Capital ambivalence

fear not, i shall not be continuing in the style of e e cummins or of archy (cockroach friend of mehitabel, the moth): i have no real objection to capitalisation of text.  THOUGH I PREFER TO AVOID SHOUTING!

This post will instead explore my ambivalence about visiting (or indeed residing) in the capital city of these diminished isles.

9781288-london-city-skyline-Stock-Photo

Neither to scale nor an actual vista

Readers may wonder why I have included an extremely dodgy image of the London skyline, which at best bears a passing topological similarity to the actual city and suggests an entirely unrealistic calm and clarity to the River Thames.  Well, I am now using a WordPress feature whereby these posts automatically appear on my Facebook feed and have discovered that unless a post includes an image, my Facebook massive are exposed to a giant image of my crumbling visage: and nobody wants that…

On Easter Monday – a concept which Biblical scholars, theologians and those from outside the British Isles may find hard to understand – I went up to London after lunch for an afternoon and evening of “fun”.  This reminded me of both what I love and find really irritating about visiting the big smoke.

The inbound journey is generally fine as one is filled with hope and excitement for the activities to come.  This feeling survived reasonably well until I reached the British Museum.  New security arrangements mean a long queue to enter that august repository of stolen goods.  Once through the security cordon, the museum was heaving with other people – which makes me wonder just how good the security can have been.  I love the concept of other people, but the reality of them en masse and dawdling around does rather test this love.  I was at the BM to see the American Dream exhibition of 20th century prints.  This had much to enjoy and a fair chunk of works which struck me as a waste of materials: my taste in the visual arts definitely has limits, even if I’d be entirely unable to describe where they are.  I also strongly suspect that my taste in more modern art is an expanding (or at least morphing) envelope: today’s waste of wall space may be tomorrow’s masterpiece.  I think I’d feel cheated if I went to an exhibition and loved everything, there would be something important missing.

From the BM, I headed over to Islington to the Bill Murray (from one BM to another!  I don’t just through my time together you know): a pub which is now (mostly) a comedy venue.  It is still a small pub and offered a very potable pint of Marston’s 61 Deep – albeit at a price I would associate with drinking in Scandinavia (but that’s London for you).  I had not journeyed just to enjoy over-priced pale ale, but to see the comic stylings of young Ivo Graham.  Don’t tell the lad this, lest he lose the run of himself, but he was the “hook” on which the cultural coat of my day was hung.   He was very funny, even if I did form rather more of the act than I’d expected or than he had intended: I provided rather more filler to his work-in-progress hour than necessary.  I even had a brief chance to chat to him after the gig – before he had to race to Hatfield (not to the world-famous poly but to watch a netball match).  I am pleased to report he is as charming a chap in person as I had imagined having seen and heard him (from a distance – and in his professional capacity, I am not stalking the young lad) over the last 3.5 years.  As a further bonus, he provided an opportunity for me to use the phrase “vespine foe” in a tweeted reply later that evening as I sat on a bus passing St Paul’s: for which I remain in his debt.

I too had to leave the BM(2) reasonably promptly to head over to Dalston, for a quick bite of supper and a play at the Arcola.  I supped at Café Route which offered a splendid selection of vegetarian (and even vegan) friendly salads and small plates coupled with a huge range of cakes.  Reader, I rather over-indulged as not only were things very reasonably priced but the slices of cakes were pleasingly generous: consuming two might have been verging on gluttony.

Suitably stuffed, I then waddled the short distance to the Arcola Theatre to see The Plague, based on Albert Camus‘ 1947 novel.  Well, I do like to mix light and shade on an evening out.  The play was very well done and only mildly harrowing.  I’ve been meaning to read some Camus for years, and this was probably a good substitute and takes some of the pressure off me for a while.

The bus ride back to Waterloo was fun, traversing parts of London I’ve never visited and offering an excellent view of St Paul’s.  I always find that it is the journey home which is the key downside of going out in London.  If I go out in Southampton – which I do no more than five times in a typical week – when the fun comes to an end, it is a mere 10-15 minutes before I’m home enjoying a herbal tea before being tucked up in my trundle bed.  If I go out in London, there is 2-3 hours of post-fun time-wasting before I am reunited with my straw palliasse.  This is too long at my advanced age and it somehow takes some of the gilding off the earlier fun.  I think this is why I find myself going to London less and less often – though there is also the sheer number of reasons to stay in Southampton for my culture and the desire to support the local product.  Still, I fear unless there is significant progress on the transmat in the near future, my visits to the capital may remain a rare “treat”.

