The Lundiary: Lunday Too

I would certainly make no claims to be a wise man and this gift would probably not be considered suitable for a king, but on this eve of Epiphany I bring the next instalment of the Lundiary!

For those of you returning to work after two weeks away, indulging in the modern rituals of midwinter, this could provide a much needed, alternative topic of conversation…

Lunday Too

In which our hero travels to the utmost north, the island’s peace is rent by un coup de vent and a crime is committed…

I was first to leave my room and head downstairs in hope of breaking my nightly fast.  Having fortified myself with a cup of loose-leaf Assam tea, I thought I should unload the dishwasher to make myself useful to the group – and avoid an early eviction.  This did not go to plan as it quickly became clear that the dishwasher had made no attempt to live up to its name. A little investigation showed that the machine had been run using a 6 hour delay, which had taken it into the period during which the island has no power.  A little button stabbing and I was able to turn off the delay and the gurgling music of robotic washing-up began.

H was next down and revealed an unexpected vein of asceticism with her preferred breakfast of dry bread: though she did eventually move towards hedonism with the addition of a fried egg.  We were then joined by A and his complex experiments with a cafetiere and the island’s 3-bean-strong coffee. This appeared to be 3 beans out of a possible 5 on what I presumed to be a linear scale: though I suppose it could have been logarithmic (or even exponential).  As a non-coffee drinker, I found I was unprepared for the degree of ceremony and complexity of process needed to deliver an acceptable cup: I wouldn’t have been surprised had a pipette been produced and some titration performed. I think the final formula was to use 5/3 of the normal amount of coffee: which seemed a simpler solution than the rather time-consuming methodology had suggested.

Eventually, everybody appeared – indicating no deaths or unexplained disappearances during the night – and breakfasted in their own way before we headed off in our various directions to explore the island.  

Having already been south on Lunday, I determined to explore the far north, via the east coast where possible, to attempt to see some of the fauna advertised in the previous evening’s talk.  After leaving downtown Lundy, I first passed the ruins of the island’s hospital which was now being used by the local wild ponies as a place to graze. I couldn’t help wondering if I had been granted a vision of the future of health care on the mainland…

I didn’t see a fellow human being for a good 90 minutes – and then only at a distance – which was a joy, if unexpected on such a small island.  Instead, I saw some stunning scenery and most of the larger fauna of the island, all of which – with the exception of the Lundy ponies – were equipped with horns.  I must admit to being slightly disappointed that in their commitment to horned beasts, the island’s previous owners had somehow missed out on the unicorn: which, legend has it, would have been drawn to me (and my ilk).

I was also treated to some stunning coastal views and made several attempts to stare at the island’s beaches through my rather inferior binoculars – I think they may actually make it harder to see things in the distance – in the hopes of seeing an amusingly named seal: I seem to recall one was named for a bite-mark on its buttocks (I assume as a mammal, a seal would have at least vestigial buttocks).  I became good at convincing myself that various vaguely seal-shaped rocks were alive, but I don’t think I can honestly say that a saw an actual seal.

As I was alone, I was fully able to indulge my inner child: heading out onto every granite outcrop, running joyfully over the more even ground and leaping from rock to rock like a somewhat arthritic mountain goat.  Had there been drifts of autumn leaves, I would have kicked my way through them: sadly there are few trees and both they and the island struggle to retain their leaves given its propensity to strong wind.

Eventually, I reached the far north and it’s associated lighthouse and, as I did so, the sun burst through the cloud cover.  I spent many happy minutes sat on a seat (or flatish slab) of granite (which had retained less of the heat of its formation than I might have hoped) watching the waves crash against the island and several of its smaller rocky neighbours.  It was very easy to imagine a ship being wrecked against its shores: as I fully intended to get wrecked in the Marisco Tavern later that evening. 

