X-Men

I should perhaps start with an apology to lovers of the work of Stan Lee and his Marvel colleagues and admit that I am no expert on their oeuvre.  Nevertheless, I can’t help observing that most of the X-Men seem to have mutant abilities with a decidedly martial bent.  All well and good for fending off existential threats to the earth and/or its occupants from megalomaniac foes but of less utility in navigating the humdrum vagaries of daily life.

I seem to recall one of the X-Men could convert his skin to the sheen and consistency of metal which I will admit would be handy when picking gooseberries, cutting back a bramble or retrieving a lost ball from a nettle patch.  Storm could control the weather which would be a boon for farmers, gardeners and those planning outdoor events in our unreliable climate – but I must admit that the chaotic nature of the weather system does lead me to worry about unintended consequences.  If a butterfly flapping its wings in one location can trigger a hurricane in a distant locale, I do worry what impact the use of Storm’s superpowers to water my brassicas would have on the wider world: just think of the potential lawsuits?  I suspect that a hosepipe or watering can might be the safer option.  Wolverine’s rapid healing would be very useful for the klutzier among us but I could do without foot long metal blades emerging from the back of my hands: I have a very sturdy pair of kitchen scissors (which can and does crack nuts too) and an 8.25″ cook’s knife for anything they can’t handle.

If I’m honest, most of the superpowers exhibited by the X-Men also seem to play fast-and-loose with the laws of thermodynamics with energy and matter being created, and complex nuclear and condensed matter physics being performed, with no clear power source.  I think one can “borrow” energy from the quantum vacuum, but it does expect very swift repayment even for the tiniest of loans.  I have a feeling its debt collection makes even the least forgiving and most violent of loan sharks seem the very height of patient forbearance.  It’s not even as if the X-Men have a big meal before a major session of world-saving, or enjoy a slap-up dinner when they get home.  I have to do little more than cycle over the Itchen Bridge to find myself in urgent need of a pretty substantial snack, while Magneto can hurl around whole armoured divisions without scarfing so much as a handful of raisins.  I feel that the Laws of Thermodynamics are there for everyone’s benefit and should not be flouted willy-nilly: it’s basically an invitation to the dread Anarch to let the curtain fall and allow universal darkness to cover all.

The stage now set and the impracticality of fictional superpowers being, I like to think, firmly established, I will now go on to discuss actual superpowers witnesses by the author.  Given the nature of my life, these will relate to the production of music – though I think there could be side benefits in other areas of life.

On Saturday I went up to London for my musical fix – though I will admit to taking in a little music (and poetry) in Winchester on my way thanks to the excellent FAP in the Attic at the Railway Inn: which, as its name suggests, nestles close to Winchester station making it a convenient point to break a journey.  Well, that would normally be true but we seem to be going through an extended phase of Southampton being cut off from the rest of the world by engineering works and so my “rail” journey was only marginally swifter than walking.  I don’t often go to London for music – I think I only did it twice in 2017 – as it is a relatively expensive and time-consuming option and because there is so much music available locally.  Indeed, I feel slightly like I am betraying my adopted home city by going to gigs in London.  On this occasion, I missed a number of interesting gigs within walking distance of my flat though, despite popular belief, I do not (and can not) go to every gig howsoever hard I may try.

I went up to London to see Marius Neset at King’s Place (Hall One)  – which is a rather fine venue, guarded by supercilious metal goats (which will be the name of my first heavy rock band).  I first saw him playing with the London Sinfonietta at Turner Sims back in 2016 and that concert really blew me away.  I decided then that if he were to return to these shores I would make a serious effort to see him and this excursion made good on that pledge.  This time he was playing as a quintet – three of whom had been with him in Southampton – but the vibraphone. marimba and chimes player was new to me (more on him later).

