Under-achiever

I find myself, I like to think through no fault of my own, a middle-aged, middle-class white male human (or close(ish) approximation thereto).  I live in a society designed to cater to my every whim (or at least those whims that had been anticipated by those that came before me).  I’ll admit that I was educated by the State, but I did go to the longer established of the universities in Oxford and have lived in Cambridge.  I have even been overheard during a pub quiz explain an answer with the phrase “it’s your basic Greek”.  With this level of privilege, I feel that I should be in charge of something important and – probably – destroying it from within through a combination of ignorance, dogma and o’erweening self-regard.

I suppose I would have to admit I have not spent as much time as I might working on my mendacity and nor have I honed the edges of my stupidity to achieve a near Platonic bluntness.  However, I feel that I more than qualify as an idiot: trust me on this, I have to live with me.  I even think I am (sometimes) funny – even if the humour does require quite a lot of background reading to appreciate, reading it rarely justifies – and I have been endorsed for Quips on LinkedIn (OK, I may have that last one up).  I even have a platform (hello!) and produce positively heaps of “unique” content on social media.

So where are my laurels and attendant lictors?

Clearly, I need to up my game to avoid going to my eternal reward having failed to live high-on-the-hog of my privilege.

Last week, I did – unintentionally – work on broadening my appeal to extend beyond the demographic of the merely human.  I awoke one morning and, hurling aside my duvet in my eagerness to tackle the new day, I discovered that I had been sharing my bed with a pretty hefty arachnid.  It was no tarantula but was more than large enough to grace any bathtub or nightmare.  I’ll admit that I did emit a startled cry as I exited my bed with more than my usual alacrity.  My companion made a dash for the door, eschewing breakfast or even a post-coital cigarette, as they commenced their 8-legged walk of shame back to their own digs (or perhaps straight back to the office to continue their career in web development).  After the initial surprise ebbed, I found my first stint as a trans-species gigolo very amusing and started the day laughing.  As a side note, I do wonder if this response to sharing my bed with another lifeform explains my long-running single status?

I thought this would represent the end of the incident, until I returned home from the pub that evening to find my 8-limbed paramour in bed, waiting for me and keen to get at least some of their legs over once more.  As the newest member of the oldest profession, I felt it was important to retain some emotional distance between myself and my clientele and so decided it was wisest to send my prospective partner on their way to get jiggy elsewhere.  Still, I was secretly rather pleased that my services were sufficiently compelling to command such a swift return.  Spiders substantially out-number the human population of the planet and could, allegedly, eat us all within a year: if they put their tiny minds to it.  Not a bad basis for an army of conquest, and I’d never want for silk…

My second recent wheeze to raise myself to my rightful position of power and influence is linked to more ruthless exploitation of (N)YTMG.  I already like to think of this as a cult with myself as its charismatic leader (luckily, I do have a very active imagination – it’s how I stay in such good physical shape).  Musing over a pack of Mini Cheddars, I pondered upgrading (N)YTMG to a full-blown religion.  As I was munching, I couldn’t help feeling that my savoury treat had more than a hint of the Eucharist host about it and would go very nicely with red wine.  Subsequent research revealed that the Bible barely mentions cheese at all – depending on your source it rates but a single or at most a pair of mentions – which leads me to believe that there is a gap in the market for a deity (or perhaps a whole pantheon), and associated written works, that give coagulated casein its proper due.   I realise a religion would require a little fleshing-out from this basic premise, for a start, would the Cheeselet also be considered a blessed food?  I think it’s time to plan 40 days of leave from work to head out into the wilderness, or on a zoo-based cruise, to be tempted and then return in triumph with my full Revelation.  I like to imagine that I can convert my role as the first (and only) prophet of a new religion into an actual profit: or at least, a decent wedge of free cheese…  I suppose I’ll probably need to appoint some disciples to help me manage my, soon-to-be vast, army of fanatical followers: if any readers feel themselves to be suitably qualified, feel free to bang in a CV.

Look back over this post, and indeed the entirety of GofaDM, I think I might be able to catch a hint of why I have failed to rise to power and prominence.  I am certainly full of ideas, albeit most of them stupid (though recent evidence from the corridors of Westminster suggests there is no reason for this fact to hold me back), but I seem to lack the follow-through to make any of them a reality.  Last night, a friend and I spent a constructive early evening in a local salon brainstorming some new creative ideas (well, if we stretch the definitions of ‘brainstorming’ and ‘salon’ just a little).  Despite the excellent products of the brewer’s art that acted as accompaniment to the dizzying intellects on display, I seem to recall taking a few notes which means that, unusually, some of the gems of last night’s discourse may be capable of reconstruction and – more seriously – implementation.  My days of powerless, relative anonymity may be drawing to a close…

Conspiracy theory I

The world is rife with conspiracy theories – generally, involving governments and/or aliens and/or secretive (probably imaginary) organisations that have existed for millennia.  Few stand up to even cursory inspection and all rely on a degree of organisational ability which it is really quite hard to imagine the human race managing to field.   This from a species whose trains struggle when exposed to a few leaves!

