Should I stay, or should I go…

Now, this is going to be a very different sort of post to the usual nonsense that appears on GofaDM.  It will be unusually serious and some of the protagonists will be readily identifiable – so it may not stay “up” for very long (like me, GofaDM is no longer in the first flush of youth, or even of middle-age).

It is “on brand” in that it is about me (obvs) and an attempt to use a blog post to work an idea through: though usually the destination is something that can only very loosely be defined as a conclusion (but is more normally a weak, over-worked pun).

In three weeks time, I should be on the island of Lundy with a bunch of friends.  It is a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years – though have discovered that it lies rather further to the west than I had imagined –  and my accommodation is already paid for.  I’m sure that I will have an amazing time if I go and am only slightly nervous that people who are used to seeing me in small doses will be trapped with me for a long weekend in a single building on a small island: however, I think we can be reasonable sure that I will not run amok with a blade (there are no certainties…).  As regular readers may have surmised, I seem to have developed some sort of fear of missing out and not going does feel like I may miss out on an important episode in the continuing drama of my life.  However, once I arrive on the island on Friday morning there is literally no way off until Monday morning.

Over the summer, both of my parents had fairly serious strokes  – in one case, the hospital had the R or DNR conversation with my sister – and have been rather regular visitors to their local hospitals ever since: finally getting some serious value for money from all their NI and tax contributions over the years.  I have no reason to believe that either are likely to have a serious or terminal incident in the weekend that I am planning to be away.  There is also very little that I can do if such an incident were to occur: let’s face it, I dropped biology in the third form and struggle to successfully apply a plaster to my own fingers.  However, it is not impossible that a window might exist, had I remained on the mainland UK, whereby I could make back it between the start of an incident and its terminal conclusion: possibly by use of an expensive taxi ride through the night.  This would clearly not be an option from Lundy: I am not that strong a swimmer…

I generally think of myself as a cold-hearted monster with the emotional maturity of a child.  I have managed to fake my way through adulthood by learning how to emulate (to a somewhat convincing degree) the appearance of the emotional functioning of a normal (albeit perhaps towards one edge of that distribution) human adult.  Nevertheless, I suspect that should I fail to be present to say goodbye purely because I’m off on an island having fun then there might be a degree of regret occasioned.  Life does not have an Undo function (though I am planning to re-spawn) and some errors are unrecoverable.

This is one of an annoying class of problems that also affect my working life in modelling: of electricity wholesale markets rather than sexy kecks (though for some reason, the vast majority of ads being shown to me by the Facebook algorithm at present are of sexy kecks: I’m not sure who it thinks I am or why it has decided this is an area of interest, perhaps it is trying to suggest a change of career?).  These are known as High Impact Low Probability (HILP) events and are a real pain to take into account: how high a cost should one incur to avoid something of very low (and generally impossible to accurately estimate) likelihood.  At work, the stakes are generally measured in (somebody else’s) money but, in the case at hand, we are playing with potential higher and much harder to measure stakes.  How robust am I emotionally?  Will my mild(?) psycho/socio-pathy protect me?

Lundy and my friends will continue to exist into future years, I fondly like to imagine: though in the world’s current politically febrile climate one can no longer take these things for granted.  Equally, my parents health is likely to remain uncertain and may continue to decline for many years yet.  Is it reasonable or even practical, given that I do have to leave the mainland UK for work, for me to remain within a taxi ride of an East Sussex hospital on an indefinite basis?   I am in life, generally, very risk averse which is probably impacting my thinking, possibly in an unhelpful way.

I have until Friday to decide or I shall experience a “no deal” option of my own, whereby the chance to go to Lundy will lapse.  I am currently vacillating wildly between the two options: last night I had decided absolutely and irrevocably that I would not go to Lundy.  Writing this post, I am sensing that my internal quorum has shifted significantly towards going.

To try and break this deadlock, I have fished Gerd Gigerenzer down from my bookshelf in the hope that he, or perhaps learning some more of the key statistically techniques to use when evaluating HILPs will provide the insight I need (I’m starting with the Blackett Review).  A decision will be made and time will tell how easy it is to live with…

(Not) Your Trusted Music Guide

Today, GofaDM is going meta and will discuss (at length, or it just wouldn’t be GofaDM) the launch of its firstborn into the world. Frankly, when I started GofaDM back in 2010, I really didn’t think it would still be going in 2019: let alone that it would have reached sexual maturity and prove fecund enough to produce issue. How fast they grow up!

