A mighty organ

People might wonder to what extent this post will be autobiographical, but as the author I do feel that I need to retain both some secrets and a certain becoming modesty: dips demurely behind opened fan…  Let’s face it, I am not a celebrity and this is not Snapchat, the only exposure going on here will be of the dark shallows of my soul (subject to their availability and/or existence).

If we’re honest, this is a clickbait title to hook a few extra eyes as I expound (yet again) about the cultural riches on offer to the residents of a south coast city more famous for its departures than arrivals.  It has also grown from thoughts too long even for me to attempt to shoe-horn into a Facebook status.

This last week has provided a particularly rich and varied seam of cultural coal and, in the interest of narrative drama I shall leave delivery against the title until towards the end (or will I?  Now, you’ll have to read the whole tedious diatribe in hope of salacious content).

Monday started well with a concert of less-commonly seen brass instruments, including a tuba which looked like it had been knocked up by a plumber from bits and pieces found in her van: and was all the better for it.  It also marked my introduction to the althorn, the rotary trumpet (less exciting looking that its name might suggest) and a horn with pipework that would not look out of place in some Celtic knot work.  I was left wondering if concert brass had taken a wrong turn, towards the bland, at some point in its history…

Talking of brass, last night’s jazz included a trumpet that looked to have lived a life of debauchery and excess.  It led me to realise that at some level I don’t really trust a shiny brass instrument: if I can’t read too many late nights and a life lived not wisely by too well in its patina I can’t help feeling there is something lacking.  Then again, I do have a friend with a saxophone to sell, and while it is probably shiny I am seriously tempted (and I’m not really going to fool anyone that I have lived a dissipated existence, however battered my horn might be).

Wednesday afternoon delivered a talk on pulsars by (Dame) Jocelyn Bell Burnell: the person who discovered them in the most analogue (and often uncomfortable) way possible.  She did this as a graduate student in 1967 and she is an excellent advertisement for radio-astronomy as an alternative to a painting in the attic. It was a talk in turns amazing and inspiring with a fascinating Q&A after: Richard Rodgers was right, there is nothing like a dame!

On Thursday night, it was world music – a description I usually despise, but with a trio of musicians hailing from Cuba, Senegal and Venezuela it is probably the least clunky description available.  What an amazing gig it was!  Incredible musicians – Omar Sosa on piano and keyboard, Seckou Keita on the extraordinary double-necked kora and Gustavo Ovalles on a huge range of percussion – and they were having so much fun doing it!  It was feast for eyes, ears and the soul.

Saturday afternoon I saw the powerful and amazingly well written, directly and staged People, Places and Things at the Nuffield Theatre: yet another strand in an incredible strong autumn season they are having.  I’m very glad I do not tend toward addiction as I think I’d seriously struggle with any form of 12-step programme – much as the play’s protagonist does.

OK, I’ve made you wait long enough: it is time to talk about a massive organ (fear not, there will be pictures too and, like me, you’ll probably want to get your hands all over it!).  Yesterday afternoon, as part of Southampton Film Week there was a showing of the silent Buster Keaton film The Cameraman.  However, for the fortunate audience, the film was far from silent.  Southampton Guildhall is home to a Compton organ – the largest they ever built – and has been since 1937.  This engineering marvel has 4000+ pipes plus sundry items of percussion and sound effects somehow hidden above the main stage (frankly, there doesn’t seem to be room and I strongly suspect the organ also consumes a significant tract of hyperspace).  It is also the proud possessor of two consoles: one for traditional (classical and ecclesiastical) organ recitals and one for a theatre/cinema organ performance.  Sadly, they no longer rise from beneath the stage, but are otherwise a remarkable survival.

Frankly, I can’t help thinking NASA’s recruiters should have looked to organists rather than test pilots!

So many keyboards, pedals and buttons: especially for a chap struggling to come to terms with one keyboard and a single pedal (though I have had a brief dalliance with an una corda pedal!).  Then again, I may be sleeping in a room with even more organ keyboards within the week (though those will not be functional at the time).

