The Sussex with the fringe on top

Though only if you move away from the current norm of placing north at the top of your map (which is a purely arbitrary – and fairly recent – choice) .  Yes folks, yesterday I hied myself to the Rape of Lewes, deep within the Hundred of Whalesbone – and no, I was not interfering with a be-corseted woman in an unwanted manner, but was actually visiting Brighton.

Having been an annual visitor to the Fringe in distant Edinburgh for a decade now, I had never been to its equivalent in the much more physically proximate city of Brighton – a lack which I fixed yesterday.  I cannot claim this was as the result of long planning, but rather of a whim on Friday afternoon spurred by an only tangentially connected tweet.

The two fringes have many similarities, including exactly the same ticketing system.  I went to two gigs on the free fringe – which, as in the north, take place in the overly warm function rooms of city pubs (in general, the functions are surjections) – and two at the paid fringe.  So, as in Edinburgh, you can see that I tried to fit far too much into a day – which due to the vagaries of Southern Railways had to end by 20:30 to catch the last train home (I believe the burghers of Brighton are unwilling to have Southampton folk loose in the city after sundown – I suspect we lower the tone).

Brighton has some differences from Edinburgh – it tends to be warmer for a start.  It does seem to attract – at least around the North Laine – a collection of folk who make the denizens of Hoxton or Shoreditch seem so hopelessly unhip that you worry their legs might fall off.  I have never seen such a concentration of artisan coffee, vintage clothing and architectural salvage shops clustered together before.  I even saw a shop that sold only bonsai trees – can this really be commercially viable?  As a result, I found it very difficult to keep a straight-face (which I suppose may not be critical, in a certain sense, in Brighton) and almost had to be carried out helpless with mirth.

My free fringe venue of choice (or random selection) was the Croline of Brunswick which offered a very potable pint of Adnam’s Ghost Ship.  Based on the sign outside, I believe the propaganda of George IV may have been all too successful on the south coast and the famously chaste queen was shown in a substantially more lewd pose than modern historical scholarship would support.  The function room has the potential for decent ventilation, but this was curtailed by the noise from outside (requiring the windows to be closed), and relatively comfy chairs (I have, and was about to, sit on far worse).  I saw two James’s (serially, rather than in parallel)- Veitch and Bennison – who both provided laughs from shows in differing stages of completion.  Worryingly, one (James B) recognised me from Edinburgh – which suggests I am even more memorable than I had feared.  I shall have to work harder on my anonymity.

My paid fringe gigs could have been in Edinburgh, as they took place on a patch of worn grass near a larger building (in this case St Peter’s Church).  This grass was largely covered in tents, pop-up food stalls, unsanitary-looking loos and other temporary performance “boxes”: if I had woken there with amnesia I could easily have believed I was in St George’s Square in Auld Reekie.  In Edinburgh, the “boxes” are usually some sort of portacabin but here it was (literally) a shipping container, fitted out in hardboard (which included the seating – all hard wood and right-angles) – and in this container I spent two hours (with a short break between).  It provided a strange admixture of comedy and the feel of being on the wrong end of human trafficking.

Both the acts I saw had a connection to Exeter – coincidence? You decide.  The Jest were a sketch group with some pretty successful and original sketches in their armoury.  However, the stand-out (and indeed, up) star of my day was Mike Wozniak.  I’d previously seen him doing sketches with Daniel Rigby and Cariad Lloyd, but this was the first time I’d seem him doing solo stand-up.  He was excellent, sufficiently funny to make me (almost) forget the discomfort of my body.

My day in Brighton ended with a couple of shocking sights.  As I ascended the steep hill to the station (another link to the Athens of the North) I passed a rather brazen commercial premises.  As an old fogey, I think of mange as a mite-based skin disease of canines (and other animals) but clearly to the young people it has another meaning.  As so often with the popular, there would seem to be an exploitative secondary market where mange is sold to the desperate at many times its face value.  I was shocked to see that a mange tout was plying his wicked trade quite openly from a substantial commercial premises.  Truly, we love in debased times.



On reaching the station, I found myself a little peckish (a virtually unheard of occurrence, as regular readers will realise) and so popped into the M&S for sustenance.  Being a healthy chap, my eyes were draw to a pack of four small apricots.  My eye was then repelled from the price associated with these very diminutive fruits of the Prunus armeniaca – £3.70! which M&S helpfully explained was 92.5p each.  I guess a city whose economy can support the purchase of such fruit would think nothing of a weekly trip to bring fresh bonsai home.  Still, too rich for my blood and I slunk back to Southampton.  Nevertheless, a very enjoyable – if at times sweaty and uncomfortable – day, just remember to bring your own fruit with you should you visit Brighthelmstone without a few million in the bank.

Part of the in-crowd?

I like to think of myself as a maverick, a lone-wolf – never one to follow the crowd, rejecting anything that becomes too popular.  I have never wittingly followed fashion – though fashion is welcome to follow me, if it has the necessary vision and can keep up.

