Commissions

As we find ourselves in the difficult sophomore lockdown, I find myself musing that while some increase in restrictions was inevitable given the season and lack of a cure (though better news does seem to be on the horizon), there still seems to be plenty of blame to lay at the feet of those in charge (or indeed, those until very recently in charge). In times where knowledge and expertise are becoming ever more specialised, it is interesting to note the very wide ranging ignorance and incompetence that our leaders are able to bring to bear on the pressing issues of 2020. I’m sure the heady mix of ambition and venality which they seem to be mainlining must be acting as a skill multiplier…

So, once again my excursions must meet some (poorly drafted and thought-out) definition of essential and I cannot see friends in the flesh for the foreseeable. I am once again forced back on my own, unleavened company. The weather is rather less clement than during the debut lockdown but I am still managing to get out reasonably often on the bike: this very morning I had a glorious ride to the north, slightly diverted thanks to some very impressive flooding which I saw a more foolhardy cyclist attempt to traverse and come very wetly a-cropper. The remaining leaves, still clinging to the apron strings of their arboreal parent, were looking quite stunning in the slanting winter sunlight. While my waterproofs have been earning their place in the squad in the last few weeks, today not a drop of precipitation marred my ride.

So, while the storm clouds gather and wind and rain lash my garret, I must find ways to entertain myself on the dark winter afternoons (and indeed, mornings, evenings and nights). The piano accordion is really coming into its own and I am definitely making progress with both hands. As a mark of my level of mastery, to the best of my knowledge, none of my neighbours has yet sought to depart this veil of tears at their own hand citing my instrument in their exit note.

However, I need more to keep the psychological wolf from my straw-built mental fortress and to provide fresh (or at least tolerably stale) content for GofaDM. Talking of the tolerably stale, last month’s Quaranstein has had a rather a major impact on the oldest foods in my larder: my cornflour (best before August 1999) and hoisin sauce (best before September 2013) have both passed to that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns. It has been an oddly moving experience, like saying goodbye to a faithful companion: that cornflour has moved with me four times in its life and I literally have younger friends! (I have kept the packet for the memories and because artistic friends seem to rate it very highly!)

So, I found myself pondering new, somewhat idiotic projects, which I could run from home over the coming weeks/months. Last year I had the Lundiary to keep me occupied but where is equivalent inspiration going to come from in 2020? As luck would have it, into my life has just come Music to Eat Cake By from the excellent Lev Parikian (imaginary bird and orchestral maestro). This was funded through Unbound and comprises forty essays, each written on a subject proposed by a funder. The essays each have a fixed word count, starting at 4000 and reducing by 100 words per essay until the final one has just 100 words. I have no particular need of external funding, unlike so many at this time – so please support as many local artists, bookshops, venues, pubs, cafes etc that you can: I can only eat, drink and read/watch/listen to so much. However, I quite fancied stealing the idea as a way to externally source content for this organ. Forty essays might be a little ambitious and a limit of 4000 words would only pander to my tendency toward digression and rambling on, so I was thinking of a more modest ten essays with lengths varying from 100 to 1000 words.

So, I am throwing down the gauntlet to you, the GofaDM readership, to suggest topics on which you would like (or would be willing to endure) me writing a blogpost (the word ‘essay’ does seem rather too grand for what I do). These can be on any topic: whether you believe me to know or care about it or not, researching in some of my many areas of ignorance may prove to be much of the fun (for me, it may be torture for the wider world). I shall feel entirely free to select ten topics that appeal to me and may take the title/topic in whatever way takes my fancy. I may also share this request with my other social media ‘friends’ to increase the pool of suggestions.

This idea occurred to me a couple of days ago but this morning, in an entirely unrelated development (unless my flat is bugged) I was commissioned (no fee involved, in case HMRC are watching) to write a review of a new EP which came into my hands a couple of weeks ago. This could act as a useful testbed for my latest stupid idea and open up a new career as a music reviewer. Certainly, I am taking it as a ‘sign’ that this is one of my good ideas…

The Lundiary: L’un deux Trois

With mere seconds to spare, our hero remembers that today is Sunday and the world is owed its next fix of the Lundiary.  So, without further ado, here goes…

L’un deux Trois

In which our hero shows off in front of a bunch of strangers, a roaring fire is finally achieved and a formal dinner is enjoyed…

I wake to once again find everyone in full possession of their mortal coils.  I am anticipating a blood bath tonight…

[At this point, shrew damage to the manuscript is severe and only the following cryptic phrase can be made out: Ed]… coffee dipstick…

After breakfast, and a final larder re-stock from the shop (cornering their last remaining bottles of Lundy Single Hop Pale Ale), A, H and I set off on an organised walk led by the traumatised warden from Lunday evening’s talk.  This helped to fill in some more of the island’s fascinating and turbulent (even before I arrived) history. We were assailed by ponies (having abandoned their hospital grazing), finally got to see the very limited remains of one of the downed He 111s (the last 75+ years have not been kind, as my father will attest) and I had my first good look at the west coast of the island (sadly no sign of any IPA: maybe it comes from the ale-equivalent of aquifers deep beneath the ground?).

