Glib and a contradiction in terms

My life might appear a predictable round of gig going, interspersed with trips to experience diverse other art forms. I suppose there is also my continuing need to work to fund these outings and my various, increasingly improbable range of, what I shall call, hobbies – and you might call grounds for future interventions. However, every so often I either surprise myself or am myself surprised by what my life delivers.

Only this past week, I was shown photographic evidence that a quote from this very blog will appear in a PhD thesis. I never expected this nonsense to appear in an academic work, well not outside of a psychiatric case study. I trust its inclusion will not adversely affect the granting of a doctorate or otherwise bring to a premature close a potentially glowing career in the tenured echelons of one of our most prestigious halls of learning.

The regular reader will have noticed that the topic of sport is rarely covered in these pages. I have, at times, in my life been able to maintain periods of interest in a few sports (usually serially, rather than in parallel): but, generally the tendency of everything to be reset annually (or every four years in some cases) has allowed my interest to wane after a couple of seasons. I seem to have a similar issue with most TV series and fear both may be a sign of the ever diminishing nature of my (a) attention span and (b) time on earth.

Despite this, yesterday I found myself on a bus heading into a previously unvisited eastern portion of the city (or I may have strayed into Eastleigh) to see the cricket (or at least a cricket). It is scarcely twenty-five years since I last went to a cricket match and people may ponder as to the cause of such an urgent return to the game. More astonishingly still, for the first time in my life I actually paid real money to attend! I can only blame peer pressure, curiosity and, perhaps, an eye to some fresh content. Whatever the cause, I found myself seated mid-wicket to see England and Pakistan battle it out in a One Day International at the aptly named Ageas Bowl (I never found the Ageas Bat nor Ageas Field).

The view from the cheap seats!

In an attempt to fit into a cricketing crowd – of some 25,000 people! – I decided to wear white trousers: and let me say, such a choice does add considerable excitement, jeopardy even, to any day (or it does if you wish them to remain white and not be sentenced to an immediate return to the laundry). I quickly learned that cricketers no longer wear white: England were in in shades of blue and Pakistan in a rather natty green, so my hopes of a last minute call-up were dashed (my complete lack of ability at any aspect of the game might also have counted against me, I suppose). Initially, my memory of the rules of cricket was decidedly rusty: though I found – as at music events – if you only applaud when a decent number of the rest of the audience are doing the same, you rarely come unstuck. However, over time, I discovered that I did retain a surprising amount of basic cricketing knowledge from the last millennium: the fielding restrictions rather grandly referred to as ‘power play’ had clearly been added more recently.

I am forced to admit that I rather enjoyed my time in the sun, watching other people work. There were a decent number of boundaries (one Jos Buttler seemed to connect his bat rather solidly with the ball and produced a rich harvest of sixes), a smattering of wickets and only a very brief stop for rain. The game was competitive and went to the wire – though I did have to leave before the end to make it to a later engagement. The seating was more comfy than it appeared, though I was a little disappointed by the selection of beer and food on offer: I was expecting something more upmarket somehow. Still, I did discover an unexpected ability to carry three pints in very flimsy plastic vessels through a crowd and down a flight of stairs without spillage: big hands have their uses!

I may return to a sporting arena, in a purely observational capacity, before another quarter of a century elapses: than again, I’ve made that sort of rash promise before…

However, the week’s most unexpected occurrence took place on Thursday evening. I’d been invited to NST City to a rather undefined event linked to the fact that they will shortly be staging The Audience by Peter Morgan. I had previously been lucky enough to go tothe first read-through: which, if I’m honest, suggested they didn’t have much more to do. The play was already very funny, well acted and left me weeping: not something I had ever expected to be caused by a fictional portrayal of Harold Wilson. I strongly suspect it is going to be very good on stage and will take the risk of recommending it before seeing it properly made flesh.

I think I was expecting to see the model box and perhaps a little talk about their plans for the staging and to be out in half-an-hour. I did indeed see the model box, but the evening was (mostly) about the process of directing the play, the extensive background research, decisions on design and staging and the like: this was all very interesting. Towards the end of the presentation, there was a need for two ‘volunteers’ to act out a scene and be directed, to further help the audience to understand the process. As someone well-known to the staff at NST (and in many other places), I had been primed to ‘volunteer’ if the rest of the audience were proving a little reticent (FGF rather than FHB). As a result, I found myself on the main stage of NST City playing the role of Margaret Thatcher to a small, but all too attentive, audience. My fellow ‘volunteer’ played the part of the Queen. I think this must rank as the strangest thing I have done in my 53+ years on this planet.

We were provided with the script and not expected to perform in costume, but after the first read-through were given some direction before a second run through. I would have to admit that I enjoyed myself immoderately, but then I believe it is always more fun to play the villain and I managed to channel considerable venom into my performance. As we returned to our seats, my co-star noted that our ‘ordeal’ had gone rather well: though observed that it helped that I was a professional. While, there are some am-dram genes in my ancestry (a polygenic trait, if ever there was one), the only acting I have ever done is in the creation and delivery of what I like to call my personality in a range of social settings: I could hardly claim that any of these many performances could be classed as professional. Still, my experience of public speaking probably did help (as did the print size of the script as I had not brought my reading glasses!).

In the bar after the performance, people were very kind about my stage debut – and did not (so far as I could tell) resort to any of the cunning, double-edged phrases used by actors to apparently compliment the terrible performance of a friend. I fear I have acquired a certain fame in Southampton for my portrayal of our first female PM: while I don’t think there is any video evidence out there, there are some photos….

This lady’s not for turning!

