Bifocal

Last weekend, I snuck back up to Edinburgh to take in the very end of the Fringe.  Well, it was sort of on my way to Belfast so I saved the cost of a return journey.  Usually, when in Edinburgh, I stay with friends who live a little distance from the city centre – but as this was a last minute decision, and given that buses are a little scant over the bank hoiiday weekend, I stayed in the city itself.  As is becoming a tradition when away from home, I stayed in student accomodation: which appeals to my desire for both thrift and nostalgia.  This was almost ideally placed – overlooking the Meadows and less than 10 minutes walk from all the main Fringe venues.  It was rather nice being able to pop-back between gigs and stay out after the last bus had departed (for the great garage in the sky) without having to worry about finding a cab and the cost of paying for one!  It was also very civilised strolling across the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links on Sunday morning to have brunch at Konditorei Falko: which provides a very acceptable and unhurried offering.

My little student flat was next door to the “prestigious” Quartermile development – and I worked out I could have stayed there for more than 16 years at the nightly rate for less than the smallest and cheapest apartment in that development (and that lacked my view across the Meadows or the free utilities).  It is always pleasing to lead some part of the life of the wealthy on a vastly lower budget.

Over a little less than 48 hours, I managed to take in 14 shows – a new personal best!  These were mostly quite hard to pigeonhole into a simple category, but most were really very good indeed.  They really made me appreciate the incredible variety of culture and human creativity on offer at the Fringe.  It made me realise the relatively narrow range of offerings that one can obtain via the haunted fish tank: though I rather fear that many of the things I saw would translate only poorly to that most stay-at-home of cultural media.

I shall attempt, with my hopelessly inadequate descriptive pose, to give you a flavour of a few of my favourites…

Spool: was a dance/theatre piece with two young chaps (called Murmurations) representing the mind and body of a single person.  This had some really interesting ideas and very clever use of props and I really enjoyed it.  I hope they take it further as I think there is more in it.

Folie à deux: comprised Andrew Hunter-Murray (who resisted the utge to hug me this time) and Charlotte Gittins improvising comedy for a full hour from a single word supplied by the audience.  This was some of the most enjoyable improv I have ever seen – who knew so much fun could be obtained from the word “pineapple”?  It was so good that I heard one erstwhile audience member saying he would have to re-evaluate his previous dislike of the form!

Letters from Windsor House: this was an amazingly fun theatre piece about housing in London (among many other themes) by a company called Sh!t Theatre (if it’s OK on Radio 4 at teatime, it is fine for GofaDM).  It was so good that I wish I could travel back in time and see their previous work (obviously, if I could travel back in time, there would be further potential benefits – and perhaps some risks).

Sci Fi: was a trio of actors called Singing Trees performing a comedy, sci-fi parody.  They played all the many roles and it was packed with gags and physical comedy.  It can proudly boast that it offered the best pun I have heard in a good long while.

Houdini: was a comedy/musical/magic extravaganza featuring Nick Mohammed’s character Mr Swallow with support from three others.  This somehow succeeded at being good at all three of its elements – often at the same time.  I saw the last performance and I’m fairly sure Nick was going off-script given the difficulty the rest of the cast had keeping a straight face.

Foxdog Studios: this is basically indescribable, but was the most fun I had at any show in Edinburgh this year.  There were hints of Kraftwerk, 8-bit gaming, scrap metal and a whole load more besides.  How anyone thought up the ideas and then decided to make a show out of them I do not know, but I am so glad they did.  The show used what I assume were more arduinos (arduini?), Raspberry pis, tablets, HD cameras, and other IT tech than would be contained several branches of Maplin combined (oh, and a cardboard box).  The show was part of the Free Fringe and, as an incentive to the audience to put a decent contribution into the bucket, offered veggie pasties made by one of the cast.  These were absolutely delicious – if I hadn’t been to the last performance, I would have returned to the show just to get another!  I also think that shows providing food is a very good idea and one that I wish to encourage.