Marius is my first suggestion for an actual superhuman.  At times watching him play the saxophone reminded me of observing albatross off the Otago peninsular in New Zealand.  With the albatross I kept thinking that they would have to flap a wing soon, with Marius I thought that he must have to breathe at some stage in this extended virtuosic solo but, in both cases, I was disappointed.  The man has frankly inhuman breath control and/or lung capacity – though did have the decency to appear slightly out-of-breath when speaking between the extended pieces.  I am also convinced he was producing polyphony from the saxophone – something which I had assumed was impossible with a reeded instrument.  I suppose these skills may be of limited use outside of playing woodwind, though I suspect if he ever fancied a stint as a pearl diver he would be a natural: though my recollection of John Steinbeck’s take on that career is that Mr Neset is probably better off sticking with the music.

Such superhuman skills would certainly inspire a degree of awe in me, but these were applied to a series of glorious jazz compositions and with incredible musicality.  He even continued the work that Gilad Atzmon had started a couple of weeks ago and has left me convinced that the soprano sax is a sensible musical instrument and not, as I had previously thought, a terrible, squeaky mistake by Adolphe Sax.  I may not be an expert on the saxophone, but a friend who was also at the gig is a very fine sax player and also rated the playing as the best he’d ever seen.  It is early in 2018, but I am taking little risk in saying that Saturday night will be on my list of the best of the year – possibly even the decade.

The whole quintet were of the standard you’d need to support such stunning sax playing, but it was Jim Hart, the vibraphone and marimba player, who is my second superhuman of the evening.  My longest finger is some 3.5″ from base to tip (I know as I have literally just measured it: my guess had been longer, but then I am a man).  My attempt to play Scarlatti requires me to play a note on the piano with a finger in my left-hand and then immediately play the same note with a finger from my right hand.  This relative minor crossing of my longish (for a human) fingers in a relatively confined space is proving quite the challenge to make work.  The risk of a finger-jam is never very distant and all the notes do not yet reliably sound in the right order.  (Does the melodeon have a more QWERTY-style keyboard to reduce the risk of finger-jams, I wonder?)  Mr Hart was playing using a pair of 18″ (my guesstimate) long sticks (probably not the technical term) in each hand, hitting up to four notes on his “keyboards” simultaneously with the sticks in the left and right hands crossing each other in a blur of movement and not the slightest hint that a collision was even the remotest of outside possibilities.  I still can’t entirely believe the evidence of my own eyes, but if I was going to “gift” anyone with Wolverine-style blades I think Jim would be the least likely to become a danger to himself and others.

So good was the gig, that I even stuck around afterwards to get a CD signed by the great man himself (as shown above).  Unusually, I seem to find myself in agreement with the Daily Telegraph who gave the concert it 5 out of 5: which doesn’t leave the lad much room to improve but I’d still be reluctant to bet against him managing it.  Should he return to these shores, I’m certainly keen to go see him give it a try!

Based on the gig, I have been inspired to try and learn circular breathing, though fear this may end up looking more like an impression of an asthmatic squirrel in the midst of an attack.  Certainly, the omens so far are less than encouraging.  Perhaps more practically, I feel it is time for my first clarinet lesson – so expect a post in about 20 years revealing how it went!

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… and release

In my younger days, I showed very little promise when it came to physical prowess.  When sports teams were picked at school, I could reliably expect to be chosen second (or, on a good day, third) from last: yes, I didn’t even reign supreme when it came to sporting uselessness.  In consequence, my rather tardy choice to attempt gymnastics, when few would be foolish enough to hazard such a course of action, delivers a regular stream of surprises and minor epiphanies.