As with GofaDM itself, this all began with a foolish idea that got out of hand. Back in the mists of time, or a couple of years ago (time mists over much quicker at my age), various friends suggested that I should provide a list of gigs that I was planning to attend in Southampton to act as some sort of imprimatur of quality. I was unconvinced by this idea, not least because it would act as a stalker’s charter: it is already far too apparent that I rarely spend an evening at home and only my garret’s round-the-clock security detail has kept burglarious felons at bay. I also couldn’t help feeling that as a middle-aged, middle-class white man my probable views and tastes are already massively over-represented in the world (both real and on-line). Finally, listing my own planned gig attendance would tend to give the entirely erroneous impression that I had any idea what I was doing. In fact, I was, more recently, asked how I choose the gigs I attend and an answer (or something vaguely resembling an answer) may well form the basis of a future post: let’s just say that it is more black art than science…

Despite my reservations, my desire to support local venues and musicians led me to feel that I could perhaps take my OneNote document, which listed gigs I thought might be of interest, and create a public version of it. To avoid it being dominated by my taste (and wide ranging ignorance), as well as to provide a fig-leaf of cover as to my movements (I prefer that only Google and shadowy national intelligence agencies track my every move), I decided to list all live events at a small number of music venues in the city. This list would cover the next week and seemed a manageable project to keep up-to-date. Ah, the innocence of that younger me!

The listing was duly named (Not) Your Trusted Music Guide – to note that it was not (a) comprehensive, (b) reliable (given its maintenance by an all-too-fallible human) and (c) only music. It started as a Page within GofaDM – a page that had to be prepared through rather a complex process. Given my background, (N)TYMG was initially created as an Excel spreadsheet – but WordPress would not accept any output I could obtain from Excel, so I had to paste out the relevant cells into Paint 3D and then save the resultant image as a JPEG. This finally produced a form of the guide that WordPress would accept.

When I started with these rather modest beginnings, I had counted without my slightly obsessive nature and the sheer number of people I knew in the Southampton cultural scene. Quickly the range of venues grew as I sought to cover events at which friends were performing – and once I’d added a venue, I didn’t feel that I could delete it from future listings. I also extended the range of time covered in recognition of the fact that people may need more than a few day’s notice of a gig in order to attend. In this way, the list of gigs quickly grew to around 200 for each four week period.

When I started this foolish project, which must be more than a year ago now, I don’t think I had ever envisaged (N)YTMG as a long-term project. I’m not quite sure what I thought was going to happen, but I really didn’t expect to still be maintaining it at this point. I always felt that the city needed a one-stop (ish) shop to find out what is happening: it is something I always look for when visiting other cities, and have never yet found. So, as I felt there as still a perceived need (if only by me – and I have discovered and attended events thanks to maintaining (N)YTMG), I’ve just kept maintaining it. It is a major task for each Monday compiling the list, but to some extent it is a never-ending task with a part of my brain always on the look-out for a previously undiscovered event. This has led me to indulge in a worrying amount of photography in venue urinals where posters are often mounted: luckily, I have yet to be caught indulging in this slightly risky behaviour. However, the sheer size of the list was making it relatively difficult for people to use it and find any specific event and the process was also rather painful for me to maintain – and slow for a new event, once found, to make its way onto the web (it generally had to await the next Monday’s batch release). To help make it more usable, I started posting a cut-down, single-week version to the SO Music City Facebook page.

It was suggested to me that (N)YTMG needed to slip ‘the surly bonds of earth‘ as it were and fly free as a stand-alone, searchable entity: rather than live as an adjunct to an obscure blog. This seemed like a very good idea, but I lacked either the time or current coding skills to make this a reality (now, if you were looking for something in 6502 Assembly Language it would be a very different story). Luckily, attending a lot of gigs has introduced me to a huge number of implausibly talented people, a decent number of whom I consider friends. At least one of these, as well as having significant musical skills, is also a tech mage with current (as opposed to seriously obsolete) coding skills.

Thanks to the coding wizardry of gawpertron – coupled with the input of a lot of their time and several beer-and-curry based meetings with the author – an ill-conceived idea which got out of hand has been transfigured into the fully searchable gig listing that you see today.   A second friend, also appropriately made via the Southampton music scene, has provided the hosting which has allowed (N)YTMG out into the wild (and few demesnes are wilder, or redder in tooth and claw, than today’s internet). The idea that there is nothing happening in Southampton should truly have been laid to rest with extreme prejudice and a mistletoe stake driven through its heart (or to be double safe, a stake made of twined mistletoe and rowan). My foolish dream that no-one should have any excuse to miss a gig through ignorance (well, assuming that I have been able to discover its existence – which can be a far from trivial exercise in itself: loose lips sink ships!) is finally rendered a beautiful reality.  Thanks to our connected world, wheresoever the family of IEEE 802.11 or at least a couple of Gs hold sway, (N)YTMG can be your companion: nagging you to leave the couch and enjoy more of this glorious city’s delights.

The future is now!

