You’ll believe a man can cry

Not the author in this case.  As this blog has amply documented, I will weep on even the most slender of provocations (though in no way endorse such an unrealistic body image for any young provocations reading this post).  I suspect I shed a manly tear on the majority of days and laugh on virtually all: I like to test my full emotional range on a regular basis (just in case I need to deploy it).

Yesterday, I spent the day at ARGComFest in the less fashionable parts of Shoreditch Town Hall.  The festival is like a super-concentrated version of the Edinburgh Fringe – or at least some of its comedy elements – fitting 48 acts into three overly warm rooms across two days.  I only attended day two but, feeling I should get full value from my £25, did manage to take in seven acts over just under nine hours.  Unlike Edinburgh all the events take place in the same building, so you never have to go outside (and I didn’t) and can pack more into the time – though you do get a lot less exercise.

I was a little worried about my ability to survive quite so much comedy in one sitting (though given the rather uncomfortable chairs, I did allow myself the occasional stand and stretch) and the amount of yawning (mine) that accompanied my morning train journey into London did not bode well.  Pleasingly, when checking the route from Old Street tube station to the venue I realised it passed close to 8 Hoxton Square (the eastern outpost of the 10 Greek Street empire) and so took in some solid (and delicious) brunch there before events started – carb-loading is critical preparation for the serious comedy aficionado.  To avoid losing comedy value by having to leave the venue for subsequent nourishment, I had provided myself with a packed supper – which I thought might be a deeply shameful option but, as it transpired, I was far from the alone in my choice (and some of my fellow munchers seemed much trendier than I).

Each act was a preview of what its creator hopes will be wowing Edinburgh come August.  Each act was followed by a ten minute break for fluid transactions or room transfers and the whole thing was held together by an MC (or two, as they divided the day into two shifts) for each room.  Some people had rather more work to do in the next month than others (I think I now know who did their homework on the bus on the way into school), but all the shows were entertaining and provided plenty of scope for laughter.  Whilst I stayed awake in admirable style, the effect of quite so much comedy in such a short period of time is that I can remember even less of the content than usual (so no spoiler alert will be required).  I can remember that James Acaster was the highlight of my day – and I can remember thinking at the time that he is eminently quotable (but can no longer recall anything to quote) and a surprisingly skilled physical comedian. The title comes from Joel Dommett – a man less in touch with his emotions than I – who at one stage attempted to cry while reading a set of one-liners.  He came very close, he started to tear-up but then lost it.  Watching a man determined, desperate even, to cry and just failing is terribly amusing – the lad may wish to embrace his failure as I suspect it may work better comically than success.

I can also recall, for more traumatic reasons, that the final act was Simon Munnery.  Before he started, I found myself suffused with nostalgia as I recalled listening to him on the radio as Alan Parker, Urban Warrior or The League Against Tedium when I was but a lad.  As a result, it came as a terrible shock when, during his act, it was revealed that he is younger than me: not by much, but enough to take the wind out of a chap’s sails, I can tell you.  At least I could comfort myself with the knowledge that the years have been rather kinder to me than to Mr M (in terms of third-party visual amenity, at least).

However, that is all by-the-by, the primary purpose of this post is for me to introduce another one of my cunning business proposals.  Yes, I am once again treating you, dear readers, as a veritable den of dragons and am seeking investment in my latest wheeze.   Here goes the pitch:

Given the expected (and realised) sauna-like conditions at the festival, I choose to wear shorts for the day.  I will admit that I felt somewhat underdressed walking around London in shorts and also upon returning to Southampton after dark.  When in Edinburgh itself, despite the heat of the venues I am usually forced to wear proper trousers both to cope with the Scottish summer and by the shame engendered by unnecessary display of the fleshy wrapping of my tibia and fibula to the kilt-clad natives.  It really isn’t practical to make the switch between shorts and trousers during the day given the absence of decent audience changing facilities at most comedy festivals.  A similar issue occurs when cycling to the concert hall or theatre on a sticky evening, I feel it inappropriate to wear shorts and so instead inflict my perspiration-soaked body on the rest of the audience.  Surely there must be a solution, thought I.

