Mon(bl)ogamy

I thought we had something special, something precious – but clearly I was mistaken.  The long-term, loving commitment I believed we shared has been shown to be nothing more than a romantic fantasy on my part.  Yesterday, to my horror, I discovered that some of you have been reading other blogs behind my back!

It’s no good you claiming these other blogs meant nothing to you or that you can change.  I think we both know better.  You don’t see WordPress as a matchmaker or duenna, no you see it as some sort of brothel of the mind!  It exists just to deliver some cheap tart for you to read and then cast aside – just a way to satisfy your carnal, reading urges.

After crying myself to sleep last night, I have come to realise that this isn’t my fault and I mustn’t blame myself.  I must be strong, I must learn how to carry on!  I will survive!  I have no desire to live in a soi-disant “open relationship”, but I suppose I must learn to extract a modicum of joy from our tawdry literary couplings – at least until I can find a more sustaining blog relationship.

All of which foolishness reminds of how little progress I have made on my promised dating “project” (viz none whatsoever).  As I commence my fiftieth orbit of our local star I have resolved to tackle this lack.  If nothing else, the delay (coupled with my recent Playdate – not a real date) has brought insight.  Whilst I clearly am planning to date for the amusement value and to provide much needed content for GofaDM, what I am most seeking in a date is…

… an audience.

You have been warned!  But at least I am being upfront about this.  I’m not hiding my desires behing a screen of seeking companionship, long walks or perhaps “something more”.  I want someone to listen, laugh where appropriate and provide encouragement for more of this sort of nonsense.  Any takers?

Worry not

Some of you may be concerned about the future of GofaDM after the front page of the Guardian’s website today declared that “The blog is over”.  Let me put your mind at rest, despite the continued lack of demand for it, the supply of GofaDM will in no way be reduced.  A little like Kevin Costner in A Field of Dreams, or perhaps Wayne in WW2, I work on the principle that if I write it, they will come.

Other worrying news recently came from the corridors or power, where there was apparently a purge of middle-aged white men.  Despite all my best attempts, rubbing lamps and the like, I remain trapped in the body of a middle-aged white man – and so worried I might soon disappear or be sent off to some government-sponsored gulag (actually, with this government, it would probably be sponsored by ATOS or G4S – which would make my escape a mere formality).  In fact, the headlines were rather over-stating matters and it seems to have been a purge of a very small number of MAWM (some of whom were immediately replaced by other, rather similar MAWMs) – possibly, it was a purge of Michael Gove and a few others so it didn’t make it too obvious.

Anyway, this purge – or re-shuffle as I believe the PM would prefer it described – revealed the surprising number of complete unknowns who had been hiding out in government for the past four years.  Are the lower ranks of the UK government some sort of witness-protections scheme, designed to enable those who have testified against organised crime to disappear (whilst surrounded by the trappings of hopelessly disorganised crime)?  Still, if I thought the outgoing ministers were unknown, they were A-list celebrities compared to their replacements.  Once again, well paid positions for which no related qualification or experience is needed and for which the complete lack of a public profile is a positive boon were on offer, and no-one asked me.

I have to say the re-shuffle reminded me of A-level selection back in the early 80s.  Economics and psychology were popular choices: not as a result of any intrinsic fascination with the subject matter or anticipated utility, but because their absence at O-level meant that even the weakest of students had yet to fail in the subject area.  I presume that any minister who has presided over the last four years of soi-disant rule, will presumably have attracted a significant volume of public animosity and so will be a liability come election-time.  Best to go with complete unknowns, to whom no baggage at all currently attaches, and hope they don’t make any dreadful faux-pas in the next few months.  A high risk strategy, I suspect- and one which should further detach the voters from the political process – but perhaps the new ministers will just be expected to bring in “games” while the civil servants run the country, blocked only by inexperienced political interference the only (which I think means the Treasury is now, formally in charge).

Actually, I had my own brush with the world of politics a couple of weeks back.  Me and 159 of my closest industry chums (well, OK, other people from the energy industry) spent a morning with the energy team of one of our major political parties.  The party fielded three MPs, a baroness and a bunch of SPADs (special advisers).  I came late to The Thick of It, but I’m afraid at least part of me was trying to decide if anyone present had been written by Armando Iannucci (though they were disappointing light on the swearing front).  Very pleasingly “my” SPAD was called Oli – and he looked even younger than Chris Addison.  I can’t prove he (or his colleagues) studied PPE at Oxbridge – but I would certainly be willing to place a small wager to that effect.  Very bright I have no doubt, but perhaps a little weak on the details that would separate a successful energy policy from “business as usual” – only time will tell.  Still, my contribution was well-received, so come next May I may finally be called to high office.

