He does all his own stunts, you know

This blog may have given the impression that I live surrounded by carrara marble (less expensive that I’d thought) and precious metals, bathe in Santovac 5 (not a practical or desirable bathing fluid, but reassuringly expensive) and have an extensive staff (below stairs) to cater to my every whim.  If so, you have been misled: I don’t have so much as a cleaner, let alone a stunt man.  Frankly, I’m not sure that in my quotidien existence I’d have enough use for a stunt double to make it worth hiring one on a full time basis: though this week one might have been handy.

Somewhere in the cloud, in an unfashionable corner of Facebook, there is a short video from Tuesday of the author performing a near-prefect back lever on gymnastic rings for a good two seconds.  The more tech-savvy among you may be able to track down this screen gem.  As the title of this post suggests, this is the actual author and has not been faked.  On this occasion, I was fully in control of my movements – or I was until the oxygen ran out (I cannot yet breathe in the full hold).

Later that evening, thanks to the malign efforts of a feline assailant, the author performed another acrobatic manoeuvre but this time without so much control.  As I was cycling up to the theatre, a ginger cat (its colour is not relevant, but is included to add substance to the account) decided to hurl itself under the front wheel of my bike.  If I am known for anything, it is for my lightening reflexes, and so I was able to stop the bike without hitting the animal assassin.  Despite liking to think of myself as a dangerous maverick, it would seem that I am still bound by Newton’s Laws of Motion.  So, while my bike stopped very quickly and efficiently, my own journey did not cease at quite the same time.  As a result, I sailed over my handlebars and landed in a crumpled heap on the road, somewhat entangled with my bike.  Sadly, there is no footage of this incident, but I like to imagine that my passage through the air was marked by its singular grace before my travels were brought to an abrupt end by the tarmac.

What happened next, says quite a lot about me – though does not necessarily show the author in the most favourable or logical light.  Having come to rest, I lay there for a moment or two cursing my assailant – who had vanished into the night by this stage (it failed to leave any insurance details or make any sort of apology, but I suppose that’s cats for you).  I then returned to my feet and checked for witnesses and whether I would need to attempt to “style-out” my unconventional dismount.  My isolation confirmed, my first concern was for damage to the bike.  This seemed ok and so I mounted it again and continued on my way.  This involved a degree of discomfort, but seemed to go alright until I came to park my bike at journey’s end.  At this point, I believe my body moved from embarrassment into shock and I felt quite unsteady on my feet.  Nonetheless, I made it to the foyer of the Nuffield Theatre looking only slightly like Banquo’s ghost.  At this stage, I went more fully into shock – which is an interesting experience, lots of tingling in the extremities, a reduced ability to form coherent sentences and feelings not unlike those that arise just before you faint.  Luckily, at this point I was surrounded by people who know me (and that I do not normally look like one of the undead) and had access to a chair: so I sat down.  Staff at the Nuffield manage to rustle up a glass of coca cola (which seems the modern, more rapidly conjured equivalent of hot, sweet tea) and so unusual did I feel that I actually drank it.  I soon started to feel much more normal (or at least like myself, which may not be the same thing) and it was only at this stage that I decided to ascertain the damage to my body (a rather long time after checking the state of the bike). There were cuts, grazes and contusions along with some minor bleeding on my legs and some discomfort from my hands which had presumably broken my fall.  Inspection of my cycle helmet, which was the only serious protection I’d provided to my body, indicated that it had not had been called upon to serve in the “incident”.

Most of the damage to the author was of a nature that he regularly inflicts upon himself by his inability to walk round objects, preferring to take the short cut through them, but the damage to my left hand and wrist was more severe.  As a result, I decided against cycling home and thought the bus would be a better option.  A friend decided that this was not appropriate either and, while was eventually convinced not to take me straight to casualty (without passing Go), insisted on driving me home and on regular text updates that I was still numbered among the living.  (*** Spoiler alert *** I survived)

I must say that if you are a Friend of the Nuffield Theatre you are not part of  a one-way friendship, or it certainly hasn’t been that way for me.  Being a “regular” definitely has its perks when it comes to arriving at a venue in a sub-par condition.