Imperial metrology mania

I have noticed that films and often TV programmes now start with a series of warnings about the horrors that will follow, so that the easily offended, startled or scared can opt-out.  The most extreme example was when I watched the excellent Shaun the Sheep movie, which warned nervous cinema-goers of scenes of mild slapstick!

In keeping with this fine tradition and to minimise the risk of later lawsuits, this post will being with quite a long list of warnings.

1.  This is the most expensive blog post every produced for GofaDM as I had to purchase £1.03 worth of haberdashery items from John Lewis to bring the auteur’s vision to the public.

2.  This blog will continue naked photos of parts of the author, though I think all (or some, ok a few) of you will agree that they are very tasteful and critical to the plot.

3.  This is probably the silliest blog post yet produced – and that is saying something.  As often with particularly silly posts, my massage therapist must bear some responsibility.

4.  You will eventually discover the joke which is the primary cause for this post, I would like to apologise now for the disappointment you will feel.

So, with the public health warnings out of the way, and any readers of a nervous disposition safely out of the room, on with the filth!

If the internet has taught us anything then it is the fact that there is nothing in heaven or earth (or even Popper’s World 3) which cannot be used by at least some of the world’s population as a stimulatory prelude to (in the immortal words of Ivo Graham – an irritatingly young, very dry and funny young man) some “downstairs admin”.  Try and hold on to that thought through what follows.

When I am face-down being massaged my therapist provides a little “rest” for my ankles so that my feet can be displayed to their best advantage (my therapist would probably insist that it is provided for my comfort, but we know better).  Somehow this fact led the conversation towards the idea of folk who enjoy(?) a foot fetish – oddly, despite metrication being old news, I have never heard of anyone with any sort of fetish for the metre (or any other SI unit – with the possible exception of the Henry and that may only have been in a music hall song).  Now my own feet are terribly neglected – I think because there are so far away from HQ – and so I find a gland-game based interest in feet incomprehensible.  Still, if you can’t beat then then join them – well, I have to find some way to monetise all the time I waste on this blog – and so I am presenting my own feet to the GofaDm readership in the hope of appealing to a much broader (if still niche) market.  It may also be some compensation to my feet: they may have been (at best) ignored for nearly half-a-century but now they have a chance to grab some time in the limelight!

Now, I will be the first to admit that I have no idea how pedal-extremity based erotica works, and I am not stupid enough to try and web search on this matter, so what follows will be my own take on the genre.  I thought we’d start with a plain vanilla, nude shot of my left foot (well, it did OK for Daniel Day Lewis).

My Left Foot!

My Left Foot!

A little boring perhaps, so maybe my right foot which is sporting a bit more of a dangerous, bad-boy vibe after the middle toe was (probably) broken a few years back.  We can’t be sure if it was, and as my then doctor told me, “there are only three important bones in the the foot and this isn’t one of them”.  Be prepared to swoon…

So right, surely it can't be wrong!

So right, surely it can’t be wrong!

Then again, I think a lot of the excitement in the erotic field is supposed to come from the human imagination, and these naked shots leave little scope to indulge your creativity.  So, how about my right foot peeking coquettishly from behind some transparent black mesh?  Would that get your motor running?

It's curtains for you!

It’s curtains for you!

Still able to keep your powder dry?  How about a little foot related bondage action to get the old juices flowing?

Restrain yourself!

Restrain yourself!

If your rocks are still “on” following that last graphic image, I’m starting to run out of ideas.  I am vaguely aware that a lot of soi-disant sexy underwear makes use of black lace (not the band) and so I thought I could give that a go.  Well, I keep socks in my underwear drawer so that makes them underwear as far as I’m concerned.

Agadoo!

Agadoo!

Actually, if I’m honest that last shot is a bit of a disappointment to me.  I’m not really a fan of lace (though I do now own a full 50cm of it – see above) – I’ve never liked it in clothing or bed linen.  I’ve never bought or used a doily and view net curtains (which often seem all too lacy) as the work of the devil.  All this despite my origin story having its roots in Nottingham which, as you will know, was the centre of lace making for the old Empire. No, I hate the stuff – in fact, I have come to realise that I am a complete lacist!

Yes, that was what all this was building up to: my spontaneously generated joke (when on the massage table) about being a lacist (which WordPress keeps trying to correct to start with an R and I have hopefully prevented).  I truly think that I have now won comedy and that, in terms of my wit, it will all be downhill from here.  Tune in to the next GofaDM post to find how fast I will be going!