Not only is (N)YTMG now fully searchable but, as far as possible, you are never more than one click away from information about the venue, each event and the ability to buy a ticket. I’m afraid, as a website, it cannot yet ferry you to the event nor baby-sit your children or pets: but am sure there are people working on each of these problems somewhere in a silicon geographical feature: I don’t think anyone has yet taken Silicon Esker or Silicon Yardang…

Even better (for me, at least), it is much easier for me to maintain and I can add an event to (N)YTMG in real-time: or as fast as my fingers can transfer visual input from my eyes into the underlying database via a suitable device. As before, the weak link in the process will remain the ability of the author to find events and update the list.

I can honestly say this has been the most enjoyable, fulfilling and beer-fueled IT project I have ever been involved in. I like to imagine that all Agile development is like this – but rather fear that it isn’t. Further development may occur in tie but, for now, revel in the glory!

As a final envoy, I should note that the content of (N)YTMG guide is maintained by the author, and its underlying code by gawpertron, as part of some strange expansion of the dictionary definition of ‘fun’. We shall consider ourselves well-paid if you use it to support local venues, musicians, poets, theatre makers, dancers and the like. So, you know what you have to do…

Stepping in the same river

It’s always nice to start with a classical allusion, it sets a level of intellectual rigour that the rest of the post will entirely fail to sustain.  Today’s title is “borrowed” from Heraclitus though I don’t think he was specifically referencing the River Cam…

My allusion is very much to the river that flows through Cambridge and provides the root of its name as, for this past weekend, I returned to my old stomping ground for 36 hours of fun.  I feel that I either do leisure really well or very badly: depending on how you view leisure.  As this post will go on to demonstrate – at tedious length – I fitted a frankly ridiculous number of activities into my brief sojourn.  This meant I had a great time but did leave me a tad drained on Monday and my weekend could not really be classed as relaxing: not for me lying insensate by pool or shore for a week or two under a blazing sun.  If I have travelled, then I will attempt to maximise the “benefit” obtained from the cost of my journeying and night(s) away from home by doing as much as physically possible (and sometimes more).

It has been rather more than a year since I was last in Cambridge and I had been searching for a weekend when I was not otherwise committed to activities in Southampton.  As a bonus, this last weekend also played host to the city’s Jazz and Literary Festivals – which may have acted as something of a metaphorical china shop to my cultural bull.

The journey north seemed rather long.  A rail strike for the segment to London meant my train was attempting (and failing) to carry the passengers of three normal services – but with no additional coaches.  I then discovered that since leaving Cambridge the rail service from Kings Cross has effectively halved in frequency, so there is now only one fast train an hour (and the two slow trains are cunningly timed to be entirely useless).  So, a fair wait for a train and once again passengers were standing all the way.  It was like living in the north, albeit with much newer rolling stock!  As the train drew into Cambridge, I noted that Addenbrooke’s has continued to grow since my last visit and the fields I used to cycle across – home to buntings, yellowhammers and stoats – have almost completely vanished under new buildings.  Around the station itself, the city is unrecognisable – swamped in new “development” – but once you escape its immediate vicinity, and nostalgia for the relative beauty of the old Focus DIY store, more familiar sights return.

My first stop, it being lunchtime, was at Dulcedo: a new Patisserie which had been recommended to me.  A dangerous first stop in many ways and I was only saved from blowing the whole year’s patisserie budget by my limited carrying capacity.  They provide one of the finest sandwiches I have ever consumed – the toasted sourdough bread was particularly heavenly – and a very fine hot chocolate (in addition to more traditional patisserie).  Thus fortified, I snuck round the Backs to avoid the city centre en route to check out the refurbished Kettle’s Yard Gallery.  This housed an interesting exhibition of very varied works by Richard Poussette-Dart and was a lovely calming interlude in the helter-skelter of my day.

However, soon I needed to nip the short distance to my digs for the weekend.  In an unexpected development, I was spending the night with (and indeed at) Jesus: and what an excellent host he was!  I was staying at the newly revamped West Court of Jesus College which was, by a country mile, the finest student accommodation it has ever been my pleasure to stay in.  I could quite happily move in and just stay, though sadly while it was an economic option for staying in Cambridge for the night my budget would not permit more permanent residency.

Sadly, there wasn’t time to linger as I had a gig looming on the horizon.  Jesus is much more handily positioned than I had expected and I made it to my gig in plenty of time, despite an unplanned excursion on the way.  Taking a back route (the joys of local knowledge) I spotted an unexpected dome through a narrow window.  Investigating a little further, I found this was the ceiling of the banking hall of the city centre Lloyd’s Bank.  I must have walked and cycled past this building hundreds of times but had never noticed what a stunning interior it has (and the outside isn’t too shabby): inherited from its earlier life as Fosters Bank.  It is the work of the same architects who created the Natural History Museum in London and while on a smaller scale is very much the equal of its bigger brother.