So, I had an unexpectedly early return home (without my bike) and decided to start icing my left hand with a freezer pack.  Yesterday morning, with my left hand/wrist still giving me gyp, I took myself to the Minor Injuries Unit at the nearby Royal South Hampshire.  On the basis of this trip, I would suggest that the NHS is now a provider of car parking with a small healthcare side business.  Signage to the various car parks was extremely clear, but that to any kind to medical facility substantially less so.  Still, having found the MIU and filling in an extensive form (not ideal with damaged hands), I was seen very quickly.  It seems unlikely that I have broken anything, I’ve just strained or sprained my wrist and I was told to continue with exactly the attempts at self-medication I was already using (on my recent performance when it comes to self-diagnosis, a career in the medical profession must be on the cards).

I have now moved on from the rigid freezer pack to the more malleable form of a bag of Waitrose Essential Peas and Beans (broad and french) to soothe my sprain (well, it was that or a pack of frozen broccoli, which I felt would be less conducive to a swift recovery).  Yes, this is dangerously middle class but I hope it is speeding my return to full function.  When required, I take painkillers – but mostly I can function without.  My left-hand is fine for typing and can play the piano and guitar a little, though fff and barre chords are currently ixnayed.  I’m right handed but make a surprising amount of use of my left (as I am now discovering), but I am slowly finding work-arounds.  Even remotely heavy lifting is currently out of the question (as are gymnastics) and buttons are surprisingly challenging: but life can broadly continue as usual while I heal.  I must admit that the lack of serious exercise is starting to get to me already, I’m trying to think of a workout that can be performed without use of my left-hand – but the options seem limited.  I may have to use a treadmill and actually run: urgh!

Pleasingly, my wrist has finally become somewhat swollen: there is little more dispiriting than being a brave little soldier when nobody knows you’re injured (another positive of this post).  I am also taking this is a sign that the process of recovery is underway…

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Fly-tipping

A “sport” many might consider easier than the traditional(?) cow-tipping, but I would beg to differ.  Some might imagine that the fly’s lower mass would make the task easier, but I would point out that your typical fly has its centre of gravity (and mass, for that matter) much nearer the ground than its bovine counterpart.  The fly further enhances its stablity relative to its mooing rival by dint of its two additional legs.  Perhaps most importantly, not only can the fly see the potential tipper coming from a much wider range of angles but also has the option of taking to the air: not something the earth-bound Fresian or Hereford can manage (without some sort of powered exoskeleton, which I think would be against the spirit – if not the rules – of the sport).

Why, you might ask, have you been subjected to the previous paragraph?  Well, it is because the author was tempted to indulge in a little fly-tipping of late (based on its more common definition).  Actually, to be honest, he was more tempted to arrange a burial at sea (it is somehow a more romantic end), but as a species we have used the oceans as a dumping ground for far too long (presumably on the basis that out-of-sight equals out-of-mind which in turn banishes the unwanted matter from existence: something which even disposal in black hole may struggle to guarantee) and I felt it would be poor form on my part to add to their burden.

Following the emptying of the storage unit, I had some stuff that needed disposal.  This stuff could not be placed into the bin, nor was it substantial enough to count as bulky waste, and so it was up to me to take it to the tip (or recyling centre as I believe we should now call them – though that description would hold more water in South Cambs than it does in South Ampton).  In common with most municipal tips, my nearest one is not located or laid out in a manner which is friendly to the pedestrian or cyclist with rubbish in need of the last rites (but wishing to avoid them his- or her-self).   However, the city council is clearly worried that its traffic-friendly policies are not attracting enough precious vehicles into the city and hopes that the additional traffic generated by the tip will bring its dream of gridlock a little closer.  Having given my car away some time ago, I was forced to hazard my disposal trip on my bicycle.

On a positive note, the disposal process worked – my rubbish is gone and I am still walking (or cycling) through the shadow of the valley of death.  On the downside, I may be unable to have children: which, should perhaps be counted as part of the upside.  Does anyone really want these genes to be propogated?