As you might imagine, I am not going to posit such a high-level conspiracy – but, in keeping with most of GofaDM, something much mundane.  Over the last fortnight, I have observed two apparently unconnected products switching from blue to red.  Coincidence? I think not!  The “packaging” of both Waitrose Extra Thick Single Cream (viz the tub) and the iTunes (viz the icon) have made this transition.  Now, due to my extraordinary general knowledge, I am aware that Cardiff City FC also changed their uniform (kit?) in the same way back in 2012 – but I do not believe this is connected.

So, is Waitrose subliminally plugging iTunes or is Apple trying to point me towards the joys of Extra Thick Single Cream?  My own theory is that Waitrose probably led this shift.  For many years, single cream has been found in red pots and double cream in blue (whipped in green) – I’m not sure who decided (perhaps a Royal Commission), but I think we’re probably stuck with this association now.  So, their ETSC has been an anomaly for years – mutton dressed as lamb, as it were – and has now finally been brought into line with the rest of the world of cream (or at least the United Kingdom of cream: I’m not sure if we exported the convention to the Empire, less alone the rest of the world).

This would suggest the John Lewis Partnership have bunged a few used fivers the way of the Apple Corporation to “plug” the change in ETSC packaging.  It is quite a subtle plug (well, it was until GofaDM blew the thing wide open) – but perhaps the JLP have learned an important lesson from the whole U2 album debacle.  It would also be quite tricky (even given 3D printing technology) to supply ETSC via iTunes – though I (for one) would be willing to pay for this service (if the price were right).  For where ETSC leads, surely cheese must follow – and the ability to print you own cheese at home is surely the mark of a somewhat mature civilisation.  However, I could be wrong – perhaps Waitrose have been bribed by Apple to boost the flagging fortunes of iTunes (following the aforementioned U2 album debacle).

Do the tentacles of this conspiracy extend further than cream and downloadable entertainment?  Have readers noted a lengthening of the wavelength of reflected light from other products in the last fortnight?  For the avoidance of doubt, I’m fairly sure that iTunes and ETSC are receding from me at high speed – so I don’t think the red-shifting more normally associated with distant galaxies outside is implicated in this particular case.  Maybe the cost of the colour blue has increased recently?  Though I don’t recall any recent news stories about a shortage of blue caused by recent poor harvests – indeed, I vaguely recall hearing that blue is/are reforming.

If they don’t believe any of my theories, perhaps readers would care to posit an alternative theory which might explain these co-temporaneously shifting product colours?

Navigating the Fringe

According to the Guardian, the broadsheets have largely abandoned reviewing productions on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and folk are having to turn to other less traditional sources for information (though I don’t think they were directly suggesting GofaDM).  This came as news to me (which I guess fulfils their remit as a soi disant newspaper) given the tendency of these same broadsheets to give very good reviews to things I want to see, thus making them either very crowded or sell-out in advance of my intended visit.  Or perhaps this is just further evidence of my deep connection with the current zeitgeist and I should soon expect a lucrative writing gig with one of the aforementioned broadsheets.

I am far too lazy, and frankly lack the skill, to offer readers detailed and star-based reviews of the shows I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe.  Instead, I shall offer you my recommendations of the best shows I have seen to-date.  Why is he inflecting his irrelevant opinions on us again, mummy?  Well, at least one person asked for it (though not, I will admit in blog form) and so now you will all suffer!  So, please blame him or her: as so often it is always one person who spoils it for the rest.

Before I proceed, I should remind everyone that comedy (as so much in life) is a rather subjective experience and so just because I enjoyed something, there is no guarantee that anyone else will (though I would note that other people were at least laughing and giving the appearance of having fun at all of the gigs I am about to mention – however, this may have been the result of peer-pressure or the use of mind-altering substances, like cheese).

In roughly the chronological order in which I saw the shows, the following receive the GofaDM imprimatur of quality.

Nick Dowdy: never has going to a hardware shop in Crouch End been so much fun (or so disturbing).