This musical behemoth was played by Donald MacKenzie the resident organist at the Odeon, Leicester Square,  Who knew it still had a resident organist?  Not I!  It is almost worth taking out a second mortgage and going, just to see and hear the organist in action!  In the first half he showed off the amazing range of the Compton organ – an instrument pleasingly maintained by a man with the fine organ-linked name of Peter Hammond!  In the second half he accompanied the film, live as it happened.  After the first few minutes, you completely forget that the music is not part of the film and is being produced by a man at an incredibly complex console – so perfect was the integration of image and music, even the punches landed correctly in the ‘soundtrack’.  The film is surprisingly good with some ‘jokes’ I’d not seen before (though for a modern audience, and even me, could probably do with a little judicious editing), despite it having been made in 1928!  However, what made it was the organ – how lucky I am to have this possibility less than 10 minutes stroll from my door.  Once again, I would never have known about this gig (or the organ) – let alone thought of going – but for a friend suggesting it to me.  In an overly self-direct life, ideas hailing from outside my own skull are such a boon!


He does all his own stunts, you know

This blog may have given the impression that I live surrounded by carrara marble (less expensive that I’d thought) and precious metals, bathe in Santovac 5 (not a practical or desirable bathing fluid, but reassuringly expensive) and have an extensive staff (below stairs) to cater to my every whim.  If so, you have been misled: I don’t have so much as a cleaner, let alone a stunt man.  Frankly, I’m not sure that in my quotidien existence I’d have enough use for a stunt double to make it worth hiring one on a full time basis: though this week one might have been handy.

Somewhere in the cloud, in an unfashionable corner of Facebook, there is a short video from Tuesday of the author performing a near-prefect back lever on gymnastic rings for a good two seconds.  The more tech-savvy among you may be able to track down this screen gem.  As the title of this post suggests, this is the actual author and has not been faked.  On this occasion, I was fully in control of my movements – or I was until the oxygen ran out (I cannot yet breathe in the full hold).

Later that evening, thanks to the malign efforts of a feline assailant, the author performed another acrobatic manoeuvre but this time without so much control.  As I was cycling up to the theatre, a ginger cat (its colour is not relevant, but is included to add substance to the account) decided to hurl itself under the front wheel of my bike.  If I am known for anything, it is for my lightening reflexes, and so I was able to stop the bike without hitting the animal assassin.  Despite liking to think of myself as a dangerous maverick, it would seem that I am still bound by Newton’s Laws of Motion.  So, while my bike stopped very quickly and efficiently, my own journey did not cease at quite the same time.  As a result, I sailed over my handlebars and landed in a crumpled heap on the road, somewhat entangled with my bike.  Sadly, there is no footage of this incident, but I like to imagine that my passage through the air was marked by its singular grace before my travels were brought to an abrupt end by the tarmac.

What happened next, says quite a lot about me – though does not necessarily show the author in the most favourable or logical light.  Having come to rest, I lay there for a moment or two cursing my assailant – who had vanished into the night by this stage (it failed to leave any insurance details or make any sort of apology, but I suppose that’s cats for you).  I then returned to my feet and checked for witnesses and whether I would need to attempt to “style-out” my unconventional dismount.  My isolation confirmed, my first concern was for damage to the bike.  This seemed ok and so I mounted it again and continued on my way.  This involved a degree of discomfort, but seemed to go alright until I came to park my bike at journey’s end.  At this point, I believe my body moved from embarrassment into shock and I felt quite unsteady on my feet.  Nonetheless, I made it to the foyer of the Nuffield Theatre looking only slightly like Banquo’s ghost.  At this stage, I went more fully into shock – which is an interesting experience, lots of tingling in the extremities, a reduced ability to form coherent sentences and feelings not unlike those that arise just before you faint.  Luckily, at this point I was surrounded by people who know me (and that I do not normally look like one of the undead) and had access to a chair: so I sat down.  Staff at the Nuffield manage to rustle up a glass of coca cola (which seems the modern, more rapidly conjured equivalent of hot, sweet tea) and so unusual did I feel that I actually drank it.  I soon started to feel much more normal (or at least like myself, which may not be the same thing) and it was only at this stage that I decided to ascertain the damage to my body (a rather long time after checking the state of the bike). There were cuts, grazes and contusions along with some minor bleeding on my legs and some discomfort from my hands which had presumably broken my fall.  Inspection of my cycle helmet, which was the only serious protection I’d provided to my body, indicated that it had not had been called upon to serve in the “incident”.

