You’ll believe a man can cry

Not the author in this case.  As this blog has amply documented, I will weep on even the most slender of provocations (though in no way endorse such an unrealistic body image for any young provocations reading this post).  I suspect I shed a manly tear on the majority of days and laugh on virtually all: I like to test my full emotional range on a regular basis (just in case I need to deploy it).

Yesterday, I spent the day at ARGComFest in the less fashionable parts of Shoreditch Town Hall.  The festival is like a super-concentrated version of the Edinburgh Fringe – or at least some of its comedy elements – fitting 48 acts into three overly warm rooms across two days.  I only attended day two but, feeling I should get full value from my £25, did manage to take in seven acts over just under nine hours.  Unlike Edinburgh all the events take place in the same building, so you never have to go outside (and I didn’t) and can pack more into the time – though you do get a lot less exercise.

I was a little worried about my ability to survive quite so much comedy in one sitting (though given the rather uncomfortable chairs, I did allow myself the occasional stand and stretch) and the amount of yawning (mine) that accompanied my morning train journey into London did not bode well.  Pleasingly, when checking the route from Old Street tube station to the venue I realised it passed close to 8 Hoxton Square (the eastern outpost of the 10 Greek Street empire) and so took in some solid (and delicious) brunch there before events started – carb-loading is critical preparation for the serious comedy aficionado.  To avoid losing comedy value by having to leave the venue for subsequent nourishment, I had provided myself with a packed supper – which I thought might be a deeply shameful option but, as it transpired, I was far from the alone in my choice (and some of my fellow munchers seemed much trendier than I).

Each act was a preview of what its creator hopes will be wowing Edinburgh come August.  Each act was followed by a ten minute break for fluid transactions or room transfers and the whole thing was held together by an MC (or two, as they divided the day into two shifts) for each room.  Some people had rather more work to do in the next month than others (I think I now know who did their homework on the bus on the way into school), but all the shows were entertaining and provided plenty of scope for laughter.  Whilst I stayed awake in admirable style, the effect of quite so much comedy in such a short period of time is that I can remember even less of the content than usual (so no spoiler alert will be required).  I can remember that James Acaster was the highlight of my day – and I can remember thinking at the time that he is eminently quotable (but can no longer recall anything to quote) and a surprisingly skilled physical comedian. The title comes from Joel Dommett – a man less in touch with his emotions than I – who at one stage attempted to cry while reading a set of one-liners.  He came very close, he started to tear-up but then lost it.  Watching a man determined, desperate even, to cry and just failing is terribly amusing – the lad may wish to embrace his failure as I suspect it may work better comically than success.

I can also recall, for more traumatic reasons, that the final act was Simon Munnery.  Before he started, I found myself suffused with nostalgia as I recalled listening to him on the radio as Alan Parker, Urban Warrior or The League Against Tedium when I was but a lad.  As a result, it came as a terrible shock when, during his act, it was revealed that he is younger than me: not by much, but enough to take the wind out of a chap’s sails, I can tell you.  At least I could comfort myself with the knowledge that the years have been rather kinder to me than to Mr M (in terms of third-party visual amenity, at least).

However, that is all by-the-by, the primary purpose of this post is for me to introduce another one of my cunning business proposals.  Yes, I am once again treating you, dear readers, as a veritable den of dragons and am seeking investment in my latest wheeze.   Here goes the pitch:

Given the expected (and realised) sauna-like conditions at the festival, I choose to wear shorts for the day.  I will admit that I felt somewhat underdressed walking around London in shorts and also upon returning to Southampton after dark.  When in Edinburgh itself, despite the heat of the venues I am usually forced to wear proper trousers both to cope with the Scottish summer and by the shame engendered by unnecessary display of the fleshy wrapping of my tibia and fibula to the kilt-clad natives.  It really isn’t practical to make the switch between shorts and trousers during the day given the absence of decent audience changing facilities at most comedy festivals.  A similar issue occurs when cycling to the concert hall or theatre on a sticky evening, I feel it inappropriate to wear shorts and so instead inflict my perspiration-soaked body on the rest of the audience.  Surely there must be a solution, thought I.

