We’re usually much slicker than this…

My attempts to prop up the failing Zuckerberg empire with my mildly eccentric posting, combined with its ability to direct its more discerning users to this even longer-form example of my “brand”, has caused me to acquire a certain degree of notoriety.  I suspect this is mostly local to the Southampton area, though as any content Liked by a Friend becomes accessible to that Friend’s Friends (and so on, to Kevin Bacon and beyond)  my nonsense may be spreading more widely than I realise.

There is a (heretical) school of thought that believes if a gig occurs in Southampton and I am not present, then it can’t really exist – however, this is not a universal belief.  In conversation after the Tankus the Henge gig on Thursday night, I discovered someone surprised to see me there – I think they expected me to only attend more high brow entertainment: how little they know me and the depths to which my brow is willing to sink!  At last night’s gig – of which rather more later – someone felt the need to explain, after I apparently gave the impression of recognising them from another recent event (in fact, I was staring vacantly into space at the time), that they weren’t following me.

I used to think that were I to shuffle off this mortal coil in my freezing garret, it would be many weeks before the smell of decomposition (slowed down my reluctance to use the heating) caused my remains to be discovered.  This no longer seems to be a major concern!  There was significant traction and amusement last night following a Facebook friend posting that they were at a gig in Southampton and I wasn’t there.  Despite my best attempts, I am still only able to be in one place at a time – though I am working on this limitation…

Anyway, my fame is such that this post was basically commissioned by one of its main subjects (and not me).  Yesterday evening, I took myself to the Art House and managed to find time between scoffing their delicious mince pies to attend a gig by guitar maestros and (probably still) friends Nathan Ball and Jack Dale.  It was Mr Dale who approached me before the gig began seeking a “review” in this infamous cultural institution – I made no promises, claiming it would depend on the quality of the content provided.  As this post will confirm, more than sufficient incidents of moment arose during the gig for me to let my fingers do the walking over the keyboard this morning.  Jack also proposed a title for this post, which I have not used – instead going with the most oft repeated phrase from last night’s fun!  His proposal was “An evening of stories”, but I feel my choice has more appeal to the click bait generation.

While the chaps are friends – and more as I will later reveal – some areas of contention did arise early doors.  Both musicians had CDs on sale at the gig and each played the title track from their musical momentos, but Jack was willing to significantly undercut Nathan on price.  I am unable to report whether this aggressive pricing was reflected in the volume of sales following the gig: sometimes premium pricing can act as a sales driver by suggesting a higher quality product…  For the first half of the gig, the chaps played tunes alternately with some attempt to link each tune thematically with its predecessor though I don’t think the long-running The Chain feature from the Radcliffe and Maconie show has much to worry about.  During this segment there was a notable divergence in use of the capo – with Jack making much more extensive use of his example.

My followers on Facebook will know that I have shown in interest in Mr Dale’s use of the capo and his opinions thereon over recent weeks.  After last night, I am starting to wonder if his use of the capo is an attempt to pass messages in code: either to his controllers in Moscow or Pyongyang or perhaps as a desperate cry for help.  Last night’s code was 35200223, but so far my crack team of cryptographers have been unable to decipher it.  He did also use three guitars – against Nathan’s one – and I wonder if these also have some meaning in the code.  This could be my big Dan Brown moment, a whole series of novels about a middle-aged white guy (me) deciphering the secret codes used by a cabal of guitarists and blowing open some global conspiracy (OK, I’ll admit it, I’ve never read anything by Mr Brown or, for that matter, his wife and their boys).

As well as giving me the idea for the Capo Code™, the gig contained significant intra-song conversation (whether ad-libbed or scripted was left unclear, but if the latter I feel I should throw my hat into the ring as their new scriptwriter) which brought a significant portion of the Ball and Dale back story to our attention.  We discovered that Jack had a surprising number of people called Nathan as best man at his wedding (two!), sadly the number of best men not called Nathan was not made explicit.  The other (better) Nathan(II) also had an important role as duenna, bringing our heroes together.  Back in the mists of time, Jack had stalked Nathan(I) for quite a while before they were brought together by his illicit covering of one of Nathan(I)’s songs.  Nathan(II), a drummer in Nathan(I)’s band, in an attempt to head of any incipient feud introduced Jack to Nathan(I) (I presume without raising any more alarming incidents of stalking: nothing was mentioned directly, but I feel binoculars and rifling through bins may have been involved).  One feud averted, he became an unwitting cause of another as Jack promptly poached him to drum in his band.

