‘imoff

In the dark days of my relative youth, a viewer might see a vaguely familiar face (usually attached to an associated body) acting in some screen-based entertainment and wonder where it had been seen before.  Was it ‘im off (or ‘er off) Bergerac (or some other treat from the idiot box of yesteryear)?  Sometimes reference to the cast list in the Radio Times or the end credits might bring enlightenment, but often you would be left unfulfilled with a continuing age sense of familiarity.  If the viewing had taken place in company, fruitful scope for discussion or argument might ensue – but, once again, with no guarantee of a satisfactory conclusion being reached.

Today, the power of the internet – and in particular, IMDB and Wikipedia – can usually resolve any such question as to where a face had been seen before.  Well, it can as long as the current and previous viewings both took place on either the big screen or the haunted goldfish bowl (and engrammatic storage has not degraded beyond a certain, critical point).  They are of much less help if either viewing occurred live with the actor in question strutting their stuff atop a stage.  For those in the business (of show, in this case) there is source of answers, Spotlight, but this does not give up its secrets to the mere punter (not unless he – or she – also happens to be a skilled hacker).

Given my recent habits, I find it increasingly common that I will know an actor largely (or wholly) from their work on the stage.  This has been a primary driver behind my tendency to purchase a programme when visiting the theatre: to check whether I should recognise anyone on the stage and, if so, from where.  This is far from foolproof, but does beat hanging around the stage door and asking some poor unfortunate, as they emerge, where I might know them from?  Where the programme approach either fails is or unavailable, I am forced to rely on my internet search skills, fading memory and luck to find a rationale behind any nagging sense of familiarity.  This process is complicated by my rather good memory for faces, but rather poorer ability to retain the link between the visage and its associated context (including a name).  Still further issues ensue given my tendency not to store the various elements of a face together and then lose the important linking information them – so I may easily “recognise” a face based on the nose of face A, the mouth from B and the eyes belonging to C (for A≠B≠C): very much a false positive).

Still, despite these obstacles I am sometimes fortunate and do manage to achieve a positive ID – and this happened last Friday: though this same process of successful identification also (probably) illustrated complete loss of other facial memories.  Let me explain…

On the evening in question, I braved the torrential rain and made my way to Clapham Junction.  By some miracle, Southwest Trains did manage to deliver me to my destination (which Southern Railways could not, having cancelled all services between Southampton and “the Junction” – though this may not have been rain related as these services seem to be cancelled very frequently, so often that I think they have stopped even waiting for someone to drop an item of millinery).  There was a nervous moment about 200 yards from our destination when the entire train had to be re-booted, but after a relatively modest delay, we were able to make it to Clapham.  CLJ (as we regular users of the National Rail website know it), is not really in Clapham at all, but in Battersea – which suited me as I was off to visit what remained of the Battersea Arts Centre.  This, as some may recall, was spectacularly ablaze not so long ago – though, during my visit the risk of unwanted combustion was pretty low (and evidence for the previous inferno was far from apparent to this viewer).   Indeed, after its previous assault by the forces of fire, on Friday evening it was suffering from a degree of flood: I assume earth and air are queueing impatiently to do their worst against the fabric of the building in the not too distant future.  Someone at the BAC must really have offered the Classical Gods.

My visit was for a pair of Edinburgh Previews by The Pin and Liam Williams – two apparently unrelated acts.  I have seen Mr Williams (NRTK) several times before, but this was my first experience of The Pin – who are a sketch double act – though they had been on my “to see” list for a while.  I can thoroughly recommend The Pin – they were quite brilliant (and alarmingly clever) performing what might best be described (by me at least) as meta-sketch.  I think they may have supplanted Sheeps (of which Liam W is one-third) as my favourite current sketch act.  Mr W was also good, though I suspect has a little more work to do over the next couple of weeks.  Given his stage persona is somewhat dour, it was also rather enjoyable seeing him laughing in a unrestrained manner at the antics of The Pin.