Josh Howie: some have said he under-sells his punchlines, but this was great fun for those who remember the 80s.  I also learnt how useful a pregnant woman can be, as I sat near one and she (and by extension, yours truly) was cooled by the only fan at the gig.  Could the gravid hire themselves out to over-heated Fringe-goers as a way of defraying the high costs of bringing up a child?

Nish Kumar: how could I resist a fellow insomniac with a “statement” nose.  Sadly, I had tried even his most outré aid to sleep – and, for me at least – it doesn’t really work (though I had never tried mixing the two elements).

John Robins: even better than last year’s show (which was a tough act to follow) and somehow quintessential Robins.  Incidentally, I would thoroughly recommend his show on XFM with his radio wife – Elis James.  I listen via the podcast as it neatly avoids the adverts which otherwise make commercial radio anathema to me.

Stuart Goldsmith: a show for which I had seen an early preview – which was itself very good.  The final show had changed enormously and was even better – and for those that listen to comcompod covered all the key elements of “Goldsmith”.

Wittank: by some distance the silliest show I have seen this year and also uproariously funny.  I do feel that anyone who doesn’t laugh at this must be at least somewhat dead inside.

Tim Key: I can never explain why he is funny, but even in the cavernous surroundings of the Pleasance Grand he still made me laugh.

More recommendations may follow, as an unusual proportion of my first week was spent at the “proper” Festival, pretending to be a serious adult, and so attendance at more comedy gigs will be scheduled in the week ahead.  You have been warned!

All of the other shows I’ve seen have been perfectly decent with many a laugh, but didn’t achieve the consistently high standards of those listed above, so I’d thoroughly recommend taking a punt on a show on the basis of an even sketchier recommendation than mine.  This is especially true on the Free Fringe which seems to improve in standard every year and where you can also, in a very modest way, feel like you are sticking it to “the man”.  It also one of the few times when you can feel a moral obligation to partake in a pint of beer.  When I bring my middle-aged, gymnast comedy show to the Fringe to mark my fiftieth sidereal year on this rocky outcrop, I’m wondering if I can stage it in a fromagerie  – with the venue costs being covered by purchases of cheese by my audience.  I will, of course, need to find a cheese shop with nice, high ceilings – but, frankly, that is the least of the issues involved in preparing my “show” as the comedy stylings of this blog will have made clear to regular readers.  I may be presenting the first Fringe show which requires its own York Notes or (alternatively) to insist that the audience pre-qualify (perhaps by means of an NVQ) for attendance to ensure that they will at least understand my faltering attempts at humour.  Twenty-three months and counting to EdFringe 2016, so given my usual rate of progress I better get my skates on (and invent a time machine).

Unexpected Statements I

The title suggests that this could be the first of a whole new thread – however, given the capricious nature of the commissioning editors here at GofaDM, it could die the final death after this single outing.  We’ll all have to wait and see.

Anyway, during the course of going about my business today I came across two statements I never expected to see.

Statement the first

When I dropped my poor, cracked watch off to be repaired I noticed a much more expensive (though admittedly less broken) timepiece described in breathless prose.  This prose including a description of the watch as “timeless”.  Surely this would render the device a mere bracelet?  What are they teaching people on marketing and/or (or for the Boolean among you “or”) copywriting courses these days?

Talking of watches, does it please others (as it pleases me) that the second hand is very much the third hand in every practical sense?  I suppose that if you bought a used watch, you would have a second hand second hand, though not sure that would make it the fourth hand.

Statement the second

On the front page of the Guardian’s website was an article entitled “23 recipes for leftover cheese”.  I must admit I have never encountered the concept of “leftover cheese” before – is it a new oxymoron young folk use in the playground?  In my life, there is briefly cheese and then there is a state I like to call “no cheese” – I think it evaporates.  What next, recipes for hen’s teeth and frog fur?

To their credit, the story was quickly demoted from the front page – and I was forced to use search to prove to myself that I hadn’t just imagined the whole thing.  Nonetheless, it makes you think about the poor benighted souls that exist out there in the world beyond my ivory (or might it be Gardenia?) tower.  Probably the same people who would use “spatulate” as a verb.  We can only pity them!

Egocentric? Moi?

As a single, white, middle-aged man living in the West I am probably at quite a high risk of coming to believe myself to be the centre of the universe. Despite the risk factors involved, I fondly like to imagine that I mostly avoid the worst excesses of the egocentric (but then, perhaps this is true of all egomaniacs?).  At least I have been spared the horrors of fame which seems to substantially raise the risks.

