Mumm’s the word

My life since moving to Southampton a little more than 4 years ago has moved, and continues to lurch, in unexpected directions.  I would like to claim that this is not my doing and that it has just “happened” but, in my more honest moments (catch them while you can), I might admit that I have at least (unintentionally) facilitated some of the change.  Much blame may adhere to my willingness to talk to people and (far worse) occasionally listen to them as well.  Further fault may lie with my use of “going out” as a defence against the acquisition of more physical “stuff” which I do not have the room to store.

I shall use my day to illustrate the curious nature of my life, lest any readers be tempted to follow in my footsteps.  The snow may indeed there lay dinted, subject to its availability (I struggle to dint the rain, deep and damp and even though it may lie), but my goodness is debatable (at best) and I lack crown or eponymous square in Prague (I’m sure these last two are mere oversights and will shortly be brought to a satisfactory resolution).

I woke – always a plus at my age – and having hawked up the worst of the fluid to have collected in my lungs overnight (I’m a martyr to cattarh at the moment) dressed, performed my ablutions and tidied away the laundry.  So far, so mundane I think we can agree.  I then put in a solid stint practicing at the piano and like to feel some progress was made.  Adding in the trills to my Scarlatti did have the useful effect of forcing me to assume the correct fingering at several points: it’s also a lot of fun to trill.

I then went off to have brunch with a friend at Mettricks Guildhall.  Yes, I have become someone who brunches: something I never saw coming, as while I have often inserted meals in the long stretch between breakfast and lunch I have always done so somewhat surreptitiously and left them unnamed.  However, this has become a roughly monthly Sunday ritual which is great fun – who could complain at the felicitous conjunction of good conversation and good food?  Given the nature of the vegetarian options on the menu, I generally find myself enjoying avocado toast which also offers the vague chance of being mistaken for a millennial (albeit one with a long paper round).  The concept of the millennial seems a flexible one, but including me within it would move beyond flexibility into bursting.  However, I may be having some success as in the last couple of weeks I have been described as both forty and a handsome young man.  As a result, I am expecting to be appointed as ambassador plenipotentiary for SpecSavers at any moment.

Usually, I follow my millennial toast (grilled bread is all to ready to see an imminent apocalypse) with some cake but today Mettricks was woefully short of cake, so I returned to an old habit and had a toasted teacake.  This used to be my cafe staple and after today, I believe abandonment of the earthy virtues of the teacake for the flight charms of cake may have been a mistake.  My teacake my have been bifurcated inexpertly (or at least asymmetrically) but it was buttery deliciousness incarnate.  The teacake revival starts here! (Though, I shall not be giving up cake – merely augmenting its consumption with yeasty treats).

From brunch I flew – or at least walked briskly – to St Michael’s Square to a Mummer’s Play.  This was an enormous amount of fun with modern references blending seamlessly into ancient tradition.  A decent crowd could almost forget the biting wind as St George, Father Christmas, Jack Finney(?) and all played out scenes of battle, death and resurrection and the ability of folk of good spirit to put Beelzebub and his dripping pan to flight.  In fact, the devil was not the only thing put to flight – a new £5 note was tugged free of the dripping pan and danced around the square in the gusting wind – watched by all (who needs fireworks?).  At one point, it looked to be seeking sanctuary in the church but at the last minute the age-old enmity twixt God and Mammon saw it leap salmon-like back up into the air.  It was finally caught with extraordinary (one might say cat-like!) grace by a friend of mine to cheers from the assembled throng: it seemed somehow to bode well for the year to come!

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The crowd tries not to see a stricken St George in need of urgent medical attention as a metaphor!