I have been mountain biking though, in the interests of full disclosure, I should clarify that no mountain was involved.  BUT, I have ridden a mountain bike, off-road, on unprepared surfaces in terrain with closely grouped contour lines.  Technically, the areas involved in North Yorshire and the North Pennines did not involve mountains, just hills, but I think the principles of the activity were fully covered (including a sudden, unplanned dismount into a stream).  I thought this – and 3.5 years living in Southampton – had prepared me for cycling on uneven road surfaces: but I was wrong.

The route between my tiny home and the tip contains quite the worst surface (whilst metalled, I fear I cannot call it a “road” for fear of being called before an OED Board of Enquiry) I have ever had the misfortune to experience from a bike.  If anyone wishes to dislodge a loose tooth, sheep tick or unwanted limb or spouse, could I recommend cycling along Third Avenue (in either direction): it will do the trick.  I do seem to have retained most of my body’s vital appurtenances (and several of my fillings) – but the frequent, heavy impact between the saddle and my nether regions may have destroyed any residual hope for further grandchildren that my parents might have been nurturing.

I think I can say that the Romans would despair of what we have made of their legacy, at least in terms of their transport infrastructure.  Next time (if there is a next time), let’s just say that I shall be wearing a lot more padding “down there”, or should I embrace a future as a soprano?

It was a(nother) dark and stormy day

We find ourselves dragged kicking-and-screaming into cyber Monday.  I’m sure that as St Andrew was tied to a rakishly-angled cross, he was dreaming that one day his sacrifice would be marked by a torrent of emails trying to flog me (and many more besides) discounted tat.

Cyber Monday does sound worryingly like a normal Monday which has had various of its biological parts replaced with technological augmentations.  It would certainly appear that resistance is futile and that our individuality is as nothing in the face of this new onslaught.  In deference to its Greek etymological roots, I insist on pronouncing ‘cyber’ with a hard C which does rather bring Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond to mind – but also hope that it will pass.

Anyway, that is more of an amuse bouche than the main meat of my thesis.  The weekend was preceded by the soi-disant Black Friday, an event imported from the US without also acquiring the associated bank holiday which gives it the ‘meaning’.  Given that the main purpose of the day appears to involve acquiring electrical goods during a riot, it seem more natural to hold the UK version of the event on a Friday in early August to commemorate the events of 2011.

It would seem that I am railing in vain against this new addition to the continued commercialisation of the calendar – despite a savagely satirical post at roughly this time last year.  I could begin to suspect that GofaDM is not having the world-changing impact I had been imagining!  I realised all was lost when the universe started taking the name seriously and delivered an almost Black Friday with oppressive cloud cover meaning that the day barely became light.

When I was a lad, there used to be a recursive story, in which each iteration of the tale began with the words “It was a dark and stormy night…”.  Of late, while the nights remain dark they seem to be relatively storm-free.  The frequent storms which have afflicted November seem to be focusing their efforts on the daytime: when I need to be out-and-about on Shank’s pony or my bike.  There has seldom been a better time to  be a vampire: near 24 hour (at least semi) darkness and excellent travel conditions in the middle of the night.  My gym, at least is open 24/7, and so I have been tempted to reorder my life to a more nocturnal pattern.  I’d be a lot less windswept and my waterproofs would see rather less service.  I could go the the theatre and/or music gigs between breakfast and lunch in my version of the morning.  All I need is a job based around the working hours of the land of Oz…

I begin to suspect that the stories of my youth may not have been climatically accurate.  Or is this another element of the malign influence of climate change?  I don’t remember the UK being so windy when I was a nipper, but I suppose I did spend rather less time on a bicycle in those days.  Maybe it is of a piece with the rather misleading advice on Iberian precipitation promulgated by the musical My Fair Lady.  Despite the insistence of one of that pieces most popular numbers, the rain in Spain falls mainly on the higher ground with the plains being rather arid.  It would seem that just because something rhymes, it doesn’t make it true.  Still, it could be worth a try: has any political party ever tried using rhyme to make its lies and half-truths a tad more palatable?

