An Augmented Verb

While I continue to doubt my credentials as a ‘writer’, I cannot deny that I have some sort of fetish for language.  Over the past weekend alone, I have found myself musing as to whether ‘rusticity’ and ‘vespine’ are words – or just word-like formulations of my own devising (as it transpires, I can lay claim to neither – despite the doubts of both WordPress and Google when it comes to ‘vespine’, Mr Collins is clear that they have existed for quite a while).

One of the many ways in which I indulge my fetish is by listening to The Verb via its podcast.  I was introduced to The Verb by its host: not directly, but via his Twitter feed (one of many introductions for which I must thank the blue bird of both happiness and truly hideous abuse).  In common with much of Radio 4 – or at least those parts I enjoy via podcast – The Verb is on holiday, but as a sop to those addicts among us is offering selected back-numbers to help us make it through the difficult, dog days of summer.

Usually, I listen to podcasts at home or on a train (or occasionally, a plane) but to celebrate what might have been the last gasp of summer (our canine friends will soon have to cede the temporal stage to another creature – the duck days of autumn?), yesterday I decided to indulge in a little al fresco consumption.  So I took my self, iPod, and a pair of headphones up to the Common to enjoy the sunshine and temperatures on the upper cusp of their teens.  After a pleasant walk around the Common, the obligatory soft ice cream (which, if I’m honest, was the primary reason for my excursion) and a little light butterfly stalking, I sat down on the grass and started a Verb from distant 2013 (before I became a regular consumer).

I rarely sit on the grass – perhaps an age- and height-related desire to avoid both the long way down and the even longer return journey – and I think I’ve been missing out.  The world looks surprisingly beautiful when observed from rather lower than my usual viewpoint – once again, being tall is revealed as massively over-rated.  Wearing my cloak of invisibility – OK, mirrored shades and a pair of headphones – I watched the (mostly) young people enjoying the Common in the sunshine.  As I people-watched, I couldn’t help feeling that I have had far too little fun with a frisbee in my life (though using one on my own would, I fear, look unutterably sad).

My tristesse was assuaged by the aural cosseting provided via my headphones.  The near-perfect line-up included Boo Hewerdine, the Listening Machine (who, with the help of the Britten Sinfonia, turn Twitter into audio gold) and David Sedaris.  Hearing Ian McMillan interviewing David Sedaris is almost too much: two such distinctive voices brought together in fascinating dialogue feels almost dangerous – like crossing the streams.

Some might imagine that these musings aspire to achieve the level of style and quality exhibited by Mr Sedaris’ work – but it wasn’t until yesterday that I had even considered making such a comparison (and then very hurriedly reversed away from it).  I feel an aspiration should at least have some vague hope of achievement, or at least offer the hope of reaching a destination in broadly the same time zone – and this would not be the case with Mr S.  In a similar vein, I recently spotted a competition to find a new comic writer – but this competition was named after P G Wodehouse.  Who would feel bold enough to enter a competition with the name of such a master attached?  When naming a competition, you need to find someone who has achieved greatness through obvious effort – rather than those blessed with an incondign mastery.

[BTW: Has anyone else noticed that WordPress seems to suffer from a diminishing vocabulary but imposes this with far greater vehemence on the unfortunate writer?  It frequently chooses to correct my writing after I’ve completed the proof-reading – which is less than helpful.]

Mr Sedaris was enthralling, with all manner of insights drawn out by Ian McMillan.  He keeps a diary in surprising detail (though still less than he finds he wants) and will keep material for years (the number seventeen was mentioned) waiting for other elements to arrive which will combine felicitously to form a ‘story’ (or ‘post’ if translated to my own life).  My poor brain can rarely retain an incident for more than a week or two – and so unless it finds a home in that time it is lost forever (or until a heavy night on the red wine which sometimes knocks old ideas loose).  This makes me realise that too many posts are rushed to press, when waiting a little (or a lot) longer would create a much improved product: less of a diary entry with mildly amusing asides and more of a proper piece of writing.  Still, I’m not convinced that I have the discipline to keep a diary or know what it should include – then again, that which goes unattempted must perforce remain impossible so perhaps I should venture in hope of some future gain.

If only this particular diary entry could properly capture the joy of people and nature watching in a sunny park whilst listening to The Verb – as close to the realm eternal as I am likely to manage in this life (or probably – subject to its existence – the next) – then I would be (temporarily) happy.