Labels: was a relatively normal, one-man theatre piece by a company called Worklight.  I had missed out on seeing it in 2015 and on my earlier visit to Auld Reekie, but final caught the last show of this Fringe on bank holiday Monday.  I am so glad I finally made it as it was a really clever piece of theatre: both funny and at times shocking.  It was also oddly relevant given that I had just been reading about Pierre Bourdieu and anthropology.  Worklight have some new work in development which I shall definitely being seeking out.

All these show used five people (or fewer) and most took place in only a very modest space with no or fairly modest equipment.  It seems a pity that there isn’t a circuit for such interesting work to be a part of, and hopefully thrive on.  Much as I love going to Edinburgh, it would be nice if this kind of stuff could happen a little closer to home – and provide its performers with a year-round income.  Maybe it’s time for me to become some sort of entrepreneur and find a space and try and bring interesting productions to the south coast?  I quite like the idea, but don’t fancy the whole hassle of having to market the thing at the general public: then again, I do know a rather good salesman…

Ah, the title.  Yes, I probably ought to explain that.  While at the Foxdog Studios gig, I found that I had to be able to respond to things on a distant screen whilst controlling an avatar using the much closer screen of my mobile phone.  This did not prove straightfoward using a single pair of glasses and I fear my performance suffered as a result.  In consequence, I finally came to realise the potential benefit of bifocals – it would seem they are a must-have for the middle-aged gamer.

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Dad 321

It had to happen eventually (it didn’t), I have finally experienced the joys of fatherhood (true, but misleading).  And now I shall just leave matters there, in an attempt to build some dramatic tension…

I spent last week in Edinburgh, at the famous Fringe and its much smaller cousin, the International Festival.  As usual, I attempted to fit way too much culture into a week, but as last year I attempted to manage my addiction by refusing to attend any show starting after 22:00.  I may have been massively over-stimulated, but at least I was tucked up in bed before midnight!  Effectively my ego was acting as a rather laissez-faire parent to my id, but did at least impose some boundaries (okay, one boundary – but you have to start somewhere).

As I headed north for my annual cultural overload, the weather was set fair – or so the Met Office claimed, erroneously as it transpired.  So damp and totally unlike the forecast was the actual weather that a lesser man might suspect the Met Office to be in the pay of an unscrupulous cabal of Scots mackintosh and umbrella vendors, attempting to lure gullible Sassenachs north with insufficient wet-weather gear.  Fortunately, years of childhood holidays in Wales mean that I am not so easily fooled.

As is traditional, my Fringe had an underlying bedrock of comedy, but this made up the smallest proportion of my gigs yet. Before going I had left myself a note to see a chap called Tom Ballard, though I no longer had any idea why.  Trusting in the judgment of past-me I dutifully went to see the youth – and was surprised to find he was Australian.  Despite this handicap, I had a great time at his gig and current-me can thoroughly recommend the lad: however, I still have absolutely no idea why past-me had made a note of his name.  Does this suggest that my work in temporal mechanics will shortly bear fruit and that I use the breakthrough to provide gig recommendations to my past selves?

In a further nod to tradition, several mornings were spend at the Queens Hall soaking up some classical music.  Mark Padmore made a vastly better fist of An die ferne Geliebte than I ever have – and I was watching him (and listening) very closely for tips.   Despite this hawk-like observation, I still cannot say how he filled the whole venue while also singing piano and even pianissimo.  Other musical highlights were the Dunedin Consort playing Handel, accompanied by the stunning voice of Louise Alder (where required, she sat out the concerti grossi) and a concert of piano, viola and clarinet centred around György Kurtág.  This is a very fine grouping of instruments and the works by Mark Simpson, Marco Stroppa and Robert Schumann have opened a whole new area of music to me, though I may need a little more time to fully embrace Mr Kurtág himself.

Circus also played a big part in my week, once again demonstrating that I have a long way to go before running away to the big top is a viable career plan.  Most of the circus seemed to originate from Australia, perhaps indicating greater legal protection for French-Canadians (who, like elephants, can no longer be exploited to thrill an audience), and was very good.  My two avourites were A Simple Space and Elixir which both combined amazing skills with a lot of fun – and, in the case of the latter, the first time I have seen a man actually steam.   In fact, every circus I saw was good and introduced some new physical feat or new way of approaching an old idea which suggests that there is life in the form for some time to come: which is good new for my long term career planning.