The Boar’s Head

Please read the title carefully and so understand that this will not be a post about the fountainhead of GofaDM.  No, I shall be musing about different approaches to the concept of hospitality in our debased, market-obsessed age.  I shall be illustrating these musings – using words rather than a slideshow or an ill-advised excursion into the visual arts – by reference to some of my activities over the last weekend (and probably some other entirely gratuitous material which takes my fancy).

From humble beginnings, hospitality is now often described – including by its corporate practitioners – in unhappy conjunction with the word ‘industry’.  While the word has a fairly broad definition, I still feel that the phrase ‘industrial hospitality’ is not one liable to induce warm feelings in those exposed to its activities.  The head of a boar was, of course, considered a symbol of hospitality from its more halcyon days – today, the head of an accountant might be more appropriate.

Later this week, I shall be visiting Cambridge for the first time in almost six months and so have booked some accommodation: despite the milder temperatures July affords, I decided against sleeping rough.  When I travel – whether for business or pleasure – my hotel (or equivalent) needs to provide a bed (preferably comfy), a small amount of hanging space, some basic ablutional facilities and free wifi (or, at least a decent 4G signal from Three).  Anything beyond these basics is a bonus, but has little economic value to me: I have not travelled to visit the hotel, I’m there to “do” something(s) in the locale and need a place to rest my weary, activity-tousled head at the end of the day.  In Cambridge, during term-time my needs are satisfied by one of the local Travelodges which offer en-suite ablutions and a desk, chair and television above requirements (but do charge for wifi, so I use my mobile phone as a hot-spot).  When the students are away, I stay in one of the colleges which offer varying facilities but easily meet my minimum requirements and provide a substantial breakfast in the refectory (plus a chance to wallow in nostalgia for my bright college days).  This rarely sets me back more than £50 per night – but even within Cambridge, I could pay as much as £600 for a hotel room.  What can they possibly be offering that would be worth an extra £550 every night?  How much extra furniture, floor space or additional, fluffier towels can one man use in 20 hours (or so)?  I suppose they might have a gym, but one can readily acquire a DayPass at a much better-equipped local gym for less than a tenner.  In fact, I struggle to think of any combination of additional equipment or services that such an expensive hotel could offer that I couldn’t acquire vastly more cheaply from an alternative local supplier.

On Saturday, I took afternoon tea at a rather posh hotel a short cycle ride from New Milton station (just across the New Forest from my home).  If I wanted a room for the same dates as I shall be staying in Cambridge, I would need to find £800 per night – though this would be in a ‘treehouse suite’ (more a wood and glass structure, raised above ground level on one side, than my idea of a treehouse).  This does provide a forest view and terrace (with hot tub), among other features – but given that I could take a decent holiday to almost any European forest for the cost of a single night’s stay, this is not making for a compelling commercial proposition.  The hotel does have some rather pleasant grounds and not one but two helipads(!), but could not offer a single decent Sheffield stand for the visitor to secure his bike (only the very inferior and insecure style where your front wheel is held in a ‘V’ of thin metal, open to the elements).  Luckily, my expression of dismay when faced with the poor cycle security was noticed by one of the porters who offered to valet park my bike somewhere more secure (and under cover).

Afternoon tea was perfectly pleasant – and did allow me to enjoy the grounds, and particularly the kitchen garden (I am turning into my parents) at a very reasonable rate – but did seem to have been designed to a budget.  The rather odd combination of an attempt at luxury and the fact that every sandwich soldier, mini scone and cake had clearly been counted and the jam and cream portions precisely measured.  In fact, as a table of six we had to share three teapots (one for each type of the three teas selected) but only two strainers and only a single small saucer of jam.  Their attempt to mix the feeling of extravagance with this accountant-led, thrift was oddly jarring.  Still, I didn’t really go for the tea or the hotel but rather for the sparkling company (not provided by the hotel) who made it a very enjoyable afternoon.