This may be just as well given that another bastion of the MAWM has just been opened up to competition from the stronger sex.  With my O-level in Religious Studies, I was relying on a well-paid bishopric to tide me over to retirement – but now it seems the competition for positions has become a whole lot tougher.  And, as readers will know, my legs look rather good in purple.  Another disappointment to add to the list – maybe it is time that I hie myself to a nunnery (à la Sister Josephine) or just forget my “vocation” altogether.

German trinity anxiety

Or perhaps it should be Magyar rather than German?  Either way, this post is all about three Hun dread.  Yes, GofaDM has reached its third century – though it probably feels longer.

I had considered a video post, with the author stripped to the waist and oiled for battle to generate a worldwide outbreak of swooning at his chiselled torso (though I should warn you that my woodworking skills are almost non-existent: it was a great relief to both my woodwork teacher and me when I was able to quietly drop the subject).  However, on further, immature consideration I decided against this plan: whilst the internet would no doubt furnish an audience for such a spectacle, I think there is already quite enough material in rather dubious taste available to the surfer without any augmentation at my hands.  I also remembered that the eponymous apple probably represents my closest approach to the concept of Spartan.  It is also worth noting that rather more than 300 souls faced the King of Kings at Thermopylae: what with the allied Thebans and Thespians (yes, apparently the Spartans had their own version of ENSA) and the helots (who had little choice in the matter).  Leonidas and his followers may not have survived the battle, but I’m sure he’d be thrilled to know that he has now been immortalised in Belgian chocolate.

Still, few would have thought, way back in the more innocent days of 2010, that I had quite so much foolishness in me – or quite so much commitment to the project.  Nor that it would escape the censure of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for so long.

I had thought that my rather ordinary life would soon stop yielding new material: but apparently not.  It does so help to set the bar low in life, unless one is attempting limbo.  Despite the volume of material now produced, I fear I am little closer to a viable stand-up act, sitcom or side-splitting panel show concept.  I wonder if I may be spending too much time preparing weak jokes that require a detailed knowledge of the works of both Olivier Messaien and Douglas Adams?  The audience for which can probably be counted on the fingers of a very clumsy threshing machine operator.

Oh well, if I fire enough arrows one may eventually hit a target: or at least identify a suitable burial site for my writing career (I am from Nottingham, after all).  Until, then the punishment (and those first three letters were fully intended) will continue until morale improves.

Could it work here?

I have just discovered that the human brain is a truly astonishing organ, and I was already fairly impressed with its capabilities (lest you fear I have finally surrendered to rampant egomania, I speak in general rather than holding my own cerebrum up as any sort of exemplar).  Researchers at the University of Glasgow have discovered how we avoid drifting off when listening to the truly boring.  This is a topic in which I have some interest given the number of very long meetings at which I have acted as secretary over the years.  The coping strategies I used on such occasions are covered in an earlier post, but, as you will be aware, the reporting of a few anecdotes does not satisfy the demands of the scientific method.

The folks in Glasgow used fMRI for their study (a facility I lacked back in my days as a technical secretary) to “scan” the brains of 18 people (a modest sample, perhaps, but still better than hearsay evidence from a single source with a questionable grasp on sanity).  They discovered that when presented with a boring speaker, the brain creates its own more exciting internal monologue.  It would seem that we really do make our own fun.

Sadly, the study did not cover the written (or typed) word, though one of the authors did note that directly quoted speech is more vivid than indirection quotation.  So, it is unclear whether the readership of GofaDM will be augmenting their enjoyment in an analogous way.  I would suggest that, from a certain point of view (to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi), this whole blog could be considered directly quoted speech, which helps explain my inability to write (or indeed utter) convincing dialogue – a fact which has rather limited my career as a scriptwriter or playwright.  If you are truly providing your own entertainment during the all-too-frequent longueurs in these ramblings, it would certainly take some of the pressure off the author.

Sweet essay

It is now six weeks since I threw caution to the wind and attempted to challenge the wisdom of proverbs: could a middle-aged dog be taught to re-use his limited range of tricks in a somewhat new arena?

