Pulse Pugilism

It’s about time I completed my in-depth coverage of the Edinburgh festivals, before it becomes entirely moot.  I’m not sure the Culture Show has much to fear yet, though the small portion of their coverage I have glimpsed was rather lighter on weak puns than this blog – so it depends what you prioritise in your arts coverage: cultural insight or dodgy jokes.

After being thrilled by Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photography, I made my way to the Pleasance Grand – sounds exciting doesn’t it?  No chandeliers here, it’s an indoor basketball court for the other 11 months of the year – a sport which tends to use strip or flood lighting (in my very limited experience).  I came to the Grand to see Paul Merton and chums (including wife – his, rather than mine) improvise short sketches or playlets based on suggestions from the audience (both written and shouted-out).  Fresh from the gallery, I proposed “capturing lightening” as the basis for a skit and, to an admixture of my delight and horror, it was pulled from the basket and performed.  Yes, in a very small way, I am now a successful playwright – my legs may not be short or fat, but they are fairly hairy (despite cycling, I refuse to shave them – that way lies madness, blood and stubble) and it would seem that 1 out of 3 is enough.  I really must get on with my panto… the West End is in desperate need of an injection of new writing blood! (AB+ obviously).

After a pitstop at Bonsai, I headed to my next gig which also required a modest amount of audience participation – providing the bones of a very brief musical.  My suggestion garnered the biggest laugh of the entire gig – and, indeed, of my entire comedy career to-date.  However, it is hard to see the words “ten past three” ever going down quite that well with an audience again (I should perhaps make clear at this stage that I was going for the laugh).  Still, it has given me a taste for the sound of an audience laughing with (rather than at) me.  I did have some vague plan that this blog could form the basis for my stand-up act – however, I now realise that it would require a very specific and well briefed audience.  Or I suppose I could provide York Notes or access to Google (other search engines are available) for my gigs, so that the audience can look up the jokes and thus understand why they are so funny.  Perhaps I need to start working on some more commercial material…

I then headed still deeper into the lowest caves of the Underbelly – a venue whose use for the rest of the year is a mystery to me – for one of my highlights of the festival.  This blog may have given the impression that the range of my musical tastes is somewhat limited – quite broad within the classical world, but not straying very far from there – so you may be surprised that a beatboxer was such a highlight (I certainly was).  I had heard Shlomo beatboxing (hence the title: why have a thesaurus unless you’re willing to use it?  I’ve also been reading about Anglo-Saxon poetry, where alliteration is big.  Go hemistich!) very briefly on the Shaun Keaveny breakfast show and thought it could be quite interesting, but doubted it would fill an entire hour.  Boy (or girl), was I wrong!  The range of sounds he could produce using only the human vocal apparatus (his, in this case) – augmented only occasionally by use of a mouth harp – was quite extraordinary.  His performance was extended by use of a loop station, nothing to do with the railways, but a device which enables a single performer to accompany themselves (by recording and looping the voice) – ideal for the lonely child with a huge vocal range and a desire to stage major choral works.  The mix of musical genres he could cover in an hour using only his own voice was incredible – and very entertaining.   If Mouthtronica comes to a village hall near you, I thoroughly recommend giving it a go – if nothing else, it will do wonders for your street cred (just look at mine!).

My final Edinburgh highlight was seeing Neil Gaiman whilst I was queueing outside a carousel (well, it looked like a carousel – but inside it was more like a round tent).  You will be pleased to know that he was shorter than expected – natch!  I was very excited – my first author-spotting for the blog (my view is spotting an author at a Book signing doesn’t count – any celeb-spotting has to rely on serendipity) – but sadly, and shockingly, the young chap I was with had no idea who Neil Gaiman was.  This was even more shocking as the youth in question had, in years gone by, dragged me to Games Workshop. A chap could despair about the national curriculum.  Maybe its time for me to start a free school: obviously the curriculum would be based on this blog – certainly, its use would teach the students a lesson.  Get your kids names down early (conception?) as I expect places to go fast…

I survived

(but it was a close-run thing).

