Embracing eldership

And he’s back!  In more ways than one.  Not just a triumphant homecoming to the blog this weekend, but also to Cambridge.  Like the proverbial canine (26:11) I have returned to the site where I have previously thrown-up pearls of language – though to the uninitiated they may look more like diced carrot in a sea of something even less appetising.

This is my first visit to Cambridge in more than 10 months: my longest separation from the city in over a decade.  The locals do not seem to have been looking after it quite as well as I might have hoped.  The area around the station is even more of a mess than when last I left and is girt by an even denser forest of new blocks of flats (or, this being Cambridge, apartments).  Far worse than this, however, Fitzbillies has stopped offering dinner!  It’s all very well opening a new branch, but where is a chap supposed to dine of an evening?  What about his much need glass of Sipian?  I was forced to dine at my current local – The Punter – which did offer a decent meal and two very acceptable pints of Punter Blonde, but it wasn’t the same.  At my age, I don’t handle change well – which is, of course, why I shall be voting to stay in the EU: it is way too late for me to learn to handle a new take on European realpolitik.

My “digs” in Cambridge are at Westminster College – and very fine they are too.  I think one of the advantages of living in a tiny garret is that wherever else I lay my hat seems suprisingly roomy: though I did narrowly avoid staying in a space ominously referred to as “the Hobbit room”, a description which I believe refers to the ceiling height, rather than a requirement for furry feet.  Westminster is a theological college – a natural fit for me with my O-level in Religious Studies and my natural tendency towards sainthood.  A notice I spotted on my way down to breakfast was kind enough to provide this post’s title.  I think it may refer to an ecclesiastical position – not something I’m planning on taking up in the near term – but as I increasingly find myself the oldest person in the room, I feel it has broader application to my life.  Well, either that or it is a more upmarket way of saying “grab a granny”.

As I arrived at the college to check-in, I had to walk the wrong way down the receiving line for a wedding.  I was at serious risk of being showered with confetti – luckily, my choice of a bright red shirt reduced the risk of me being mistaken for the bride.  I think red weddings remain confined to the work of George RR Martin when he has lost his grip on a large number of characters and needs to reassert control.  Oddly, throughout my whole visit to Cambridge I seem to be being pursued by brides.  Lunching with a friend yesterday, I found myself directly opposite the main registry office with a procession of nuptials being celebrated in insufficiently warm clothing.  I also passed a hen party whilst walking the streets of the city: not a partciularly common site in broad daylight.

Despite the ready availability of potential brides, in deference to my accomodation, I remain steadfast in my commitment to chastity.  The expansion of poverty I leave up to the government (who seem to be doing a sterling job in this area) and I fear I shall never really come fully to grips with obedience: though again the government’s drunken lurching towards a police-state for all but the über-rich may assist here.  Have I divined the government’s hidden plan? A move to mass monasticism.  We are all gradually forced into poverty and obedience while ever rising house prices, to provide investment opportunities to the global criminal elite, mean that the prospect of a monk’s cell comes to looks like luxuriously spacious living.

Still, enough with the lodging-inspired attempts at satire.  The more important lesson of the weekend is that I have moved beyond Cambridge.  I shall always be fond of it and have firends here but home and my life are now very firmly based on Southampton

 

 

 

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Après le Déluge

It has been a little quiet on here of late, and this is not entirely my fault.  As you will later see, I am placing some of the blame firmly with higher powers (or perhaps with a malicious butterfly).  Some portion of the causative liability does lie closer to home, and with the chronic insomnia that has afflicted the author, intermittently, for the last couple of decades.  My recent, prolonged estrangement from the restorative embrace of Morpheus has left me parted from my muse (or at least the get-up-and-go to translate limited inspiration to textual iron pyrites).  Some days, I do wonder if the bone-deep enervation, combined with such news as I fail to avoid, is nature’s way of telling me that I have passed my natural span and I should exit, stage left: it probably has been too long since last I visited the Swiss.  Still, last night I managed to achieve nearly eight hours of uninterrupted slumber for the first time in weeks and so will probably stick around for a little longer.  Annoyingly, when I did awake this morning, it interrupted a dream in which I was being effortlessly witty in front of an audience – something I rarely manage when awake (perhaps the jarring unreality of the hypnogogic state was what brought me back to reality?).