The gig also featured the traditional guest slot where a person is plucked randomly from the audience to play the B Minor piano accompaniment to Medicine.  Last night, John drew the short straw but managed to fill Patrick Ytting’s shoes (and indeed the rest of his clothes) in fine style.  I assume ‘John’ will, by now, have been poached to join Jack’s new musical venture as a drum’n’bass collective.

Following an intervention from the world viewing the gig from beyond the confines of the Art House (thanks Samuel, wherever you were!), the much maligned Wonderwall cover was discovered to have played a pivotal role in bringing the gig to the world.  It was shortly after Wonderwall was released, while seeing two fellow sixth-formers performing an early cover version, that Nathan was inspired to take up the guitar and his first guitar tutor was a book of Oasis ‘tunes’.  Despite this inauspicious start, his guitar skills were impressive – and his strumming technique much more in line with my own teachers’ opinions than Jack’s.

For the second half of the gig, Nathan played a few songs (mostly) uninterrupted by Jack  except for the stentorian sound of his heavy breathing, which even unmiked could clearly be heard above the amplified guitar and voice.  The gig closed with Jack accompanying Nathan on a lap slide guitar for the final few songs (well, that and quite a lot of tuning – but, we were reassured that this was atypical with the words quoted as our title).  It was a glorious of evening of music and fun – and yes, I’ll admit it, of stories too!  Almost the whole thing was recorded by Jack (from two separate camera angles) but the cameras ran out of storage space in the final song and so the gig’s stirring apotheosis will have been enjoyed only by those of us lucky enough to be in the room.  Slightly disturbingly, the feed from one of the cameras was continuously displayed on a large flat screen TV to my right – which given that I was clearly visible in the feed, could leave a chap feeling a tad self-conscious and even physically inhibited during the gig.  Living in the world’s most surveilled nation I am probably on camera for most of life, but I can’t usually ‘enjoy’ the footage in real time.  Hopefully, I refrained from doing anything too outrageous on camera (though I was sorely tempted): I guess time will tell…

If this post has a moral dimension, I guess it is to be careful for what you wish.  It also acts as a timely reminder that Jack Dale plus the Art House equals fun times!

A perfect blendship

You might ask why I have titled a post with this absolutely howler of a rhyme by the usually reliable Cole Porter.  Perhaps it will give succour to any struggling songwriter to know that even the greats have off-days and, if in doubt, just invent a word to get that all-important rhyme! Mr P later goes on to include the line “a lottle-dottle-dottle-dig-dig-dig” – frankly gibberish – which leads me to believe he was trying to see just how little effort he could get away with in a song: and he would seem to have won that particular bet in some style.

This post will relate to the topic which is the title of the song about whose lyrics I have just been so scathing (and trust me, this while post could have been about how dreadful they are): Friendship.


Never one to dodge a cliché

Traditionally, I have maintained a pretty small circle of friends – well, I say “maintained” but this does suggest I’ve been checking their tappets and greasing their nipples to ensure they remain in good running order and I’d like to be clear that I do not (routinely) offer this service.  This circle of (ungreased) trust was primarily made up of people I’d met at work (both past and present, paid and voluntary – the work, not the friends) and would not require me to remove my shoes (or anything more revealing) in order to count using a basic enumeration.

Even the advent of social media did little to increase my friend count, with my total Facebook friends struggling to exceed the basic dozen for many years.  This blog does (according to WordPress) have either ~140 or ~200 “people” following it, but I don’t think I can count most of these as friends and, in some cases, I am far from convinced they would even count as people.  Still, it’s good to know I have some fans among our future masters when the AIs take over!

But over the last year or so, all of this has changed!  It would seem that if you go out for a bit of local culture on a regular basis you meet other people, in a way which simply doesn’t happen if you set at home curled up with a good book or boxset (or not unless you have a very expansive take on the concept of an open-door policy).  Who’d have guessed?  The cultural scene in the city of Southampton is not so vast, in terms of audience, that one doesn’t start bumping into familiar faces after a while.  At some stage, even the most introverted of folk feel some pressure to move beyond an acknowledging nod into exchanging the odd word and this can quickly snowball into actual conversation (unless one is very careful – or creepy).  My tendency to sit in the front row (for the legroom and to spare my hyperopic eyes from undue exertion) and inability to remain stony-faced when being entertained has also meant that not only did some of the audience start to recognise me but so did those on the stage.  My further habit of talking to people – whether they want it or not – may have added unnecessary accelerant to the friend-boom.

I now find myself in the situation where I have lots of friends and it has become almost impossible to go out to anything cultural (or certain pubs – but I feel a good pub counts as culture) without bumping into at least one (and often several) friends.  Over the last couple of weeks, I have even found the circle of friendship impossible to escape in nearby Eastleigh or Winchester.  I’m almost afraid to look around when in London, just in case I see a familiar face.  Bumping into people I know is lovely and great for a good chat, but it is having an impact on the economics of the publishing industry as these conversations are consuming time that I would otherwise spend reading.