When hard at work hanging from the rings or the bar, I often find that I don’t recognise my own body – it seems weirdly swollen, deformed or corded by the effort expended.  On the plus side, I do give very good “vein” which is much appreciated by the National Blood Service, but seems to have few other practical applications.  Over time, the once impossible becomes merely very difficult and ultimately can even feel quite restful (compared to the new impossible now being attempted).  There seem to be a number of components to making progress as a geriatric gymnast – though these only become apparent in retrospect.  A chap (or at least this chap) needs the following:

  • To develop a certain amount of strength and stamina – often in the most unlikely of places – before an action can be attempted.  Once the attempt is possible, the necessary anatomy does then start to adapt more rapidly to the demands placed upon it.
  • To gain sufficient confidence that a manoeuvre will not result in sustaining a terrible injury – which often comes down to working out how to safely exit an unwanted position in a hurry.
  • To work out how to lock parts of my body together (and to work out what they are doing when out of eyeshot) as most gymnasts seem to go for clean body lines and a minimum of flail.
  • The final element is to work out how to release the parts of my body which shouldn’t be locked.  This is usually the last part of any given progression to be mastered – it can take a long time to work out how to unlock just the muscles I want (and indeed to work out which ones these are).

As each activity is mastered, another harder one becomes available to try – and I have the impression that there is likely to be no end to this process.  As I achieve each new summit, a whole range of much higher peaks suddenly becomes visible.  Whilst this could be off-putting, I find it rather encouraging and pleasingly the continuing ascent requires very little equipment (though does benefit from high ceilings and a minimum of breakables within a nine foot radius). I don’t need to keep find heavier weights, just moving the dead-weight provided by my body slightly differently offers all the challenge I could ever need.

As the most discerning of regular readers might (perhaps) have realised (but don’t feel bad if the fact had passed you by), I am mildly obsessed by my trek through the foothills of gymnastics.  I have started looking for opportunities to see more advanced students in action – though I’m looking more for something impressive (that I might one day be able to try) than anything which would score 6.0 points in a formal setting.  In pursuit of this interest, I stopped off on the Southbank on my way home from Cambridge to visit the interior of a giant, inverted purple cow.  I was slightly disappointed to find the interior of the cow was even less anatomically accurate than its exterior, but still like to think of myself as being seated in the rumen (which is more roomy(rumy?) than the reticulum, omasum or abomasum).  This visit was not just to critique the veterinary research carried out by the Udderbelly Festival, but to see a show called Bromance.  This involved three young chaps of the sort of varying heights which that most famous of house-breakers, Goldilocks, would have found familiar (I think she would have plumped for Beren as the baby-bear analogue: I feel the dead hand of JRR Tolkein at his naming).  The piece involved the confluence of physical theatre, dance and circus-style gymnastics and was very entertaining (and daunting, if inspiring, for me).  I strongly suspect the theatre and dance elements existed (at least in part) to allow the cast to recuperate for/from the gymnastic elements – especially, as on the day I saw them they were onto their second performance by 18:00).  On the plus side, none of the lads seemed vastly more hench than me (and I could check as by the end they were down to their boxers – always handy for the audience member looking for training tips) which offers some hope – though all did seem more generously buttocked than I (something for me to work on, perhaps).  I also noticed that two of them sported bandaged knees, and one had some sort of shoulder support – so their mastery (and performative frequency) had not come without cost.  In addition to their far greater mastery of the art, I particularly noticed their skill with dynamic activities – whereas my strengths (such as they are) lie with the hold (it is more than enough challenge to achieve a hold, little resource remains to move around).  My own increased dynamism will have to await an increase in confidence: at the moment I have little faith that my body in motion will perform as desired (and the spatial volume which may be affected by failures will also increase significantly).

Anyway, I had not really expected all this mid-life idiocy to have any positive benefits to the rest of my life – well, except, perhaps, from keeping me from the ever weakening grip of the NHS for a little longer.  It turns out that I was wrong, as I learned at my singing lesson last Thursday.  One of my many major challenges with my plan to become a singer is my very poor breathing skills: I’m not at any obvious risk of turning blue, but singing does require a chap to breathe beyond the level of mere subsistence.  I have always tended to breathe from my chest, and even towards the sunlit uplands thereof, which is far from ideal: I should be breathing from rather lower down.  Well, on Thursday, I suddenly found I was breathing from the correct portion of my body (a portion I could feel complaining at the work thanks to that morning’s training session) – finally I was able to release the relevant muscles to breathe properly.  I’m not sure my singing has ever been better – despite the challenges of the roulade (which is not just a tasty desert).  I owe it all to gymnastics!  Or so I think (though I’ll admit that there may be easier to routes to improved breath control).