The last few days I have been lying awake in historic Cambridge: seeing friends and indulging in pursuits both cultural and physical.  It had been six months since my last visit, but the orgy of demolition and construction seems to have continued unabated (or even intensified).  Like London, it would seem that Cambridge is pricing out the claustrophobic young – but still offers reasonable value for any sardines seeking a flat share.  Do young sardines get given the key to the tin when they turn the fishy-equivalent of 21?  Or does that musing date me horribly?

In the wee, small hours of Friday morning, Cambridge was hit by a storm the likes of which I have never seen.  We had continuous thunder for several hours and a prolonged period over which the city was struck by 200+ bolts of lightning per minute.  I had a decent excuse for my sleeplessness, rather than the usual “cause unknown” (though having been between jobs for a little while, I think I must exonerate “the man”).  In the morning sunshine, the city looked rather beautiful with all the building and plants washed clean by the night’s precipitative excitement.    Sadly, this was not the only effect of the storm – with significant flooding across the city, including the basement parlour where my massage therapist plies his trade.  Luckily, the waters had been conquered by the modern day Knut by the time I had my massage later that afternoon and the (as always, odd) conversation with my therapist should generate several posts in the days to come.  The storm also took out the city council’s offices and had a rather serious impact on Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

I was staying in Sidney Sussex College – wisely on the first floor and so above any rising waters.  My room was perfectly comfortable – though with oddly few, badly-positioned power sockets, which must be an issue for the modern student – and the shared shower could offer a force of water to match the previous night’s storm.  The college is wonderfully central and offers a very generous breakfast – and, to-date, has always offered extremely stimulating breakfast conversation.  This time, with an american chap involved in the drafting of NAFTA, covering the Euro crisis and the different models of university on the two sides of the Atlantic.  I have never had a conversation in a proper hotel which can match those I’ve had in a Cambridge college refectory: it is almost worth paying for a night’s stay just for the breakfast.

The biggest impact the storm had on me (and, lest we forget, I am the important one here) was the damage to Cambridge University’s computing systems which meant that I was without internet access for most of Friday.  Even when it returned, it was generally slow and would not load the WordPress website at all (though was quite happy to serve any other site I attempted).  Is there some sort of long-term feud between WordPress and Cambridge University?  Have they published something slanderous about the VC?  Whatever the reason, I was actually unable to blog until I returned home: an enforced period of cold turkey (which I seem to have survived without obvious symptoms, so this is not an addiction – it must be a life-style choice).

It was lovely being back in Cambridge and I remember why I loved living there.  I also remembered some of the frustrations too: Saturday combined graduation with an enormous quantity of foreign language students and the usual shoppers making the city centre hideously busy.  I hid in a variety of bookshops, the Divinity School (aka The “Div” School – which gives a very different impression of its role) and a church before fleeing back towards the relative peace-and-quiet of London’s Southbank and thence home.  I think I could live in Cambridge again – if life were to take me that way – but there is now a lot about Southampton and it environs that I would miss.  My new city has quietly wormed its way into my affections and become home.

The title for this return to the blog, continues the occasional (and largely ignored) conceit of using foreign titles: on this occasion turning to the French poet Arthur Rimbaud (never played by Sly Stallone, so far as I know) and his thematically rather apt work of the same name.

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!

Decomposing

Some may worry that my trip to Cambridge was somewhat of a waste, given my shortfall in the haemoglobin department.  Fear not, dear reader, the letting of a surfeit of blood is the excuse rather than the reason for me to visit Cambridge.

Where else could I sit in a café having an emergency cake-based snack and discuss the difficulties of playing the trombone and the variation in the necks of double-basses whilst my interlocutor accompanied the conversation on an octave mandolin?  Many thanks to Jack at the Indigo Café for this excellent – and very Cambridge – experience.