My chosen instrument was the Open University course hight AA100: The Arts Past and Present.   This is proving to be both great fun and suitably thought provoking: whilst I read quite widely for pleasure, doing so for a specific purpose does seem to augment the experience.  I think I may be tapping into the same phenomenon that leads to betting on a poker hand – personally, I’m waiting for bridge to take off as an internet craze.

Next week I have my fourth tutorial (which being in Cambridge should probably be called a supervision): well, technically it will be my second (if I make it) as I missed tutorial 3 as it clashed with a recital by the Endellion String Quartet (and you will recall, missed tutorial 1 due to incompetence involving a calendar): luckily, attendance does not count towards my final grade!

After Cleopatra and Dr Faustus have come Paul Cézanne, Michael Faraday and Josef Stalin: I am still firmly in the Reputations strand.  But it’s not all fun: today, I had to listen to two songs from the 1980s by Madonna to analyse the vocal performance and musical context.  Let’s just say her diphthongs were rather unimpressive and I haven’t been inspired to explore more of her ouevre – despite an exhortation from the OU to check out some of her videos.  However, it’s not all reading and listening to 80s pop: oh no, there have been two DVDs and an audio CD of a recent BBC Radio 3 production of Marlowe’s most famous work to enjoy as well.  The modern OU provides a truly multimedia experience – though, as a chap of some vintage, I do keenly feel the lack of the TV broadcasts in the dead of night: where are the beards and dodgy 70s fashions?

Despite its modernity, the course does still retain the rather old-fashioned idea that students should do some work and that this should be marked.  A couple of weeks ago, I had to submit my first assignment – comprised of two essays: one on screen representations of Cleopatra and the other looking at how Faustus is characterised by Marlowe in the language of the first half of his final soliloquy.  This is the first formal writing on the arts and humanities I’ve done in 30 years (unless you count this blog – and I suggest you probably shouldn’t) – and had the added challenge that each essay was limited to 500 words (including quotes and references).  As you might imagine, the word limit did rather increase the challenge presented by this particular assignment – still, I completed it and submitted it on time.  I had thought of making my essays available through GofaDM, but this is against the rules (apparently, it could facilitate plagiarism: which does make me wonder if any of this blog is being used as the basis for a student’s homework somewhere?).  Yesterday came the feedback and the marks.  Actually, I did really rather well: yes, this post exists wholly for me to boast about my essay prowess!  I was also unexpectedly impressed by the feedback.  For a start, there are a few conventions about writing in this subject area which I should now be able to follow (blogging and writing for business don’t fully equip one for everything) – though I am disappointed to have to lose the word “ditzy” (I’ll leave you to guess in which of the essays it was used).  The other thing which became clear to me – which was probably already obvious to you, dear reader – is that I have no real idea how to use paragraphs, and this lack is only made more obvious when constrained by a word limit.  I think his could be the first benefit that my the GofaDM audience receive from my return to academe – let’s face it, there’s been no obvious sign of the word count falling in these posts.

Still, given my early success and apparent ability to acquire new skills (or at least re-purpose old ones) I’m starting to think where next for my second studenthood? (it’s like a second childhood – though earlier and not requiring me to have graduated from my first childhood).  Should I aim to have a BA in an actual art, to complement my existing BA in Mathematics?

Boosting Arts Coverage

Whilst the author is a frequent visitor to events that would broadly fall under the umbrella of “The Arts”, their coverage within this blog falls short of the levels of illumination and insight which would be required if the broadsheet ambitions of GofaDM are to be achieved.  Indeed, it might be thought that analysis of the comfort of the seating and the quality of the interval snacks has been the dominant theme of the arts coverage heretofore.

Well, no more.  I am taking decisive action to improve the quality of the arts-based drivel which sometimes adorns this electronic publication.  No, I am not firing the current writer and hiring a new team (neither budget nor ego permit): GofaDM will continue to follow the British (rather than American) sitcom model, i.e. it will represent the flawed vision of a single auteur, rather than the carefully honed product of a team of skilled writers.  Instead, my chosen approach is to re-train the current writer to improve his critical skills in the sphere of the arts (I will then attempt to instruct an ancient canine in the art of prestidigitation).

As the first, and so far only, step in this bold new initiative I have just started a course with the Open University entitled “The Arts: Past and Present”, aka AA100 (so, I expect a 12-step plan to be involved – still, I think this post covers step 1).  This promises to hone my critical faculties over the coming months til they are sharp enough to split any passing breeze into its constituent zephyrs.