Dispatches from the heart of Wessex

This will be much less portentous than the title might suggest, frankly I’ve just been to Winchester again.  This time I went by bus – well, there wan’t much choice it was either the bus or a rail-replacement bus.  I went with the always-a-bus, which whilst slightly more expensive does offer an almost door-to-door service – in addition to its greater authenticity.  The real bus offers a more scenic route (past the vast houses and estates of the über-rich) and provides free wifi and charging sockets for your gadgets – something which only the first class passenger lucky enough to catch a Class 444 unit could hope to experience on Southwest Trains.  In fact, bus companies generally seem to have stolen a march on their rail-based counterparts with much better facilities for the yoof market (of which I am obviously an outlying part) – and often more comfy seats and better legroom.

As you may have guessed, my return was to enjoy the final concert of the Winchester Chamber Music Festival.  The festival is organised around the London Bridge Trio and friends (and some very fine friends they were).  I know London likes to imagine itself as the cat’s pyjamas (or the dog’s nightie – well, this is a family blog and I like to imagine parents and children huddled around it squealing with delight) and a step above we mere provincials, but even in the capital I think playing Bridge with only three people is going to be a challenge.

Whilst the afternoon provided a further gem from the diadem of Antonín Leopold Dvořák, my primary reason for going was to see the last (in my personal timeline) of Schubert’s three great song cycles: Die schöne Müllerin.  This was an incredible piece of music and unusually, at least at the start, not swamped by sadness. However, I did have an ulterior motive in going which was to pick up tips for my own singing career – which could feature Die schöne Müllerin in the (very distant) future given that it is pitched at the baritone performer.  As a result, I was studying Ivan Ludlow like a hawk – mostly to improve my breathing, though as a bonus I also learned some more about German pronunciation (despite this, I fear I shall never be able to reproduce the language with the relaxed speed Ivan managed in a couple of the songs).  Ivan was wearing rather a loose suit jacket (for the avoidance of doubt, he was also wearing the trousers), so much of his breathing took place behind closed doors (as it were) – nevertheless, I could spot a major difference between his approach to breathing and mine.  In the run-up to a long phrase or a bunch of high notes, my chest heaves not unlike that of the youthful Barbara Windsor just before the explosive shedding of her brassière while that of Mr Ludlow hardly moves.  I am forced to deduce that he is breathing from his diaphragm (and below) as I have been taught, but largely fail to achieve.  When I rule the world (and it can’t be long now, I reckon in the chaos following Thursday’s election there could well be a golden opportunity for me to seize the reins of power), all singers will be required to wear clothing which is skin-tight from nipples to navel that I might study their technique.

As I took my unreserved seat at the concert (in the front row which offers harder seats, but  much better legroom), I noticed the seat next to mine was reserved in the name of “Mr and Mrs Woodd”.  Initially, I was disappointed and felt the name should have launched with a pair of Ws, but then I realised the name already worked perfectly: double-U, double-O, double-D.  How pleasing!  Knocks my own name’s feeble attempts with a doubled letter into a cocked hat.

The concert ran a little longer than expected so I had a 40 minute wait for the bus home.  As a result I was forced (forced, I tell you!) to seek succour in the Old Vine.  My succour took the form of a pint of Saxon Bronze from the local Alfred’s brewery (he seems to have abandoned the baking after a well-publicised failure).  You may think that bronze should be smelted or cast, but trust me the brewed version is much better (positively ambrosiac) – if this brew had been the eponym behind the Bronze Age, I don’t think the human race would have bothered with iron.