Shortly after leaving the lighthouse, I bumped into A+H who had headed north via the west coast.  I joined them to return to the northern light and we then started the walk back towards the pub and some hope of a late lunch.  Our yomp back did involve a few diversions to look at sights of interest, including Tibbetts: a house which once acted as a look-out for the Admiralty and which visitors can stay in (though I’d warn you it possesses neither running water nor electrons and is a goodly hike from the pub).  As we stood in the early afternoon sun, admiring the view to the east, it was noted that the air was totally still and that the island was eerily silent. With impeccable comic timing, A’s digestive tract chose that precise moment to let forth a great burst of flatus (via the lower of the two potential output ports) irrevocably rupturing the peace: first with its own trumpet blast and, shortly thereafter, with laughter and recriminations.  I feel this is likely to become the defining incident of the expedition and I fully expect the promontory between Gull Rock and Halfway Bay to be renamed in honour of this coup de vent.

When the laughter finally died down, we continued back towards the pub – pausing to say hello to the huge pigs, who I assume are unaware that the island shop sells ‘Lundy bacon’ – and a much needed lunch.  At the pub, I was tempted to introduce us as ‘travellers from the north country’ but I’m afraid the expression on the barman’s face rather put me off such frivolity,

Foodwise, I went for the soup and cheesy chips, on the basis that little could go wrong with the preparation of either item.  A chose the ‘Lundy pizza’: in theory this was like a normal pizza but one that was transitioning towards a new life as a calzone, giving it a shape slightly similar to that of the island.  In practice, this item would not have been out of place in the armoury of any Discworld Dwarf, easily matching the Battle Bread of B’hrian Bloodaxe in its potential use in a combat situation.  Dropped from a new centimetres onto its plate it sounded like a hunk of granite – which I assume was one of its key ingredients – and threatened to break the plate. Manfully (or driven by hunger), A managed to consume a surprising portion of this very hardtack: amazingly without any obvious loss of dentition.

It was during lunch that H commented on my NHS glasses: these were Rayban specs which I had previously considered to be rather cool.  H attempted to convince me that NHS glasses were now viewed as peng by the young folk, but I fear the damage has been done and I will never be able to look at them in the same way again (though will continue to look through them).

We then headed back home to rest and recoup after our exertions.  A and I attempted to create man’s red flower using the rather limited remaining kindling and the coal briquettes which had been acquired from the shop on Lunday.  Whilst the kindling would burn, it somehow managed to so without creating any heat; unhelpful both for the fire’s human audience or any real hope of encouraging the briquettes to start burning.  We did consider sacrificing some of the less critical furniture to the project but (possibly) wiser counsels prevailed. We were also hindered in our twisted fire-starting by the rather porous nature of the bag of the bellows provided: their provision of air was decidedly asthmatic.  A eventually got some sort of meagre heat from the stove but its range was limited to a few inches.

In the evening, we all went up to the Marisco Tavern for dinner: a much more successful meal than lunch and none of the food could easily double as a throwing weapon.  It also gave us a chance to use the library (which lay around us as we ate) to do some further research into the island and its history. I must admit to feeling that they were a little short on decent geology texts.

The rest of the party, being actual musicians, had brought their instruments to the bar and played a session in the main bar (this had been previously agreed, it wasn’t a very small scale flashmob).  The music was great fun and seem to go down well with our fellow islanders: indeed, the band was invited back the following evening. A band should always have a name, and a A, H and I came up with a number of options: I think Heinkels Go Down was my favourite (perhaps as it reminds me of directoire knickers which I believe were known as Messerschmitts during the last war as they “came down without a fight”).  I can only ponder what 40s undergarment was referred to as a Heinkel). Another contender, was Loose Ladies of Lundy though I fear my surrender to the alcoholic temptations of the tavern has rather blurred my memory of the reasons why… 

The fireplace in the Marisco Tavern was merrily blazing, albeit exhausting rather more of its smoke into the pub rather than into the night air.  By its side, was a huge basket of kindling and another of hardwood logs and the like. These proved an irresistible temptation with A using the diversion created by the music to liberate a couple of chunks of likely looking wood and concealing them in my rucksack.  So, in many ways, I acted as the getaway driver for this daring raid: or act of xylarceny as I am calling it.