Having a group of friends with a somewhat common frame of reference (me!) has changed my use of Facebook rather dramatically.  Rather than only posting very occasionally, usually when bored on a long train journey, I have now started using it to diarise my life with pictures and (IMNVHO) witty observations or remarks.  I rather enjoy this, as it provides an outlet for vaguely amusing thoughts that occur to me as I wander through this veil of tears and which had previously never made it out of the prison of my skull.  Apparently, this is not how soi-disant “normal” people use Facebook and people claim to have befriended me solely to gain access to my exclusive “content”.  Of course, regular readers of GofaDM know that these displays of superficial learning, excessive use of polysyllabic words and increasingly obscure references held together with weak jokes and my o’erweening self-regard are available without ever having to meet or, worse, converse with their author.

Many of my new friends are quite a lot younger than me (chronologically) and this does lead to the situation where partway through recounting a “recent” anecdote, I realise it occurred before any of my rapt(?) audience were born.  Still, on the plus side it does (perhaps) mean that I am moulding (and, in at least one case, breaking) young minds.  This is, of course, a great responsibility which I am failing to treat with even the slightest hint of gravitas.  All of this time spent with the young does feed into my belief that I am still young myself (in fact, I suspect the default internal view of age I hold is currently falling – though sadly my chronological age continues to rise) and does mean I keep trying new things.  Just last night, I found myself in the 6th floor bar of Southampton’s swankiest new hotel – and as regular readers will know, I am a bit of a swanker – to see some friends playing tunes to the 1%.  Whilst I scrub up somewhat successfully, I really don’t feel at home among the wealthy and their foibles and struggle not to laugh out loud in such environments.  Last night I nearly lost it when the straw was introduced to my massively over-priced (and over-iced) beverage using a pair of tweezers – is this really what people insist upon?

Still, this whole friendship malarkey is not all fun and games (and freelance corruption of the young): it does come with some responsibilities.  Several friends and groups thereof have now requested that I provide some sort of gig guide – in the mis-guided belief that as I go out a lot, I must know what I’m doing.  Initially, I am going to try and provide some idea of cultural options for going out in the Southampton area (and occasionally) beyond as a brand new page of this august organ.  This will start fairly basic – it will be a slightly tarted-up copy of the OneNote document I use in an attempt to avoid diary clashes – and I will attempt not to allow it to act as an irresistible incitement to local burglars to divest my rude hovel of its few meagre possessions.  It will start based on my interests – which are broad, but not universal – but may expand to cover as much of the local music, theatre, spoken word and dance scene as I can find the time and inclination to assemble.  I may be amenable to feedback on the format or content, but the author’s opinion is final: however wrong it may be (and it will be very wrong!).

Dark side fame

Today’s premise will require a degree of set-up and I can virtually guarantee that the pay-off will not be worth it.  However, they do say that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive: so why don’t we all strap-in and try and enjoy the journey despite our foreknowledge of its disappointing conclusion.  In many ways, this post will be an allegory for life – sometimes, I wonder if this blog is too clever for its own good…

So, let’s start with the dark side.  I refer not to the Force – fear may lead to suffering via anger and hate, but this need not trouble us here – but rather to the moon.  The dark side of the moon is not, to the best of my knowledge, exposed to any less sunlight than its obverse: the name is just another aspect of our species’ tendency to anthropocentric thinking.  As tidal locking means that our satellite constantly shows the same face to us, earth-bound humans, we have decided that the side we could not (historically) see must be “dark” (never having been illuminated by our hubristic regard, I presume).

My head is shaped not wholly unlike the moon and, as a result of limitations in my cervical vertebrae, use of a single reflective surface reveals only a single face (mine) to my gaze (were I an owl, it may be a rather different story – but I’d probably struggle to blog in quite the same style or quantity).  As a result, the back of my head is somewhat analogous to the dark side of the moon – though has yet to be celebrated in album-form by Pink Floyd (or any other popular beat combo of the last half-century, for that matter).    When my hair is cut, I am usually asked how I would like the dark side of my noggin to be coiffured.  I have tended to allow my interrogator relatively free-rein on the basis that I will never see their work (except on the single occasion when the haircut is complete and a second reflective surface is deployed that I might admire their efforts) – however, I am starting to think that this may be a mistake.