I fled this slightly ersatz luxury by bike and rail for, in theory, much more basic surroundings at the Courthouse in Eastleigh.  This is, among other things, a performance space for music and provides studios for a number of artists.  It is sited in the old magistrate’s court and is a tad tricky to find (not helped by my expectations of a white neo-Pallandian edifice – rather than the squat, modern grey-brick building I eventually encountered via the miracle of GPS).  The Courthouse makes no pretensions towards luxury, but for my money made a much better stab at hospitality than its temporal predecessor.  It too lacked bike stands, but my bicycle was quickly stowed in a corridor out of the way.  The staff were very welcoming – as was the foyer’s greyhound who certainly made me feel wanted (I have yet to meet a greyhound both without the sweetest of natures or more than two brain cells to rub together).  The Courthouse doesn’t have a licence (for £2 you can bring as much liquor from home as you like) but does offer a range of snacks and supplied me with a bottle of water to slake my post-cycle ride thirst for only 50p (which may be the cheapest soft drink I have bought in many years).  The furniture in the foyer – and the two courtrooms used as venues – may not shout luxury hotel (but might be able to say boutique hotel in a stage whisper) and certainly didn’t all match but it was very comfy.  There is even a small art gallery to visit while you wait for the gig to start.  The whole place has a wonderfully friendly and informal feel.

The gig itself was a line-up of three talented guitarists with a range of styles which I enjoyed from one of the most comfortable seats upon which I have ever had the pleasure to rest my buttocks (it must be in the top three): I even had heaps of legroom!  The venue is literally a courtroom and you can still see the raised platform on which the judge and other court officials used to sit, though disappointingly no sign of the dock.  It was a very convivial evening, though apparently in the winter visitors might be advised to bring a coat and gloves.

Given the choice between the high-cost, industrial hospitality of an upmarket hotel and the low-cost, ‘craft’ hospitality of an arts centre, I’ll take the latter every time (future dates should considered themselves warned!).  It seems to me that the rich (or at least some of them) really do have more money than sense!

The king across the water

When I moved to Southampton a little more than twenty months ago, one of the clear advantages of my new location was its proximity to the widely-admired (if inaccurately named) New Forest.  Given that it lies little more than half-a-dozen miles away (as the crow or drone flies), I could regularly partake of its arboreal delights.  Prior to last Wednesday, the number of trips I had taken to the Forest could be counted using the fingers of one foot (a foot, I should emphasise, unaffected by radiation-based mutation).

Finally, last Wednesday as the temperature soared in a series of events we may come to look back on as The Summer™, I decided the time had come to visit the hunting grounds of William the Bastard (or Conqueror as I believe he preferred).  So, packing up a few essentials into a spotted handkerchief (OK, a messenger bag) I cycled down to the Town Quay to seek passage across Southampton Water.   There is a regular ferry that will take the traveller over to Hythe, but as I discovered, it is very much a no-frills operation.  This lack of frills extends to an almost total lack of any signage (there was in fact one sign, but someone was standing in front of it, totally obscuring it).  The potential user will also be well-advised to carry a lot of change as one’s ticket is purchased from slightly modified parking machines which do not take credit cards, notes or even the current ten pence piece.  I lacked suitable change, but luckily the ferry company will exchange your notes for small bags of change acceptable to the machines – at a very competitive 1-1 exchange rate.  Such formalities out of the way, my cycle and I boarded the MV Great Expectations and made the short crossing over to one of this country’s many Hythes.

In Hythe, the cyclist can join NCN 2 which promises to transport you to the New Forest and thence to Brockenhurst and probably beyond.  I will admit that it does do this… eventually.  The routing through Hythe and Dibden has clearly not been optimised for either speed or distance and the signage is a little thin on the ground, but patience (coupled with a little luck, an A-Z and a 1:25,000 map from the Ordnance Survey) did eventually deliver me to the edge of the New Forest.  Entering the forest proper required my bicycle to make its first ever crossing of a cattle grid – which it handled like a pro (though it was less comfy for the rider).