The young folk (A, H and I: the last only fitting the description if it is considered in geological terms) left before the music had finished to avoid ending up entirely kippered.  We also had a yen to look upon (and consume) some ale that was a little less brown: we had some bottles of Lundy Single Hop Pale Ale from Madrigal Brewery awaiting us in Millcombe House.  We also made an attempt to break-up the first of our recently acquired wood into a more usable form to get the fire going. The wood was cloven into smaller chunks using the sub-optimal equipment available in the kitchen (I once again regretted leaving my axe at home) but the results in the stove were disappointing.  As we lounged in the sitting room, in front of the merest hint of fire, A + H saw a pygmy shrew scamper across the room and then disappear: perhaps into a network of secret tunnels which are riddled throughout the house?

Tiredness made it desirable to head for our respective beds and I found myself without the energy to change room, so I once again slept in Christie: awaiting the inevitable murder…. 

As the days of the week return to their normal order, the adventures of the selected seven will continue next Sunday…

The Lundiary: Lunday!

In this strange temporal limbo, which I have seen best called ‘Winterregnum’, where days do not seem to follow each other in their usual, disciplined manner, I almost failed to realise that today is – technically – Sunday.

This means it is time for the next instalment of the Lundiary when finally the fabled isle is reached…

Lunday

In which our hero arrives on the island, talks geology and cooks dinner.  Nobs are hobbed and a warden is heckled…

Rising early(ish), I betook myself of an exceeding hearty breakfast: when I’m paying for bed and breakfast, there is only so much I can use the bed – particularly given my chronic insomnia – and so need to maximise my value through the breakfast portion of the deal.

It was then time to continue north and west to the very edge of the land in order to cross the water to Lundy.  This short journey did offer the observant passenger a couple of items of interest.

  • A sign to Griffin Loveland: given the current shortage of living lion-eagle hybrids, I must assume this business is not proving a financial success.
  • A small wooden hut selling jam (and chutney) which I’m afraid left me singing (a slightly modified) version of the 1990 hit by Beats International: Dub Be Good to Me

Tank fly boss walk jam nitty gritty

You’re listening to the boy from the big bad city

This is jam hut!  This is jam hut!

And then we made it to the edge of the land, the Grey Havens of North Devon, to be greeted not by Círdan the Shipwright, but by A and H: the two last members of the Fellowship who had driven down that morning and had been the first to arrive on site.

The Hartland Point Heliport was rather more agricultural than I had been imagining.  It comprised 3 or 4 wooden sheds and a field, which at the time was playing host to a small herd of cows.  The bovine occupants of the facility seem to take the comings and goings of a noisy helicopter very phlegmatically.  The chopper flits back and forth from the mainland to Lundy throughout the day until all the necessary passengers and cargo have been transferred in each direction.

Check-in included a weigh-in for the passengers, unlike the airlines I usually fly with who only check the rest mass of their luggage.  Very fully clothed, to reduce the weight of my luggage, and in my hiking boots I came in at a very reasonable 80kg. This turned out to be a very useful weight as it was precisely what was needed to complete the carrying capacity of the second flight of the day: and the first flight available to a mere civilian.

While my own check-in went smoothly, poor A despite being the first man, measured by both name and arrival time, had his check-in “lost”.  As a result, he found himself spending many hours of (low) quality time in a hut at Hartland before being carried to the island on the last flight of the day – some 4 hours after my own departure.  My mind turns, as it does on such occasions, to Matthew 20:16.

Oddly, A is not my only friend who appears to be all-too-forgettable and has only a fugitive existence in the minds of others.  Am I drawn to forgettable people? Or am I somehow draining them of the ability to become fixed in the memories of their fellows?  Is this another facet of my terrible humanity: am I literally being memorable by eliminating all competing memories in the minds of those who meet me?

In the relatively brief period I was detained at Hartland, and after the largely inaudible safety video, ironically drowned out by the noise of the very chopper it was trying to keep us safe in, I found myself in conversation with A and H.  It was noted that the lanes of North Devon looked the kind of place where the fae might be encountered and mention was made of hobgoblins. This led to speculation as to the meaning of the modifier “hob” to the word “goblin”. Facetiously, I suggested it meant “hot” (from my extensive knowledge of the kitchen) which somehow led to speculation about the hobnob – which would clearly by a nob at, or close to, the point of maximal excitement (as well as a biscuit).   I couldn’t help but notice that, at this point, several members of the Fellowship began to worry about spending 72 hours trapped on a small island with a mind that could so readily (and rapidly) move every conversational gambit towards the gutter.