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After gawping at this temple of mammon, I was back to matters more sacred with a pair of jazz gigs in St Andrew’s Baptist Church: one of the few city centre churches in which I had never previously seen live music.  Two very good and different jazz acts in the form of the Daphna Sadeh Quartet and Bahla meant the rest of my afternoon flew by in fine style: the one common theme being a vague hint of the middle-east.  By the time the music finished, I had less than an hour to get across time to my next gig and try and fit in some dinner.  Pre-visit research had thrown up Calverley’s Brewery as an option that was – more-or-less – on my way.  It is not the easiest place to find even when you know the street it is on really well and have very good directions – but it was well worth it.  An excellent pint of home brewed beer consumed in the brewery and a truly excellent pizza from the Pizza Mondo van parked nearby (the providers of the food van do rotate from week-to-week).  I’m not sure if it was the location or the occasion but despite being slightly hurried it was one of my best ever suppers. I am a man of simple tastes in many ways and a fairly cheap date: should any reader wish to chance their arm.

I made it to the Mumford Theatre for my next gig with almost 4 minutes in hand, though a part of me can’t help feeling that I could gave fitted something else into those wasted minutes…  This was to see Phronesis who had provided the spur to visit Cambridge last weekend after I spotted their name in the Jazz Festival Programme.  I have seen them before as part of Marius Neset’s band but never on their own.  They are an odd looking trio: Ivo (piano) always seems to be wearing a very fine shirt but rendering it dishevelled, Jesper (bass) could easily find a part (probably as a killer) in any Scandi-Noir drama and has the look of an etiolated Willem Dafoe while Anton (drums) had the look of a psychotic mid-ranking SS Officer which his extraordinary facial expressions while playing and chosen wardrobe did little to dispel (bar his rather exciting socks).  Despite appearances they are all lovely, and I can speak personally to the charm of Anton as, at the Mumford, the talent are forced to queue up with the audience and pay if they want an interval drink – the queue took pity on the chap and bought him a beer.  Clearly being a musician is not all huge riders, blue M&Ms and baskets of fresh kittens!  Phronesis were everything I might have hoped for musically, including a lovely line in dry wit from Jesper.  I’m looking forward to seeing them again next spring when they visit Turner Sims with the Southampton Youth Jazz Orchestra.

I fancied a pint as part of my comedown from such an exciting day and so stopped off at the St Radegund on my way back to my room.  This is technically a sports bar, but the sport is rowing and it has never had the vibe of a sports bar when I’ve visited.  For the first time in many years (many many years, many many many years), I was able to enjoy a pint of local cask ale in a decent pub for the princely sum of £2.

After a splendid night’s sleep in my double-bed (a first in student digs), Jesus offered me a truly first rate breakfast (loaves were on offer but no fishes) to prepare myself from the day ahead.  As a resident, I was able to wander the grounds of the college and found myself loitering for quite a while outside the chapel listening to the choir practising for the service to come: this is a very fine way to ease into a Sunday, though quite hard to replicate at home…

I had a proper wander along the Cam, catching it just before the punts start to convey convoys of Chinese in their ongoing attempt to film Cambridge from every conceivable angle and at every possible time of day and year.  I think they may be building a replica at home: though surely they must have the footage to support such a project by now.  I then made my way to Fitzbillies for the obligatory Chelsea bun and to meet a friend to catch up on gossip from the local music scene.  We then wandered to the Fitzwilliam Museum to see an exhibition of works inspired (some quite loosely I would suggest) by the work of Virginia Woolf as well as to catch up with some old favourites.  It was then a matter of nipping over the road to the Old Library at Pembroke College to catch a little Shostakovich and Beethoven thanks to the university’s instrumental award holders.  The library may not have the visual amenity on offer in Gallery 3 of the Museum, where these gigs are normally held, but the seating is so much more comfortable: I didn’t leave crippled!

It was then a quick stroll up Downing Street to my one visit to the Literary Festival to see Dan Snow talk about history: both his own and that in his new book.  This was in the Babbage Lecture theatre – which I remember as a rather shabby affair in quite the shabbiest quad in Cambridge.  Things had changed since my last visit: the quad is now much tidier and home to the new David Attenborough Building and the new Zoology Museum – including glass pavilion housing a whale skeleton – and the lecture theatre is really rather swanky.

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Only a flying visit, but I had a whale of a time!