Yes, I’m back at Fish Towers after a week in Auld Reekie – and am still more-or-less intact (more about the less in due course).

In the last week, I have had more late nights than in the preceding 11 months, “enjoyed” a pretty major shift in my diet (5-a-day has still been achieved but only if we substitute the words “fried food” for “fruit and veg” in the standard dietary advice: when in Rome etc) and consumed rather more alcohol than is perhaps compatible with the life of simple purity that makes up my quotidien existence.  I have also spent a lot of time sitting on some seriously uncomfortable chairs (the rest of the country, and perhaps even much of Europe, must be stripped of dodgy temporary seating in August), mostly in rather cramped and sweaty conditions.

As a result, blogging and sleep have suffered somewhat.  However, the last week has provided much needed fresh material for future posts and the lack of sleep should be resolved by a few early nights (those Zs don’t count themselves, you know).

Perhaps more worryingly, my left foot and both ankles seem to have put on rather a lot of weight whilst away – they are looking decidedly chubby.  It may be that my body starts storing excess calories (or joules) starting at the ground and slowly working up.  If I spent a whole month in Scotland would it reach my knees, or even higher?  Do I quite literally have hollow legs (as has often been proposed)?

Talking of Scotland and deep-fried food, I fear it may be losing its pre-eminence in this field.  As East Coast was whisking me south (while plying me with food and drink), I listened, on my iPod (other MP3 players are available), to The Bugle podcast.  If you like your news discussed with somewhat silly, some meet even say puerile (which, based on my schoolboy Latin, I assume means “boyish”) humour (well, you are reading this blog!), I can thoroughly recommend the Bugle.  On last week’s edition, I learned that the folk of Iowa take a block of butter, pierce it with a stick (like a butter lolly), coat it in batter (to make battered butter – there has to be a tongue-twister in this!) and then deep-fry it.  I can feel my arteries hardening just writing about it!  By comparison, even stereotypical Scots eating is looking pretty healthy.

The only alternative explanation for my puffy pedal extremities that has come to mind is that, rather than gaining weight, perhaps they are swollen – perhaps caused by my enforced separation from my bicycle or walking on cobbled streets or over volcanic hills. Has my body become overly adapted to cycling on the relatively flat?

However, neither explanation really covers the divergent impact seen on my left and right feet.  My feet are pretty much inseparable – I have rarely caught them more than 6 feet apart (or would 2 metres be a less confusing measure?) – and so surely anything affecting the left should also affect the right?

Still, I’m not in any pain – though my left shoe is a little tighter than normal – and if my feet have put on weight, it should lower my centre of gravity and lead to a much needed improvement in balance.  Surely, it’s not too late for a career as a gymnast?  Though I will admit that most gymnasts I’ve seen are slightly younger and shorter than me – but my study of the field has been less than exhaustive.  I’m also slightly concerned that even as a (supposedly) flexible primary school child I could never manage even the lowest BAGA award – the backward roll was always beyond me.  Then again, I couldn’t manage differential calculus in those days either – so there’s always hope!

Still, despite my sub-shin tumefaction, I had a really wonderful week away.  Where else could I take in 30+ shows covering music (old and new), poetry, photography and comedy in a single week?

Fire and Ice

I have headed north in the hope of free education and prescriptions and, given my advanced years, to enjoy the free care we elderly receive in the more boreal portions of the UK.  Yes, dear reader, I am in Scotland spending a week in the Athens (or, at this time of year, Islington) of the North for the famous International and Fringe (or Bangs for our US readers) Festivals.

The weather has been mild and I have seen the sun (and quite a lot of rain – but less, I think, than home which is what matters!), but one does not generally visit Scotland to enjoy the sultry heat.  I was therefore puzzled to find at the Pleasance (one of the main Fringe venues) that all the beverages on offer were “extra cold” – the stout, cider and bitter were all branded as “extra cold” and the lager is always offered heavily chilled.

Why?

I can’t imagine that over-heating is such a huge problem in the Scottish climate that the serving of tepid, or merely cool, drinks should be so thoroughly interdicted.  I will admit that some of the venues can become quite toasty (not to say sweaty) when packed with punters, but there has been no need for salt tablets to be issued – and the offering of a few cold drinks within a wide range of beverages would be more than sufficient to cover any concerns.