Much of my other leisure time was spend in the pursuit of music.  Thursday night (after my traditional dinner trip to Fitzbillies) I spent in the chapel of King’s College listening to a curious concert.  Part renaissance mass (by Josquin) and part serialist (maybe – I am no expert) electronica from Karlheiz Stockhausen and others.  This latter segment was delivered through a series of speakers positioned around the chapel and, given the lowered lighting, did somewhat bring to mind a successful séance at which some very unquiet spirits came to call.  The final piece of electronica, Mortuous Plango, Vivos Voco by Jonathan Harvey, was by far the most successful for me – it had definite hints of being music and I would not object to hearing it again.  I realise my difficult with Mr Stockhausen’s oeuvre may be a failing in me – but, the sound of inept DIY in action would be more musical to my ears than Gesang der Jünglinge.  However, well worth the very modest price of admission for an interesting evening of music and sound, including some beautiful singing.

However, the real musical treats of the visit were free – part of the Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Chamber Music.  Obviously aimed at students and academics but they also let in the great unwashed (and even me).  The visiting “prof” was pianist Angela Hewitt and she was a revelation.  I made it to two sessions (sadly returning home before her chat with John Butt, of the Dunedin Consort, on the Art of Fugue): a lecture-recital on performing Bach and a masterclass with some of the university’s finest student musicians.

After the lecture-recital, I am even more impressed by concert soloists and the amount of work that has to go into preparing a piece for performance.  Bach really only gives you the notes, so the player has to worry about dynamics (volume) and tempo (speed) – as well as play the notes successfully as written (which is the part I largely fail to do).  The pianist also has to work out her own fingerings – rather than my approach which is to hope that a finger happens to be near the target when required (big hands can be a boon) – and split out all the voices in the piece and choose the force to apply to each finger to bring the right voice to the fore.  I am trying to play pieces where each hand is required to produce a different volume – and this is often more than my ageing brain can manage, let alone varying the force from multiple fingers on the same hand.  I have a very long way to go (even with the somewhat limited portion of the lecture that I can claim to have fully understood) – we can only hope that the heat death of the universe is rather further away than currently believed or I have no hope (even should I happen to be immortal).

A further vastening (a word denied by WordPress and Mr Collins, but I’m sticking with it) of my musical horizons came in the masterclass.  First we heard what seemed to be an excellent rendition of the piece to be studied by 1, 2 or 3 students – and then we saw Angela take it to a different level, even when sight-reading a piece she had never played before.  The most extraordinary session was with Liszt’s Dante sonata – on first playing by a very fine student pianist this seemed typical Liszt: see how hard and often you can bang the keys, very much an endurance exercise for the alpha-male pianist.  Then Angela played it, and it became so much more – the dynamic range and emotional content was on another level altogether, you could hear the souls crying out in Hell.  I may have to re-visit my thoughts on Liszt – but will need to find the right performance.

I was also rather captivated by her effortless erudition on matters musical and well beyond.  She brought so much historical and literary context to bear on her preparation for performance.  For the Liszt, she referred the student to a document which provided very extensive notes on the piece – then off-hand mentioned that she’d only seen it in French but was sure an English translation must exist.  Would that I could manage such a thing, in any field of knowledge, but I am far too much the dilettante to ever acquire the necessary depth.  I fear I shall have to continue my attempts to dazzle from the shallows.  Within the last fortnight alone, I’ve wanted to study music (see above), microbiology and group theory to at least a post-grad level – but sadly have failed to make a start on any and by tomorrow I will, no doubt, have a new obsession.  I am too much the (lazy) intellectual butterfly – but perhaps the world of MOOCs may rescue me from my superficiality (or just broaden it even further).  Watch this space for further attempts at intellectual showing off:  look at me!  Look at me!

I did it!

Some of you may have doubted that I would go through with it (I know at least one person who did) but having come up with the idea there was no way I wasn’t going to carry it through to completion. I am committed to the integrity of this blog!