It was then but a short stroll back to the river to visit The Mill, a pub I never visited while a local, to meet up with a friend from Southampton who has moved to Cambridge to take up the noble profession of an artisanal baker (perhaps other friends could consider career changes that would benefit me: does anyone fancy becoming a cheesemaker, brewer or patissier(e)?).  While baker is a fine career choice – the previous days’ sourdough toast came from his bakery (if not hands) – it does involve rather early mornings which I fear would put me off.  He brought a gift of a freshly baked loaf, made with 50% khorasan flour (so hints of the classical world), which I can report is delicious both fresh and toasted.  I now feel I need to be more adventurous with my own baking (and toasting) …

It was such a joy catching up with a friend over a number of good pints and, after a while, we repaired next door for my final jazz gig of the weekend at the University Centre Wine Bar.  This venue was much nicer than I’d imagined and the beer continued to flow: the Sam Smith’s Apricot Ale proved particularly moreish.  Music was provided the the Lydian Collective who were very good indeed – and like all the very diverse range of acts I’d seen at the Jazz Festival, basically new to me.   All the gigs were good value, but this final two hour gig for only £5 was perhaps the highlight of the weekend (against a very strong field).  I had wondered why I’d never made it to the Jazz Festival when I lived locally, but discovered at the Phronesis gig that it had only been going four years: they literally waited for me to leave town before launching.

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The Lydian Collective in a surprisingly good venue for jazz

With a bit of a wait for my train back to London, there was time to fit in a final Cambridge pint at the Flying Pig.  However, this was not to be my final pint of the evening as I discovered some friends playing a folk session at a pub right next to Waterloo station (thank you social media, sometimes you help a chap be properly social) which helped fill the wait for my very slow train home (but who wouldn’t want to visit Staines in the dark).

I had as much fun as I believe any middle-aged man could possibly have in a weekend (and without breaking any laws!) while re-acquainting myself with the city which was my home for several years.  I was reminded why I love Cambridge and am determined to return more regularly in future: the Jazz Festival is definitely going in my calendar for 2019.  However, it did take a day or two to recover from quite so many activities and then to commit the weekend to quite so much print to bore the wider public, so I may need to ration my visits a little…

Losing our Heads

Humans are a sentimental lot, easily acquiring attachments to places and things which the objects of our sentiments cannot return: short of a greater belief in animism than I can usually muster.  Such feelings can become twisted  to generate dark emotions and worse actions, though mostly just lead to a slight resistance to change and life marinated in a vague brine of nostalgia.

I am as prone to these sentiments as any, though do try to remember that if carried too far would mean our distant ancestors never having left the savannah or cave: a bit of change is probably more healthy than the stagnant alternatives.  Much that is considered beautiful or beloved was once an eye-sore (or worse).  Places that don’t change can feel rather eerie: I remember wandering around the largely unchanged streets of Oxford a few years back being haunted by the ghost of my much younger self walking those same streets.

Some places smuggle themselves deep into our hearts surprisingly swiftly.  I think these delvers, swift and deep, are able to do so thanks to associations that accrete in nacreous layers around the raw grit of the place to create a treasured pearl.  In my experience, these associations are always linked to the realm of the living and are, perhaps, strongest when they involve other people: though nature more broadly creates powerful ties.

As the proceeding directions which set my stage suggest, I am going to talk about a particular place – now forever lost in one of the trickier to navigate dimensions – which only existed for a brief span of a human life but became very important to me.  Those for whom prolonged exposure to this blog has provided some unwanted insight into the way my brain “works”, may have guessed from the title that this post is about The Talking Heads of fond memory.

For those who do not know it, the Talking Heads – hereinafter “The Heads” – was an independent music venue in Southampton.  The Heads has existed for several years, but while I visited its Portswood home on a few occasions it was only once it moved to the Polygon that it unexpectedly became such an integral part of my life.  Initially, it was not any particular virtue of the venue that took me to its doors but rather its proximity to my home.  Being only half-a-mile away, I had to expend very little effort to go there and see what was on.  It also gained from staging a number of gigs that were free entry (often with the opportunity to donate to support the musicians) or pretty low cost.  It also had two rooms, generally with contrasting gigs, and hosted it least one event (often two) every night of the week.  This heady cocktail of convenience meant it was always an easy option if I fancied doing something of an evening on which I had nothing planned: there would usually be something on that would at least tickle my fancy enough to take a look.  It also meant that if another event finished early, it would usually be worth checking The Heads on the walking home to catch a second gig there.

Once I started visiting more regularly, my mysterious (to me) memorability meant that I came to know the people that worked at The Heads and many of its regulars.  This added an additional incentive to go out, as I would probably bump into a friend – or at least a proto-friend – which would make the short walk all the more worthwhile.  It was the The Heads which started my continuing project to try and go to at least one cultural event in Southampton every night – the place made it easy: if ever there was a gap in my diary, I could generally rely on The Heads to fill it for me.  Going out became almost addictive – things happen when you go out that never do when you sit at home in front of the idiot box or laptop (however much “content” is thrown at us)  – and has led to a situation where I have far more friends now that at any previous point in my life and have stronger connections to Southampton than to any other place I have ever lived.  In more ways than one, The Heads was a key progenitor of this process and acted as a place to meet people.  Since it’s gone, I less reliably bump into friends on a regular basis: I need to establish a new “club house”, albeit for a club that no-one knew they were joining – maybe “common room” is a better metaphor.