What would Emma do?

As you will discover, in due course, this sentence will be the only reference to the work of Jane Austen – so put Ms Woodhouse from your mind.

Back in January, I spent a long weekend in Cambridge – which does not indicate that it was dull, far from it!  Over this weekend, the teaching of music became a major theme which this post will probably explore (or that is the plan at this early stage).

The theme started with a viewing of the film Whiplash, in which the music tuition is very fierce indeed.  By comparison with the trainee drummer portrayed, my commitment to anything in life would scarcely even be considered half-hearted – despite what I may have thought was serious application on my part.  I have also been spared any teacher even remotely so psychotic – which may perhaps explain my dilettantism, but for which I am suitably grateful,  I’m sure real drummers and jazz aficionados will find much to criticise in the film and others will object to the lack of female characters and rather limited characterisation, but the film is very powerful and gripping and I’d recommend it despite its (no doubt) numerous shortcomings.

At the end of the weekend, I saw Murray Perahia giving a masterclass with the Doric String Quartet.  In contrast with Angela Hewitt last year, Murray is not a natural teacher and much went completely over my head – but there were still some nuggets of interest which I might try and use in my own musical life.

In between these lessons for others, I tried to fit in a singing lesson for myself.  The observant reader may object that this coincided with the time of “the cough” and they would be right – however, the cough seemed to be somewhat in abeyance so I thought it was worth a try.  My voice was not at its best and the cough not as quiescent as hoped.  Under such circumstances finding pitch is quite a challenge as notes tend to be produced much lower down the octave than expected, my breath control (poor at the best of times) was completely shot and even having found a note I had great difficulty maintaining it.  Notes towards the top of my range were particularly problematic.  My performance was not unlike a teenager’s, with the pitch breaking up and down uncontrollably (so my voice, mental age and self-image were in alignment for once).  To help me obtain the best from my damaged voice, my teacher referred me to the advice of Emma Kirkby – famous soprano – as to how to manage under these circumstances.  It seems natural (to me at least) to be somewhat tentative when singing with a cough (or similar), but this makes things worse.  By maintaining good airflow over the old vocal chords, I found that production of the desired note stabilised and my voice sounded pretty good – though I did then run out of air much too soon.  Now, I had been told this many times before, but this was the first time I actually “learned” the lesson – it was instantly obvious the difference that having proper airflow made to my singing.  Today, was the first time I had tried singing since and, old dogs being hard of learning when it comes to new tricks, I started off somewhat tentatively – this is also partly to avoid frightening the neighbours or any nearby cetaceans (well I am a bass living near the coast).  This did not go so well, so I remembered Emma’s advice and went for it (airflow-wise) and my voice worked very nicely thank you.

All I need to do now is sort out my breathing – a skill which, despite having almost reached 49 (not out), still rather eludes me on an all too frequent basis.  That same weekend in Cambridge, the soprano soloist at the Deutsches Requiem was (a) very close to me and (b) wearing a dress that was tight around the lower trunk which made it very clear that she was breathing from the diaphragm (or even below) – rather than (as I do) noisily snatching breaths from the area of the pecs.  My lower trunk is rather too rigid – which is great for the gentleman gymnast and the six-pack, but not so good for proper breathing.  Somehow I need to learn to relax “down there” – something I do automatically when laughing, but can’t do on command.  If only there were more (or indeed any) middle-aged singer-gymnasts I could turn to for advice or inspiration…  Now, what would Emma do?

Jazz, hands

This last weekend, I returned to Cambridge once more – staying at Sidney Sussex college, which is very central.  It did bring back memories of my own first year in college, which was similarly situated albeit in the dreaming spire adorned arch-enemy of my weekend destination.  Ostensibly, I had returned to enjoy a few of the delights of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival – but did manage to tack on some additional fun.