Most of the damage to the author was of a nature that he regularly inflicts upon himself by his inability to walk round objects, preferring to take the short cut through them, but the damage to my left hand and wrist was more severe.  As a result, I decided against cycling home and thought the bus would be a better option.  A friend decided that this was not appropriate either and, while was eventually convinced not to take me straight to casualty (without passing Go), insisted on driving me home and on regular text updates that I was still numbered among the living.  (*** Spoiler alert *** I survived)

I must say that if you are a Friend of the Nuffield Theatre you are not part of  a one-way friendship, or it certainly hasn’t been that way for me.  Being a “regular” definitely has its perks when it comes to arriving at a venue in a sub-par condition.

So, I had an unexpectedly early return home (without my bike) and decided to start icing my left hand with a freezer pack.  Yesterday morning, with my left hand/wrist still giving me gyp, I took myself to the Minor Injuries Unit at the nearby Royal South Hampshire.  On the basis of this trip, I would suggest that the NHS is now a provider of car parking with a small healthcare side business.  Signage to the various car parks was extremely clear, but that to any kind to medical facility substantially less so.  Still, having found the MIU and filling in an extensive form (not ideal with damaged hands), I was seen very quickly.  It seems unlikely that I have broken anything, I’ve just strained or sprained my wrist and I was told to continue with exactly the attempts at self-medication I was already using (on my recent performance when it comes to self-diagnosis, a career in the medical profession must be on the cards).

I have now moved on from the rigid freezer pack to the more malleable form of a bag of Waitrose Essential Peas and Beans (broad and french) to soothe my sprain (well, it was that or a pack of frozen broccoli, which I felt would be less conducive to a swift recovery).  Yes, this is dangerously middle class but I hope it is speeding my return to full function.  When required, I take painkillers – but mostly I can function without.  My left-hand is fine for typing and can play the piano and guitar a little, though fff and barre chords are currently ixnayed.  I’m right handed but make a surprising amount of use of my left (as I am now discovering), but I am slowly finding work-arounds.  Even remotely heavy lifting is currently out of the question (as are gymnastics) and buttons are surprisingly challenging: but life can broadly continue as usual while I heal.  I must admit that the lack of serious exercise is starting to get to me already, I’m trying to think of a workout that can be performed without use of my left-hand – but the options seem limited.  I may have to use a treadmill and actually run: urgh!

Pleasingly, my wrist has finally become somewhat swollen: there is little more dispiriting than being a brave little soldier when nobody knows you’re injured (another positive of this post).  I am also taking this is a sign that the process of recovery is underway…

Front of House: An Usher

With apologies to Edgar Allan ‘iddle-I’ Poe.

Last Monday I was at the Nuffield Theatre for their regular Experiment night where four incomplete theatrical fragments are given a run-out in front of a live audience in the hope of constructive feedback.  I find this does place quite a lot of pressure on me, as an audience member, trying to come up with something vaguely insightful to write.  As so often, there was a clear winner – this time St Jowan’s Tide by Felix Legge – which I really want to see made into a full play.

This Monday (or ‘tonight’ to its friends) will offer a somewhat different experience as I am off to the Soho Theatre in London to see Andy Zaltzman’s Satirist for Hire: the combination of the news I (eventually) awoke to this morning (frankly an open goal for Zaltor the Magnificent) and the fact that Southwest Trains is offering discount tickets to London again made it an irresistible prospect.  I think I should only be expected to laugh: a feat of which I am quite capable, even in the absence of yoga (though, experiments yesterday afternoon suggest that I still find myself doing yoga terribly funny).

After the theatre had finished and I had scribed such feedback as my limited critical faculties could muster, I found myself chatting to one of the Nuffield team.  It emerged that they were short of ushers for Saturday and in a fit of public-spirited engagement, I volunteered my very unskilled services (still, at least no stapling was required).  So, at 0930 on Saturday morning I found myself reporting to the theatre clad neck-to-ankle in black: as close as my wardrobe could approximate to the usher ‘uniform’.

Pleasingly, I was issued with my own little torch and a hi-viz waistcoat (or vest for any American readers) for use in emergencies.  I tried to contain my disappointment during the fire drill training when it became apparent that there was no role for Inspector Sands: the poor chap seems to be out of work, austerity-based cutbacks are clearly biting deep.  For any interested parties, I would note that it is still considered de trop to scream the word FIRE at full volume into the auditorium.  I was not entrusted with the ice cream tray – but that was mostly down to the lack of an interval rather than any concerns about my ability to keep my hands (and tongue) off the stock.