As background, I should mention that I am back in Cambridge for a couple of days, ostensibly to give my blood for the use of others (in exchange for biscuits) but in reality to renew auld acquaintance (with both people and places}. Blood safely given yesterday afternoon, this morning I treated myself to the traditional post exsanguination massage.

Some may recall one of the finest posts to this blog (in many ways, a critical triumph) which referred to the last such session. If not, you may wish to remind yourself as to why I shouldn’t work with the public. Here, after some discussion as to why my massage therapist averted his eyes while I disrobed, I promised at the next session I would strip to suitable musical accompaniment. This was no idle threat, with the aid of some research, YouTube, an iPad and a 3G phone I arranged what I consider to be the traditional music to be used while stripping to play whilst I divested myself of my clothing. I tried to make something of the act of stripping – and certainly having the music helps to set the right frame of mind. I retained my scarf, to substitute for the more traditional boa, and tried to bring an (in)appropriate degree of sensuality and louche abandon to the act of undressing. I like to think I pulled it off – though I like to think if I ever perform the act professionally it will be accompanied by less laughter. Actually, I think I might have a real talent for stripping, and this coupled with my gymnastic training (the looser hips were definitely a plus) and buff middle-aged bod might open up a whole new career as a Chippendale (or at the very least, a Chesterfield)!

Apparently, I was the first client who had ever performed thus for my therapist – and despite the published threat, it was rather unexpected. Still, I’ve known my therapist for several years – so it can’t have come as a complete surprise. I understand from the lawyers that after only a few months of counselling the nightmares and screaming should cease and a resumption of a normal life is a definite possibility (for my therapist, for me there is clearly no hope).

I have attached a link to the music, if any readers wish to imagine the event. For one (un)lucky reader, the challenge will be stopping the memories resurfacing in series of erotic PTSD-style flashbacks

Of course, I am now wondering how I can top this opening at my next session in a scant 10 weeks time. Any suggestions considered…

Perhaps unsurprisingly, after this opening the remainder of the session took a somewhat unusual course (conversationally, the massage itself was as professional as ever). This conversation will lead to more posts and might take GofaDM in an exciting new direction with new opportunities for reader participation. Watch this space…

Never go back

Today’s title is oft given advice, though I have not checked how frequently it is taken (this can be safely left as an exercise for the reader).  In most cases, I presume it is an attempt to forestall disappointment or a recognition of the rather short span of a human life and the resultant need to avoid repeats (so, we must assume that Dave – at least – has not taken the advice to heart).  In at least one case, that of a previously lit firework, there is a clear health and safety angle – which I like to imagine would be obtuse or even reflex to minimise the risk of cuts.  As a (further) small digression, surely “minimise” should be a musical term for converting notes to a length of exactly two crochets?

In the Bible, that go-to work for zoological insight, dogs are supposed to ignore this advice in respect of their own vomit – though I can’t say I have particularly noticed this as an issue.  I too have ignored this advice: for a start, as a fool I keep returning to the folly of this blog but, and more relevant to the meat of this post, I recently returned to Cambridge in whose environs I was, until recently, resident.

I had a whale of a time whilst there: catching up with old friends, haunting old haunts and singing old songs.  In respect of the last of these, I realised that there exist a substantial body of carols completely unknown to me (I speak of the seasonal song-form, rather than the girl’s name – though in both cases, the range of my ignorance is wide).  I also discovered that reading choral music is much harder than music prepared for soloists – you have to fish your musical line out of two lines of song, avoiding muddling the bass with the tenor, and after each printed line is finished there comes the desperate search for where your next line begins (generally further away than expected).  I’m also used to my words appearing below the music rather than above.  All of which led to a vocal performance on my part that could best described as faltering (and more accurately described as awful).  Still, it was great fun and not taken too seriously by anyone – and did provide an excuse to partake of a restorative mulled wine and mince pie (or several).

Whilst in Cambridge, I also took in the cinema, a singing lesson – as a result of which Arm, arm, ye brave! is rhythmically rather more sound (I am now dotting where Mr Handel intended) – and live music from the Cambridge University Symphony Orchestra.  Dmitri Shostakovich still has the strange ability to wrest control of parts of my autonomous nervous system away from me, especially in the more motivic sections of Symphony No. 11 – I think it may be the snare drum that does it.