As well as the friends I first met at The Heads, or the friendships that deepened there, the place is also full of memories for events I saw.  It provided most of my education in modern jazz and experimental music and hugely broadened my musical taste in many other areas: it just made the “how bad can it be?” attitude to going out so viable.  It played host to so many of my best nights out over the last couple of years.  So many neurons are devoted to time spent there.

As well as the associations, the physical venue had a lot in its favour.  It was the only music venue in Southampton with two spaces for gigs – and each room had a very different vibe.  The main space was perhaps a more traditional venue but was much wider than it was deep which I find works well: it helps to bring the audience closer to the music and each other and improves sight-lines.  It had a decent dance floor – for those so inclined – and always had somewhere to sit down – which is lovely for my ageing and often tired lower limbs.  So many venues have little or no room to sit down which is great for the young with a desire to mosh, perhaps, and does create a specific feel but I think puts some potential audience off: it can have an impact on my own decision-making if I’m feeling particularly enervated or foot-sore.  It also leaves one with little incentive to arrive early or stick around after a gig – which must have an impact on drink sales and so venue economics.

The Maple Leaf Lounge was a thing of unique and eccentric beauty.  The owner has a serious penchant for an auction and an antique or several and so the front bar was adorned with an eclectic mix of antiques, pictures and some truly strange objects and graced with a mix of elderly, often wobbly (but interesting ) furniture.  The range on offer and their positioning would also slowly mutate over time.  No hipster theme bar would ever have chosen the medley of “stuff” that decorated that lounge: in a world often rendered increasingly bland with reproductions of the currently (or recently) hip everywhere – even in banks – it had a real personality and sense of place.  Despite its oddly positioned pillars and slight dilapidation, for so much music – especially acoustic and jazz – I think it will always be the standard against which I measure any music venue.

It always had friendly staff – many of which I now count as friends – who cared about the venue, the quality of its sound and its survival but, alas, it was not to be.  It was the only dedicated music venue to have a range of decent and well-kept cask ales (for most of its life – we don’t mention the Palmers, while recognising that it probably helped fund the venue) – which is a sine qua non for the middle-aged beer snob and a terrible loss given that the venues that survive it tend to focus on children’s drinks (lager, cocktails and the like).

Despite its many virtues, and just a few very modest vices which need not detain us here, The Heads closed its doors for the last time at the end of September.  A victim of costs – particularly business rates and rents – which the volume of people willing to go out to enjoy live music did not cover (and I definitely tried as my liver can – no doubt – attest).  Sadly, other venues in the city still struggle to square that particular circle and I am forced to wonder how setting business rates at a level which eliminates business can possible be economically rational behaviour.  I have deliberately not walked passed the building since it closed but my suspicion is that it will be replaced by student flats, as this seems to be the fate of all vacant buildings these days.  I’m always slightly worried when I leave the flat for more than a couple of hours, in case I return to find it replaced with shoddily built accommodation with super-fast wifi to tempt the young to part with some of their student loan.

Other places have had to fill the hole in my life, and the expanded programme at NST City has certainly helped to ensure I have very few evenings stuck at home with my own thoughts for company, but hole there is and will remain for some time yet.  Remember to love and support your local music venues, if not they will continue to disappear – whereas your couch TV and streaming service are going nowhere.  Without local venues there will be nowhere for fresh talent to get a start and we’ll all have to travel to a small number of big cities to see live music – and that’s both expensive and inconvenient.  Listen local!

Before the closing Haiku, I though I’d share images from four of my favourite gigs from the final month, including the final day.

 

Silence fills music’s sphere

Recent grief renders heads dumb

A maple leaf falls

Transience

I have reached that stage in life when the last of the famous faces from my childhood are shuffling off their mortal coils.  At some level, this does feel somewhat as though my childhood itself is dying – though, in other ways, my inner child remains strong and vital.  Perhaps surprisingly given my current incarnation, it is not the loss of the musicians of my youth that affects me but people from the television and radio.  In my quondam days, music was little more than background (so far as I can recall), the main elements of my life were books (mostly speculative fiction), radio comedy and the television – mostly watching shows that will not have stood the test of time (and which I shall be careful not to re-watch to preserve the pleasures of my youth unsullied by the greater discernment of my middle age).

It was a few weeks ago that we lost Peter Firman, the last of the founders of Smallfilms, whose animated treasures were such a highlight of my early years.  This drove me to YouTube to seek out the first episode of Noggin the Nog and the Tales of the Northlands in which he starred.  This pre-dated even me – I must have seen rather later repeats – but even after more than 40 years it was so familiar and I had never forgotten Graculus.  I’m sure everyone has fond feelings for the television of their early years but I feel there was something particularly special and charming about the work of Smallfilms that later generations were denied.