So far so good, but how do they two strands in this post come together?  Well, half of The Pin – one Ben Ashenden – seemed terribly familiar, but my unaided brain came back with no hint as to why.  He has not spent a lot of time on screen, so that also proved a dead end.  However, he does have a relatively uncommon name and the profile on his agent’s website provided the key to unlock his familiarity.  He was, fairly recently, in the Cambridge Footlights – and I had seen him perform in the ADC theatre when I was resident in South Cambs.  Whilst I clearly do remember him, his past writing left few clues on the fleshy tables of my memory as to his current genius.

The same internet search revealed that his partner – Alex Owen – was also in the Footlights at the same time.  The poor lad had clearly left no trace in my grey (or white) matter.  Worse, Liam Williams was also one of the same happy band (as were some of the rest of Sheeps) – and despite repeated exposure has sparked not even a hint of recall.  Mr A is not especially unique looking – there is no second nose or third eye (visible) – or sounding, so I have no idea why he alone should have been committed to my memory.  Perhaps just random chance?  Maybe the others have just aged more in the last four or five years? He does wear glasses – whereas none of the others do – so as a fellow wearer he may have been granted preferential access to long-term storage. This could be a top-tip for others seeking stardom – though, as I have absolutely no power to affect the career of the aspiring actor or comic, is probably a red herring.  Well, unless there is a much stronger link between glasses and prosopagnosia than the current scientific literature suggests – could this be the basis of my long-awaited PhD?

Overall, a very enjoyable – if extremely damp – evening, but one that left me with the nagging suspicion that my mental decay is progressing even faster than I’d realised.

Lucky numbers

In our part of the world, the number seven is considered lucky whereas thirteen has largely negative associations.  As a lapsed pure mathematician, I view both as being irreducible in the ring of integers – and did learn the times table for both when in Mr Oliver’s class, back in 1976 (this, at a time, when you were only expected to go as far as twelve – so I was clearly showing off even then).

This last weekend I turned seven-squared and perhaps it was this which had me musing on my good fortune.  (I assume when I reach the ripe old age of 169 I shall be posting on the topic of my ill-starred life or, as seems more likely, my ill-starred death and continuing decomposition.)  I do generally consider myself to be pretty lucky (even beyond the relative good fortune of my birth in terms of timing, location, sex, class et al) though suspect to some extent I am “making” my own luck.  This does not mean that I have suddenly started believing in cosmic ordering (or some similar hokum) nor that I have found (or inherited) some mysterious magical artefact, the use of which generates good fortune.  No my good luck seems to stem from being vaguely polite and helpful to others, talking to people (whether they want it or not), being somewhat open to trying new things and making modest attempts to enjoy what happens and what is around you.  Writing that last sentence, I realise I now sound like some sort of Pollyanna with a mis-understanding of the meaning of the work luck – still, even Mr Collins is willing to admit that one definition of luck is “good fortune” and I have already established that I have out-lived my shame so I shall plough on.

I shall be illustrating today’s lecture with incidents from my birthday weekend, which was spend in the East Anglian city of Cambridge.  To the extent readers are using this blog as some sort of self-help resource (and if any readers are using it thus, would they please note that no warranty – express or implied – is offered and that they may wish to consider visiting a mental health care professional), they should feel free to generalise from the particular herein described to the specifics of their own drab, wretchèd lives.

I started my anniversary festivities with a good long massage – to prepare my flesh for the activities which were to come.  I believe many of those being massaged enjoy the experience in silence or to the strains of some sort of pseudo-Eastern pseudo-music or a Jive Bunny style mix of whale song.  I spend the time having oddly surreal and rambling conversations with my therapist – which certainly makes the time fly and usually provides some good, solid material for GofaDM (even at rest, I am always thinking about you: my audience).  This time we firmly established the comedy value of the word “weasel” and laid the basis for a future (and quite risqué) future post – but before the fruits of that particular conversation are laid before you I do need to acquire a few props.  The same conversation may also soon be responsible for the launch of my improv comedy career – all I need to remember is “Yes and…”.