For the first time in Edinburgh, I branched out into dance and saw an amazing piece called Smother.  This claimed to be hip-hop dance, though given my limited (okay, non-existent) knowledge of the genre I wouldn’t have guessed, and the 55 minutes flew past.  It would seem that hip-hop embraces rather more than a rap-based musical style: you live and learn!  I am now more keen then ever to extend my limited gymnastic skills into  b-boying – though was distressed to discover that even in this apparently free form of dance, one is still expected to keep in time with the beat (or at least the young performers clearly acted as though this were required).  Do evening classes still exist, or are we supposed to leaen everything from YouTube videos now? Music-wise I also went to see the Melbourne Ska Orchestra which was a great experience, though unlike much of the audience I did resist the urge to dance (too early in the day for my blood-alcohol levels to have reached the threshold required for dancing), but I’ll admit it was a close-run thing and had the seating been a little less cramped I might have “cut a rug” (as I believe the young people say).  My other favourite musical piece is harder to describe, it was a combination of fairly thin spoken autobiography, a music lesson and some virtuoso piano playing by Will Pickvance (a chap I had heard on The Verb, purveyor of many good things).  This, in a place where animals were once dissected, was a thing of total joy and a complete contrast to everything else I saw.  It somehow seemed to recharge my cultural batteries.

I also looked at some art and discovered that 10am is rather to early to face the full onslaught of surrealism.  It also became clear that Bridget Riley’s work is not ideal for the sufferer of astigmatism: though staring at some of her works does function as a suprisingly effective legal high!  I can fully recommend Inspiring Impressionism at the Scottish National Gallery which opened my eyes to the the role of Daubigny in so much of the impressionist art – and indeed beyond – I have seen over the years.  The exhibition ends with a wonderful, if heart-breaking and very late, painting by Vincent Van Gogh: it would seem I now cry at paintings too.

The final category of fun was theatrical.  My favourite piece came from Belgium and had the unpromising start time of 10am and subject matter of the terrorist massacre at the high school in Beslan.  Despite this unholy trinity of issues, Us/Them was an amazing piece of work and made the whole week in Edinbugh worthwhile on its own.  In fact, Summerhall was awash with interesting Belgian theatre (mostly Flemish) – of which I had time to see far too little – so I think I may have to spend some quality time in Brussels.

Right, I suppose I’ve kept you waiting long enough, I should explain my recent fatherhood and introduce my new son (who has a bushy beard and probably out-weighs his father).  My second favourite piece of theatre was Every Brilliant Thing, which I wanted to see last year but was sold-out and so this year I got myself organised (just a little bit, to quote that sage of life planning, Gina G).  It was worth the wait, though I did blub a little (well, I was more involved than usual in the plot) having made it through Us/Them with (almost) dry eyes.  The play stars one half of Jonny and the Baptists (I don’t think it would be too much of a spoiler to reveal it is not “the Baptists” and that one should never trust a swan) and, as it turns out, quite a lot of the audience.  Many people are handed a slip of paper to declaim at the appropriate moment: mine was numbered 321 (not, so far as I know, in tribute to the late Ted Rogers).  However, a few of us had larger roles and I had to play Jonny’s father (and to an extent Jonny).  This seemed a fairly modest obligation at first, safely discharged from my seat with only a minimum of speaking (just the one word, albeit delivered several times) or acting required (so very much pitched at my level of skill).  This contrasted with one member of the audience who had a lot more work to do while wearing only one shoe: and in my performance she was so good at her part I still wonder if she had been practising.  However, just when I thought it was safe to rest on my laurels (or cushion, no laurels were provided) I was dragged centre-stage and required to give an impromptu wedding speech as the father of the groom.  I’m sure my readers would not have been caught napping, but I had come woefully unprepared with not so much as a best man’s speech on me.  Luckily the discovery that Jonny (my son) was very much shorter than me provided an “in”(by way of reference to his tiny mother) and I managed to extremporise a small speech which went down suprisingly well.   It is rather nice being applauded by an entire theatre, if also a tad embarrassing, and I rather fear a monster has been created.  In future, I shall expect a round of applause for any impromptu declaration exceeding a couple of sentences.