Of course, with YouTube in front of me and my brain soused in nostalgia, I couldn’t leave it at just watching Noggin.  Eventually, I found myself watching one of the weirdest cartoons of my youth: Ludwig.  Adult me was unsurprised to discover that it was the brainchild of a Czech animator but I did find it much more luridly coloured than I remembered (probably because we only had a black and white television).  For those too young to recall this odd treat, Ludwig was some sort of admixture of an alien, Inspector Gadget, Loki and a classical music-loving egg who arrives unannounced in a forest and disrupts the life of its inhabitants.

It was only last week that we lost Jacqueline Pearce who played Servalan and Blake’s 7 and made such an impression on my pre-teen years.  Looking back, she was an extraordinarily strong female character for late 70s science fiction and rocked a rather unconventional look for the BBC of that era.  I can’t help wondering if she bears some (perhaps quite a lot of) responsibility for whatever feminist credentials I actually possess as she was an early example of a powerful woman (Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation, no less) with her own style – and it would be a very brave (and probably short-lived) character who would criticise her for it.

The deaths of these famous folk, many of whom are forever young in my memories, has helped to highlight the temporal distance from my childhood.  The feeling of having lived too long (in some ways only – no-one needs to stage an intervention or keep me away from sharp objects) has also been occurring more frequently of late.  I often find myself in front of the bathroom mirror of a morning thinking, “What, again?!”.  I think this is mostly down to the repetitions of life, and especially the need to constantly service the meat puppet which I have still failed to transcend.  I mean you feed it or shave it or wash it (or whatever) for the nth time (for large n) knowing full well that you’ll just have to do it again in a few hours/days.  By 52, there are certain activities that one has done too often to the same fleshy envelope and I find myself wanting some novelty.  Sadly, the technology does not exist for a full body transplant and I think I’m too old – and lack the inclination (and the wardrobe) – to transition to another gender.  I suppose I could get a tattoo or a piercing – but I am as inconstant as the wind and don’t really trust myself to want to keep the same image/text/hole into the medium (let alone the longer) term: I suppose I could have it somewhere I can’t see but that might rather defeat the purpose.

As well as the “What, again?!” moments during my brief, daily, dalliance with a reflecting surface there are also the “Not you again!” moments.  When I was young, I was more than happy with my own company – I guess my novelty value had yet to wear off – and while I had friends at school never really interacted with them outside the school grounds.  In many ways, this broad approach to life continued to my mid twenties and the introduction of alcohol into my life and, more significantly, my bloodstream.  I would then go to the pub with friends, have people over for dinner and occasionally cultural activities would be introduced.  This was broadly how my life continued into my forties, enjoying having a social life with friends but otherwise living a solitary life with cultural activities generally enjoyed alone.  If I spent a whole weekend with other people, I would have fun but be glad to return to my own space and company: though for a brief period would miss the stimulation other people provided.

At some stage, while living in Cambridge, I started going much more regularly to events (mostly classical music concerts and comedy gigs) at a small number of venues – something which started by accident when I went to see a friend of my parents whose orchestra was playing in town.  I enjoyed myself and the West Road concert hall became a regular haunt.  This meant that I tended to encounter the same people on multiple occasions and so got to know them.  However, it is since being in Southampton that this process has really taken off.  I can now have dozens of friends I see regularly around the city and can rarely leave the house without bumping into someone I know.  It is a lovely thing to be able to go out and expect (without planning anything) to meet friends: though it does rather eat into my reading time.

I think that my friends are becoming a much more important part of my life.  It is not entirely clear why, perhaps I am finally maturing emotionally?  It is not impossible as, relatively recently, after reading still falling by Sara Hirsch, I started to understand why people might want to enter into a relationship with another human: better late than never, eh?  I think I may have said this before, but think carefully before you read poetry: you never know how it might change you!

However, my preferred theory is that I am now bored of myself – I have lived with, what is conventionally thought of as, the same person for more than 52 years and the honeymoon period is definitely over.  I now find myself dreading having to spend a whole day – or worse evening – with only myself for company.  It’s fine if I have work or something else constructive (or which I deem constructive – which is not the same thing at all!) to do, but if I am free of responsibilities the prospect of being stuck with myself is not as appealling as once it was (more appalling).  Could this be an explanation for GofaDM?  Is it all a terrible attempt to escape my own company by inflicting it on the unsuspecting internet?  Does the fact that in recent months I have had loads of human contact, including more hugs on some days than the preceding four decades had delivered in total (I assume my childhood was hug-rich, but sadly cannot remember whether this is the case at all), mean that I had less need for this blog and explain my recent neglect?