Well, I am sufficient worldly to know that male strippers have trousers which can be removed at speed and without troubling their shoes.  Something along this line would be ideal for the festival or concert goer – assuming they were as easy to put on (a part of the process rarely vouchsafed to the public) as to seductively remove.  Investigating the existing options this morning, I found that the leg coverings on offer were of a very inferior quality – and I don’t feel would pass muster in either concert hall or city street.  They were obviously aimed at the novelty market, not at the serious homme d’affaires.  There is clearly an opening for a sturdier, more formal trew (or better yet, a pair of them) that can be added or removed from a gentlemen’s ensemble with the minimum of fuss and bother.  These should be relatively generously cut above the knee – to avoid painful bunching of the shorts – but taper to the ankle to avoid conflict with a bicycle chain.  I’m thinking the range should include a chino, a dark formal (perhaps even black-tie friendly) and some denim based options.  Accoutred in such style, a chap can be comfortable in both the hottest of venues and the most formal of occasions without requiring access to a changing room or telephone box.  He would also be ready, at a moment’s notice, to provide any potential admirer of his unexpectedly hench physique with quite the performance – and any resulting tips thrust (demurely, I trust) into his waistband would help defray the day’s other, unavoidable expenses.  Trousers that pay for themselves!  Who could resist?

If this idea generates the level of interest I anticipate, the next stage would be to cost the product and get a Kickstarter (or similar) going and watch the money roll in.  I look forward to the day when an omi’s strides can keep his lallies at a bona temperature throughout the day.  Ooh, ain’t he bold?

How big is it?

Before we go any further, can I ask you all to lift your minds out of the gutter – all I shall say on that subject is that my hands, feet and nose are significantly larger than average and leave you to draw your own, ill-founded conclusions.

Instead, we will start be considering my green credentials.  I am, in fact, really quite green and have been for many years – starting long before I knew what it was to be green (unless the phrase was used to describe a frog or leaf).   There are a number of reasons for my early adoption of this planet-friendly lifestyle which I shall now reveal.

Firstly, I think we must blame the parents (mostly mine, in this case) for insisting that I turned the lights off when I left a room and for closing doors after I had passed through them to “keep the heat in” (caloric being thought to be afraid of wood in those dark days).  Secondly, I might implicate my rage against the dying of the light and my association of over-heated homes with those who have substantially more than one foot (perhaps nearer 23 inches) in the grave.  Finally, I must perhaps admit that, like Scrooge before me, I am cheap and dislike waste as it’s my money I am wasting and I could probably think of something more pleasurable to waste it on then lighting empty, overly-warm rooms.  My fondness for the cold and dark may have been strengthened by some time living in the north-east of England and trying to fit in with the natives: though I never mastered the accent, I did learn to wander around in only a t-shirt in all seasons.

My thrift (not, I should clarify, the seaside loving pink flower) extends beyond my energy consumption, and I like to imagine that I am frugal with water – especially since “the man” has started metering it.  At the risk of wandering off-topic, I think we should all make the most of gravity while it is still free – it is surely only a matter of time before some wretch works out how to monetise Newton’s discovery – so get any falling in now before the price goes up!

This morning I received a bill from my purveyor of a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen in that most desirable ratio of 2:1.  This revealed that, on average, I get through 36 litres of water per day.  This seems an awful lot of the stuff for one chap to use: it would certainly be a lot of weight to carry back from the supermarket on my bike each day were it not to arrive so conveniently by pipe.  I couldn’t help feeling that either they had made some mistake, or that I was being profligate with my water in some way without realising it (did I sleep-bath perhaps?  Well, it could explain these wrinkles I keep finding…).

As so often with an isolated number, it is very hard to know if it is big or not – though despite this governments, corporations, the press and others continue to bombard us with context-free numbers which we have little hope of really understanding (well, unless we wisely listen to More or Less).  However, further examination of my bill showed that Southern Water has very decently provided some context – so snaps to them!.  Apparently, the typical flat-dwelling singleton without garden (into which category I fall) uses 173 litres of water in an average day.  So, it would seem that far from splashing out on unnecessary moisture (and let’s face it, there is plenty of the stuff available for free outside on a daily basis), I am in fact using only just over one fifth of the normal amount.  So, I now worry that I am using too little water – is my personal hygiene not all it might be?  Are people avoiding sitting next to me on trains and buses? (A definite plus!)  Am I missing out on water-based fun that others have been keeping to themselves?  I can imagine using a little more water, but five times as much?  How is that even possible?  Are most flats in the south owned by fish or dolphins?  Would the life-style supplements, if I read them, tell me that a water-slide is this year’s “must-have” accessory?

Once again, I find myself out-of-step with my fellow humans, at the extreme edge of another bell curve.  Still, I shan’t fret too much – being this desiccated in my habits is cheap and leaves more money to buy more pleasurable fluids.

Heat treatment

The regular reader will be aware of my desire for this blog to gradually supplant Heat magazine (and its ilk) in the affections of the British (and, indeed, global) public.