However, there was no time to dwell on such matters, as I was called to another shed to have my luggage weighed before boarding the chopper.  This is always a nervous moment as I lack functional scales for the appropriate weight range. We were allowed 10kg of hold luggage and 5kg of hand luggage (which also goes in the hold) and my total luggage barely made it to 5kg.  I couldn’t help feeling that this represented a waste of 10kg of allowance, an amount which could cover a good 16 pints of Steam Town West Coast IPA (to give but one example).

The brief flight was a glorious thing: the helicopter is so much more elegant as a way to travel than the aeroplane.  There is none of the desperate hurling a chunk of metal down a runway and then straining into the air. There is just a gentle lifting followed by a lean back and then forward.  The ride is quite noisy, but I think I shall insist on all my future airborne journeys being made by helicopter. 

After a mere 10 minutes, I emerged, blinking, into another (cow-free) field and was given back my hand luggage.  I was now committed to spending the next 72 hours on the island – I was trapped! – and probably had a fair wait until the rest of the expedition arrived.  It was 11:30 on Friday morning and I (felt like I) was monarch of all I surveyed!

Checking into the ‘office’, I discovered that our house would be ready in about 20 minutes, so performed some reconnaissance of the main conurbation on Lundy.  OK, I had a look around the pub, The Marisco Tavern (which also serves as the restaurant, library, departure lounge, lecture theatre etc), which was not yet serving beer, and the surprisingly well-stocked shop and started planning possible menus for the weekend.  It was then time to wander down the steep path to the Georgian splendour which is Millcombe House which was to be my home for the next 3 nights.

It was great to be able to explore the house on my own: it has a large kitchen-diner, a formal dining room, a sitting room and a drawing room: from which there were views of the sea.  There were also four bathrooms of various forms and seven bedrooms plus a utility room. The drawing room held a fully functional brass bell, I assume recovered from a shipwreck, which clearly I was compelled to ring (and I was not alone in this compulsion).  The house also had, mounted – in pride of place – on the landing above the stairs, the creepiest painting of small children I have ever seen. Luckily, I understand the tropes of horror movies and was reassured that I am not an attractive blonde (and haven’t been for nearly 50 years) while quietly cancelling any plans to visit an unlit cellar on my own.

After a couple of hours spreading my DNA to every room of the house (don’t be too swift to judge, we are all constantly shedding our dead cellular coating), I was finally joined by H: the second of our party to make it to the island.  The rest were on much later flights so, after showing off the delights of my new new demesne to my first subject, we went for a stroll down to the landing stage (where in the summer, visitors arrive by boat) and up to the southern lighthouse (one of three on the island).  This walk took in some excellent views and some rather fine rock formations. Thanks to some light Wikipedia reading in the week prior to the expedition, and some remnants of my schoolboy knowledge of geology (from a time when, it must be admitted, the rocks were quite a lot fresher than they are today), I was able to provide some vaguely reliable geological input to the conversation.  Well, I could at least safely recognise the granite and slate portions of the island…

Not too long after our return, almost everyone else made it to the house and we headed up the shop for victuals before it closed.  The decision was made to eat “in” for two evenings and breakfast and eat “out” for lunch and the third evening. Given that there would be no fresh supply-drop to the shop until we left the island, I felt it important to “stock up” our larder.  I quickly cornered the island’s entire supply of cooking apples (well, if I’m honest, apple) and most of its eaters too. Sadly, I fear we may wind up eating my position: rather than converting it into massive profits. We returned to Millcombe, laden with food and wine, to finally be reunited with A – and soon after our hold luggage was delivered to our door by Land Rover.  Again, FlyBe could learn a thing or two here – not forgetting A, but home delivery of one’s heavier luggage (again, not a reference to A).

