want to make history documentaries, you better pray your subject area is on the National Curriculum!  (This make explain the TV obsession with the Tudors and National Socialism).  As a result, all of Jago’s work has fallen under the purview of the Art department.

I was reminded of this fact when watching the closing credits for one of the episodes of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s excellent recent BBC4 series on Spain (yes, it did include long words and subtitles).  These revealed that the series was made by the Religious Affairs department: though I suppose he may of had a few pence out of the History department as he did mention the Armada.  This has now become a new project for me: try and guess which unexpected BBC department has been convinced to make any History series I’ve been watching.

My belief that BBC2 history shows will have been seriously dumbed down to avoid alienating its apparently brain-dead audience might explain a degree of inattention when I was (nominally) watching Joann Fletcher’s new series on Immortal Egypt.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that she stated, quite categorically, that Hathor was (among other responsibilities) the goddess of Lovejoy (and I can assure you that I have no trouble at all with the Barnsley accent).  I assume that Hathor’s TV-based brief runs wider than just Lovejoy: but does she extend to other antiques-based programming or lovable wide boys from eighties TV comedy-drama.  I.e., does she offered divine protection to Bargain Hunt or Minder?  Could Hathor have been the never seen, but always feared, ‘Er Indoors?

Now, how many of you can honestly say that you saw that conclusion coming?

s ∈ LME

I have, for some time, had to face the realisation that I would be considered by many to be a member of the much-maligned liberal metropolitan elite.

I am probably quite liberal – though also somewhat practical and so object to wishy-washy “thinking” – and am a firm believer that a working, if implicit, social contract is a very hard thing to create but really quite easy to damage or destroy.  As a result, in enlightened self-interest, if nothing else (and I like to believe there is “something else”), I feel that a society which mis-treats its weak, its disadvantaged and its outsiders is one storing up trouble for the future (as well as being a rather disagreeable place to live).

For the vast majority of my adult life, I have lived in or near to major centres of population – which does rather mark me as metropolitan (even without a purple line and immortalisation by Betjeman).  I’m very fond of the country, just not as a place to live.

For me the elite epithet is the hardest to claim.  Obviously, given my age and other proclivities, I did enjoy playing the space trading game on the BBC Micro back in the eighties – but that’s about as close to Elite as I feel I can realistically boast.  However, I suppose my hobbies (or how I fritter away my slack hours as I call them) which tend to revolve around the arts, science and culture might be considered to be of the elite by some.

However, I think my activities of yesterday evening may have put the tin-lid on my LME status for many.  As is not entirely uncommon, it was spent watching BBC4 – but the programming was unusual even for BBC4.  We started with a glorious hour of birdsong taken from the dawn chorus in three locations in southwest England – no voice-over, no background music just the sounds of nature (plus the occasional plane and a little traffic).  The odd caption assisted with the identification of which bird was singing – and to share a few other salient facts.  One of these other facts was that dawn singing (for the male bird) is a way of showing his fitness – an activity, were I to indulge in at this time of year, would illustrate both my insomnia (all to frequently real) and a complete disregard for my neighbours (something I try and avoid).  I would use an entirely different method to show my fitness – and would probably refrain even from doing that at dawn (well, the middle-aged body can be a trifle stiff at that time of the morning).  However, bird song was only the starter – the main course was even more nourishing.

We were fed with two half hour programmes each showing a skilled craftsman at work – again, without music or commentary.  First, a glass blower at work: showing the near miraculous creation of a jug from a chunk of glass broken off a larger rod in what seemed to be real-time.  The process was quite fascinating – and, for me at least, made glass seem even more magical.  The extraordinary plasticity of almost-molten glass coupled with its amazing cohesive properties does far more to make me believe in a creator god than the intricacies of the human eye (though does still fall a ways short).  However, I do still wonder how they get the glass to stick to the end of the metal blowing rod – I may have to re-watch the show to see if I blinked at this point.

The second showed a chap making what looked like a 9″ cook’s knife from a sheet of metal and a block of wood.  This was not in real-time as the process took 16 hours – and this was using power tools and a modern forge.  However, the time was well spent as the final product was a thing of true beauty – the blade and its patterning, in particular, was incredible.  I very much want one!