So events of the last couple of weeks have been rather disturbing, assailing my delicate self-image where it is at its most vulnerable.  I keep finding myself doing things which appear wildly popular with others – have I suddenly joined the mainstream?  Or has it joined me?  Which is the more disturbing development?  Will he ever stop asking us questions?

A couple of weeks back I took the train to Brighton from my home in Southampton (well, OK, not my home – but the nearby station).  This train was beyond packed long before it reached its destination – boarding was impossible for the last six or seven stations and regular Northern Line passengers were growing concerned at the level of over-crowding.  I had somewhat anticipated a degree of crowding given that it was a weekend in the summer, though one with a fairly poor weather forecast, and figured that the masses might be hurling themselves towards the sea – though to be fair, the sea was rarely more than a couple of miles away for the entire rail journey.  As a result, I paid the modest supplement for a ticket in first class – but even I was surprised.  Southern Railways clearly had no clue that the train might be busier than normal and so provided no additional carriages – I’m thinking I should be employed as a highly paid consultant to ATOC as I am far better at gauging the volume of travellers than any rail company.

When I arrived in Brighton, every incoming train seemed similarly heaving – though my new train heading off towards Eastbourne was pretty quiet.  Only some days later did I discover why, apparently Gay Pride was taking place in Brighton – though my fellow sardines did not look particularly gay (then again, my lack of interest in gland games may make me rather poor – and supremely uninterested – in identifying people’s preferred sexual partner).  I will admit that on my return, I did identify that a small group of lads sitting near me were probably gay – but only because one was wearing a t-shirt stating that he couldn’t even think straight.  However, I feel if I was the primary rail operator serving Brighton I might have been aware of this event and laid on some extra rolling stock.

My train up to Edinburgh was also exceeding packed – so much so, that passengers were encouraged to disembark at Darlington and switch to a slightly later and much more empty train.  I had selected the train as it offered the cheapest Advance First fare to Edinburgh – so I fear East Coast may have rather mis-judged its popularity.

The last couple of years, I have ceased pre-booking gigs to fill every minute of my time here in the weeks before my departure – as this was, frankly, making me look slightly insane.  Instead, I rely on the edgy (or just plain unpopular) nature of my choices to allow me to book my gigs “on the day”.  Newspaper articles saying that there were just too many events at this year’s Fringe and audiences were spread too thin, reinforced my belief that this was a safe approach.  Really, I ought to be old and cynical enough to know better than to believe a newspaper headline!

All the “normal” (i.e. ticketed) Fringe events I have visited have been full – and several have just not been available as a result of selling out.  Is the left-field the new centre?  Or is my taste just less obscure than I like to think?  However, it is the Free Fringe that has been the worst – with most events filled to way beyond capacity.  I blame The Guardian (though other broadsheets must shoulder some of the blame)!  It keeps either recommending or giving 5* reviews to people I want to see – before I’ve seen them – thus revealing their desirability to the unwashed masses.  How is a chap to maintain his obscurantism under these circumstances?  Have I been hacked by left-leaning journos?

Liam Williams was the worst example, where I had arrived at the venue 40 minutes before the off to enjoy a leisurely pint.  The queue was already round two sides of the pub (jn the rain) when I arrived and grew much worse – the venue was packed (I suspect well beyond legality) and my tardy arrival meant I missed all the seats by some distance.  Still, the gig was fun – and quite disturbing – and I do tend to spend too much time sitting down whilst in Edinburgh.  I did, however, learn that my shoes were significantly less waterproof than I had hoped – so I did spend the rest of the day with wet feet.

My next gig was with Mark Cooper-Jones and was entitled Geography Teacher – and I (of course) have not one but two O-levels in geography.  When I arrived at the aptly named venue – The Globe (I like to think that MC-J insisted on it) – it was virtually deserted.  I bought myself a pint and by the time this transaction was complete (~ 90 seconds) a substantial queue had materialised from nowhere – and I only just obtained the last seat in the venue (and that was partly due to the kindness of strangers, I like to credit my grey hair and the sympathy for the poor, old codger it engenders – but I think the lad was just being polite).  The crowd weren’t even proper geography fans – no-one even knew what an esker was!  Still, MC-J did seem impressed (or perhaps slightly scared) by my knowledge of glacial features some 35 years after completing my second geography O-level.  Should he happen to read this post, I think mworld could use an inselberg – somewhere central.

I think I may have to learn to live with my new role as trend-setter – perhaps I could monetise it?  Perhaps we could also ban newspapers giving a review summary based on 0 to 5 stars – if people had to read the full text to identify whether a gig appeals, it might keep at least the lazier of the masses out of my way.  Another policy to implement come my imminent, and glorious, rule!


Writing of distinction

I return to the theme of big heads previously explored in Stalking, though many of you may not have made it far enough through that particular magnum opus to know this: never mind the quality, just feel that quantity!  And, do remember that 1200 is the new 500 (well, it is when it comes to word count).  On this occasion, the over-sized cranium in question will be mine.  Yes, roughly a month has passed since the last use of this particular shoe-horn, so it is once again time for me to try and slip in a reference to my essay prowess.