Usually, if my ego threatens to break loose of its bonds, my habit of travelling by public transport quickly disabuses me of any notions of being the centre of the universe.  When travelling by Greater Anglia, it is usually pretty clear that no passenger (sorry, customer) is even remotely near the centre of their corporate universe.  Last week, even a stray swan was further up the pecking order then we mere customers – I know that urban myth suggests swans can break your arm, but I’d never previously heard anyone suggest they can break a train.  Other than some of our larger waterfowl, I’m not entirely clear for whose benefit Greater Anglia is run.  I suspect one objective is just to be marginally better than First Capital Connect and so stay off the bottom of the rail satisfaction league tables.

In my more paranoid moments, I do wonder if the fact that Greater Anglia is owned by the Dutch may be relevant (let’s face it, much of our critical infrastructure is owned by Johnny foreigner).  By keeping a significant portion of the UK’s working population regularly heavily delayed and so tired and frustrated, they are helping to keep the country from economic recovery to the benefit of our competitors in the Netherlands (and elsewhere).  However, my more rational mind tends to remind me that the people of Holland really don’t need to exert themselves to delay our recovery when our own government is doing such an excellent job on its own.

Whilst Greater Anglia is doing its best to keep my feet firmly on the ground (well, it’s often cleaner than the seats), my life a-wheel oft has the opposite effect.  On Friday, I headed into Cambridge to visit the flicks and then go on to a soirée to celebrate mid-summer.  The weather forecast said “dry” – so I took some precautions – but nevertheless headed out into dry sunshine.  Within 100 yards of leaving home, the sun departed and the rain arrived.  I put up with this for a mile or so, but it became more insistent so I removed by shades and put on my jacket before continuing onwards.  Within 100 yards of this wardrobe change, the rain stopped and the sun re-appeared and so I found myself squinting and sweating.  After a couple of miles of this, I changed back out of my jacket and replaced my sunnies.  Again, within 100 yards of me re-starting my journey the sun once again disappeared and it started spitting.  This spitting grow stronger and after a mile or so had become torrential rain, and so I was once again forced to change my attire.  This time it took some 200 yards before the rain vanished and the sun returned – but I’d had enough and so sweated and squinted the remaining three miles into town.

It would seem that the rain and sun were following me with an explicit plan to be as irritating as possible – a plan they delivered on with admirable thoroughness.  It reminds me of a story from childhood where the sun and wind have a competition to make a passer-by remove his coat.  Perhaps I am the centre of the universe?  Or of someone else’s nursery story?  Or at least a VIP in the world of earth-based weather phenomena?  Lest we forget, when I last visited Florida it snowed – for the first time in 80 years!  Coincidence?  Well, quite possibly yes.

Yesterday, I headed down to Lewes for a concert – and so had to cycle to the station to catch a specific train.  The day was dry except for one (relatively brief) period.  From the earliest time I could sensibly leave for my train until just after the last time I could leave and hope to catch my train it rained.  Well, more than rained, it hammered down with Biblical intensity.  As with the previous day, the extraordinarily tight focus on my own outdoor movement plans is highly suspicious.  This time, the plan failed – I made it to the train with nearly 30 seconds to spare.  However, I did have to ride like the very wind and endure significant initial moistening on departure.  I think this failure did rather knock the wind out of the weather’s sails, and for the rest of the day it only made very lacklustre attempts to drench me.

The way things are going, I fear I may be entirely lost to solipsism after a couple more times out on the old velocipede.  Then again, as a philosophy it doesn’t sound much fun at all given how much fun the world outside the self can offer!

On Friday, my slightly damp body was delivered to the quite excellent Before Midnight at the Arts Picturehouse before I then went on to a truly marvellous party (one I feel Noel Coward himself may have approved of).  Fine company and conversation were accompanied by a little gentle music provided by some of the guests.  Added to this, I managed to eat a truly prodigious amount of cheese washed down with more than a little white wine.

Yesterday, good company and fine music were once again on the cards as soon as I reached East Sussex (by now having dried off), this time thanks to the Esterházy Chamber Choir and their summer concert.  The concert had a strangely appropriate first act closer (as I believe they say in the business known as show): a setting by George Shearing of “Hey, ho, the wind and the rain” (by old Bill Shakespeare, but placed into the mouth of Feste).  Does someone if the choir have the second sight?