It made me realise that all craft, once it reaches a certain level, is Art.  All that labour and heat (and for the knife, violence) applied to such unprepossessing raw materials – what an astonishingly cunning species we can be!  I was also struck that without factory production of our kitchenware, it would a lot more expensive – though its cheapness and impersonal back-story might also help to explain our throw-away culture.  I start to think that I should only allow new things into the flat if they are well-made (though I’m not going the full Morris or Ruskin) – if nothing else, it would help to alleviate the storage issues created by my modest floor space as I suspect I could afford very few such things.

Most importantly, this was television which did not condescend to the viewer and could not have been done better on the radio or with a book.  None of the programmes felt like n minutes of content had been stretched to fill mn (for m≥2) minutes of schedule time.  All three programmes would have been weakened by being interrupted by messages from our sponsors.  I suspect that despite the vast cast of people who worked on the programmes, as revealed by the closing credits, this was even relatively cheap content to produce.  You wouldn’t want to spend every night this way, but perhaps more than once in 49 years could be an achievable objective for the future.

A Star is born

As I was compiling a less than thrilling compendium of my weekend’s activities (or at least the one’s I was willing to share with the general public) and the damage I sustained in the enjoyment thereof, I missed perhaps the most seismic of all the occurrences from the litany.

Oh yes, the medium of the blog may soon no longer be sufficient to contain my creative genius.  As I wandered twixt the Courtauld and Last of the Hausmanns, strolling along the South Bank I made my television debut.  Well, I may have made my debut: as I was recorded I may yet end up on the cutting room floor, but I have high hopes as it is well-known that I have great screen presence and I was wearing my burgundy trousers to boot (oh no, I didn’t just stop at the plum).

To my chagrin, if broadcast this appearance will be on BBC3 and will feature me trying not to walk into a female comedian of Irish extraction (despite her rather erratic behaviour).  I had always rather fancied I would break onto the screen via a BBC4 documentary – either as the subject or front man – but you have to play the cards you’re dealt.  I’m sure once directors and casting agents see me, offers should start flooding in.  Well, a chap can dream…

Ynys Enlli

is what my forefathers (or at least the Welsh ones) would have called Bardsey Island,  a place I rather fancy visiting one of these days.  However, given the rash of productions of his plays and documentaries about his life at present, I think perhaps the whole of Great Britain could be considered “Bard see island”.  Given that 2012 does not seem to represent any particular anniversary for old Will, I assume this is driven by the Jubilee and/or Olympics.

Not that I’m complaining (about the Shakespeare: the Jubilee and Olympics themselves do little for me, but I don’t begrudge others their fun – which may make me unique in the blogging community) – for a start, I’ve enjoyed several of the documentaries spread across Radio 4 and BBC4.  Talking of TV history documentaries, I felt compelled to watch the first quarter of Simon Schama’s recent contribution to the oeuvre without being able to see the screen as I was fighting with a model at the time in pursuit of my day job (for the avoidance of doubt, the model was of the computer rather than the human variety).  This highlighted the extent to which many (if not, most) of the visuals from TV history documentaries are unnecessary: the radio with a fairly short, synchronised slide show would be sufficient unto the material, and probably rather cheaper to produce in these days of declining budgets.  Surely, this sort of approach should be readily achievable in this modern technological age?

As well as taking in a couple of productions the plays by each of the National and the Globe, I have also seen the RSC’s take on the shipwreck trilogy at the Roundhouse.  This wonderful building, I discovered yesterday, used to be an engine shed with a turntable to rotate steam engines (or to play very large vinyl records).  There is little need for such turntables these days as most modern rolling stock is symmetrical (and development of the MP3 player) – with no real distinction between bow and stern (to borrow the nautical terminology).  The only exceptions I could think of are the Class 91 Electric Locomotive and the Class 82 Driving Van Trailer (DVT) – and I have seen a 91 back-to-front – so I wonder how they turn these round?  Also, would a pair of DVT socks help when driving a 225 rake south?  (Yes, that was a joke for any train spotters who have stumbled here by mistake).