Luckily, today I shall be amused at the Gilded Balloon (or that’s my plan – one I hope is shared by the comics whose work I shall be sampling) – which on past form, is willing to offer bitter that has neither been nitro-kegged nor chilled well beyond the point of potability.  So, clearly it can be done – let’s start a campaign to make drinking at the Pleasance more pleasant!

Yesterday, I also visited the Queen’s Hall (she wasn’t there) to enjoy Ravel, Chin and Schubert (or at least some of their chamber works).  This was a late morning session, but it still counted as classical music and so, as part of my plan to support the arts in these difficult times, I was required to partake of an over-priced pot of artisan ice cream in the interval.  I was offered – and tried – a flavour I had never encountered before – Scotch Bonnet ice cream.  A Scotch Bonnet – as well as a piece of millinery – is a particularly fiery strain of chilli pepper and so might be seen as an unusual partner for ice cream. However, the combination was a marvel – the wonderful admixture of fire and ice in a single mouthful was a delight (and made a baked alaska seem a very pedestrian offering).  I think chilli could usefully be added to other flavours of ice cream (not just the basic iced-cream flavour): I already like chilli-flavoured dark chocolate, so that would be an obvious option but I think it would also augment the experience when consuming strawberry, honey and ginger or vanilla ices.

I’m now also wondering if I should introduce chilli into my bakery – chilli icing (as well as a pleasing word-pairing) could definitely be a viable option.  Upon my return to Fish Towers, it will back down to the crypt for some experimentation..

…and relax

The last few weeks have been an exhausting whirl with festivals of comedy and music parting me from my usual life of abnegation.  So many nights out past my usual bedtime; so many nights out, period (or, in this case, exclamation mark)!

With the festival season over in Cambridge, my annual pilgrimage to Edinburgh looms, like a giant weaving machine, on the horizon.  Even more comedy and music crammed into even fewer days.  Will I survive the cultural onslaught?

The signs are not entirely positive – a couple of weeks ago I kept acquiring minor finger-based injuries, and this week my shins are acquiring stray wounds.  It is often said that where sense is absent, there is an associated lack of feeling.  This may well be true as whilst I could recall a few of the incidents that led to damage to my phalanges, I have no memory at all of any of those that led to the tibial damage.

So, in this intra-festive lacuna I have decided that I need a rest (and not just to make a tricky snooker shot) before descending once more into the fray.  I also have a stack of BBC4 documentaries to catch up on: the pseudo-intellectual trappings of this blog have to come from somewhere, you know.  As a result, I have tried to spend this week taking it easy – but have discovered (once again) that I’m really not very good at it.  My best attempts at loafing have resulted in a loaf (of bread) and the sharing of my loaf-based secrets with the world (or at least the readers of GofaDM).

I comforted myself with the knowledge that my failure to rest had at least meant that a number of long-outstanding errands had been completed.  However, reference to Mr Collins (the publisher of my dictionary rather than the heir to Longbourn) suggests that an errand requires a trip (in the sense of journey rather than a fall – though I suppose that would also be a journey) of some form – so it seems that I have merely “done some stuff”. When I come to think about the main “stuff” done, viz re-arranging my bookcase to increase the accessibility of my extensive library (including the sorting of the fiction alphabetically by author) and tidying up the wires behind the TV, it does seem worryingly to represent classic displacement activity.  Since relaxation is what I was supposed to be doing, it would seem that at some subconscious level I have some objection to chillin’ (as I believe the kids of a decade or two ago would have said) and am desperately seeking alternatives to avoid it.  I rather fear therapy beckons: with all too much material into which the followers of Freud or Jung could sink their metaphorical teeth (in my, entirely untrained, opinion and, in a nod to Clement’s grandfather, I blame my mother).

Then again, who needs a man with a mittel-European accent and a couch? I have a blog! What more therapy can any man need?  Or, indeed, how much more displacement activity?  If any readers should care to proffer a diagnosis (I will require you to show your working) or text-based therapy, they should feel entirely free to do so – whilst recognising that I shall feel equally free to ignore it!