I, Culture

If I had a more flexible view of English grammar than is, in fact, the case, today’s title could be a description of my life in Edinburgh (or indeed, a first person description of being a member of Homo sapiens).  So much culture am I taking in, that I am struggling to find time to sleep – though have still managed to find time to keep up my gymnastics training and for a quick game of hide-and-seek.

Not only culture, but the past few days have also provided an excellent chance to catch up with old friends and fellow best men.  Still, it is to culture that we must return (yes, we must!), please stop that sobbing now.

For those relying on GofaDM to plan their visit to the Festivals, I can add some further comedy recommendations to my last post (in Bb or Eb depending on your regiment).

Kieran Hodgson: following last year’s show in which I had a starring role, this year he plays all of the parts (obviously I was not quite the success on stage I had imagined) for a very funny tale of a teenage French exchange trip.

Rhys James: very entertaining comedy and spoken word from a chap who was pale, but determined – having been throwing-up off-stage less than 5 minutes before his set began.

Ivo Graham: well, I do love a show with jokes in Latin and an historically accurate reference to the Duke of Anjou.

Jonny and the Baptists: very funny singing and drinking, but probably not the place to take your UKIP-voting maiden aunt.

I’ve also moved onto fringe theatre, and enjoyed (though didn’t entirely understand) a production of Pinter’s A Slight Ache.  I also returned to see Wingman – a play by Richard Marsh I had seen in an early form deep beneath Waterloo Station last winter. It was good then (if slightly musty – down to the venue rather than the writing), but the final version was even better – I could really see how taking the time to refine the story-telling and the language paid off.  A lesson there for GofaDM!  (A lesson I fully expect to ignore).  Having seen an earlier version of the play, I was somewhat protected against excess lachrymosity (like a cultural vaccination), but it did still affect me (though less than some of my fellow audience members).  Even better, at the end I could buy a copy of the play (including his earlier play Skittles) and shake the great man by the hand – surely every stalker’s dream.  I recall a recently-quoted statistic that the average writer’s income is £11,000 p.a. – which does make you wonder how anything is ever written except as an act of defiance.  I’ve seen Richard perform his works on five occasions to date, and I swear he has worn the same pair of jeans and striped top for every one – either this is an indication of the poor financial lot of the writer or a real commitment to clothing continuity.  I am reminded once again of the need to support our playwrights and producing theatres.

Talking, as I was, of celebrity encounters – and my slightly twisted take thereon – wandering the streets of Edinburgh at this time of year, one can see many a “celeb”.  These don’t impress me much, but I did have a more exciting encounter on the edge of St Andrew’s Square – I passed an 84 year old professor of zoology, Aubrey Manning.  Now he is a real celebrity, a man who through a long-gone BBC2 series taught me most of the more advanced geology that I retain to this day.

Anyway, to explain the title we must return to music.  I had huge fun with Ute Lemper singing cabaret songs from Weimar Germany and post-war France – I feel my life could do with a little more cabaret in it, if only it didn’t tend to start so late at night.  My mind was well and truly blown by the Arditti Quartet (plus counter-tenor son and composer wife), introducing me to modern classical music of a type I’d never even imagined might exist.  I’m not yet sure if I love or hate it, but it definitely opened my ears to a much larger sonic world – I literally wandered dazed around Edinburgh for a good fifteen minutes after the concert finished.

However, my musical highlight came on Sunday night with a performance by the I, Culture orchestra – formed in 2011 by the Poles but taking in performers from Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova.  As with most of today’s comedy choices, they were annoyingly young and (on the whole) easy on the eyes – and what musicians!  (Not at all what the Eurovision Song Contest might have led us to expect).  I also loved the occasional divergence from the dress code – one clarinet in a jacket the wrong shade of black, a horn in brown shoes; more established orchestras can be just too uniform for my taste.  A seriously anti-war programme began with Panufnik’s Symphonia Elegiaca – which was new to me, but beautiful.  After the interval, one of my favourite pieces of all time, Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” symphony – which did bring several tears to my eye (and music almost never makes me cry, though almost anything else can and does).  Despite the very limited leg-room in the upper circle of the Hall of the house of Usher (the price you pay for late-booking, cheaper seats and better acoustics), I was too involved in the music to feel any discomfort – that’s how great this concert was! Radio 3 were recording it, so I do have the opportunity to re-live my experience without suffering permanent knee damage – though it will lack the visual spectacle of 120+ musicians (I lost count) in action.