The jazz component of our title was delivered by Ms Jacqui Dankworth and “her musicians”.  Not perhaps my usual cup of tea, but really quite entertaining.  Ms D may not have had a great relationship with her mother but does seem, nonetheless, to be turning into her (a state of affairs which, I seem to recall, Algernon Moncrieff described as the tragedy of her sex).  She also has a condign mastery of the breathing required to sing – something which I rather lack.  Despite somewhat more than 48 years on this planet, my breathing is still surprisingly poor – and this may be exacerbated by my gymnastic ambitions.  Having abs (and, indeed, a core) of steel is vital when hanging from the rings, but is less useful when trying to provide the oxygen supply needed for a decent vocal performance.  This may explain why so few opera singers have been gymnasts (and vice versa).  Despite this obstacle, I did have great fun with the groupetto and Handel’s O sleep, why dost thou leave me? during the singing lesson I managed to slot into the weekend.  I did, however, begin to suspect that my singing teacher’s choice of breathing exercise was more designed to use the student as a human fan than prepare my body for the rigours that were to follow.

Hands were delivered from many places over the weekend.  There was some fine piano playing with Debussy in the mercifully air-conditioned Howard theatre and a rather toastier concert in Gallery 3 at the Fitzwilliam Museum over Sunday lunchtime.  There was also the laying on of hands as my massage therapist once again attempted to return my ageing body to some semblance of its lissome prime.  Once again, my actions – in this case the content of post 500 – generated some surprise: despite being clearly telegraphed (née promised).  The session also generated some rather fruitful ideas to work into my pursuit of dating excellence – of which more will follow in later posts – and a further challenge for me to take on: of which more in the paragraph which will shortly be arriving into platform 3A.

In the narrow vestibule where a chap awaits audience with his therapist is a modest range of reading material.  This comprises a sizeable joke book, a thinner volume on cycle maintenance (this is Cambridge, after all) and a very small selection of (now) rather aged magazines.  I felt that the magazine selection could usefully do with a refresh and it seems it is down to we, the clientele, to take this project in hand.  Ancient copies of Punch or Countrylife would be, frankly, too dull – so I have taken it upon myself to bring a more interesting offering each time I visit.  I am looking for the most obscure, limited readership, magazines possible.  These should have nothing at all to do with Cambridge or massage, but should be suitable for a family audience – I shall need my first example by early(ish) September, so a helping hand by way of a suggestion or two would be terribly useful…

All-in-all, a very enjoyable weekend – though one experiment should not be considered a success.  The weekend, as the week before it, was really rather hot.  As a result, I thought I would attempt a currently popular fad in an attempt to maintain my feet at a comfortable temperature.  I have noticed that many folk eschew the sock with their summer footwear – and I talk here not of the undeniably wise choice to ensure that sock and sandal are never seen dancing cheek-to-cheek.  No, I refer to the sock-less foot being ensconced in deck shoe, plimsoll or trainer.  So, despite my advanced age, I decided to attempt this myself and chose a canvas shoe (a pair, in fact) as my weapon of choice – feeling that the canvas would be more forgiving to my tender pedal extremities and would also allow them to breathe.  How wrong I was, terrible damage to the edges of my little toes and many a toe-knuckle quickly followed this brief flirtation with fashion.  I am left chastened, with a mild limp, and a new found respect for the humble sock and its important role in my life.  I’m not saying I will rush out and buy a darning mushroom, but never again will a mock a sock.  Huzzah for hosiery!

I knew an old woman

The uncharitable might suggest I am turning into one (the very uncharitable might suggest this has already occurred), but enough of this self-deprecation.