Back to the Bard, I saw the shipwrecked based plays in the order The Comedy of Errors, The Tempest and finally Twelfth Night.  It was rather interesting seeing three plays with similar premises, and sharing the same production, basic staging and cast.  All could be recommended, though my favourite was Twelfth Night and coincidentally this made the most extensive use of the ‘ocean’ which formed part of the set.  This also provided the answer to a question which had been puzzling me for some years.  In a piece about Greenfleeves (a passing melodious roundalay), Michael Flanders mentions a number of plays from the 16th century – including something I have previously interpreted as Gorba Duck (he introduced perestroika to many a pond, you know).  However, now I know it was the play Gorboduc (thanks to the surtitles provided at the Roundhouse for the hard of hearing, or in my case, understanding) by Norton and Sackville.  Subtitled Ferrex and Porrex,with hints of Antigone in the plotting (I’m thinking it wasn’t a comedy, for laughs you should look to Ralph Roister Doister) it was considered quite controversial back in 1562 – but sadly would not have been in existence (and neither would RDD) when Henry VIII (allegedly) took a brief break from wife-swapping to pen Greensleeves (yes, I am fact-checking the beloved dead).  Still, I’m willing to forgive Flanders and Swann for taking minor liberties with history given the enjoyment their output has given me over the years.

Anyway, documentaries and plays by the Bard of Avon are stacking up on my PVR thanks to the BBC and Humax, so I ought to watch some of them.  If the first 45 minutes of the RSC’s all black production of Julius Caesar is anything to go by – which were quite incredible, and not a sign of Kenneth Williams (whose portrayal I have relied on heretofore), though I have yet to reach the famous Infamy speech – I am in for a treat!

Pharos

Over this last weekend, there was a strange light in the sky over South Cambs.  Village elders claimed that this was called the “sun” and used to be a regular visitor – but I’m sceptical and suspect they were gently ribbing we younglings.  Some even claimed that the brief warming we experienced was an atavistic glimpse of something called a “summer” which apparently once lasted for many weeks, but that’s clearly fantasy.  Still, I did use the opportunity to sport both my panama hat and my fivefingers to considerable acclaim (well, the hat part anyway).  Luckily, the normal world order has now been restored and I have been zipped back into my waterproofs for the week.

As part of my efforts to keep the arts going in Cambridge going single-handed, I was out every evening last week from Monday to Saturday.  This did enable me to cover theatre, music, comedy and cinema – but also took its toll.  I’m not sure how my mind and body would have stood up to such exertions when my telomeres were rather longer – largely because I was not foolish enough to put matters to the test in my youth – but by yesterday I was really quite tired.  So, I scheduled an evening catching up on the output of BBC4 – that pharos of the mind – which I had missed during the week.

Between the cerebral delights of BBC4, my recording device chose to revert to Channel 4 for some reason and so I caught brief glimpses of one of the Twilight movies.  Young people today are often criticised for having very short attention spans, but many of them (I believe) enjoy these films despite the fact that this one, at least, was interminable.  I managed to watch an episode of the Bridge, a documentary on the Antikythera mechanism and hold a telephone conversation of reasonable length and yet still the film was continuing when I shut-up shop for the night.  The plot seemed to revolve around a miserable girl moping a lot, quite often in heavy rain.  She seemed to keep afflicting herself on some lad who initially had long hair and dressed relatively normally but later had clearly had a haircut and spent most of his time wandering around topless in shorts and heavy rain.  I presume he had been driven to this by the relentless melancholy of his female chum, perhaps in the hope that he would catch his death of cold and be spared her attentions?