The play in question, which I ushered through two performances at 1030 and 1330, was What The Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson and was aimed at a younger audience and I’d guess that most of its non-parental members were aged 0-6 (years).  This was my first exposure to theatre aimed at such a youthful demographic (except the odd pantomime four decades back and an excerpt at Monday’s Experiment) and they seemed to enjoy it.  For the parents and ushers, I’d suggest it could have been a great deal worse – and I did find new ‘stuff’ to enjoy in my second viewing.  I would note that in addition to her important aphid-eating duties (unmentioned in the play), the ladybird proved unexpectedly capable at foiling a planned robbery.  Her method, in terms of its complexity, had more in common with the Hooded Claw or a Bond villain than you might anticipate.  Apparently, there is a sequel: I’m hoping that the ladybird continues with her crime-fighting exploits and once again thwarts the ne’erdowells by involving her farm friends in a suitably labyrinthine scheme.

Despite some strong lobbying by nearby parents during the 1330 performance, I was not required to play the part of Lanky Len: I like to assume this was a comment on my athletic build rather than their view on my innate criminality.  I left the audience participation to the paying audience, being unwilling to sacrifice what limited air of authority I possessed.  Still, all seem to go well and no-one died on my watch – which I believe is the gold-standard for ushering.  I may even volunteer my services again, one day…

Wasted Youth

The media – or a significant portion thereof – like to spend their time portraying today’s youth as a degenerate source of, at best, disappointment and, more often, terror: some sort of modern-day plague afflicting the nation.  This view seems far from new and I’m pretty sure can be traced back at least 2000 years to Ancient Rome.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprising if the earliest clay tablets from ancient Sumer portrayed similar sentiments in cuneiform.  We’ll probably never know, but it may well be that paleolithic cave paintings are also a damning indictment of the young folk of that distant era.

On the relatively rare occasions when young people have the misfortune to encounter this fine example of a middle-aged curmudgeon, I nearly always find myself impressed.  They seem to have achieved and experienced vastly more by the time they reach twenty than I did – as a single example, my nephew seems to indulge in more activities each week than I managed over the course of several years.  Still, he probably is far less au fait with radio comedy of the sixties and seventies and has read fewer books – so I still win (albeit on a cunningly selected – though not orthonormal – basis of my own devising).

In my case, it was fair to suggest that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ – today, I am far less sure about the applicability of the sentiment.  This was brought forcibly home to me  once again last night.

As one of the perks of bunging them a few quid, the Nuffield Theatre invite me to attend their own productions – often throwing in a glass of red wine as an additional inducement.  This has led to my first encounters with youth theatre – first the Nuffield Youth Theatre (NYT) and last night Hampshire Youth Theatre (HYT).  In both cases there are two things which immediately strike the regular theatre goer:

  • the sheer ambition of the productions: neither chose the easy option for the plays to produce.  NYT did His Dark Materials (a book trilogy as two plays) and HYT tackled Henry IV (both parts).
  • the number of warm bodies on stage.  When your players are ‘free’, you can work with a size of cast which is quite impossible in normal theatre.  It is rare indeed to see a play where the cast moves into double figures – the National Theatre is a rare exception – but with youth theatre casts of 40-50 are normal.

The other thing you notice is the number of young people in the audience.  This is always a joy as they actually participate, rather than sitting in their seats like so many tailor’s dummies.  I have never heard so much laughter at Shakespeare’s ‘jokes’ – Sir John Falstaff and his antics remain funny after more than 400 years, which is quite the boast.

Clearly, Henry IV had to be somewhat abridged to fit parts one and two into a single evening without it turning into a hostage situation (or having too much in common with a night of Wagner or a geological epoch) – but all of the important narrative seemed to have been retained and remained clear in the telling.  The setting was moved to the present day, East End rave scene and the battle became more like a riot – and a very impressive riot it was too.  The whole production felt urgent and compelling with none of the longueurs that can so often afflict Shakespeare (especially HIVii).  I also noticed how flexibly and, frankly, bouncy the young cast were in the many elements of physical theatre in the production.  Clearly, the set, costume and props had to be built to a tight budget – but then this is true of most theatre nowadays – but this was never an issue and often used to advantage.  The only challenge with youth theatre (other than the obvious envy – or do I mean jealousy?) is that some of the age-related clues as to who’s who in the play are absent, which is exacerbated by the largely gender-blind casting, but the production was clearly wise to this potential issue and any confusion on my part was very quickly dispelled.