Harvest

I always feel that harvest should be a superlative, one step beyond the comparative harver – an alternative formulation to most harve, if you like.  Well, you may like but my dictionary does not.  Mr Collins insists it comes from the old Norse word for harrow – or possibly Wealdstone (the Vikings were always a little shaky on the geography of Middlesex).  Now, I’m no farmer (shocking I know, but true) but I’m pretty sure that harrowing is a rather different operation to harvesting – certainly, I have never knowingly seen a combine harrower (which does sound like something from the imagination of one of our darker horror writers).  I imagine that getting harrowing and harvesting muddled up would quickly lead a farmer to the poor house (or worse).

But why, I hear you ask between sobs, is the old fool wittering on about harvesting?  Well, let me tell you dear readers…

When I cycle into Cambridge, I pass a number of arable fields (well, the crops are arable – the fields are just fields).  Between one evening and the next, these crops – cereals and rape – had not just been harvested but the stubble ploughed back into the soil. This struck me as very swift work – and if it weren’t for the chaff all over the cycle path (does rape produce chaff, or is that only wheat?) you’d hardly know the crop had been there at all.  This is rather sad as, along with the crop, the harvesting took out the taller, sturdier weeds that lived within it.  It was these that my frequent companions of the last few months, the buntings (reed and yellowhammer), used to perch upon to sing to attract the ladies and keep the other fellas off their ‘patch’.  Where are my bunting boys going to perch now?  I think there ought to be a subsidy for farmers to put perches into recently harvested fields so that the lads have somewhere to make a stand – or I fear anarchy may descend on bunting society.

With the recent run of festivals in Cambridge (though not, as yet, one directly linked to harvest – or even Harrow), I have been cycling to and from the city in the evening many times (many many times) over the last month or so.  As a result, it has been brought forcibly to my attention that the nights are drawing in.  Added to this, we have the recent cool, grey weather and the fact that the German word for autumn (herbist) is derived from the same source as our word harvest.  As a result, I am left with the feeling that the misty fingers of Autumn are already wrapping themselves around Fish Towers – and we’re not even out of July yet!  I fear we may be mere hours away from ‘seasonal’ displays appearing in our retailers warning us of the imminent arrival of Yuletide.   Perhaps someone has over-wound the Earth, and it’s running a couple of months fast – after all, we did have the summer in April…

Festival!

The festival season is now well underway, and for many it’s not a festival unless you are standing up to your oxters in mud, surrounded by tens of thousands of other strongly odiferous, unwashed people with access to only sub-medieval plumbing facilities.

I take a rather different approach to my festival going.  Over the past week, the Cambridge Summer Music Festival has served up a concert hall, two college chapels and an art gallery as venues.  All provided a roof (often quite an impressive one), seating (though its comfort may not always have been of the very first rank), modest volumes of relatively sweet-smelling fellow festival goers and (mostly) modern plumbing.

I suspect the quantity of drugs carried per capita may have been similar at the CSMF to the more rock-based events (you know what those geologists are like!), but in Cambridge I suspect most of the drugs were both legal and on prescription (certainly, between – and sometimes during – pieces, you can feel like you’ve inadvertently stumbled into the bronchitis ward at Addenbrooke’s).

Today’s gig was in the Fitzwilliam Museum and so between the two halves of French piano music on offer, I could survey the work of Matisse, Bonnard and Spencer (among others) whilst sipping from a reviving glass of chenin blanc.  I think I also managed to find a singing teacher in the same interval: a degree of productivity which is rendered only slightly less impressive when I reveal that this was my one, and only, New Year’s resolution (surely, somewhere in the world must start its year in August?).

All of this festival going brings to mind the patron saint of ushers, St Eward, who was martyred (as I recall) at a rather poorly marshalled event in the twilight years of the western Roman Empire.  His death was not in vain, as ladies (and a few gents) d’un certain âge now proudly wear a sash bearing his name whilst ensuring that all are safely delivered to and from each event.