The first thing you notice about the New Forest is the relative scarcity of trees – or at least on this eastern edge, where gorse-covered heathland dominates the scenery.  The second thing you notice is that New Forest ponies are not rare – there are loads of them, and (in common with most motorists, some cyclists and a few pedestrians) they clearly believe that they own the road.  I am generally quite nervous cycling near horses (or ponies – though the Shetland variety might be OK) given that they are larger and heavier than me and tend to the unpredictable – but luckily, most of the ponies seemed more interested in taking on four-wheeled opponents than a middle-aged cyclist.  Otherwise, cycling around the heathland in the balmy weather was really very pleasant (the scenery is of a type more associated – by me -with a holiday then a short troll from home).  Seeking refreshment I stopped off in the village of Beaulieu and eventually used the Montagu Arms Hotel as it seemed to be the sole provider of a stand to secure my bike (though the stands may have been provide to secure a four-footed form of transport).  This was a long way from the cheapest option for tea and cake, but I felt they should be rewarded for their bike (or horse) stands and they did provide a lovely garden for the refuelling.  They were also very generous with the quantity of tea (nearly enough to refloat the MV Great Expectations) and the parkin (the only cake on offer) was excellent – also very nice facilities to purge some of the tea before continuing on my way.

I then cycled back to Hythe, using my own route through Dibden Purlieu to the ferry terminal which was substantially more efficient then NCN 2 (though did require navigation of a rather busy roundabout).  With a few minutes to kill before the ferry (actually, more than a few as the timetable seems more a suggestion than a rigid commitment) I stumbled upon an excellent greengrocer which provided me with local tomatoes and rhubarb – if only I could find one nearer to home.

All-in-all an excellent afternoon out, and probably my longest cycle ride since moving to the south coast.  My body held up rather well to the rigours, though I was reminded why – when I used to cycle such distances daily – I wore padded boxer shorts.  Still, I have no real intention to pass on my genes and the contents of my under-crackers seem to be healing nicely.  I shall have to obtain a map of the cycle routes in the Forest and try and allow less than 20 months to elapse before my next visit – perhaps next time I shall take my bike on the train and delve deeper into the Nova Foresta (as the Domesday Book would have it).

Car tales

The more obsessive reader may recall that, early in the summer, I decided to release my car from its bonded servitude (or some form of hire purchase as the finance company would prefer I call it) by making the soi-disant balloon payment (sadly, no balloon was forthcoming).  At this point it became mine (all mine!) and I promised the GofaDM reader that I would start to use it on a more regular basis, i.e. more than twice per year.

I am sorry to report that I find myself to be a liar – since making that rash promise, the car has not moved so much as an inch (relative to the surface of the earth).  I will try and blame Edinburgh and volume of work (and work-related travel) for my failure – but would have to admit that I didn’t have any real need to use the poor, neglected vehicle and failed to generate such a need.  I have used the car so little for so long, that I have almost completely lost the habit for driving – and struggle to remember why “normal” people do so.  The traffic in Southampton and dire state of its roads may also act as a disincentive.  The city is oddly traffic-bound for a place so relatively hostile to both pedestrians and cyclists.  I feel it should try and satisfy at least one travelling constituency – and I would suggest that those on two wheels or none would be by far the cheapest and would also require much less wholesale demolition of the city (the Germans did their best during the last unpleasantness and town planners tried to finish what they had begun, but still the traffic-hardened arteries of the city can probably only be eased by a major bombing campaign – which, for the avoidance of doubt, I am not advocating).

I have learned at least one thing from this lack of vehicular movement: I am unable to successfully identify a lime tree.  Unter den Linden always sounds a wonderfully exciting boulevard in Berlin (immortalised both in song and the Kontakte TV series from which I learned my rather limited German) but it would be no place to park your car.  After a mere week or two, my normally red car is rendered almost black – though even this colour is somewhat concealed by the compost-heap of vegetative debris shed by the aforementioned arboreal menace.  In my defence, I would say that I have parked the car under at least three different trees – which to my eyes appeared markedly difference in both leaf and more general form – but all swiftly coated my car in gunk.  I am starting to wonder if the linden is a shape-changing tree – able to camouflage itself to fox the unwary.  Or has the lime been unfairly singled out and, in fact, many trees share its unwanted habits?