Almost my final act in Cambridge – just before a rapid march to the station – was to pop into the Fitzwilliam Museum for 20 minutes.  I asked what I could sensibly do in that rather brief period (I had rather dawdled over lunch and the purchase of Christmas cards), and was recommended the John Craxton exhibition.  It was brilliant, his pictures (in various media) of (mostly) Greek shepherds and reapers from the 1940s were particularly fine.  I intend to return (look what I did there, the theme within the theme!) before the exhibition ends so I can spend a little more time.

I have a theory about why going back is so much fun.  When you live somewhere, you tend to have responsibilities tied to that place and to your nearby home – and so there is usually something else you should be doing.  When you return as a visitor, hedonism can be given free rein – you can eat out or have a quick nap in the afternoon without any guilt attaching as you can’t cook for yourself and there really is nothing more important you should be getting on with.  I think this may also explain why I think of Edinburgh as “home” as I only go there for fun: perhaps living there would destroy the relationship (like sleeping with your best friend allegedly does?).  Nevertheless, I remain tempted by the Athens of the North – and shall be visiting it shortly – and always have the option of returning to Cambridge at some stage as I still own property there (not through design, but as a result of lack of legal competence on the part of Laing Homes).  Still, for now there is plenty to occupy me on the south coast: I have yet to see the local sea or the New Forest to name but two items yet to be ticked off in my I-Spy book of Southampton.

Where are you from?

Today’s title is a question I was asked earlier in the week, but to which I found I lack a good or ready answer.  I know where I was born and where I was brought up – but I don’t really feel I am “from” either of those.  This lack of belonging to my place of birth can be explained by my forced departure before I was even six months old.  I’m less sure where my lack of belonging to the location of my childhood originates – perhaps just prolonged absence?

I could – and did – list various of the places I’ve lived over the years since my body (though not my mind) reached adulthood.  However, this does not seem a terribly good answer to a perfectly banal question.  I am clearly from the UK, but this only works as an answer if the question is posed by Johnny Foreigner, so am I somehow rootless beyond my basic nationality?

The (relatively) recent house move had already led me to ponder the nature of home and where it lies.  For quite some time, I continued to view Cambridge as “home” – and I can still catch myself thinking in that way even now.  Still, since the arrival of the new sofa (the old one being too large to make the move), Southampton has been fairly securely established as “home”: hat location is surprisingly unimportant, despite what Paul Young would have you believe.  However, Southampton is not alone in holding this honour.  Cambridge is still “home”, particularly when I am there or I see it on the screen.  After an absence of 25 years, a couple of trips back to Oxford over the summer have made it clear that the city of dreaming spires is also still “home” – I suppose I did live there for three years (well, nearly half of three years – during term time – to be strictly accurate) but its continuing claim on me is a little surprising.  More surprising still is that Edinburgh also qualifies as “home” despite the fact that I have never lived there (or even owned so much as a deck chair there, let alone a settee) and only visited the city sporadically for the last 6 or 7 years – but I am quite familiar with the bus routes (or at least some of them).

I’m struggling to find any obvious common link between my various “homes”, which presumably means I must blame affect (or go the way of Dr Freud and blame my mother and/or a childhood trauma).

Do others have the same issue responding to the question “where are you from”?  Or, is it just me?

Anyways, the originator of this question was much clearer about where she was from as she cut my hair.  She hailed from Middlesborough, or more accurately Great Ayton, and so my list-based answer of places inhabited was sufficient to spark lively conversation.  We chatted about the joys of a night out in the ‘Borough on the lash and the beauty of the Cleveland Hills with particular reference to Roseberry Topping (a hill rather than a dessert) and the simple pleasure to be gained from a beer and steak sandwich following its evening ascent.  So, despite my failure to properly answer the question and the subsequent soul-searching, the interrogative device served its purpose admirably.  I suspect there is a lesson here for me to learn…