It was whilst walking along the greensward covered clifftops of the west coast, perhaps inspired by the climbing skills of the local goats, that conversation with the warden turned to my life in hand-balancing.  For some reason, I then decided to demonstrate both a QDR and a Grasscutter to the party – almost all of whom were complete strangers. My performance was somewhat compromised by the uneven terrain and my overly restrictive clothing (we can all be grateful I did not decide to disrobe to a more practical level but remained in “hiking casual”) but I suspect it was the first time that Lundy has seen such an outdoor display.  I was forced to recognise that I am a terrible show-off given even the slightest pretext. So far as I know, the only photographic evidence of this particular foolishness is held in the cameras and clouds of the aforementioned strangers: though either A or H may have captured the scene in the furtherance of some future blackmail scheme (though frankly, the expedition probably holds more fertile grounds than me balancing on one hand).

On the walk back to the pub for lunch, I took the opportunity to score my third lighthouse: a hattrick!  The Old Lighthouse is no longer operational: it was built at the highest point on the island – which is good – but in a location frequently hidden by fog – not ideal for a lighthouse and so was replaced by the lower, but less fog-prone, North and South Lights.  This meant that I could ascend the rather steep spiral stairs to enjoy the views from the lantern – and the island looked glorious drenched in November sunshine. Surrounded by all that glass, it was positively toasty up there, and so with my stomach crying out for lunch I did not tarry but hurried on back to the Marisco Tavern for a much needed repast.

It is perhaps at this point that I should mention the urinals at the Marisco Tavern.  They are not part of the tavern itself but lie adjacent to an outbuilding. They are roofless (as I am in pursuit of a pun) though are mostly surrounded by a chest-high wall (depending on the height of your chest and which side of the wall you are standing: it is effectively rather lower for the voyeur than it is for the active player) and, during the daylight, afford glorious views to the east as a chap divests himself of surplus fluid (and also views, glorious for a certain audience, to the west if you are standing to the east).  In many ways, quite the finest experience of its kind I’ve had, though, should it be raining and blowing a hoolie, the micturator will be exposed to the full fury of the weather – which I would imagine can teach a degree of bladder control in the Lundian drinker… I’m afraid that while the ladies’ equivalent is also outside, it is fully contained in the outbuilding which the urinals flank.

Returning home, and with fresh – if sub-optimal – kindling purchased from the shop, A once again set about his stove-based attempts at arson.  After much endeavour, and using our remaining large chunk of purloined wood, our larceny and his endeavours were rewarded with a proper blaze. So much had been sacrificed for this exothermic reaction but, in that moment, it all seemed worthwhile!

The afternoon was also a chance for me to actually attempt to play some of the various, small musical devices I had brought with me to the island.  The bones provided rather too much of a challenge and the fetish eggs rather too easy – and thus lacking in satisfaction. Against this background, I turned to the woodwind in the hope that it would represent the baby bear’s porridge of the musical scenario.  With H cracking the rawhide whip of sarcasm at my faltering efforts and A providing a consistent rhythmic base, I managed to produce a half-decent stab at the folk tune Four Up (penned by our old friend Anon, transcribed by D) on the descant recorder.  Clearly, my music-making has been lacking this stricter approach to teaching: though I’m not sure I’m ready to book music lessons with a dominatrix just yet…

Before dinner, the company came together to consider what we should write in the Millcombe House Visitors Book (or Log, as it was rather nautically named).  To maintain the theme of the weekend, I hurriedly composed a limerick on the cheery topic of mass murder (reproduced below) and we added to this a (N)YTMG sticker: you always have to be thinking about the brand!

Seven friends once came to Lundy

Only one of them went home on Monday

The lack of axes or saw

Made disposal a chore

Dismembered; might they be found one day?

For our formal dinner, aided by my willing commis chefs, I prepared a mushroom and leek risotto followed by a luxurious bread-and-butter pudding with a marmalade twist.  The latter was a bit of a worry as (a) I was using a half-remembered recipe serving two which I had lost more than a decade earlier and (b) H had revealed her anathema for the conjoining of bread and butter in unholy matrimony (though was fine when either partnered with other foodstuffs or in an open relationship).  Lit by flickering candlelight and seated in the formal dining room, the group’s last supper was a huge success: perhaps aided by none of the guests banging on about some form of highly personal, if metaphorical, anthropophagy.  Everyone claimed to enjoy the food – even the bread-and-butter pud – and, had I made more, I reckon it too would have been willingly consumed.