With everyone safely arrived, it was time to pick a bedroom (all of which were named).  As the only unattached (both to another human and my sanity) member of the expedition, I found myself with a choice of four rooms.  For the first night, I have chosen Christie: probably not named for Agatha, but with an odd number of people in the same house on an island off the coast of Devon, and with murder in the air (or at least on my mind), it seemed appropriate….  

Rooms chosen and some initial unpacking accomplished, we walked back up the valley to the Marisco Tavern to check out the beer offering (two shades of brown – I don’t think the good news about hops has made it to North Devon or the island, yet – but entirely potable) and to learn something of the island and its fauna thanks to a talk by one of the wardens.  I found myself at the back of the lecture room, sharing the ‘naughty’ table with A and H. Having already explored a little of the island, and seen a fox moth caterpillar, H and I felt able to contribute some positive interjections to the talk and ask cogent questions. H though went somewhat off-piste when, following the discovery that the island contained the remains of a pair of Heinkel He111 bombers, asking what we should do if the Germans arrived.  The poor warden seemed somewhat nonplussed by this query and suggested the coastguard be contacted. In an attempt to save a slightly embarrassing situation, I suggested that as members of the European Union they would be entirely welcome: well for the next few weeks at least. A diplomatic incident narrowly averted, the remainder of the talk proceeded along less controversial lines.

While the talk focused on the island’s fauna, reference was also made to its very wide range of fungal inhabitants: more than 60 species and still counting!  While it is most famous (like Barbour) for its wax caps, it does boast a number of highly poisonous fungi. As a child, I was something of an expert on deadly fungi (and plants) but sadly have failed to remember whether their use is traceable during a post mortem and have no access to the internet to check at the moment….

All this learning helped to build an appetite, so it was time to return to Millcombe and for me to don my virtual toque and dust off my internal Profanisaurus.  I do enjoy cooking for others, but rarely do so as I’m usually out of an evening: perhaps I should introduce the five course breakfast (with wine) as a concept? (Though I fear it could impact adversely on productivity for the rest of the day.)  One of the joys of cooking in such a large kitchen, with only limited forms of alternative entertainment available, was that I had plenty of volunteers to take on the role of commis chef. Cooking is even more fun when someone else does all the tedious chopping et al while I can focus on supervision and standing over a hot stove looking imperious.  I believe I offered H her first exposure to rubbing in, an experience she seemed to relish.

There proved to be a small challenge to my cookery as while the kitchen was very well stocked, it did lack any scales.  There was a sort of measuring cone, but one labelled with relatively obscure ingredients. I think there must, once, have been another primary cone, but the cone that remained gave no clue as to what volume of flour or caster sugar represented 4oz but had you totally covered for cornflour and icing sugar.  I was forced to muddle through, taking a guess at the relative density of related dry goods of different granularities.

We ate in the kitchen and the food seemed to go down pretty well: nothing like hunger to reduce the critical faculties, well hunger and plentiful red wine!  My quorn-based spaghetti bolognese was pretty successful, though if I had my time again I’d have used a third tin of plum tomatoes to increase the sauce to spaghetti ratio.  My apple and summer fruits crumble was, frankly, a triumph though the few remnants clinging to the dish proved hard to dislodge.

For our second dinner in, it was decided that we would make use of the formal dining room, which would give us all a chance to make use of the formal wear we’d brought to the island.  In jest, I did propose that I could roast a nut – an injury oft associated with over hobbing of a nob – but practical considerations, lack of a memorised recipe and the contents of the island’s shop, meant that I will need to come up with a more sensible plan. 

Leaving my team to set the dishwasher(!) in motion, we retired to the sitting room to consume beer and attempt to make both music and fire (I know where my expertise lies and stuck to the beer).  We were all safely tucked up in our respective beds (so far as I know, I think any swinging was limited to the music) before the power went off on the island at midnight. I myself shall attempt to sleep, despite some concerns about grinning, blue-eyed Aryan toddlers gruesomely murdering me while I am unconscious…

By next Sunday. the week should have returned to a more regular rhythm and GofaDM will regale its readers with further island adventures…

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…

John the Badpost

This is not the post that you might have been expecting but, like the figure to which the title alludes, it can be considered as the forerunner to that post.  It is the post that comes before and prepares the way…

I am willing to reveal that I did go to Lundy and, unless I am haunting the internet, survived the experience.  I will give no further details in this post, much of what occurred – and much that did not – will be revealed when the Lundiary is released into the world.  A first, rough draft already exists and I spent a very foolish morning yesterday IMing with a friend (or more accurately, accomplice) preparing additional visual content to accompany this forthcoming blockbuster.  So vast is this tome that it will be serialised, over a number of instalments, on GofaDM: once I have obtained the necessary clearances from the team of lawyers I’ve retained to keep me out of the courts and/or jail.