Gosh, that was a long one – and such a range of references, if I were a better chap I’d provide footnotes.  Suffice to say, I had a splendid holiday but very little (if any) of a rest.

Self-medicating

It has often been said, mostly by those with no medical training, that laughter is the best medicine.  While I was up in Edinburgh, I developed a cold (OK, as this did not involve a lab and a team of rogue geneticists perhaps I should say a caught one) and I am unconvinced that any over-the-counter ‘medicines’ have any positive impact on the progress of the virus (except – if I’m lucky – for acting as a brief palliative).  However, my location and the time of year did mean that I did extensively self-medicate with comedy.  The cold proved very mild and the worst of the symptoms swiftly passed – could this be down to my frequent laughter?  Or was this purely coincidental?  As I am unwilling to be infected with multiple cold viruses and then ‘treated’ with varying degrees and styles of comedy we will probably never know – sorry folks, my commitment to the advancement of scientific knowledge only stretches so far.

Despite my obviously overweening self-regard, I do realise that the vast majority of the readership of this blog will not be visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  However, this is also true for significantly more august organs with a much wider readership and the fact doesn’t stop them – and so it won’t stop me.  Plus, I do have an actual reader request for my comedy highlights!  And, you never know, these funny folk may visit a venue near you one day…

So, in no particular order (though I have not properly randomised the list) are my favourite ‘acts’ from those I saw over the last week.

  • Kieran Hodgson (FF): this is the third year I’ve seen Kieran’s one man show, in which he tells a story playing all of the characters.  The bad news (for me) is that his genius has now been recognised by others, including a 5* review in The Guardian, which may make him rather harder to see in future (or it may involve arriving very early to be sure of a seat).
  • John Robins: probably my 5th or 6th visit to his Edinburgh shows.  He really is a very funny performer, mining two-and-half relatively minor incidents for a full hour of laughs.
  • Brett Goldstein: my first time, inspired by seeing SuperBob earlier in the year.  He was a lot of fun, and surprisingly soft-spoken given that when he is invariable cast as a thug when you see him acting.
  • George Egg: almost a speciality act with jokes.  George cooked a full, three course meal using only the equipment you find in a typical hotel room. e.g. iron, kettle, trouser price etc.  At a time when many struggle to microwave an instant meal, the man should be an inspiration to us all – and perhaps placed on the National Curriculum.  His poached sea bass was glorious and you will never look at a wire coat-hanger in quite the same way again.
  • Max and Ivan: incredibly funny, apocalyptic story-telling.
  • Alfie Brown: inspired to see him following his interview on ComComPod.  Very funny and the finest Derby accent you will ever hear (including in Derby!).
  • Stuart Goldsmith (FF): I’ve seen and loved all of his Edinburgh shows.  This was his first time on the Free Fringe and he seemed much more relaxed and the show was excellent.  Arrive early as it tends to fill-up.
  • Nick Doody (FF): effortlessly funny, intelligent comedy.  I think we can all see why I’m not paid as a critic – this is nearly as bad as writing “satisfactory progress” in a school report, but Nick was brilliant and criminally under-attended last Tuesday.

It was great to see some old ‘friends’ doing well, some newer discoveries and some acts entirely new to me this year.  None of the people I saw are massively famous (as far as I know – be aware, this does not preclude massive fame) and it is hard to see the character comedy, in particular, working as well on radio or TV.  As I grow ever more ancient, I become increasingly convinced that comedy works best seen live and preferably in a small, sweaty venue – somehow it loses something important on the television and in larger spaces and even, sometimes, on radio (which is the medium that introduced me to comedy).  In so many parts of the country, it seems so hard to see a broad range of comedy – and, particularly, the full hour scale shows which can be important for more narrative acts.  I usually have to travel to London or Edinburgh to see old friends or expand my comedy horizons – a situation not helped by the fact that the ‘industry’ seems to believe that comedy should start late in the evening with little thought for those who have to catch the last train home (and the rail industry’s view that this last train should be well before 10pm unless it departs from London).