Light and shade

I’ve finally decided to produce a home furnishings supplement for GofaDM!  OK, I’ll come clean, I haven’t: though it could be an option if the supply of other ideas runs dry…

The title refers to this past weekend being one of contrasts, for example, while Friday night was spent in the psychedelic company of Django Django, Saturday night was sound-tracked to the more classical strains of the CUMS May Week concert (for the uninitiated, May Week in Cambridge is always in June).  Both took place in an ecclesiastical setting, the latter in the splendour of King’s College Chapel, and both had their percussive elements and were very loud at times.  The latter did not use amplification to achieve this effect: merely a large choir and substantial orchestral forces, including a full organ – at one stage, five cymbals were played(?) simultaneously (and with considerable vigour).  The CUMS programme offered Debussy’s La Mer followed by Hector Berloiz’ Te Deum and allowed me to return to my usual “massive”.  I felt it was particularly important to make the effort to attend as not only were CUMS involved but some of the choir were sourced from my local village college.  As you will discover later (though I had discovered earlier), I did make it needlessly tricky to do so – and Network Rail added their own barriers to success on my way back from the capital – but in the end I made it comfortably on time (in fact, given the extreme wind at my back – weather rather than diet related – I arrived rather earlier than planned).  Whilst I may have attended out of a vague feeling of duty, I was more than repaid by the amazing music on offer.  It was also my first real contact with the Jubilee: we all had to sing God Save the Queen (though only two of the less politically controversial verses, and for my money including a verse which attempts to rhyme the words “cause” and “voice” was pretty controversial) and the Te Deum unusually included its Prelude (not, as you might expect at the beginning) in Liz’s honour.

Earlier in the day, I had taken the train down to London: cycling to the station in sunshine, no less.  As the train rattled south, I spent my time laughing along with the Jon Holmes show on BBC 6Music and playing peek-a-boo with a small, pre-ambulatory child (and trying to work out which of my two entertainers was the more childish).  The child’s minder (mother?) did attempt to distract it with other matters of interest in and around our carriage, but there was no real competition to yours truly.  If only I knew what this strange power was…

I was heading to London to visit the National, but first had to tackle the important issue of lunch.  The regular reader will be unsurprised to learn that I turned to 10 Greek Street, who once again did me proud.  Lunch also produced one of these revelatory moments which occur from time-to-time.  Having swooned at the ricotta parfait on Thursday, I decided to tackle the chocolate terrine this time – and so was forced to ponder the best choice of accompanying dessert wine: hedonistic for lunch-time I know, but it had been a trying week.  The chap behind the zinc bar suggested either madeira or marsala.  As a fan of Flanders and Swann, I feared the results of imbibing madeira that early in the day and so plumped (with a degree of trepidation) for the marsala – a beverage I had only previously used for cooking.  What a marriage made in heaven (or closest atheist equivalent.  Exosphere?): a juxtaposition of buccal sensations that I cannot recommend highly enough!  (I suppose the CofE might object to the marriage given the lack of a Y-chromosome in the married couple, but as they don’t have any Xs either it probably can’t be considered a lesbian liaison).  It is perhaps fortunate that the larder is currently very low on both dark chocolate and marsala – or I might have lost several hours (or days) to sybaritic indulgence.

However, I was in town to indulge my new found taste for tragedy – and, in particular, those where the primary narrative drive comes from a strong female character.  A couple of weeks ago, it was the Duchess of Malfi and on this occasion Sophocles’ Antigone.  Whilst I don’t usually approve of spoilers, as the works are 500 and 2500 years old respectively, I feel safe in revealing that in both cases most of the main cast are dead before the final curtain (purely metaphorical in this case, as neither play made use of a curtain).  Anyway, having taken my seat, it then became apparent that someone else had a ticket for the same one.  Yup, I had arrived exactly 6 days too late (special bonus tragedy, albeit on a very modest scale) – my ticket was for the 10th and my diary confidently quoth the 16th: I presume I must have reverted to hex when I made that particular entry (well, it’s either that theory, or I’m forced to admit that my few remaining marbles have departed my cranium like so many rodents from a foundering vessel in a storm-wracked sea).  The National were extremely good about this – especially given that the incompetence was mine alone and discovered only about a minute before the play started – and whilst there were no seats left, I was able to “prom” in the circle.  The play was very powerful and has much to teach us, even after two-and-a-half millenia (it was also, luckily, relatively short given my previously abused knees).   As a plus, I will shortly be studying the play (though in a different translation) from my OU course: so the day counted as useful homework (though I fear not tax deductable).

In fact, on the tenth I was at a matinée performance in London (thinking that I had nothing on!  My diary is going to have to work quite hard to regain my trust), just not at the National.  This was a musical, Jekyll and Hyde, in the much more modest surrounds of the Union Theatre which lies ‘neath a railway arch in Southwark.  This is a tiny venue which meant that you were very close indeed to the action (the theatre is not much larger than my front room) – and it had a larger cast than most of the plays I’ve seen.  I must admit that I do enjoy a performance in an intimate venue – it feels much more personal and nothing important was lost as a result of the more modest budget and staging.

Three tragedies in a fortnight!  My theatre-going has definitely escaped its comic roots.  Is it time to introduce an element of tragedy to GofaDM?  Well, intentionally introduce it – I’m sure many readers already view much of the content (and the author) as rather tragic, but this element has come stealing in like an uninvited guest rather than as a result of considered policy.