Following dinner, C, N, D and J returned to the Marisco Tavern to play their second gig.  I found myself too tired after the day’s excitement, and opportunities to show off, and decided to stay home in front of the fire.  A and H joined me for a little beer and conversation. It was during this rather languorous evening that H was afflicted with her own prolonged sequence of out-gassing incidents.  Shortly thereafter, she and A repaired to bed and I remained to finish my beer and yet more loose leaf Assam tea. It was also now that I enjoyed my own brief encounter with our pygmy shrew housemate: who I have named Scamper (in honour of an earlier Secret Seven).

I think we must at this point address my own growing addiction to loose-leaf Assam tea.  I do consume this at home, but limit myself to two cups per day and never partake after 6pm.  In both cases, these restrictions are not purely budgetary but relate to my chronic insomnia and concerns about the impact of caffeine on my, already compromised, ability to sleep.  On Lundy, I was approaching 10 cups a day (with consumption still rising) and was drinking it all evening – with no obvious adverse effect on my sleep. I fear for my beverage budget going forward, freed as my consumption now is from all restraint…

Once again, I found myself laying me down to rest with Aunt Agatha: inertia is a powerful force!  As I prepared myself to be encircled by the comforting arms of Morpheus, I found myself reflecting (oh, the irony!) that there is a real danger of me becoming some kind of vampire, sucking the youthful vigour from those many years my junior.  Despite my antiquity, I realised that I had spent most of the weekend not with my housemates of roughly similar age but with the much more youthful (chronologically at least) A and H. Am I in denial of my middle age (and not even its early stages)?  Or is it just that sharing a sense of humour and mischief is a bigger signifier than age? The improv attitude that when presented with a stupid idea saying “yes, and…” is gloriously, and foolishly, empowering! At a time of inter-generational warfare (which I suspect does not distinguish it from any other time), I shall try and view my hanging out with the young as important missionary (or ambassadorial) work and not as desperately creepy.  I like to imagine that further adventures, worthy of serialisation, await our cabal of three (assuming we survive the night)…

The Lundiary: Prologue

It is Sunday, which must mean that it is time for the first instalment of the Lundiary!  Before we enter the Lundiary proper, today we have the prologue…

The Lundiary: The Prologue

In which we set out pertinent background information to allow the reader to understand the diary entries that follow.  We will also seek, insofar as possible, to establish the state of mind of the protagonist before he sets out on the expedition.

The writings presented below are taken verbatim from a leather-bound diary discovered, by a member of the island’s maintenance staff, concealed in the cellar of one of the houses on Lundy.  The document had clearly deteriorated with age and some text had been lost as a result of rodent damage: hungry shrews are the most likely culprit. The handwriting is generally of a poor quality.  In some places, the Institute has attempted to interpolate missing or unclear letters or words. At least one page had been savagely torn from the document, the destruction apparently contemporary with its creation.  Given what was allowed to survive, the crimes (or puns) that appeared on this page must have been of a truly shocking nature.  

The reader must bear in mind that the document was written in November of 2019 and reflects the very different morals and social mores that existed in that far gone age.  We should perhaps try and view the writer as a product of his pre-lapsarian time: he may appear monstrous today but may have been able to pass as normal in his own era.

Our research in the archives that survive from the time indicates that the expedition was not planned or organised by the writer but rather by the person referred to as “C” in the diary.  In the end, seven travellers set out on the expedition – all of them known to the writer, but some clearly had closer acquaintance with the writer than others in advance of the events which unfold in the diary.

From his other writings, it is clear that the diarist was in two minds whether to join the expedition and only finally committed very late in the day.  It is unclear whether the diarist himself truly understood his motivations. The following rationalisations for not going appear to have been in play right up to the fateful decision:

  • A desire not to miss a range of interesting gigs in Southampton and the first weekend of the Cambridge Jazz Festival;
  • Concerns about a sudden deterioration in the condition of one or both of his parents;
  • A fear that he would be unable to conceal his true nature from his fellow travellers over the course of a long weekend, trapped on a small island.  Would his monstrous nature – previously concealed by regularly admitting its existence – finally be revealed?

In the end, two lines of thought appear to have been key in his decision to travel:

  • The fear of missing out on the adventures and narratives that would develop on the island; and
  • The fabled nature of the isle itself, appearing as it did, for so many years, in the late-night litany of the Shipping Forecast.

We now present the re-constructed diary.  It is written throughout in the first person and while some of the events described can be independently corroborated, the author should be viewed as an unreliable narrator.

The first instalment of the diary proper will be published next Sunday…