So, I shall try to resist the rise of my ego and maintain myself at a suitable distance from the centre of the universe – something which I’m sure any decent cosmologist would tell me doesn’t even exist.  Whilst I’m pretty sure I’m not the centre of the universe, I do sometimes wonder if I am (in fact) a minor character in a very long running sitcom.  As a result, I do always have half an eye out for the studio audience…

Stand Up, Stand Up for Cheeses

I have rather a penchant for the fruits of the cheese maker’s art.  Such a huge variety of tastes and textures, even without leaving these shores – and even more once you cross la Manche.  Cheese seems to be one area in which the Old World remains immeasurably superior to the new – where, at least across the herring pond, all cheese seems to be called Jack.  Then again, lest I start to feel too superior to our one-time colonies, as a wee lad I did believe that ‘processed’ was a variety of cheese.

Yesterday evening, I was in old London town (or at least a modern take there on) and as is becoming traditional, spent some quality time in the work of the Gilbert Scott family. In this case, George’s splendid St Pancras Hotel as opposed to his grandson’s Bankside power station on my last visit.  In the rather fine restaurant there, I was able to enjoy a little of the wonderfully named Childwickbury goat’s cheese – from a small village just outside St Albans.  However, I don’t fancy my chances of finding even such a relatively local cheese in any nearby supermarket.

Whilst the grocery barons are keen that we should be able to sample some goods, however far out of season they may be here on the outskirts of Europe – for others, they seem rather less keen to offer choice.  Strawberries they will ship from the furthest flung reaches of this planet, but gooseberries not so much – I presume this reflects the rather limited international appeal of the gooseberry (though it is indigenous from here to the Himalayas, so many cultures should have had the opportunity to sample its deliciousness).  Perhaps, like another favourite of mine – rhubarb – it is considered too tart by a world locked in the saccharine embrace of enamel’s enemy, sugar.

Sadly, cheese is another area where the range on offer in most supermarkets does rather disappoint.  Beyond a dozen or so staples, the choices are quickly exhausted – though I have noticed that most do offer cheddar from a a growing number of ex-colonies, which I think they may have mistaken for offering a broad range of cheeses.  Cheddar is also pretty much the only cheese offered in a range of strengths – from the utterly tasteless to, what I believe our cousins from down-under would call, biting.  True biting cheese would obviate the need for the mousetrap, the lure itself would be sufficient unto the entire task, but I suspect only exists in the imagination of the more outré geneticist (and, as it transpires, yours truly).  Talk of which reminds me of the hot dog, the only dog which feeds the hand that bites it – but I digress.

Today, I strayed from my usual supermarket of choice and used a branch of Mr Sainsbury’s emporium to acquire some victuals.  Whilst searching the store for various products, I passed the cheese department – which was rather curiously segregated.  I first notice a section tagged as ‘healthier cheeses’ – but failed to find the complementary ‘unhealthy cheeses’ or ‘less healthy cheeses’ counter.  Instead, the remaining cheeses were divided between ‘sliced and grated cheese’ and ‘recipe cheeses’.  I presume that the process of slicing or grating must render cheese less wholesome in some way – it certainly renders it less whole.  As to what a ‘recipe cheese’ might be, I’m sorry I haven’t a clue (quick plug there for Radio 4’s finest).  Mr Collins (my semantic arbiter) offers three meanings for ‘recipe’ – two of which could be boiled down to the idea of a method and the third of which is a medical prescription.  Whilst, I love the idea of cheese on prescription, it often makes me feel better, I really can’t see it happening given current belt-tightening in the NHS.  I wonder if perhaps ‘recipe cheese’ is an analogue of ‘cooking sherry’ or ‘cooking chocolate’ – foodstuffs you would not want to consume in their own right, but which are fine for putting into a cooked dish.  If so, this seems to be setting very low expectations for the quality of a good third of their cheese department.  (It does get worse: whilst researching this ‘article’ using their website, I found that this same supermarket under the heading of British Regional Cheeses offers up that most well-known of varieties, ‘Red Cheese’).

Generally, I do not buy my cheese from a supermarket – preferring instead to purchase it from my local butcher.  They don’t have a bad range for a village butcher – and despite being mostly vegetarian (though, I do classify fish and anything lacking a backbone as a vegetable), I feel it is very important to support my local butcher.  I suspect I am, by a long way, their most valuable vegetarian customer – especially as I also buy all of my eggs and honey there (I have nothing against animal exploitation, per se) and my oil (of the eating as opposed to the lubricatory variety), in whose production, so far as I know, no animals are harmed – though, as previously mentioned some are deprived of their perches.

So, brie good to yourself!  Discover gouda have more fun! (some Dutch pronunciation may be required).   Y fenni opportunity presents itself, try something new from the world of cheese – and not just cheddar from a new country!   You won’t raclette it!