While I have spent much of my time since my return in my writer’s shed (or the couch as come might call it) drafting the world’s next publishing sensation, I have still found time for the usual busy schedule of gig going and disparate range of other activities that form my life: music, acrobatics and baking (to name but three).  New Franken-bakes have been brought forth from my laboratory including my first attempt at a Frankenmas cake: which is still being fed (spiced rum) on its slab before it is chased from my kitchen by a mob of villagers wielding torches and pitchforks towards the end of the month.

You will be pleased, if perhaps surprised, to hear that I shall not regale you with tales of all of my cultural activities: just a few selected (by me) highlights (or, to be more accurate, opportunities to pun).

One Friday evening, I found myself at Humanities Late: part of a broader festival of the humanities organised by the local university.  Along with the rather stunning current exhibition of work by Haroon Mirza.  This was my second visit and this time I had the acoustically rather fine white box in Gallery 1 to myself.  It really does flatter to deceive when I attempt to sing a clean note I sounded like a bass angel.  If only I could have those sort of acoustics whenever I sing, I might be inclined to greater diligence when it comes to practising

However, my highlight was a musical/sonic event which took place in the building’s goods lift: sadly, we were not allowed to travel between floors during the performance but I feel that our spirits were still raised by proceedings.  The lift had a three second reverb which made it a stunning setting for the Prelude to Bach’s 1st Cello Suite (I assume only the economics prevent all performances from being staged in goods lifts) – but a disaster for Steve Reich’s Clapping Music.  There was also a sonic evocation of a cave and a short piece written especially for the space by Drew Crawford.  It was, by some distance, the finest 20 minutes I have ever spent in a lift: despite manage to achieve no change in altitude.

The event also gifted me, for free, a white post card with the words “I am human” printed in a clear, pink font which I now carry with me at all times to answer the doubters and sceptics.

That same weekend, I headed up to Cambridge to catch a little of its annual jazz festival: including my second time seeing Marius Neset in 72 hours.  I had a lovely, if slightly inebriated time, and also had a chance to catch up with an old friend.  On the Sunday, I needed to get to Lewes and so had my first ride in the new(ish) Class 700 Thameslink rolling stock which delivered me to a replacement bus service at Three Bridges to continue my journey.  The Class 700 does have very swanky information displays: though my rake did believe we spent the entire journey at King’s Lynn: a destination not served by Class 700 rolling stock.  I can only assume that the onboard computer harboured a secret longing to visit England’s most important port (in the 14th century).  The passenger experience was rather austere with something of the feel of the monastic cell about the hard, very upright and rather close together seating.  Unlike refurbished older rolling stock, the Thameslink passenger is expected to supply their own power.

I was racing (albeit slowly) to Lewes to see a friend sing in a choral concert of French works with Duruflé’s Requiem headlining.  This is a fine piece of choral work, though my highlight was the first act closer: Vierne’s Messe Solennelle.  As with the Duruflé, the choir was accompanied by the organ (in theory two organs, but St Michael’s could only offer the one so the chap at the console had to work harder), and as the programme notes had advertised was not always the most subtle and reflective piece.  I am sometimes thought to be “good” audience but this is at best partially true.  Despite being a sober as a judge, the presence of an organ sends a large proportion of my brain off to work on finding the very ‘best’ doubles entendres.  This was my effort from the night in question:

The choir delivered a few introductory motets before the main meat of the first half.

To fill the church with their messe (solennelle) they needed the help of a chap running his hands up and down his mighty organ.