I always suspect that live comedy is missing a substantial, albeit latent, audience who are put off by the difficulty of seeing so many acts and the late nights and/or additional hotel costs which even the keen must endure.  Then again, I am broadly recognised as slightly odd and so generalising from my own experience may be fiscally irresponsible.   Nevertheless, if I had a larger parlour (and owned a few more chairs), I would be tempted to book acts myself and then attempt to defray the costs across an audience of 20 or so friends or acquaintances (or total strangers with cash – though this may cause issues with my lease): I suspect a couple of hundred quid (plus standard-class rail travel) would be enough to tempt many to indulge in a mid-week visit to the south coast.  I suppose I could rent a space – but this increases the costs and so would require improved marketing to boost the audience and keep my costs down.  Then again, how much can a church hall or pub room cost?  I think I shall investigate: if things go well, I could have a whole new career as a live comedy promoter!

Fringe mastery

I believe this may be my tenth year of coming up to Edinburgh in August to see the Fringe and, sometimes, a little of the Festival to which it forms a rather overgrown adjunct.  However, as I type this racing south by train, I feel this is the first year that I have truly mastered the experience (obviously, mistressy remains an even higher standard, but one which will ever lie beyond my reach).

This hard-worn mastery has a number of components which, as the more prescient or fatalistic reader will have realised, I am going to reveal to you (whilst studiously avoiding use of the phrase ‘life hack’ – except just then).

Let’s start, as some actors do, with the feet.  Enjoying the Fringe does involve a lot of walking around: most of it up hill and much of it over cobbled ground.  This can – and, in the past, did – play havoc with a chap’s feet and ankles.  This year, in one of those flashes of insight which is such a rare visitor to my intra-auricular void, I travelled north with the perfect footwear solution.  What are these wonder-shoes?  They are a pair of New Balance 1060s, bought several years ago as urban walking shoes: but rarely used.  They entered my life just as I started cycling everywhere and they make for a poor cycling shoe.  As a result, they have lain forgotten at the back of the wardrobe for several years – just waiting their chance to shine.  Shine they most certainly did – taking hills and cobbles in my stride.  Never have I left Auld Reekie with such undamaged feet.  I’ll admit that they lack style – and whilst gloriously breathable (a boon in the hot and sweaty venues that characterise the Fringe) are not the ideal companions in heavy rain or deep water – but they have more than repaid my faith in them.  No longer will they be mocked by more obviously popular footwear in my wardrobe: they have (finally) found their niche.

Next, I shall turn my attention to the duration of the visit.  I started at a mere couple of nights and have gone as far as a fortnight.  This year I went with a week – and I feel that is the perfect length.  Enough time to indulge thoroughly in the delights on offer, but not so much time that the physical and mental toll on the visitor becomes excessive.  To avoid missing out on too much on offer, in the weeks prior to Edinburgh I caught a number of acts previewing their shows – which is also quite a thrifty option (special thanks must go to ARGCOMfest and the BAC).

This year, I also decided that you may have a very fine show – but if it starts after 22:00 it will not be graced(clumsied?) by my presence.  I now miss the last bus home for no man (or woman) – and so can generally have my head in contact with pillow by midnight.

It is generally best to avoid buying beer in most of the paid Fringe venues – the choice for the connoisseur is limited and prices are higher (£4.00-£4.50 per pint!).  The Free Fringe or Fringe-free venues are a better bet with prices falling to £3.90 (that I have lived to see the day when £3.90 seems a relatively reasonable price for a pint) and a much better range of session ales on offer.  This year, I acquired a cold mid-way through my visit – though my immune system has already (almost) sent it packing – so on health grounds, during the day, I switched from beer to black tea for my liquid refreshment requirements.  This was a much cheaper option and must shoulder much of the blame for my current abnormally healthful state.