Anyway, yesterday my guilt finally overcame my apathy and I took the car out for a little drive.  As a treat, I took it over to Southampton’s main (so far as I know) household waste recycling centre (or the “tip” as I will continue to call it).  This was to dispose of some junk that has been awaiting this trip for a little over twelve of your earth months – it’s best not to hurry such things.  The tip proved functional, though rather poorly labelled compared to my previous experiences in South Cambs – most containers were unlabelled so you have to guess what might belong in them (or ask a tip-man).  It is also right down at the docks – if you go any further you have to join a very long line of container lorries – and not very well signposted (by the time you find a signpost you have arrived – it also helps to know the acronym HWRC is going to be important to your excursion).  Still, my task was a success.  Excitingly, after a mere 39 months the car has finally travelled a total of 2000 miles.  Yay!

Actually, before the drive I had to take the car to be washed to enable me to see out – which kept a band of our eastern European brethren busy with soap and power washers for quite some time.  Still, my car has once again been restored to its rubicund best.  Before the trip, I did a little cycle-based reconnaissance and believe I have found a tree-free location to re-park the old IQ where it is now ensconced.  Passing it on my bike earlier today (after 24 hours), I could see that it remained clean and detritus free – so far, so good.

I should also re-make my oath to use the car more often, declarations made in public (or in front of the modest readership of GofaDM) are supposed to be more binding psychologically – and with winter coming (though, hopefully, without ice-based zombies) there should be more excuses to go for a drive.  If nothing else, it will keep the battery charged and help me to avoid finding out whether petrol has a “best before” date.

Wake up sheeple!

Last night, I went to the cinema.  I almost didn’t go as the weather forecast suggested the evening would be exceeding wet (and I would be en vélo) and I did worry that the film would be a little grown-up for me.  As it transpired, it was rather less wet than advertised (though made up for this later) and I had passed sufficiently far into adulthood (though this latter assertion is very much a matter of opinion).

I am so glad I went – it was probably the most amazing film I have ever seen.  Whilst I am no Barry Norman (or modern equivalent), it is up against some serious competition this year alone.  Boyhood – Richard Linklater’s latest – was also an incredible movie and managed the amazing task of making the protagonist seem more “real” than most “actual” people.  I somehow left disappointed that I couldn’t go out for a beer with Mason Jr, as he was (mostly) fictional.  However, Citizen Four trumped it – despite being a documentary, a genre I tend to avoid at the cinema.

It tells the story of Edward Joseph (Ed) Snowden from his first contact with the film’s Director, through his revelations and beyond to cover some of the consequences for him and those journalists involved in telling the story.  The young lad (29 at the time) comes across as very likeable, principled and – despite his denials – as close to selfless as one is ever likely to find.  This contrasts with the governments of the US and UK who come across as almost totally unprincipled (no real surprise there I guess) and willing to do almost anything to protect themselves (again, I’m probably not going to make the front page of the papers with that particular revelation).  Barack Obama really comes across as a man whose principles (assuming they ever existed) have not survived the achievement of his ambitions, very much in line with the expectations of the 1st Baron Acton (though they never met).

I suppose I have been broadly ashamed of the UK government for some time (pre-dating, though accelerated by, the current incumbents), but this film did bring this into even sharper focus.  So draconian (a word I was disappointed to discover has nothing to do with dragons) is UK anti-terror legislation that the film’s director and several of its speakers were unable to visit for this UK première – though could go to the US for the première there.  It was also clear that whilst the US government is routinely invading the privacy (and liberties) of its citizenry, this is as nothing compared to the UK government’s activities through a GCHQ programme called TEMPORA (though, it must be said that its primary listening facilities are sited in truly beautiful scenery).  It was also interesting that the European Union was far more interested in protecting the human rights of we Brits than our own government – again, probably not that shocking given that human rights seem to be anathema to our current political masters.