Well, I am sufficient worldly to know that male strippers have trousers which can be removed at speed and without troubling their shoes.  Something along this line would be ideal for the festival or concert goer – assuming they were as easy to put on (a part of the process rarely vouchsafed to the public) as to seductively remove.  Investigating the existing options this morning, I found that the leg coverings on offer were of a very inferior quality – and I don’t feel would pass muster in either concert hall or city street.  They were obviously aimed at the novelty market, not at the serious homme d’affaires.  There is clearly an opening for a sturdier, more formal trew (or better yet, a pair of them) that can be added or removed from a gentlemen’s ensemble with the minimum of fuss and bother.  These should be relatively generously cut above the knee – to avoid painful bunching of the shorts – but taper to the ankle to avoid conflict with a bicycle chain.  I’m thinking the range should include a chino, a dark formal (perhaps even black-tie friendly) and some denim based options.  Accoutred in such style, a chap can be comfortable in both the hottest of venues and the most formal of occasions without requiring access to a changing room or telephone box.  He would also be ready, at a moment’s notice, to provide any potential admirer of his unexpectedly hench physique with quite the performance – and any resulting tips thrust (demurely, I trust) into his waistband would help defray the day’s other, unavoidable expenses.  Trousers that pay for themselves!  Who could resist?

If this idea generates the level of interest I anticipate, the next stage would be to cost the product and get a Kickstarter (or similar) going and watch the money roll in.  I look forward to the day when an omi’s strides can keep his lallies at a bona temperature throughout the day.  Ooh, ain’t he bold?

Back to the flat

After a week of unaccustomed hills and even more unaccustomed walking I’m about to leave Edinburgh.  Perhaps I need a skateboard to use when I’m away from my bike?  Or just skates? I feel the need for wheels of some sort, and a cool one would be nice – as long as I can manage the associated issues of balance.

I saw my last gig this morning, watching a bass-baritone sing a whole lot better than I can manage to the delight of a rather elderly crowd at the Queen’s Hall and, I believe, the live(ish) listening millions (OK, hundreds) on Radio 3.  As a result the programme had strict instructions as to when we were allowed to applaud – presumably to avoid us crashing the pips (or some similar radio disaster).

Yesterday, I saw Dirty Great Love Story which counts as the best rom-com I have ever seen, bar none.  Probably the cheapest too – it involved only two actors (who had also written it) and two chairs.  No set, no scenario and no costume changes.  Truly romance for these economic times.  It made me both laugh and cry quite a lot: I think there may be a romantic trapped deep within me somewhere though fortunately he usually only makes a break for freedom in the safe anonymity of the dark.  This time though he made his escape only 3 feet from the actors in a rather too well lit venue (I’m putting it down to a sudden attach of hayfever – not the play by Noel Coward – if anyone asks).  This release of emotion also took place within touching distance of Michael Mosley: maker of excellent TV documentaries on medicine.  Not quite the way I’d planned to add another celebrity to my growing list of “spottings”, but still rather better than when I invited Simon Amstell to go ahead of me in a sandwich shop using French a little earlier in the week (in my defence, I hadn’t recognised him at this stage – but I can’t really claim he looked particularly French either.  Still, I like to imagine the Auld Alliance remains strong and so most of the locals will understand the language of Proust and Voltaire).

The other highlight of yesterday was Luke Wright – if not actually my favourite poet, then definitely top of the list of those I’ve seen perform live.  Weekday Dad brought another errant tear to my eye, but luckily far fewer lux were in attendance.  This performance did also make me wonder why theatrical lighting still produces so much waste heat: surely, there are more efficient and, more importantly for the small venues of the Fringe, cooler options available in this modern age?  Is there a business opportunity here?

Still, now our hero must away to catch a bus into Waverley, before seeing how much of the cost of his First Class ticket home he can manage to munch his way through on the train south.  I’m keen to give it 110%, at least!

Wimp

I talk not of any candidates for the substance of dark matter – though I have been reading about them recently – but of your electronic interlocutor.  Whilst I may be weakly interacting, that is down to my limited social skills rather than any inability to affect electromagnetic radiation – I am, in fact, reflecting, absorbing and scattering it even as I type (and they say men can’t multi-task!).  Nor am I a particle (and so have no fear of the triangle – and there may be a small prize for anyone who – without the aid of internet search – (a) understands that allusion and (b) is willing to admit it) and I do not consider myself especially massive – though I realise the later is very much a matter of your point of view.

No, I refer to my rather limited panoply of the more traditional manly attributes.  I have previously alluded to my need to dash away a less than manly tear at the cinema or theatre – and now admit that this weakness extends to the opera (only once, and La Traviata is quite sad) and the radio, television and books.

