Infernal nonsense

I rather fear that if you did not recognise the allusion in the title, the rest of this post may not be for you.  As a result, I shall not be explaining it – though I believe a range of internet search engines are available.

The only “going-out” culture I can remember from my childhood, excluding events arranged via school, was an occasional visit to see a Gilbert and Sullivan production in my local town.  A seem to recall that such was our keenness, that we once arrived a week early for a performance – but that may be the memory playing tricks on me.  As a result of this early indoctrination, I retain a fondness for the operettas of Messrs G & S: though find it wise not to listen too closely to some of the lyrics in our more liberal age.  Some of the plots also sit a little uncomfortably with the 21st century audience member: but would probably go down a storm in some of the more scarily fundamentalist portions of the US.

So it was that this past Saturday, I found myself partaking of a double bill of G&S: and observed a few of today’s kids being indoctrinated by the elders as I had been forty years previous.  In the afternoon, I saw the Southampton Operatic Society‘s production of The Mikado which was really rather good.  The odd stumble here-and-there perhaps, but some excellent and, to me, original business ensured a smile stayed plastered across my face throughout.  I think that The Mikado may be the greatest of the partnership’s work and the SOS did it proud: it ran Jonathan Miller’s production at the ENO a very respectable second!  I may be biased about The Mikado as it has several splendid roles for the bass soloist: and I did find myself sitting in the audience thinking “I could do that!”.

The world (and I) did not have long to wait for an unequivocal demonstration that my self-belief may exceed my ability.  In the evening, I went over to Salisbury to see a performance of HMS Pinafore in which we, the audience, were to play the role of the chorus: i.e. sailors, sisters, cousins (reckoned up by dozens) and aunts.  A friend had suggested I might like to accompany her and, on the basis that one should try everything once except incest and country dancing, I agreed.  Actually, if I’m honest, that boat sailed long ago: while I was still at primary school.  I should perhaps make clear at this stage that it was country dancing I tried (was forced into) and not incest (it may have been the seventies, but things weren’t that bad): my Circassian Circle and Cumberland Reel were a joy to behold.

On arrival, the audience were separated by vocal range so that ladies were on the left and gents the right, with the smattering of self-confessed tenors placed near the front.  The first half (prior to the interval) was given over to a rehearsal of our parts and, importantly, the cues.  I was surprised to discover that not only were we expected to reproduce some approximation to both the words and tune (the full G and S) but were also expected to perform various actions, e.g. marching, saluting, handle polishing etc.  Given that my ability in this field starts and ends with YMCA, and even then I can give the impression of one suffering from dyslexia, this was quite the challenge.  I suppose one might describe the performance as semi-staged, if one were very generous.

After the interval (an opportunity for a stiff drink or, in my case, ice cream) we then ran through both acts of HMS Pinafore with six professionals playing the leads.  Fortunately, the operetta was somewhat abridged, or I’d probably still be there now.  I have to say that the evening was enormous fun.  To add to the general air of bonhomie, we were all issued with (plastic) Union Flags to wave at suitable moments in the action.  What larks!  All that flag-waving did give the slightly uncomfortable impression of a UKIP (or worse) rally – surely we leave that sort of uncouth nationalism to the Americans?  I do worry that were some charismatic, nationalist demagogue to arise in these sceptred Isles, she might find it all too easy to use a G&S sing-a-long for ends nefarious.

All that flag waving and lyrical stress on the importance of being an Englishman did remind me that we are supposed to be picking a national song for England.  I’m not quite sure why, as we seem to have survived without one for a millennium or so.  Despite sterling work by Michael Flanders debunking it as an option, people do seem oddly keen on Jerusalem.  I think we can pretty sure that, no, it was not “builded” here.  I feel Flanders and Swann’s own output offers an option far more in keeping with government policy in The English Are Best.  A strong alternative contender, sure to go down well with Eurosceptics everywhere, would be Mitch Benn’s Song for Europe: though I will admit that this would only be usable after the watershed.  Thinking of a Song for Europe, I really don’t think we should let the general public anywhere near the selection of a national song given the dross they’ve chosen to represent us at the Eurovision Song Contest.  Equaly, if we turn our gaze to the hit parade (as I believe the young folk call it), the musical standards on offer are nothing to boast about.  Does the Queen not have a Master of Her Music who might be expected to ‘knock something out’?  I’m sure Judith Weir must have a few spare moments in her busy schedule…


Turned Out Nice Again!

No, this is not an ironic comment on the weather – and, yes, I am now nearly dry again after my earlier cycle trip into Cambridge, thanks for asking.  In fact, having a colleague in Brisbane and friends in Christchurch, I find it surprisingly easy to place the modest harm done to me by the earth into its proper context.

Instead, this post will be about windows (and, once again I will eschew the sitting duck that is Microsoft’s most (in)famous product).  To make sense of the title in this context, you might like to imagine your interlocutor strumming at a banjo ukelele and wearing a flat cap while transmitting Lancastrian charm at you through the aether.

Fish Towers, in common with many other UK properties following the repeal of the window tax, has a number of glass filled openings in its brick facade.  At the time of their installation these might well have been clean – but in the somewhat more than 4 years since, the only cleaning they have received has been coincidental when a passing zephyr has hurled raindrops (or, maybe whiskers on kittens in very stormy weather) at their increasingly dirty outer surface.

My failure to clean the windows has had a number of consequences, including reduced light transmission to the interior spaces of Les Tours de Poisson and has (along with the state of my knob-free and really rather modest front door) been a major obstacle to my appointment as head of the Queen’s Navy (a position apparently referred to as 1SL).  To be scrupulously fair, recruitment practices for the higher echelons of the senior service may have changed since Victoria was on the throne – though looking at much of modern politics, I fear the changes may not have been “improvements”.

However, this has now all changed, for yesterday I engaged the services of an artisan window cleaner who in a matter of minutes removed four years of accumulated filth from the windows at Fish Towers.  This was all a very modern process – disappointingly no use of ladders, squeegee, vinegar or brown paper (or was that for dealing with broken crown injuries?) – and now light can enter my demesne without the photons having to rely on quantum tunnelling to breach the layer of dirt which previously coated the oriels and lancets of Fish Towers (readers should very much imagine it as a more upmarket version of Castle Gormenghast).

The only downside to a clean outer surface to my windows is that it tends to highlight the rather distressed state of the obverse side – but I think I will leave tackling that particular project for another day (or decade).  This is not down to apathy on my part, but I will need to let my eyes and skin adjust slowly to the increased exposure to the light if I am to avoid injury.

Whilst thinking about windows, I was reminded of eyes traditionally being considered as their analogue in respect of the soul.  Given that other operating systems are available, I wonder if some would consider the eyes to be the Snow Leopard or Red Hat (not of Pat Ferrick) of the soul these days?