It is a tradition of the Mummer’s to retire to the Old Red Lion pub in the High Street after their labours and it seemed churlish not to join them.  I had never visited this particular hostelry before, though I have now learned it is the oldest pub in the city.  It is a very Southampton historic building in that (a) you would never know it was there (I must have walked past it dozens of time) and (b) whilst it has an amazingly historic interior this is counter-balanced by a giant screen showing Sky Sports obscucing a goodly chunk of it.  If one ascends the stairs to the gallery area, one can peep behind the screen to see a full suit of armour ‘displayed’ for almost none to see.  This seems a metaphor for Southampton and its cultural jewels – of which it has a myriad – in that unlike, other brahser cities, we do not boast about them but instead often do our best to hide them.  The city gives up its cultural bounty reluctantly and only to the determined.

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Hidden heritage, crouching armour (not shown, the reader must discover it for themselves)!

Having toasted my discovery with a little ale, I returned home to attempt to move my corporate email over to its new server.  This should be simple enough: export the old emails from Outlook, connect to the new server and import the old emails.  A doodle one might think, well one might think that if one had spent the last 50 years in a coma and had never experienced the work of Microsoft and its ilk.  I exported my old emails, all 2GB worth: fine.  I changed server: fine.  I imported my old emails: not so fine.   When I attempt to look at my old emails Outlook just says, “nothing to see here, move along” (I paraphrase).  This must count as the last efficient storage of nothing in the history of computing, using 2GB to store the sweetest of Fanny Adams!  It is as well I am not possessed of god-like powers, or the entire western seaboard of North America would have been destroyed in an expression of my divine wrath that would make the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah look like a walk in the park (nothing mentioned in the news, so far)….  Still, I have two half-solutions which might eventually form a whole – and can now view long millennia in Purgatory as a well-deserved rest.

I am shortly off to enjoy some keyboard-based jazz, which should bring my blood pressure back to the sort of levels which preclude diamond formation, and so shall bid you, dear reader, adieu!

Bifocal

Last weekend, I snuck back up to Edinburgh to take in the very end of the Fringe.  Well, it was sort of on my way to Belfast so I saved the cost of a return journey.  Usually, when in Edinburgh, I stay with friends who live a little distance from the city centre – but as this was a last minute decision, and given that buses are a little scant over the bank hoiiday weekend, I stayed in the city itself.  As is becoming a tradition when away from home, I stayed in student accomodation: which appeals to my desire for both thrift and nostalgia.  This was almost ideally placed – overlooking the Meadows and less than 10 minutes walk from all the main Fringe venues.  It was rather nice being able to pop-back between gigs and stay out after the last bus had departed (for the great garage in the sky) without having to worry about finding a cab and the cost of paying for one!  It was also very civilised strolling across the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links on Sunday morning to have brunch at Konditorei Falko: which provides a very acceptable and unhurried offering.

My little student flat was next door to the “prestigious” Quartermile development – and I worked out I could have stayed there for more than 16 years at the nightly rate for less than the smallest and cheapest apartment in that development (and that lacked my view across the Meadows or the free utilities).  It is always pleasing to lead some part of the life of the wealthy on a vastly lower budget.

Over a little less than 48 hours, I managed to take in 14 shows – a new personal best!  These were mostly quite hard to pigeonhole into a simple category, but most were really very good indeed.  They really made me appreciate the incredible variety of culture and human creativity on offer at the Fringe.  It made me realise the relatively narrow range of offerings that one can obtain via the haunted fish tank: though I rather fear that many of the things I saw would translate only poorly to that most stay-at-home of cultural media.

I shall attempt, with my hopelessly inadequate descriptive pose, to give you a flavour of a few of my favourites…

Spool: was a dance/theatre piece with two young chaps (called Murmurations) representing the mind and body of a single person.  This had some really interesting ideas and very clever use of props and I really enjoyed it.  I hope they take it further as I think there is more in it.

Folie à deux: comprised Andrew Hunter-Murray (who resisted the utge to hug me this time) and Charlotte Gittins improvising comedy for a full hour from a single word supplied by the audience.  This was some of the most enjoyable improv I have ever seen – who knew so much fun could be obtained from the word “pineapple”?  It was so good that I heard one erstwhile audience member saying he would have to re-evaluate his previous dislike of the form!