I had a really brilliant night at the theatre and congratulations must go to Max Lindsay (the Director and driving force behind both HYT and NYT) and his young cast.  Interestingly, I had a chance to see the dress rehearsal as well as the opening night.  From this I learned that the vocal exercises given to me by my singing teacher are far from unique – and that there are much more embarrassing options she could have gone with (I really should try and be more grateful, though I still tend to cringe when exercising my voice at home and try and wait for the neighbours to go out first).  It was also fascinating to see how much tighter and more coherent the production became literally overnight.  These small glimpses behind the scenes mean I begin to understand what a director actually does.

Overall though, I was left with the abiding impression that I have rather wasted my own youth – luckily we did not need to produce a personal statement as part of the UCCA process in my day, as I’d have had very little to say.  Still, they do say 50 is the new n (please insert your own value for n<<50) so maybe it isn’t too late for me to tread the boards.  Let’s face it, I’ve taken up gymnastics foolishly late in life – so why not acting?

Meet me in St Louis

I should start be making clear that I have never been to St Louis, I have no current plans to visit and have little faith in my ability to find it on a map (though could probably pinpoint it to within 1000 miles or so – which would require an absolutely massive pin).

No, last night was my second Playdate – this time a read-through of Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie.  This is set in St Louis – well, within a single rather poky apartment in St Louis.  As the bar was full of mermaids (or I think that’s what they said), it was held in a meeting room at the University Club (which is much less exciting than I’ve made it sound – far fewer over-stuffed leather armchairs than I would want in a Club).  For a free gig, it is astoundingly good value – nearly 3.5 hours of entertainment with wine and softer drinks provided gratis.  This time we – the assembled throng – introduced ourselves and so I discovered that everyone else in the room was an actor, director or playwright.  As mere “audience” I felt somewhat of a fraud, though comfort myself with the fact that, in some way, I fund everyone else’s career.

Actually, I also felt somewhat of a fraud at the Nuffield the previous week when I attended 451 (their regular poetry night) and discovered that I was almost the only audience member not performing poetry.  Despite my limited qualifications and complete lack of preparation, one of my poems was read out during the evening.  In the interval, we all had to write a short poem on the subject “Manifesto” and mine was one of the top four (and so read aloud): oh yes, people – be very afraid! –  as I now I have reason to believe that I’m an actual poet!  Given that I have all the emotional development of a teenage boy, expect GofaDM to be taken over by my angst-ridden poesy in the near future.  However, this validation was not the evening’s highlight, even for your self-obsessed narrator – no that was the excellent set by Kate Fox, which would have made the whole evening worthwhile just for the phrase “binge thinking” which graced one of her poems.

But, let’s return to St Louis and such plot as I am willing to provide to this post.  As my first exposure to Mr Williams’ oeuvre I was rather impressed by The Glass Menagerie – though it is not a cheery tale – and surprised to find the title can be taken literally (it is not a metaphor).  Despite the strong competition from actual actors, I was able to play Tom (now) during the first half and had an absolute ball.  Those who follow me on Facebook (or is follow the wrong verb?  Those who poke me on Facebook?) will know that I was wondering whether to attempt the full southern accent – and those who know me in person, will further wonder if I did essay the accent whether anyone else would (a) know and (b) recognise it.  In the end, I didn’t go for the full “Gone with the Wind” but I did modify my normal speaking voice to add a bit of a drawl and move my speech rhythms and pronunciation a little closer to what I imagined would be authentic (and I was given a lot of background to the character by Sam, the director).  This did force the young lad playing Tom (then) – who in play terms was 6 years my junior, but in real life nearer 26 – to also hazard a somewhat American accent (which I thought was a result).  Given the actual nature of the play, I’m glad I rejected my other plan which was to attend wearing a sweat-stained wife-beater (more Streetcar than Menagerie, as it transpired).