Let’s just say that he brought Gloria to a noisy climax…

I find that I am simultaneously proud and ashamed: very much “on-brand” if not wholly appropriate for a place of worship.

The final gig I shall mention was on Monday and featured the Chris Potter’s Circuits Trio at Turner Sims.  This contained some quite stunning jazz and quite the burliest piano player I have ever seen, clearly the master of all four keyboards he was using.  However, it was perhaps most notable for the huge audience: not far off a sellout which is not usual for a jazz gig at the Sims in my experience.  The jazz was very good and Mr Potter may well be famous (just not in this flat) – but I wonder if the timing was important.  The gig had been re-scheduled and so rather than being in the usual Thursday-Saturday evening slot, it was on a Monday.  I saw a lot of musicians in the audience, who would have been absent for a gig later in the week as they would themselves be gigging.  I suspect that it is not only musicians who find they are busy on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings but who do have leisure time as the sun sets on a Monday: and such gigs could also ease the way into the working week.  I did ponder whether Monday nights have been unfairly neglected by the city’s venues: while there are often just too many gigs later in the week…

Anyway, I should return to editing the Lundiary prior to its serialisation. Prepare yourself people: this is the (or at least, a) big one!

The Red Queen

To the extent (disputable) that I have had any conscious control over the man I am today, I might imagine that I have modelled myself on a small range of almost exclusively fictional characters.  I think I like to keep my ‘heroes’, or at least ‘role models’, fictional as one can usually rely on them not to suddenly reveal new, deeply troubling sides to their character.  This is rendered easier if I avoid unnecessary sequels and re-makes: where a turn to the dark appears to have been de rigeur for quite some time now.

A worrying number of these characters came from a handful of movies released between roughly 1985 and 1995, none of which could be considered entirely serious.  Other people have seminal music that still defines them from their teens, I must have been seeking my way in the world as I headed into my twenties: always a late developer…  I think we must also place considerable blame on the Fourth Doctor who entered my life during an earlier impressionable phase.

In practise, I suspect the man I am today, while clearly path-dependent, has been subject to almost no conscious direction and has just involved the accretion of random bits of other people (real, virtual and imaginary) that seem to have stuck: like pocket fluff to a forgotten boiled sweet.  The original sweet is still in there but all anyone (including the conscious me) now encounters is the multiple strata of fluff that have accumulated over the years (this metaphor does pre-suppose a very lax approach to laundry).

In fact, following the unexpected receipt of a meme – and the even more unexpected fact that I understood it – I have realised that in the game of life I have completely stopped pursuing the primary goal: indeed, I can no longer recall what it was or ever having tried to achieve it.  Instead, my life is comprised of an ever more Baroque selection of side quests.  Sometimes a side quest may be parked for a decade (or two) before I return to it, but very few are ever entirely abandoned.  I like to imagine, in the final reckoning, I will have built up a decent score: albeit, not one that will trouble people who have pursued the actual objective of the game.

I recently realised that one fictional character that I have come to resemble is the Red Queen, from Through the Looking Glass.  I tend not to think six impossible things before breakfast – though only because my metabolism requires the prioritisation of victuals and their ingestion pretty promptly upon waking.  I have to save my counter-factual thinking until I have some fuel in the tank.

I certainly share her tendency to derail any serious conversation with wordplay and other such nonsense: though there is no evidence that, if shaken, I will reveal myself to be a black kitten.

My main area of congruence with the Red Queen is in my need to be constantly in high-speed motion (not always of the physical variety: I mostly refuse to run), if only to devote at least some time-slice to my myriad side-quests.  There are always more things that I could be doing if only I could move faster: without hurtling through life at full pelt I will just lose ground to some perceived, if undefined, substrate.  I have the feeling the pace of this movement is accelerating as though my psyche is subject to some analogue of dark energy.: or perhaps, I just lack sufficient psychic dark matter to hold myself together…

Normally, my mad race to fit as much into any given period as possible only involves myself.  Others will see me from time-to-time and,  if they know me, are rarely surprised to see me in almost any location: even if they thought I was in a distant city a few moments previous.  I think some people suspect I have a number of identical siblings (or clones) or access to time travel…