This year my events formed a rather pleasing balance between comedy, spoken word and circus (of which, more in later posts).  In the past, I think I have tended to over-emphasise comedy and it can all become a something of a blur – but adding circus made for a much more balanced(!) mix.  I also spread myself across a wide range of venues and between the Free and paid Fringe – though, in general, I pay as much (or more) for the Free Fringe – so the latter is rarely the cheaper option.

The final element is my growing knowledge of where to find some decent food or a refreshing session ale when one is called for.   This year’s discovery was Malone’s – an unexpectedly spacious and architecturally-interesting Irish bar which is handily close to several Fringe venues.  Here, standing on the gallery, I took in the second half of the England-France rugby match and indie music from the Free Fringe.  Not a combination which would generally be wise, but it was time-saving and did make for an enjoyable end to an evening out.

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?

The Sussex with the fringe on top

Though only if you move away from the current norm of placing north at the top of your map (which is a purely arbitrary – and fairly recent – choice) .  Yes folks, yesterday I hied myself to the Rape of Lewes, deep within the Hundred of Whalesbone – and no, I was not interfering with a be-corseted woman in an unwanted manner, but was actually visiting Brighton.

Having been an annual visitor to the Fringe in distant Edinburgh for a decade now, I had never been to its equivalent in the much more physically proximate city of Brighton – a lack which I fixed yesterday.  I cannot claim this was as the result of long planning, but rather of a whim on Friday afternoon spurred by an only tangentially connected tweet.

The two fringes have many similarities, including exactly the same ticketing system.  I went to two gigs on the free fringe – which, as in the north, take place in the overly warm function rooms of city pubs (in general, the functions are surjections) – and two at the paid fringe.  So, as in Edinburgh, you can see that I tried to fit far too much into a day – which due to the vagaries of Southern Railways had to end by 20:30 to catch the last train home (I believe the burghers of Brighton are unwilling to have Southampton folk loose in the city after sundown – I suspect we lower the tone).

Brighton has some differences from Edinburgh – it tends to be warmer for a start.  It does seem to attract – at least around the North Laine – a collection of folk who make the denizens of Hoxton or Shoreditch seem so hopelessly unhip that you worry their legs might fall off.  I have never seen such a concentration of artisan coffee, vintage clothing and architectural salvage shops clustered together before.  I even saw a shop that sold only bonsai trees – can this really be commercially viable?  As a result, I found it very difficult to keep a straight-face (which I suppose may not be critical, in a certain sense, in Brighton) and almost had to be carried out helpless with mirth.

My free fringe venue of choice (or random selection) was the Croline of Brunswick which offered a very potable pint of Adnam’s Ghost Ship.  Based on the sign outside, I believe the propaganda of George IV may have been all too successful on the south coast and the famously chaste queen was shown in a substantially more lewd pose than modern historical scholarship would support.  The function room has the potential for decent ventilation, but this was curtailed by the noise from outside (requiring the windows to be closed), and relatively comfy chairs (I have, and was about to, sit on far worse).  I saw two James’s (serially, rather than in parallel)- Veitch and Bennison – who both provided laughs from shows in differing stages of completion.  Worryingly, one (James B) recognised me from Edinburgh – which suggests I am even more memorable than I had feared.  I shall have to work harder on my anonymity.

My paid fringe gigs could have been in Edinburgh, as they took place on a patch of worn grass near a larger building (in this case St Peter’s Church).  This grass was largely covered in tents, pop-up food stalls, unsanitary-looking loos and other temporary performance “boxes”: if I had woken there with amnesia I could easily have believed I was in St George’s Square in Auld Reekie.  In Edinburgh, the “boxes” are usually some sort of portacabin but here it was (literally) a shipping container, fitted out in hardboard (which included the seating – all hard wood and right-angles) – and in this container I spent two hours (with a short break between).  It provided a strange admixture of comedy and the feel of being on the wrong end of human trafficking.

Both the acts I saw had a connection to Exeter – coincidence? You decide.  The Jest were a sketch group with some pretty successful and original sketches in their armoury.  However, the stand-out (and indeed, up) star of my day was Mike Wozniak.  I’d previously seen him doing sketches with Daniel Rigby and Cariad Lloyd, but this was the first time I’d seem him doing solo stand-up.  He was excellent, sufficiently funny to make me (almost) forget the discomfort of my body.