Only yesterday, I recall news headlines about how busy the police were dealing with terrorism.  Regularly, we hear of yet more people being arrested under anti-terror legislation – but we rarely hear of any of these people making it to the courts and never (so far as I can recall) hear of an actual conviction.  In fact, this week has yielded news of at least one person making it as far as the courts.  I haven’t being paying much attention, but he (or it may have been she, as I said I really haven’t been paying attention) appeared to have made some threats about Tony Blair (but then again, which of us hasn’t been tempted) and have his home address (which I suspect is not hard to find).  This strikes me as a far lower level of threat than almost any even mildly public female figure receives on Twitter on a daily basis.  It would seem that if the terrorists were to restrict their activities to threatening the stronger sex, they would be able to continue unmolested by the forces of authority.  Indeed, although preaching hate while in possession of a beard and tan is a very serious offence, doing so while in possession of a pint and a fag is a loveable new force in politics.  I know Islam isn’t too keen on beer – its loss – but its more radical adherents might want to learn some lessons from UKIP, an organisation with which they share more than a few views.

Of course, some will say that I have nothing to fear from all this surveillance if I haven’t done anything wrong.  If I’m being honest, I must admit that – despite my attempts to appear as a devil-may-care maverick in GofaDM – I am dreadfully law-abiding in real life.  I won’t even walk on the grass or jump a red light on my bike (OK, I have occasionally done the latter late at night when the alternative was to wait several hours for a car to arrive and wake the traffic lights from their bike-ignoring somnolence).  I must admit that I was tempted by a little civil disobedience earlier in the week as I cycled past a very expense car (of a marque which was probably once British) which was clearly owned by someone senior in Wonga (corporate loan sharks to the desperate – surely, it is only a matter of time before the other staples of organised crime are brought into the corporate fold), but in the end my essentially law-abiding nature won out over the temptation to a little criminal damage

I suspect the law-abiding only have nothing to fear if you trust the government – and have you seen them?  I wouldn’t trust them not to mis-use a tea-cosy, let alone the personal data of an entire nation.  I suspect the only thing protecting us is their incompetence.

Still, excellent as the film was, I have to admit I didn’t sleep very well last night (though, given my chronic insomnia, this could just be a coincidence).  However, it does make me feel much better about the frequency with which I forget to carry my mobile phone or to turn it back on again after being at a gig (or similar event) – at least it might be making GCHQ work a little harder for my (entirely boring) secrets.  I think I might have to start buying more stuff in cash – just to increase the air of mystery that surrounds my doings.  I am rather tempted by this new life as a spy – at least in some small, rather ineffective ways – and already dislike going more than a few tens of yards in at straight-line when out walking (to throw off, or reveal, a tail – obviously).  I know what you’re thinking, how are these attempts at secrecy consistent with blabbing everything on GofaDM?  Well, (a) I never claimed to be consistent and (b) how do you know I’m not just making this all up?

Returning to Citizen Four, it struck me that it should be required viewing in all citizenship classes in the UK.  The film has a 15 certificate as the F-word is occasionally – and entirely reasonably – used.  I’m not entirely sure what 14 year old the BBFC is trying to protect, but frankly I think that ship has sailed for most children before they reach double figures.  Nevertheless, the film would still work at KS3 even with this certification.  Amusingly, a year to two back, I had a chance to flick through the citizenship test we inflict on foreigners wishing to live here.  The “syllabus” could be divided into three main areas:

1. Facts that would actually be useful to someone new to the UK, this was the smallest area.

2. Some very useful facts if the new citizen wishes to hold their own in a pub quiz, but which would be useless in normal life.

3. By far the latest category covered political and other opinions with varying degrees of basis in fact.

I think the good news here is the UK’s continuing commitment to quizing – a commitment all too evident in education policy which focuses on rote-learning of “facts”.  I think we can all agree that rote learning is the only way to grow the economy of the future (who needs understanding or creativity) – which is good news for me as I was always very good at it!  I look forward to the day when financial success is determined by quiz, rather than the tedious process of economics we use today.

Anyway, I seem to have digressed – and this post was long enough without me wandering off-topic.  My biggest worry on leaving the film was how young Ed is keeping himself (and girlfriend) in Moscow, as I doubt he managed to rescue his savings from the US.  I did wonder if we should be organising a whip-round?  I’d certainly be willing to chip-in.

Given the subject matter of this post, my closing peroration should probably be “Death to the West!” – well, who needs Cornwall anyway. (Sorry Cornwall! It’s nothing personal – just geographical).