However, on the evening of the Saturday before last, a friend came along for the full ride: I assume they had taken out suitable insurance in advance…  It was one of my finest performances: having started in the Guide Dog for some Bishopstoke courage, we departed for the evening’s musical delights at around 19:40.  At the end of the evening, I was safely in my own bed by midnight but somehow we managed to fit in four musical gigs in four different venues in the intervening time.  Even now, I’m not entirely sure how we achieved this – I am forced to assume that the speed of travel between venues must have led to a degree of relativistic time dilation.  Not only did we fit in four gigs, I also managed to invent a new cocktail: organic whisky with chocolate ice cream – it probably wouldn’t have been my first choice, but the venue was very short of alcohol and had no ice, so I had to extemporise.  It was surprisingly potable, but I don’t think Harry’s will be beating a path to my door in search of the recipe any time soon.

It was a seriously enjoyable evening but I fear it might form the basis of a sustainable life plan: though, to be fair, I have been living it for a few years now.  Could it be time for a change?

As part of a potentially dangerous experiment, for which ethical approval has not been sought in the expectation that it would be withheld, I shall be spending this next weekend in a very different way.  Despite a plethora of gigs in both Southampton and Cambridge that I am itching (or Itchen in the case of the local gigs) to attend, I am going to be cast away on a tiny island, like a modern day Robinson Crusoe (though hopefully I will be a little more ‘woke’ than Defoe’s ‘hero’: I do at least have my insomnia to fall back on).

My island will not be of the sand and palm tree variety, but rather a granite rock mostly covered in dry heath moored in the liminal space where the Bristol Channel and North Atlantic meet.  Yes, I am spending a long winter weekend on Lundy: an island without music venue, art gallery or theatre – though I am told there is a pub.  In theory, I shall be deposited there by helicopter on Friday morning and returned to the mainland on Monday morning.  In between, there is no escape!  Indeed, I believe the weather can get quite spicy, so I may find that I am unable to leave on Monday – though, at time of writing, the weather looks to be relatively clement.

The island is some 3 miles by 0.6 miles – so a circumnavigation on foot shouldn’t take long.  According to Wikipedia, the island has a few features of historic and scientific interest and there is some hope of sighting some interesting flora and fauna.

I shall not be there entirely alone as I am going with six friends – and I believe the island has a tiny resident population and may have a small number of other visitors.  I am told there is little or no mobile phone signal and no wifi: so I shall probably have no access to the internet for approaching 72 hours.  Will I cope?  Are the share prices of various social media companies tanking even now?  There is also no power overnight, so this excursion may be good practice for the future of the country as a whole…

All of this means that my life will be required to slow down significantly from its traditional break-neck pace.  There is a worrying risk that my actual thoughts may surface and not been drowned out by the constant stream of incident and moment that normally keeps them nicely out of sight/harm’s way.  What I have I been keeping locked in my mental attic?  Who is the previous Mrs Rochester in this metaphor?  The island has had a turbulent history, is its near future going to involve more of the same at my hands?

The people with whom I am sharing a large classical villa (I’m not slumming it on my island redoubt) all know me, however, we have – heretofor – experienced each other in managed doses with plenty of opportunity for escape, if required.  Since I have lived basically alone for more than 30 years now, I wonder what weird idiosyncrasies I have acquired in all that time that will come to light?  How terrifying am I on a 24/7 basis?

I shall be bringing plenty of reading material and, part of me, is viewing it as a writer’s retreat.  I am certainly planning to keep a Lund(iar)y either to bore you dear readers with upon my return or to act as a partial explanation for the bodies that will eventually be discovered.  It could also be the perfect time to finally write that sestina!  I have some hope that the villa will provide some space for hand balancing practice and I might get in some musical practice too.  Yes, I am already trying to convert an emotionally (if not climatically) tranquil retreat into my normal life.  Either that, I shall I channel Dylan Thomas and never leave the pub…

Will I return with a yen for the life of the hermit?  Will I return in a straight-jacket?  Will the Southampton cultural scene collapse in my absence?

Some of the questions posed in this post may be answered when (if) I return next week: stay tuned…

 

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…