Letters from Windsor House: this was an amazingly fun theatre piece about housing in London (among many other themes) by a company called Sh!t Theatre (if it’s OK on Radio 4 at teatime, it is fine for GofaDM).  It was so good that I wish I could travel back in time and see their previous work (obviously, if I could travel back in time, there would be further potential benefits – and perhaps some risks).

Sci Fi: was a trio of actors called Singing Trees performing a comedy, sci-fi parody.  They played all the many roles and it was packed with gags and physical comedy.  It can proudly boast that it offered the best pun I have heard in a good long while.

Houdini: was a comedy/musical/magic extravaganza featuring Nick Mohammed’s character Mr Swallow with support from three others.  This somehow succeeded at being good at all three of its elements – often at the same time.  I saw the last performance and I’m fairly sure Nick was going off-script given the difficulty the rest of the cast had keeping a straight face.

Foxdog Studios: this is basically indescribable, but was the most fun I had at any show in Edinburgh this year.  There were hints of Kraftwerk, 8-bit gaming, scrap metal and a whole load more besides.  How anyone thought up the ideas and then decided to make a show out of them I do not know, but I am so glad they did.  The show used what I assume were more arduinos (arduini?), Raspberry pis, tablets, HD cameras, and other IT tech than would be contained several branches of Maplin combined (oh, and a cardboard box).  The show was part of the Free Fringe and, as an incentive to the audience to put a decent contribution into the bucket, offered veggie pasties made by one of the cast.  These were absolutely delicious – if I hadn’t been to the last performance, I would have returned to the show just to get another!  I also think that shows providing food is a very good idea and one that I wish to encourage.

Labels: was a relatively normal, one-man theatre piece by a company called Worklight.  I had missed out on seeing it in 2015 and on my earlier visit to Auld Reekie, but final caught the last show of this Fringe on bank holiday Monday.  I am so glad I finally made it as it was a really clever piece of theatre: both funny and at times shocking.  It was also oddly relevant given that I had just been reading about Pierre Bourdieu and anthropology.  Worklight have some new work in development which I shall definitely being seeking out.

All these show used five people (or fewer) and most took place in only a very modest space with no or fairly modest equipment.  It seems a pity that there isn’t a circuit for such interesting work to be a part of, and hopefully thrive on.  Much as I love going to Edinburgh, it would be nice if this kind of stuff could happen a little closer to home – and provide its performers with a year-round income.  Maybe it’s time for me to become some sort of entrepreneur and find a space and try and bring interesting productions to the south coast?  I quite like the idea, but don’t fancy the whole hassle of having to market the thing at the general public: then again, I do know a rather good salesman…

Ah, the title.  Yes, I probably ought to explain that.  While at the Foxdog Studios gig, I found that I had to be able to respond to things on a distant screen whilst controlling an avatar using the much closer screen of my mobile phone.  This did not prove straightfoward using a single pair of glasses and I fear my performance suffered as a result.  In consequence, I finally came to realise the potential benefit of bifocals – it would seem they are a must-have for the middle-aged gamer.

Waking in Hoxton

A couple of weekends back, I spent the night in London.  On purpose, you should understand, I didn’t miss the last train home and have to sleep on a park bench.  This is something I very rarely do as it is normally hideously expensive (even on a park bench) – however, I suddenly realised that London has a university (several, in fact) and perhaps I could revert to student life in the capital as easily as in Cambridge or Oxford.  I had been vaguely aware of the option for a while as one of my former offices – sited opposite Bankside Power Station (or Tate Modern as I believe we are now supposed to call it) – was converted into student accomodation some years ago and I’ve always fancied sleeping at my old desk (or at least its location – I fear the desk may be long gone).  The challenge would be in booking the right room, websites are not really designed to accept a description based on a relative location referenced to the building’s fourth floor frontage or its historic usage.