The bread-and-butter of such magazines tends to be prurient gossip and ‘papped’ snaps of the stars of soap opera (very much the lowest form of opera) and reality television (ditto, mutatis mutandis), or so I believe: I am only willing to go so far in the name of research and ‘reading’ such material would go well beyond my self-imposed boundaries.  I have chosen to eschew this approach, mostly because I am unlikely to recognise such folk even were I to see them or hear them discussed.  Instead, I have tried to bring a more cerebral slant to the genre, by making brief mention of the famous that I have encountered in my otherwise (deliberately) rather unexciting life.

These last few days have been particularly fecund, with a brace of eminent scientists spotted.  On Saturday night I saw Sir Aaron Klug at the baroque gig at Peterhouse and then, on Monday night, both Steven Hawking and I enjoyed Maureen Lipman as star and director of Barefoot in the Park.  Last night’s comedy with Alex Horne, whilst a lot of fun, did not obviously support an eminent scientist in the audience – though, I should perhaps make clear that I would not necessarily be able to recognise every pillar of the scientific community in the relative dark of an auditorium (and few, if any, wear a white coat when out on the razzle).  I have moderate hopes for tonight’s bash with the Endellion String Quartet, but I’ll keep you posted…

Prior to Mr Horne’s bathrobe-clad antics, I enjoyed an excellent performance of Mendelssohn’s Octet by the CUCO String Ensemble at lunchtime.  I had little opportunity to spot the famous, as I was surrounded by very well behaved primary school children (who were the only people in the room younger than Herr M when he penned the work).  I first heard this piece lying in the sunshine in a park in Crouch End (N8), utilising the then new miracle of a portable MP3 player: it seemed more practical (and significantly cheaper) than bringing eight string players with me.  This was also the first time I heard, and took an unfavourable view of, a work by a particular French twentieth century composer.

Last night these events led to me musing, in the manner of Deep Thought, whether a programme comprising the Quartet for the End of Time, Chronochromie and the Turangalîla Symphony would be considered “needlessly Messiaenic”?

To put your mind’s at rest, I have had somewhat of a rapprochement with Olivier’s canon since that first park encounter: I loved Visions de l’Amen and quite fancy hearing the Turangalîla Symphony (and not only because it shares the name of the feisty female lead in Futurama but as I’ve heard it is quite the experience).  Still, lest you fear I have taken all leave of my senses and will shortly be indulging in arboreal osculatory excess with M. Messaien (or his cadaver), I still think he should leave birdsong to those issued with feathers and a syrinx.

Saving the planet…

…one Saturday night at a time.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC for short) has been running a competition for several years now.  The contestants are hoping to win the chance to build a carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) scheme on a coal-fired power station of their choice.  CCS is a fairly hefty bit of kit, which might most easily be explained as a scrubber (get your minds back out of the gutter, please) which scrubs a power station’s exhaust to remove most of the CO2.  In this way, we can head off global warming at the pass – or at least mildly slow its implacable advance.

OK, to be honest, it’s not so much the chance to build CCS the contestants hope to win as a huge wad of (taxpayers’ hard-earned) cash to pay for the thing.  Unfortunately, the competition is dragging on a bit and almost all of the contestants have left – some willingly, other less so.

I feel there is a clear opportunity here which our government seems to have missed.  We have a need to choose a winner from a number of entrants – and this is something Saturday Night TV has been doing for several years now.

Our entrants need to be “tested” against a number of criteria – which seems to lend itself to weekly trials (an obvious error in the current competition is that it takes too long, which destroys the narrative tension – the viewers need a weekly fix and probably backstage access on ITV2).  These trials will need to be judged – I suggest an older man, a rude man, a pretty girl and A N Other.  In the early rounds, we will have some complete no-hopers which could be handled by the judges on their own.  Once we have weeded these out, then the viewers would get to vote for their favourite – following some guidance from our judges, but probably picking the one with the most tragic backstory.  The entrant(s) with the least votes would leave the competition – perhaps after some sort of dance-off – in floods of tears and with frequent mention of having “been on a journey”.  The revenue from the phone votes could fund the winner’s CCS – and the blanket coverage in Heat (oh, the delicious irony) magazine should help to raise public awareness of the electricity industry and climate change (it might even make me and my job “cool” – or is it “phat” now, or “sweet”? “Groovy” anyone?).

The final element of this format is two loveable, if vertically challenged, Northern lads to present the show.  We already have DECC, so we just need to find an ANTT!