My new life as an (im)mature student has commenced with consideration of the representation of Cleopatra (VII, for the avoidance of doubt) through the ages, Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe and the art of Paul Cézanne.  I can later look forward to studying the immortal Sophocles, Josef Stalin and the role of the diva among many other topics (other peanut-based chocolate snacks are available).

For the first three subjects, I do have some “form” as I believe they say.  I have seen Anthony and Cleopatra staged twice – once with an all-male cast – and have read a range of history books covering the period.  As regular readers will know, I saw Dr Faustus only last summer  – so do know what happens.  This was just as well, as the set version of the text contains extensive notes which are rife with serious “spoilers” for anyone coming to the story afresh.  I’ve also been a fan of Cézanne’s work for a while, and have seen a number of exhibitions over the years – now, perhaps, I’ll know what I was looking at!

However, there is a major challenge coming with the first written assignments (or essays as we, less pretentiously, called them when I was at school).  The first two essays I am required to complete in no more than 500 words.  As should have become abundantly clear to even an occasional reader of this blog, I am not good at keeping it brief.  The last time I had to work within a 500 word limit was for the précis part of my English Language ‘O’ Level back in 1981 – and I had 30 years less junk cluttering up my cranium (and keen to escape onto the page) back then.  Perhaps it was this worry which caused me to turn up to my first tutorial exactly 24 hours late – not an entirely auspicious start, but I was absolutely convinced that 8 Feb was a Thursday.  Things, as one Anthony Aloysius Blair tried to convince us back in 1997, can only get better!  (Though in that specific case, the evidence is at best equivocal.)

Despite my brevity trepidation, the course has been great fun so far – and I have certainly found myself thinking very different thoughts as I wait to fall asleep of a night (rather a pleasant change from worrying about the future direction of electricity markets).  I fear post quality has yet to improve (or fall within a 500 word limit) but it’s still early days…

EU-phuistic

The poor old EU takes a lot of stick, and surely it can’t all be deserved?  Only last week, the government faced a major revolt as some of its members wanted a referendum to reclaim some powers from Brussels.  I fear they may have rather misunderstood the importance of the EU to any UK government – it is a rather handy scapegoat for anything unpopular (just ask Jim Hacker).  If you have all the power, then you also accumulate all the blame – as the other “half” of the coalition has discovered after years of safety in political obscurity (and this has occurred even with a rather modest share of only some of the power).

I’m also not terribly convinced that leaving the EU would do much to protect us from the economic woes afflicting our main trading partner and a continent which lies little more than 20 miles away.  Let’s face it, they seem to be looking for money from China – and they’re neither part of the EU nor physically close.  But, what do I know?

The word “eu” of course, comes to us from the Greeks – a little ironic given the current trouble they seem to be causing the EU.  Eu (or eus) means well, pleasant or good.  So, euphony (eu + phone) is a pleasing sound – which rather fails to explain the euphonium (surely other more deserving instruments could have been blessed with this particular appellation).

Euthanasia – rather frowned upon today – comes from the concept of a good death (and it was this derivation which inspired this post via a recent episode of “In Our Time”) while euphemism comes from good speech and eulogy from good word(s).  In fact, it is from the “art” of eulogy that this blog springs: so clearly one can take direct translation from the Greek too far.  Back in the last millenium, when people left whereso’er I was working I would write a brief eulogy to mark their departure (not for everyone, obviously, just for those I knew well).  These eulogies would all be based on the truth – but wilfully mis- or over-interpreted to produce a soi-disant amusing result (so, not much has changed).  It was my attempt to re-capture the “glories” of these juvenilia that has led to so much suffering (or at least being reminded of them acted as one of the proximate causes of GofaDM).

Not all words starting with the letters “eu” have this etymology.  The word “euro” does not come from the Greek at all – but instead from an aboriginal Australian word for a type of kangaroo.  If you’re going to name your currency after a kangaroo, I think you’ve got to expect a few ups and downs – and, probably a pouch.

Whilst vaguely on the topic of the the current Euro crisis, am I the only one to feel that Ben Stiller must be a shoo-in to play Nicolas Sarkozy when the film is made?

The title you say?  I thought it rather an apt description of the style of GofaDM (which very much follows in the footsteps of John Lyly).