Whilst I could have stayed in NGH, my business in town was in the soi-disant centre of hipster culture on the borders of Hoxton and Shoreditch.  So, I found myself staying in an outpost of the Univeristy of Westminster for the very thrifty sum of £36 (or about €5 as I believe it is now).  I will not try and claim the room was luxurious, though the shared bathroom was suprisingly nice (not at all like my own student days), and I had to forage for my own breakfast – but it was perfectly comfortable and the cheapest night I’ve spent away from home in many a year (well, excluding the kindness of friends and family).

As mentioned above I was staying in Hoxton, but failed to spot a single penny-farthing nor any particularly baroque examples of facial hair.  Frankly, I was the most eccentrically-dressed person I saw – not that I want you to think I spent a lot of time regarding myself in reflective surfaces.  I am beginning to think this whole idea of the hipster is a practical joke promulgated by the MSM and providing much need employment for a few out-of-work actors.  I did have pizza for my supper and when I asked for some eating irons was told “we don’t do cutlery”.  They also didn’t do plates – only paper ones – so I’m not sure if this was a hipster-affectation or some sort of phobia of washing-up.  Or is it some adjunct to the thoroughly discredited idea of paleo dining?  As a result of their fork-embargo, my fingers were rendered horribly oily and I will not be dining in that particular establishment again: though the pizza itself was very good, I don’t like getting my hands dirty.

Brunch on Sunday morning was a much more satisfactory affair, as 8 Hoston Square has not embraced the post-cutlery world.  This was a treat: a leisurely and delicious meal (literally comprising all I would normally eat for both breakfast and lunch) in the liminal space between indoors and outdoors (doors?) overlooking Hoxton Square.  None of the usual urgency that seems to infect my Sundays, with errands or things I ought to be doing pressing at my conscious mind: I could listen to 6 Music, read my book and watch the world go by.  I think I ought to start instuting a regular Sunday brunch option at home, perhaps with friends, to recapture the atmosphere of that morning with a different and more exciting menu than my standard breakfast fare.

Why, you may wonder, was I in Hoxton at all?  Well, I was at ARGCOM Fest: which over two days offers nearly 50 Edinburgh comedy previews (though one person you could never catch more than 16) in the less used spaces of Shoreditch Town Hall.  In a rare feat of self-control, I limited myself to a mere twelve across the weekend.  I rather like ARGCOM as it is rather a good simulation of the Edinburgh Fringe: overly warm rooms, in spaces normally unused (or used very differently) with uncomfortable chairs.  This is how comedy should be!

It was a lot of fun, and really nice having a 5 minute walk “home” on Saturday night rather than 2+ hours making my way back to my tiny garret.  My three top picks – each very different – would be:

Max and Ivan: despite complete failure of the technology and the show not being quite finished, this was very funny indeed and included a nice bit of acrobatics from Max in a very tight space with a wet floor (he’s a braver man than I).

Ahir Shah: clever and very funny, if slightly disturbing as at regular points in the show he would refer to me by name (though I feel I was representing a form of “everyman”).

Andrew Hunter-Murray: also plagued with technical issues, but very funny.  I had to play a character in this one, which mostly involved me wearing a hat and mask: from which I can confirm that a mask is a very impractical choice for a super-hero, it jiggers your vision in all directions.  I did also receive a very sweaty hug from a QI elf, which is not something I can claim every day.  I may now have to aim to complete the full set…

The weekend did tempt me to spend a little more time in London, and less time commuting back and forward to Southampton.  However, I do feel a liitle bit of a traitor going to culture in London, it is in some ways the “enemy”.  I always feel I should be supporting a more local option and reducing the need for artists of all stripes to have to leave Southampton to live in cramped penury in the capital.  I comfort myself with the fact that I probably go to more local culture than anyone else in Southampton in my desperate search for divertissement: unless you know better?  In which case, I’ll try and up my game!