As I was cycling into Cambridge this e’en (on my way to a date with the Britten Sinfonia) I swallowed a fly.  For the avoidance of doubt, I do know why – of which more later.  I did consider going on to ingest a spider as a potential palliative or cure, however, I felt that this was an approach that could easily escalate.  There are few peer-reviewed double-blind trials of arachnid consumption as a cure for the swallowing of a fly.  There is anecdotal evidence, but the most heavily publicised case history suggests that the approach does not yield a positive outcome for the patient (or several animals of monotonically increasing size).

The fly was swallowed as I tend to cycle with my mouth open – this is not because I am talking, but because I need the use of my mouth to provide my lungs with sufficient oxygen to indulge in even moderate exercise.  Those who have seen me (an option open to you all by accessing an earlier post) will have assumed that my nose would be capacious enough to cover not only my own oxygen requirements but those of a couple of friends as well.  Loath as I am to disabuse you of this notion, I must admit that my nose is a triumph of style over function and should, mostly, be considered a decorative feature – despite the amount of facial real estate it consumes.  Of course, this may merely be a case of a bad workman blaming his tools: there may be nothing wrong with my nose, I am just unable to use it properly.  Sadly, I was offered little training in the art of breathing when younger: I think you were expected to pick it up as you went along back in the more laissez-faire days of the 1960s.

… and breathe

It was only as I cycled home last night that I realised how poor the recent weather has been – for, it was the first time in an age that I had seen any stars (of the long-lived celestial rather than the fleeting celebrity variety).  I found that I’d missed the twinkly balls of hot gas (see previous parentheses for any necessary disambiguation) – not that they’d been anywhere, merely occulted from my solipsistic view.

Whilst I have keenly felt the absence of amateur astronomical opportunities, the more serious day-to-day issue for the regular cyclist has been keeping dry(ish).  In the last couple of weeks, temperatures have crept towards the seasonal average – which has left it at, or above, those difficult early teenage degrees of Celsius.  At these temperatures, waterproofs are a somewhat mixed blessing – they are very successful at keeping water from outside penetrating but at the cost of retaining a lot of moisture generated by the human equivalent of evapotranspiration (cycling does cause a degree of “glowing” in the practitioner).  My waterproofs are of the modern, technical variety (eVent or Gore based materials) which claim to be able to breathe and so allow one’s perspirative output to escape: however, to the extent these claims are true, I fear they are based on the respiratory performance of a chronic asthmatic.  I find I am left with the choice of whether to become wet from externally or internally generated moisture: neither of which is entirely appealling on the way to a night at the concert hall or theatre.  Surely, modern materials science can produce a better moisture “diode” that permits free outbound flow whilst preventing its inbound counterpart?

As a sometime reader (and viewer) of science fiction, and given my earlier joy on seeing the stars once more, I found myself pondering whether any writers had tackled this issue of better clothing materials in the interstellar future.   Whilst neither the Culture nor the Polity have much time for the bicycle, they do offer excellent all-weather clothing to their citizens – indeed, the clothing also provides protection against hard vacuum and a range of other insults not normally experienced by the early 21st century cyclist.  It is, perhaps, significant to note that both of these future civilisations were devised by British writers: people used to the vagaries of the weather.  If we look at the Federation, and Star Fleet, with their US progenitors, it is a very disappointing picture.  There appears to be no change in clothing available when one goes from indoors (or at least a starship interior) to any planetary body – they seem stuck in polyester pyjamas in all climates.  They don’t even change their shoes (shoes which look less than practical for outdoor use.  Forget the risks of beaming down wearing red, sickbay must be full of twisted ankles).  Does the transporter somehow remove any mud and other detritus picked up whilst on an away mission?  Or does the Enterprise have a huge team of cleaners removing the muddy footprints leading from every transporter room and shuttle bay?  You certainly never see the 24th century equivalent of a doormat, do you?  I suppose it helps that every planet shares the relatively benign climate of southern California – but I fear this may tell us more about the locale of the production and writers than about the clothing needs of a multi-species, pan galactic alliance.

I think I prefer the British view of the future, it may be more dystopian but at least you get sensible shoes!