Earlier today, I came to the realisation that the dark-side of my head has achieved a considerably greater degree of fame than the side where my features are located and on which I lavish the vast majority of my, admittedly limited, cosmetic attentions to tart up what nature has provided (and subsequently decayed).  For the purposes of my current thesis, I am defining fame in terms of appearances on the internet: either as a still or in a moving image.  How, you might ask, has this come to be?

Appearances, on the web, by the business-side of my head (as we might call it) are relatively rare.  I have added few myself (I feel this blog is suffering enough for one man to inflict on the general public) and have generally managed to avoid having pieces of my soul captured in the photographs that have then been placed “on-line”.  If you (or at least I) image search my name, you will see more pictures of John Finnemore and nearly as many of both my blog brother and Saint Rita of Cascia as you do of me.  Only a single video of my visage seems to exist, created by the author for Metablog 6.

The back of my head, by contrast, is a regular star of both video and stills: three of each from last night alone.  This arises through my regular attendance at music gigs in the Art House Café, here in Southampton.  To enjoy greater legroom and obviate the need to use my glasses to correct my myopia, I tend to sit in the front row: audience participation is rarely required (though this has happened, but luckily I am a shameless show-off).  For what I presume to be marketing purposes, fragments of these events are often captured on the digital equivalent of film and then released into the wild via the café’s Facebook page.  Satisfactory visual capture of an event seems to benefit from a little distance from the action (unlike my ageing eyes) and so the back of the front row (and often more) of the audience is captured.  After last night’s very enjoyable time spent with the musical stylings of Cat Eliza T and then Daisy Chapman, I happened to check Facebook to discover the back of my head appears in more of the uploaded content than either of the “talent”.  Should I, perhaps, be selling advertising space on the dark side of my bonce?  Does it need an agent?

Those with the desire to follow our every move (along with reading our every email et al) have invested significant money in facial recognition software.  This is in line with our own human obsession with the business-side of the head – but why should we inflict this preoccupation on our software children?  My own experience suggests that the dark-side of the head may be a far more valuable target for intelligence gathering.  I await the call from MIn (for suitable n)…

Targetted advertising

Our privacy is under threat as never before – or so we are told – either by governments spending our money to spy on us or by mega-corporations trying to flog us stuff we neither need nor want.  I think I would find this much more terrifying if either group had shown themselves to be even remotely competent in using the information they have managed to inveigle (or just plain steal) from us.

Governments seem incapable of delivering any IT system larger than a small Excel spreadsheet without the cost over-running by multiple billions and the system arriving so late that being merely obsolete is a pipe-dream.   As a result, I shall focus my attention on the mega-corporations which our governments see as a universal aunt to solve all societies ills and to which stock markets attach quite extraordinary values.

I am a member(?) of Facebook and occasionally post my thoughts upon its willing platform – mostly whilst on long train journeys (any TV execs reading: I could be the next Michael Portillo – though I may struggle to seem quite that smug).  In return for this “free” service, Facebook delivers to my incredulous eyes a series of adverts which it has chosen specially for me.  It would seem that I am in need of a high-value divorce, a bevy of single girls (in my area!) and a discrete catheter.  I don’t recall ever mentioning problems with the female sex – either an excess or a lack – or any infirmity related to my bladder.

Twitter is no better: it too offers me soi-disant “promoted tweets” as compensation for offering me the ability to infrequently post poor quality jokes.  Most of these, along with many of the offerings from Facebook, could only be of interest to a reader resident in the US – and I have made no secret of the fact that I am not a US resident to both social networks (it is one of the few pieces of “personal” information I have vouchsafed to them).

If this is really the best they can do, I must wonder at (a) the due diligence performed by those advertising using their services and (b) their current stock valuations.  I fear the leader of the empire may be in state of some undress.

I don’t see a lot of advertising on the television, as I tend to record programmes on commercial channels and then fast forward through the ads.  This both spares me the generally tedious efforts of the advertising industry and allows me to watch two hours of television in around 90 minutes – so much more time efficient!  However, when at the cinema, I am a captive audience and see most of my moving ads (as opposed to the more static bill-board) there.  Theatre and classical music remain largely ad-free (if you ignore the programme).  This seems to be missing a trick as you have actors and/or musicians available who could usefully indulge in a bit of selling while the audience hobble to their seats.

I rather miss Pearl and Dean, and do wonder if they are still together – or just another one of this country’s rising divorce statistics.  Once, in the ABC in East Grinstead in the mid 80s, I was the sole audience member for a film entitled Turk 182.  Prior to the film beginning, we had the usual Pearl and Dean ad reel – but the film had been fed into the projector the wrong way round and it ran backwards.  The famous P&D theme sounds pretty much the same in reverse – these is no hidden demonic message (in case any readers had been worrying).