I have always assumed that the only role I could even slightly convincingly play on stage would be myself and it would be tricky to turn this into a career, despite the precedent set by Sean Connery. I am now wondering if I have greater range than previously imagined and am expecting my Equity card to arrive in the post any day now. I’m sure the offers from auteurs of film and stage can’t be far behind…

Leaving the rat race

As I come to write, I am struck with the rather strange nature of the phrase “rat race”. The human race has forced a fair variety of animals to race against each other for our entertainment (and, more often, as a basis for a wager or three) over the years – but never so far as I know the rat. Then again, as previously established I am no great authority in the field of sport, so perhaps one of Sky’s more obscure sports channels does offer aficionados the chance to see members of genus Rattus going head-to-head on the track.

I should also make clear that despite the title, I have never knowingly participated in competitive sporting endeavour with any creature claiming allegiance to Order Rodentia.  In fact, I try to avoid running under any circumstances – competitive or not – as I can move quite swiftly walking and where that is insufficient would prefer to use my bike.

OK, title successfully deconstructed we can move on…

I recently spent a week on holiday not far from Barmouth (Abermaw) in west Wales.  This was a week of hiking, cake consumption and generally eating well (even if I says so as shouldn’t as I did most of the cooking) and (mostly) avoiding the responsibilities and stresses for my “normal” life.  For the most part as I did this, I was surrounded by beautiful scenery and the sun shone on my upturned apple cheeks (for the avoidance of doubt, this is not evidence of my desire for an “all-over” tan – my skin is ageing fast enough without encouragement from the sun’s ultry-violet rays).  Even my base was set in stunning grounds with views down to the Mawddach estuary and across to the Cader range.

In such circumstances, a chap’s mind quite naturally started to wonder if it was really necessary to return to the real world.  I’m not that materialistic (am I?) and surely I could survive on the salary I could draw working in a cake shop – and with all those mountains, I should be able to ameliorate the worst of the side effects of my eating any (or all) of the surplus stock (well, I do hate to see good food go to waste – much better that it go to waist!).  The desire to leave the rat race was particularly strong on my last day, the Sunday.  I was dropped off in Dolgellau and went for a walk around the town – a walk taken from the excellent range of guides produced by Kittiwake (I have yet to find a bad one in any of their walks in this part of Wales – and most have been excellent with very good directions).  Unlike previous years, T H Roberts is now open on a Sunday so I could have a pre-exertion slice of cake.  The walk was good with nice views of the town and it environs.  After the walk I had a little time to kill until my bus would take me back home, and so wandered over to the village cricket pitch.  I think this may have the most beautiful setting of any cricket ground in the world – and I suspect is unique in boasting a stone circle in the outfield.  As I sat there, with the River Wnion behind me and the sound of willow on leather before, it was very tempting to never leave.  With luck a photo should illustrate my point, but WordPress has made major changes to its interface so rather than permitting simple attachment it is now part of a “gallery” (presumably, they will be unable to return my pictures, but I may win a prize).

Eventually I did leave, if only to consume some post-exercise cake from the TH Cafe (you can never be too careful) and catch my bus.  There are some things I’d miss if I lived somewhere quite so remote – a viable mobile phone signal and decent broadband for sure.  I’d also miss the cultural activities that are possible living in and near more major conurbations – though saying that, I did have a lot of fun at Theatr Fach in Dolgellau with a two-man performance of Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime.  The other downside is that it is a long way from anywhere and I probably would have to run a car, as public transport is somewhat limited (though there was a later bus home from Dolgellau to my lodgings than Stagecoach offered the Sawston resident on a night out in Cambridge!).  On the plus side, I would note that the roads around Barmouth are the best (in terms of surface quality and traffic) of any I have seen in the UK – not much dual carriageway, but then who needs to hurry?

Still, on balance, I shall continue giving the other “rats” a run for their money – but I was (and remain) sorely tempted.  If “the man” pushes me too far or the stresses of life in the over-populated south grow too much, I could easily return to the land of my fathers – and I have always meant to learn Welsh to honour my roots.  Watch this space…

 

The one with the flake in it

Despite the powers-that-be at Channel 4 ensuring for the last decade (and more) that at any time you can be guaranteed that one of its myriad channels will be showing an episode of Friends (it’s analogous to never being more than 8 feet from a rat), I am strangely (perhaps, inappropriately) proud never to have seen one in its entirety.  It hasn’t been easy, let me tell you, but despite my total abstinence some knowledge of the sitcom has wormed its way into my brain – and the title of this post could easily have belonged to an episode from that much repeated series.

But I digress, the allusion is obviously to ice cream as this post is number 99 (and if mere mention of a flake causes you to imagine the author lying languid and naked in an over-flowing bath, then you should probably see a trained psychiatric professional).  It was either ice cream, or a reference to Maxwell Smart’s significantly more competent partner – and even I’m not old enough to remember her, so I eighty-sixed that idea (there will be a prize for understanding that gag).  This post represents a nervous number for a batsman given our decimal counting system: can this blog make it to its first century?  Or will it find itself the electronic equivalent of lbw?  Of course, had cricket been played in ancient Babylon a score of 100 would be meaningless – batsman would be aiming for 60 runs as the key milestone of an innings and 59 would be the time for nerves.  But advanced as the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia were, they never developed cricket – probably as well, not sure their maths could have handled the Duckworth-Lewis method.

I wonder if I will receive some sort of telegram from the Queen of WordPress when I reach 100 posts?  Is WordPress even a constitutional monarchy?

As you can read, excitement is mounting here in Fish Towers but I am starting to feel some pressure to pull something special “out of the bag” for post 100.  Get your suggestions in now if you want to be a part of blog history!  You should be thinking Henry V and St Crispin’s Day here – you’d hate to think yourselves accursed and counting your manhoods cheap (heaven forfend) when this blog breaks into 3 figures!