However, I don’t, in general, consider myself to be especially squeamish – to be honest, I don’t even know what a squeam is.  I tend not to watch the myriad of hospital dramas that infest our screen not out of any fear of the sight of blood – I’ve seen my own often enough, gushing out of my arm into a small plastic bag – but due to a lack of interest in the genre.  So, when I sat down on Sunday night to watch Michael Mosley’s new 2-part series “Frontline Medicine” I had no reason to fear.  I’ve watched his medical series before – and even made it through his excellent “History of Surgery” with barely a qualm.

Truly, pride cometh before a fall.  Within five minutes I was forced to the adult equivalent of hiding behind the couch – in my case, standing behind the bookcase concentrating on the ironing (the couch is too low, and it backs directly onto the wall).  Even “watching” thus insulated from any sight of the screen, the sound track alone was sufficient to make me decidedly queasy on more than one occasion.  In fact, I seemed decidedly more queasy than a lad whose foot had been mostly blown off by an IED.  Despite my rather eccentric mode of viewing the programme was fascinating and horrifying, depressing and uplifting in equal measure.  Some of the injured required 150 units of blood – nearly 50 years of normal donation for a chap like me – which does make me wonder where they obtain so much blood?  For the interested, O neg is the most useful as it can be given to anyone – my own A pos satisfies only a rather more limited market.

The physical injuries that the quality of medical care rendered survivable was truly extraordinary.  The injured (and, as yet, uninjured) did seem to be uniformly young: the sort of age I normally see wandering around the university or wowing me with their musical prowess – and I suspect the same is true for the enemy combatants as well, though I doubt they are offered much in the way of medical care by their “sponsors”.  I fear it is all too easy for the idealism of the young to be used by their elders – and not always for very laudable ends.  Sadly, it remains far easier – and oft seems more popular – to injure and maim than it does to heal.

Still, as I said the programme was far from unremittingly depressing, in many ways it was a story of heroism, quiet determination and great skill – and as so often with war, lessons are learned that will benefit “normal” life.  It would just be so much better if we could learn these lessons via less pain and suffering.  Next week, will be looking at rehabilitation – so I hope I may be able to return from behind the bookcase to a more typical viewing position (for a start, I’ve not got an hour of ironing – and, before you ask, I’m not offering to take any in!).

The Great Globe itself

Readers may have noticed the lack of verse which has followed my earlier threats – and may, indeed, be thanking their lucky stars for this (though, my knowledge of astronomy is insufficient to suggest which particular stars should be in line for your thanks).  Thus far, my verse had remained entirely blank – not in the sense of iambic pentameter, but rather as a description both of the paper on which it is it be written and of the mind that is to write it.

In an attempt to remedy this lamentable situation, I decided to turn to the master of blank verse: Will.iamb Shakespeare himself (who so generously provided our title).  While there are always those who will dispute whether the Bard actually penned the plays wot he wrote, with one C Marlowe coming to a premature end in Deptford in 1593 and with my chosen play not being written until 1598 I think I can be reasonably confident.  So, yesterday I hied me back to Shakespeare’s Globe to catch their production of “Much Ado about Nothing”.

I had never previously seen Much Ado in the theatre, but I had seen the acclaimed Kenneth Branagh film at the Manors in Newcastle in the early 90s.  I arrived very late for the film and so had to sit in the front row and, as a result, my main memory of the film is the frankly disturbing sight of a 20 foot-wide projection of Emma Thompson’s bosom viewed at point blank range.  Still, time is a great healer (and, as previously established, I have a mercifully poor visual memory).

The Globe production of the play blows the film (good though it is) right out of the water – it was possibly the finest theatrical production I’ve ever seen and it is hard to imagine how Much Ado could be done better.  The cast and production were brilliant and, unlike some productions of Shakespearean comedies, it was really funny.  On the basis of my very limited Global sample (2) of late 16th century theatre, I would say that Bill is very much Chris’s superior in the play-writing stakes (which I believe are run over 7 furlongs).  The three hours flew by – though the interval sped past even faster: I barely had time to scarf the obligatory tub of ice cream!

To descend into cliché (to be honest, it wasn’t far out of my way): I laughed (a lot); I cried (a bit).  All a bit embarrassing the latter, as it was in broad daylight and I usually restrict my more lachrymose moments to the privacy of Fish Towers or the encircling gloom of the cinema.  Still, mild asthma can be used to cover a multitude of sins (well, perhaps ‘a multitude’ is over-playing my hand, but red eyes and a running nose are certainly covered).

There are a handful of performances still to go and readers should make every effort to grab a ticket – though I should point out that GofaDM cannot condone the breaking of any laws in your ticket procurement process.  Well, one can’t be too careful in these post-riot days – magistrates are handing down some pretty stiff sentences, in contrast to my own rather limp offerings.