Anyway, this lad (I think he may have been the J of the series’ very own Jedward) seemed to have a very healthy all-over tan for someone who spends quite so much time in the rain.  I do not seem to have been similarly blessed despite the recent precipitation – perhaps I should be cycling around topless?  If nothing else it would resolve the issues caused by my waterproofs (human skin, as recently reported, is waterproof thanks to some of the fats in the stratum corneum) and as a bonus could yield a healthy glow.  However, it was not the boy’s skin tone that caught my attention but his teeth.  Even in the screen-based “entertainments” from the land of the free, where the whiteness of one’s dentition is seen as strangely important, I have never seen such brilliantly white teeth before.  They were literally fluorescently white: positively glowing.  If his movie career doesn’t take off (and on the evidence of the clips I saw, acting may not be his strong suit), he could find work with Trinity House keeping ships safe from rocks (and other maritime hazards) around this country’s shoreline.

Serendipity?

News reaches me today from the Antipodes that watching too much television can shorten your life (I assume they have controlled for living upside down and the additional tension created by vocal pitch rising at the end of each sentence).

At the same time, it seems likely that, in response to funding cuts, the BBC will be scaling back BBC4.  As BBC4 is the mainstay of my televisual viewing, it seems that I shall be watching a lot less television in future.

A threat is revealed and then resolved in but a single day.  My plans for practical immortality (as opposed for my rather different plans for practical immorality) are back on track – I had already aced this week’s earlier reported requirement for 15 minutes of exercise per day.  I’m now jolly glad I re-organised my bookcase last week as it seems I shall be increasingly reliant on the print medium for my kicks (and the intellectual underpinning of this blog) in future and will need the extra room.

Still, for now BBC4 is still with us and last night saw the eagerly awaited return of “Only Connect” – the sole TV quiz I’m willing to watch: both for the challenge presented by its questions and the presence of Victoria Coren in the chair.  She’s enough to make a chap go quite weak at the knees (and in the morals)…

…and relax

The last few weeks have been an exhausting whirl with festivals of comedy and music parting me from my usual life of abnegation.  So many nights out past my usual bedtime; so many nights out, period (or, in this case, exclamation mark)!

With the festival season over in Cambridge, my annual pilgrimage to Edinburgh looms, like a giant weaving machine, on the horizon.  Even more comedy and music crammed into even fewer days.  Will I survive the cultural onslaught?

The signs are not entirely positive – a couple of weeks ago I kept acquiring minor finger-based injuries, and this week my shins are acquiring stray wounds.  It is often said that where sense is absent, there is an associated lack of feeling.  This may well be true as whilst I could recall a few of the incidents that led to damage to my phalanges, I have no memory at all of any of those that led to the tibial damage.

So, in this intra-festive lacuna I have decided that I need a rest (and not just to make a tricky snooker shot) before descending once more into the fray.  I also have a stack of BBC4 documentaries to catch up on: the pseudo-intellectual trappings of this blog have to come from somewhere, you know.  As a result, I have tried to spend this week taking it easy – but have discovered (once again) that I’m really not very good at it.  My best attempts at loafing have resulted in a loaf (of bread) and the sharing of my loaf-based secrets with the world (or at least the readers of GofaDM).

I comforted myself with the knowledge that my failure to rest had at least meant that a number of long-outstanding errands had been completed.  However, reference to Mr Collins (the publisher of my dictionary rather than the heir to Longbourn) suggests that an errand requires a trip (in the sense of journey rather than a fall – though I suppose that would also be a journey) of some form – so it seems that I have merely “done some stuff”. When I come to think about the main “stuff” done, viz re-arranging my bookcase to increase the accessibility of my extensive library (including the sorting of the fiction alphabetically by author) and tidying up the wires behind the TV, it does seem worryingly to represent classic displacement activity.  Since relaxation is what I was supposed to be doing, it would seem that at some subconscious level I have some objection to chillin’ (as I believe the kids of a decade or two ago would have said) and am desperately seeking alternatives to avoid it.  I rather fear therapy beckons: with all too much material into which the followers of Freud or Jung could sink their metaphorical teeth (in my, entirely untrained, opinion and, in a nod to Clement’s grandfather, I blame my mother).

Then again, who needs a man with a mittel-European accent and a couch? I have a blog! What more therapy can any man need?  Or, indeed, how much more displacement activity?  If any readers should care to proffer a diagnosis (I will require you to show your working) or text-based therapy, they should feel entirely free to do so – whilst recognising that I shall feel equally free to ignore it!