My day in Brighton ended with a couple of shocking sights.  As I ascended the steep hill to the station (another link to the Athens of the North) I passed a rather brazen commercial premises.  As an old fogey, I think of mange as a mite-based skin disease of canines (and other animals) but clearly to the young people it has another meaning.  As so often with the popular, there would seem to be an exploitative secondary market where mange is sold to the desperate at many times its face value.  I was shocked to see that a mange tout was plying his wicked trade quite openly from a substantial commercial premises.  Truly, we love in debased times.

Brazen!

Brazen!

On reaching the station, I found myself a little peckish (a virtually unheard of occurrence, as regular readers will realise) and so popped into the M&S for sustenance.  Being a healthy chap, my eyes were draw to a pack of four small apricots.  My eye was then repelled from the price associated with these very diminutive fruits of the Prunus armeniaca – £3.70! which M&S helpfully explained was 92.5p each.  I guess a city whose economy can support the purchase of such fruit would think nothing of a weekly trip to bring fresh bonsai home.  Still, too rich for my blood and I slunk back to Southampton.  Nevertheless, a very enjoyable – if at times sweaty and uncomfortable – day, just remember to bring your own fruit with you should you visit Brighthelmstone without a few million in the bank.

I have seen the future

Well, a tiny fragment of it!

I find myself (once again) in the Athens of the North – not as a result of a rather convenient abduction, but by booking (and then taking) a flight with FlyBe. This does spare my Facebook friends from the usual flurry of activity occasioned by the traditional long train ride – but leaving at short notice, flying was vastly cheaper (and faster) than the surface options.

Flying from Southampton is surprisingly painless – the airport is a short bus ride from home and formalities at the airport can be completed in a matter of seconds. There is also no long queue (or, indeed, any queue) of planes waiting to depart ahead of you and so my flight departed (and arrived) well ahead of schedule. Sadly, for the economics of FlyBe, the plane was mostly empty and so we were allowed to spread out from our default positions (all packed together over the wings), but for the first time in my flying experience this spreading out was constrained by the passenger weight-distribution in our Dash-8 (basically, we could all move nearer the back of the plane, but not even a single row forward – presumably to avoid the aircraft face-planting on the Southampton tarmac).

This more rapid (if less green) route north meant that I could have breakfast, a serious gym session, shower and lunch in the south and still be in Edinburgh for leisured consumption of emergency cake in the Filmhouse cafe followed by the 18:00 screening of the Skeleton Twins (great fun, despite roughly four attempted suicides – on screen, not amongst the audience) at the Cameo. Whilst I realise this capability has existing for many years, it still seems like a form of magic to me – though not, in fact, the vision of the future to which the title refers.

Talking of the Cameo, can I thoroughly recommend Cameo 2 to GofaDM readers. It is quite unlike any cinema I’ve visited before, it has a large and very wide screen but only three (3!) rows of seats. I think it may be (almost) the perfect cinema – why are all others narrow but deep, when wide and shallow is so much better? But, no even this is not the future.

After the film, I went to Tuk-Tuk, the only known source for the finest (IMO), if least authentic, naan in the world – I refer, of course, to the cheese naan. Forget your peshwari or keema, cheese is the filling that naan was invented for!

OK, I’ve teased you for long enough – now to the future bit. I am staying with a friend and he has been upgrading a number of rooms in his house (and is partway through a major extension). My room has been refurbished and as part of this work, the mains sockets have been replaced. As well as the usual two 3-pin mains sockets, there are also two USB charging ports provided – what a delight for the traveller and how practical in almost any modern home. The number of devices which need a USB power feed, but end up using a whole 3-pin mains socket leads to the proliferation of multi-plug adapters and extension cables in every home. It’s like having four sockets in the space for two and would be a boon for the foreign visitor (but also the local) as you need to carry far fewer plugs/plug adaptors with you. It could even lead to fewer hurt feet, with fewer currently unused 3-pin plugs lying inverted waiting to punish the unwary, barefoot pedestrian. The campaign for this to become the standard for all homes starts here!