Having said that I fill myself with a feeling of ennui, current me is way more interesting and entertaining company than past mes.  I really wouldn’t want to be stuck in a room with teenage or early twenties me – in fact, in many ways I’m not convinced that we are the same person at all.  Just because I share some faded and distorted versions of his memories, his genotype and a decayed version of his phenotype does not mean we are the same person.  This does lead to the thought that “future me” will disavow “current me”: though will be stuck with a lot of written proof of his existence.  I suppose everything is transient (though no-one has yet seen a proton or electron fall apart – so far as I know) and we should try and enjoy it, and the self doing the enjoying, while it lasts – and not worry overly much about the judgments that will be made by our future selves (they will always lack a certain perspective).

Not a flyer in sight

No, I am not reporting live from Heathrow but remain in Auld Reekie. For the first time in several years, I am visiting Edinburgh away from its famous Festival and Fringe.  As a result, the streets are strangely empty of tourists, performers and their provisional, marketing wing: no-one has tried to hand me a flyer all week!

Despite the apparent entertainment vacuum, there is still plenty for a chap to do.  For a start, it has been great to catch up with old friends (by which I mean long-standing, rather than antique – though at my age, the two are becoming synonymous concepts) and their new arrivals.  And what a charming new arrival… just don’t show her a hat! (I was unable to test her opinion on the fascinator issue – jumped-up alice band or mini hat?).

For the first time ever, I saw the Forth Rail (and road) Bridge: up close and personal. There is always a risk with such an iconic star of page and screen that reality will disappoint – but not in this case.  Its sheer physical presence just can’t be captured by an image (though I, in common with many before me, have attempted to do so) – and, for the first time in many years, it is not being painted at the moment and so is scaffold-free.

In the glorious afternoon weather yesterday, I ascended to the summit of Arthur’s Seat to enjoy the stunning views (and obtain a little exercise).   As a result, I would like to suggest to Arthur that his seat could do with some work in the upholstery department – even the odd scatter cushion (normally anathema to our hero) would provide a more comfortable sitting experience.

Prior to my ascent in search of a sit-down, I visited Earthy – a splendid eatery in Causewayside – where I was furnished with the finest example of the quiche-maker’s art that has ever passed my lips: aubergine, chilli and feta were the headline ingredients, but I suspect the secret was in the fluffiness of the underlying egg-based substrate.  Possibly even more excitingly, I sampled a new vegetable – new not only to me, but also to the world (having been first reported only one year ago – almost to the day!).  This was the flower sprout the bastard love-child of kale and the brussel sprout.  Apparently, this off-spring was achieved without genetic modification – so I can only assume the “process” required huge patience, subdued lighting and a Barry White CD.  Luckily, their efforts were not wasted and the child takes after its father in taste (assuming kale was the daddy) – and is delicious served  cold with chilli and sesame seeds (and probably in many other ways too!).

There has been culture too – with the visual arts being complemented by a stunning performance of Schubert’s Winterreise at the Queen’s Hall last night.  Not many laughs compared to my traditional Edinburgh cultural fare perhaps, but some of the finest live music it has ever been my pleasure to enjoy (and at a very recession-friendly price too!).

So, if you are looking to escape the depressing winter weather of the home counties, I can thoroughly recommend a mini-break to Scotland!

The one with the flake in it

Despite the powers-that-be at Channel 4 ensuring for the last decade (and more) that at any time you can be guaranteed that one of its myriad channels will be showing an episode of Friends (it’s analogous to never being more than 8 feet from a rat), I am strangely (perhaps, inappropriately) proud never to have seen one in its entirety.  It hasn’t been easy, let me tell you, but despite my total abstinence some knowledge of the sitcom has wormed its way into my brain – and the title of this post could easily have belonged to an episode from that much repeated series.

But I digress, the allusion is obviously to ice cream as this post is number 99 (and if mere mention of a flake causes you to imagine the author lying languid and naked in an over-flowing bath, then you should probably see a trained psychiatric professional).  It was either ice cream, or a reference to Maxwell Smart’s significantly more competent partner – and even I’m not old enough to remember her, so I eighty-sixed that idea (there will be a prize for understanding that gag).  This post represents a nervous number for a batsman given our decimal counting system: can this blog make it to its first century?  Or will it find itself the electronic equivalent of lbw?  Of course, had cricket been played in ancient Babylon a score of 100 would be meaningless – batsman would be aiming for 60 runs as the key milestone of an innings and 59 would be the time for nerves.  But advanced as the peoples of ancient Mesopotamia were, they never developed cricket – probably as well, not sure their maths could have handled the Duckworth-Lewis method.

I wonder if I will receive some sort of telegram from the Queen of WordPress when I reach 100 posts?  Is WordPress even a constitutional monarchy?

As you can read, excitement is mounting here in Fish Towers but I am starting to feel some pressure to pull something special “out of the bag” for post 100.  Get your suggestions in now if you want to be a part of blog history!  You should be thinking Henry V and St Crispin’s Day here – you’d hate to think yourselves accursed and counting your manhoods cheap (heaven forfend) when this blog breaks into 3 figures!