Yesterday evening, TMA03 was returned to me by the electronic magic of the Open University: marked and commented on in the by now traditional manner.  To my significant surprise, my marks had risen once again to reach a level that would gain a Distinction, though you should not expect this quality of writing to make an appearance on GofaDM any time soon (I do only produce one post a month for the OU, and puns are frowned upon).  Plato scored rather better than the Dalai Lama (yes, I am thinking of developing AA100 Top Trumps as a way of garnering extra credit), so perhaps I did pay a price for my lunchtime spurning of the latter’s element of the Open Day back in April.  Or perhaps I’m just a natural at philosophy and it’s time to start inviting young ladies to come back to my place to see my stone?

However, this ever upward ladder of achievement is doing nothing for my performance anxiety.  I’m going to have to pull something pretty spectacular out of the hat for TMA04 (and thinking about TMA07 just brings me out in a cold sweat).  Still, I did have a small epiphany this morning as my bowl of porridge slowly rotated in the microwave, which will help to fit the Jewish element into my 1200 words.  This post is, in a very real way, a form of procrastination before I start my essay plan.  A plan!?  What have I come to?  Next, it’ll be running my life based on PRINCE, and I worry it will be the project management methodology rather than the self-help manual penned by Niccolò Machiavelli.

In other news, Spring is finally busting out all over Sawston and so my swollen cranium has had a chance to gain a little colour and my body some much needed vitamin D.  In response, I’m heading off to the seaside tomorrow: bucket and spade in hand and hankie knotted to protect the top of my head from the sun’s ultraviolet rays (it may also help to connect me to my virtual Jewish grandmother – of which more in another post).  OK, I may be exaggerating a little, but I am off to Brighton, “a town which looks like it is helping the police with their enquiries” in the immoral words of Keith Waterhouse.  I shall be visiting that city’s famous Dome to take in a performance of Shostakovich’ 13th Symphony Babi Yar (in which at least one regular reader of GOfaDM will be performing) which is (a) about as Jewish as his output gets and (b) demonstrates that symphonic composers are rather less triskaidekaphobic than hotel and airline operators appear to believe that we, the great unwashed, are.  So, my visit counts as both homework and one-in-the-eye for superstition.

Now, I really must start that essay plan…


The Bard of Avon truly said that “summer’s lease hath all too short a date” in sonnet number 18.

On Sunday, I found myself in Brighton in a heat wave (neither of which came as a surprise as I had journeyed in a purposive manner to the south coast and the heat had been forecast by the Met Office: I merely used the verb “to find” in a futile attempt to leaven my leaden prose) – despite the best efforts of London underground to seal Victoria station off from the rest of the city.  Whilst in Brighton, I enjoyed a rather sparsely attended gig by the Esterházy Chamber Choir entitled Summer Romance followed by a sun-drenched picnic in Preston Park.  Yesterday, summer continued with the temperature and humidity in Sawston soaring and trains in the east delayed by the wrong sort of heat on the line (the catenaries in this case) for the first time in 2011.

Today, the lease expired in spectacular fashion – thunderbolts and lightning galore reminding those d’un certain âge of Bohemia and the persecuted populariser of the heliocentric universe who so kindly contributed our title.

Unlike the recent heat, the Met Office did not forecast today’s thunderstorms – well, not until after the event and as a professional in the field of divination, I can assure you working ex-post makes it much easier.  As a consequence, I went out on my bicycle well-prepared for heavy rain but not for electric death to descend from the heavens.  To be honest, beyond an up-to-date will and recent confession, I’m not sure there is much the cyclist can do to prepare for a lightning strike.  In this field, the car is definitely the superior form of transport providing, as it does, a Faraday Cage which keeps the charge away from the user.  The inch of insulation which the rubber of my tyres offers (and even the 3 layers of Kevlar contained within) would, I fear, do little to dissuade an errant bolt from selecting me and my steed as a viable route to earth.  Back in my schooldays, a simple silk net was sufficient to provide the Faraday Cage effect – but I will admit that this was challenged with little more than the static generated from a polythene rod rubbed with some fur (real or faux I never asked).  I somehow doubt that a silk net would protect me from the fury unleashed by a cumulonimbus in its pomp.

This made for a nervous journey home from Cambridge.  Luck, or more likely random happenstance, was my friend.  I had a stop-off to make on my return journey and reached that temporary sanctuary just as the first thunder shook the skies over Cambridge.  By the time I came to depart, the vanguard of the storm had passed and I was granted just enough time to return home before its full force arrived.  And what a storm it was!   Even without the electric content I was jolly glad not to be caught outside during it – being British I have been drenched before and will, no doubt, be again (unless carried off rather suddenly to my eternal reward) but it is always very pleasing to dodge that particular bullet.  It somehow puts a positive spin on the whole day which is, of course, the same spin as would be offered by two electrons – though I never find a Cooper Pair quite as satisfying somehow.  On the plus side (something an electron would find rather attractive), portable super-conduction might one day protect the cyclist from an unwanted discharge (and lightning strikes!).