Yet another reason to thank the Poles (so important to the defence of this nation 70-or-so years ago and such a boon to the joke-writer today), and – in line with the very clear message from Jonny and the Baptists – show UKIP the door!

The end of the party

Well, I am now back from Edinburgh and have to face the return to “real” life.    On my return, I have realised that hurriedly unpacking your life into a new flat and then leaving for two weeks of fun was not one of my better plans (though in my defence, it was less a “plan” and more what happened).  Finding stuff is proving surprisingly challenging as I struggle to replicate my thinking from early August – still, order is slowly being established (I think).

I had enormous fun in Edinburgh and I think I managed to take in 48 shows in my 11 nights in the city – which isn’t bad going for a man of my advanced years.  In previous years, I had booked everything long before heading north leaving nothing to chance of serendipity.  This year, largely down to the move, I had booked virtually nothing and most of my gigs were booked on the day.  This worked really well – though did perhaps benefit from my slightly left-field choices.

Last Thursday worked particularly well – and some of my choices were truly unplanned.  I started in mid-afternoon with Stuart: A Life Backwards – this was an amazing piece of theatre (rightly well-reviewed) and the sort of thing I doubt would appear on TV (or if it did, I probably wouldn’t have watched it).  Amazingly, it cost only £6 for a ticket (making it my cheapest paid event): I have no idea how this can work economically.  After the first half of dinner,  some fine autobiographical stand-up from Ivo Graham – well, I’m always going to love jokes about use of the subjunctive and subordinate clauses.  After the second half of dinner I was joined by one of my fellow best men.  We started the evening with the very funny and moving show from Tom Wrigglesworth as recommended by my host in Edinburgh.  After a refreshment break, we rather randomly selected a show on the Free Fringe at a nearby pub – I say randomly, though the choice may have been influenced by the title.  The show, by one Richard Gadd, was really very good – if quite dark – and we overcame our disappointment at the lack of either cheese of crack whores.  The pub offered decent beer and a pub quiz (which we largely avoided – the questions did seem to presuppose a much greater knowledge of Scottish football than either of us could muster) and also won the hard fought prize for the hottest Fringe venue (narrowly beating the Sportsman Bar at the Gilded Balloon into second place).  My plan for the next show was kiboshed by it selling out, but plan B worked rather well.  We took in the Set List show instead: I had vaguely heard the name but never seen it before.  Five comics do a brief stand-up set based on a series of random (I assume) concepts (usually 4 or 5) which they have never seen before – so this is never before seen material (though it was being recorded, so it may be seen again).  This was quite brilliant, aided by the cast comprising many of my favourite stars of Radio 4: Susan Calman, Marcus Brigstocke, Pippa Evans and Mitch Benn.   The only downside to the event was the slightly wobbly and very slippery stool I found myself perched on – I was expecting to perform my own, very brief, slapstick set at any moment!  Not something I wanted captured on camera.

The festivals also give one the chance to try something completely new.  The Chinese take on Coriolanus – complete with not one but two heavy metal bands – was less a success and more an experience.  It rather reminded me of a school production headed by a trendy teacher trying to make it “relevant to the kids”.  In one particularly emotional scene, the background metal did make me think of the rather camp film of Flash Gordon (sadly, no war rocket Ajax was dispatched).  Circa: Wunderkammer was rather more of a success – and my first exposure to the circus in more than three decades.  The only animals involved were human – all significantly stronger and more flexible than me (and with much better core control).  Is it too late to take up gymnastics?  Back in my youth, I was always defeated by the backward roll and I may now be too tall, but it would make for some decent party tricks if I could gain even a modest degree of mastery!

I loved the chance to make more adventurous choices which Edinburgh in August offers – and the relatively low costs help.  For the price of a decent seat in the West End, I could easily see 5 or more shows in Edinburgh – and, pleasingly, even the longest was only 1hr 40 mins so I could easily average 4 a day.  I’m not sure if this approach offers any way forward for the Arts more generally (for all I know the economics may rely on staff going unpaid and performers making a serious loss) or if it really does need that critical mass of events to make it work – but it would be nice to come up to London (or any other city) for a day and be able to fit in more than a single show in the evening (and still be able to catch a train home at a sensible time again afterwards).

But for now, it’s back to real life – the day job and a work trip to Manchester – but I shall try and retain the spirit of adventure in the months to come…  After all, living in a small gaff, the Arts offer a great way to spend my money: fun without any ensuing need to store anything!