Nowadays, most of my cinema time is spent at a Picturehouse and so I have made study of the ads which are felt appropriate for an art house cinema audience.    We would seem to be in the market for broadband, moderately to very expensive cars and vodka – there is always an ad for vodka (drinking and driving seems to be positively encouraged at the flicks).  We are also subjected to an ad by a firm called Prime Location which I find actively offensive and which has convinced me never to use their services: I presume it is paid for by a consortium of other estate agents to wreck their business.  The catalogue of ads seems entirely independent of the choice of film – but my own anecdotal evidence would suggest that the choice of film does affect the audience (and, indeed, the film trailers shown).

Frankly, advertising seems only to be targetted at me in the sense that any projectile cast into the air at less than 11.2 km/s is being targetted at “the ground”.  Both will encounter their target, but not due to any virtue imparted by their method of delivery.  There is an old saying that those that can do, and those that can’t teach.  I have heard this extended to administration if teaching is too tricky – one can only imagine that marketing is all-too-often a very long way down this chain of possible careers.

The frivolous (social net)work of polished idleness

Given my use of this blog, Twitter and Facebook it would not have been unreasonable for you to assume that I have embraced social networking.  Well, perhaps given my rather erratic use of both Twitter and Facebook, it might be considered more of a wave across a crowded room than a full-on embrace.  In fact, I tend to view both Twitter and Facebook as an adjunct to GofaDM: as repositories for material too brief or transitory to make it into a full post.

They do have other uses: Twitter does deliver the occasional well-formed witticism and only last week provided me with me first, definitive sighting of Venus (no doubt I’d seen it before, but for the fist time I both saw it and knew what I was seeing!).  Facebook is, I have found, quite handy for keeping up with the lives of friends who are now parents.

Both are, of course, nominally free at the point of consumption – though, we are giving away precious details about ourselves to be sold to “the man” for his nefarious commercial ends as part of this Faustian pact.  I feel fairly relaxed about this – if any commercial concern is able to learn anything useful about me from a combination of dodgy jokes, a somewhat stalled novel and an attempt at a haiku then I say “good luck to them!”.

The presence of location services on my cellphone (retro or what) might cause the worry that “they” can track my movements.  However, whilst sitting in an Australian cafe near Goodge Street (W1) this past week, Facebook thought I was in Biggin Hill (some 18.2 miles away by foot according Google maps, which does not seem to provide a crow-flying option) – so whilst Big Brother may be watching me, he would seem to be either a very long way away or wearing the wrong specs (or both).

However, use can be taken too far.  There are individuals who provide a commentary on their every action (or inaction) – a degree of sharing which I have (so far) managed to resist: if I do start sharing details of my breakfast (the usual) or bowel movements (perfectly satisfactory, thank you), please feel free to stage an intervention.

A huge range of products and companies now want us to follow them on Twitter or like them in Facebook.  I’ve just had a quick scan of my larder, and whilst some products mention a website or even a real address, I couldn’t spot any which encouraged me to start adding them to my circle of friends.  This may be because I tend to buy basic ingredients and make more complex fare myself (through a mix of culinary skill and egomania, I am convinced that I can make something more appetising than that which is produced by piercing a film and sticking a plastic tray of gunk in the microwave for 2 minutes).  My flexible attitude to the Use By date also means that much of the contents of my pantry pre-dates social networking (and in some cases, the internet).  As a warning to marketing departments everywhere: if I spot a foodstuff seeking to become part of my social life I shall discontinue its purchase forthwith and seek some less pushy alternative.

Many companies seem actively to seek cupboard-love by attempting to bribe me to like them on Facebook.  Whilst I am eminently corruptible, I will need to be suitably insulted first: a trip on the corporate yacht might be tempting, some minor discounts and early details of special offers really isn’t.

But, for me, the final straw was being asked to visit the BBC Radio 3 Facebook page when trying to listen to some classical music.  I don’t won’t to live in a universe where Radio 3 would have a Facebook page – let alone visit it.  I realise I’m on thin ice here (as I fully intend to grow old disgracefully) but it’s rather sad when a middle-aged or elderly acquaintance attempts to be trendy in this way.  Is this part of a plan to poach some yoof from the 1Xtra massive?  I know from attending classical music concerts that there is a definite shortage of age and ethnic diversity in the audience (though, plenty of walking aids), but I hardly think that this is the way to address it.  Or am I just showing myself up as a fuddy-duddy while the typical Radio 3 listener has the dextrous thumbs (or would one of them have to be sinistrous for a normal pair?) of a teenager (in a glass jar, perhaps?) and is a social-network addict?