Now suitably relaxed, I went to the world premier of a comic, chamber opera based on an F Scott Fitzgerald short story.  I think that younger versions of me would be appalled by the implications of that last sentence – but current me (who knows the producer) had rather a good time.  I feel Douglas Adams would also have approved as one character spent the entire opera in the bath whilst another spent substantial stage-time clad in a dressing-gown.

On the day itself, I took my traditional breakfast at the Indigo Cafe – where I sat next to operatic bass (and so potential role model for your author as singing student) John Tomlinson.  Sadly, he didn’t sing for his breakfast (next time I shall have to contrive to bump into him at supper time) but his speaking voice is very impressive – though I was pretending to read my book, I spent the whole of breakfast eavesdropping on the great man.

I popped into Fitzbillies to buy some breakfast provisions for Sunday (I feel breakfasting at the Travelodge is only for the truly desperate).  For some reason, perhaps because I didn’t want coffee or am a regular in the evening, half my breakfast (the nordic half, rather than the famous Chelsea bun) came free – a definite result!  After a visit to the cinema to see Love is Strange, which was rather enjoyable, I went to the ADC Theatre to see the Footlights’ Spring Revue.  I’d seen several Footlights shows while living in Cambridge, but this was in a whole different league: properly funny throughout.  This is what the radio comedy listener in me had been expecting from the Footlights all these years, but had always previously been disappointed.  The ADC also still offers the cheapest interval ice cream in Cambridge.

Back to Fitzbillies for dinner and my last glass of Sipian, a red wine from the Médoc which has been my tipple of choice for nearly two years now.  The cupboard is now bare, and there wan’t even enough for a full glass – though it looked a pretty decent glassful to me – so my last glass was enjoyed FOC.  Definitely a glass more than half-full rather than half-empty!  The restaurant was on a new menu and so for some reason (though as a regular haunt, I do know many of the staff quite well now), I was offered a second and quite delicious smoked salmon-based starter as a free bonus (sometimes, being only mostly vegetarian is a boon!).  I left quite nicely stuffed to head off to the West Road concert hall.

The CUCO concert at West Road was the primary reason for being in Cambridge for the weekend, my favourite orchestra playing one of my favourite pieces (Beethoven’s 7th Symphony) in a very strong programme which included Stephen Kovacevich playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor.  Not only excellent music, but I bumped into a friend in the lobby and was invited for a free glass of interval wine where I managed to have my second conversation in six months with someone who has been trained to handle an attacking polar bear.

I finished my birthday in the pub – The Punter – with a friend from my tennis club days.  A more perfect day would be hard to imagine – if I must get older (and apparently I must) then this is the way to do it.

The following day I had an early morning singing lesson (where I made a start on the Trill – or Trilly as Mr Vaccai delightfully calls it in the Peters Edition) – following a windswept stroll along the River Cam – before going to a Masterclass run by Stephen Kovacevich.  My piano playing is dire, but its always interesting to see much better players being given insights into improving further (I think at some level I hope something will rub-off on me).  I have been playing longer than most of the students had been alive – though I suspect they had put in more hours, or certainly more effective hours, at the keyboard.  Mr K makes an excellent teacher and you could really see the young players gaining from his experience.  The undoubted highlight was a young chap called Julien Cohen who was working on the Allegro Agitato from Gershwin’s Piano Concerto.  He was good to start with, but after Mr K’s insights he was quite extraordinary – his playing made me fall in love with the piece of music (it even bought a tear to my jaded eye).  He seemed so much better than the recording I have of  Joanna McGregor and the LSO, which always leaves me rather cold.  I am really disappointed that I can’t make it to the performance on Thursday: CUMS really ought to start recording their concerts and sticking them on Bandcamp (or similar).  I would certainly be willing to pay to hear them, and I cannot be the only person who can’t always make it to West Road on the day.

All that then remained for my birthday weekend was the rail journey home – but at least engineering works on the line to Southampton have finally finished.  A wonderfully lucky weekend, though I’m sure nothing that happened to me would be even in the top thousand wishes of most people given access to a genie.