I continue to think I make for a rather good actor at a first reading – for a start, I’m rather better at sight-reading than most people (based, I will admit, on a rather limited sample). In fact, my biggest worry about my own performance was that my German pronunciation of the word “Berchtesgaden” was far too accurate for an American youth in 1943.  However, I strongly suspect that by a second or third reading, real actors would improve their performance significantly whilst mine will remain largely unimproved (though I would fudge my German a little more).  Despite this, the lure of the stage is very strong!

After the read-through, we had a very interesting discussion about the play and its themes and characters.  The Nuffield will be staging The Glass Menagerie later this year, and I now find I have very strong views about various aspects of the play – particularly, the meaning of Jim (who, unusually, I am not worried about – a reference there for the Mrs Dale’s Diary fans, who have been cruelly neglected in recent years).

Meeting your heroes

The activity suggested by today’s title is somewhat contraindicated by proverbial wisdom: though I would have thought this would depend on the nature of both your heroes and the proposed encounter.

I don’t think that I have “heroes” in the traditional sense – whilst I clearly aspire to be other than I am, this is a yearning for a generic other rather than to acquire aspects of a specific other.  This may be down to a failure of imagination (a theory that GofaDM readers will find it easy to accept) or perhaps an acceptance of my lack of potential.  It also reflects my understanding (one which seems wholly absent from the media) that being heroic in one aspect of life does not (and probably can not) mean heroic in all: even if we could agree what that might mean.  To the extent I have heroes, they are also drawn from a slightly different pool than is probably typical: usually academics and writers, rather than the more typical celebrity aspirational targets.

In a desperate effort to keep the conceit of this post alive I will admit that there are many people who evince abilities that I find impressive (and often, frankly, magical).  In very local news, the latest follower of this blog (who would seem either to have some recent Greek heritage or be a major Hellenophile unafraid to use a Deed Poll) is a far better writer than I will ever be: his angry, funny tale of a painful coat-carrying incident does lead me to wonder why he is following this rubbish.  Still, GofaDM will offer refuge to any comers (whatever my views on their sanity): an idealised Ellis Island of the web (if you like).

Last week, I was uncharacteristically excited about the chance to meet someone (relatively) famous – and so was clearly setting myself up for disappointment (which to destroy any narrative tension, did not occur).  I have been a fan of A L Kennedy since hearing her on the much maligned Quote, Unquote many years ago.  It can’t remember what it was that drew me to her then, though the Dundee accent may well have been involved.  However, her reputation in my eyes has been cemented by her performances on A Point of View – which are incredibly well-written and read.  Usually, I cook (or do some other physical activity) while listening to spoken-word podcasts, but with A L Kennedy I have to concentrate fully on the words.  I think she may be my favourite contributor to the strand – and this is against a very strong field.  I’ve only read one of her volumes of short stories, which may have been a little too adult for me (and not in terms of an 18 rating) – but which were amazingly well written.

Anyway, the Nuffield offered a chance to see her live (long “i”, though she did also manage the short “i” version) as part of their Writers in Conversation series and so off I cycled through the drizzle to meet an almost hero.  As so often with the famous, Alison is much smaller in person than she seems on the radio – but less commonly, even lovelier.  She read a chunk from her latest volume, All the Rage (which as a result I now own, but have yet to read and really want the voice in my head to attempt the A L Kennedy delivery when I do) and then we had an hour’s Q&A session.  This was really fascinating – even to a lousy writer like me.  Given that even in my most serious writing phase (preparing my well-regarded Open University assignments) I used only three (major) drafts, the fact that every page of her books will have gone through more than 100 drafts indicated a whole different level of commitment to the result (and one which will not be applied to GofaDM any time soon!).  In answering my(!) question, she mentioned that aPoV is in the old Alistair Cooke slot and what an honour it was to be asked to fill it.  She mentioned a particular Letter from America dating to the first performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – and as a result, I have had to buy a book of his (Cooke’s) writings.  Oscar Wilde may have been able to resist everything except temptation but while I’m generally less easily led into temptation, when it comes to books (in the words of the Borg) resistance is futile.

I am always pleasantly surprised by how much fun one can have for a fiver (or less) at the Nuffield – and elsewhere, for that matter: last week I also saw both Joe Lycett and Stuart Goldsmith do an hour of work-in-progress stand-up (though Mr Goldsmith in particular seemed to have little need for further progress) for the same modest sum at the Pleasance in Islington.  The downside (for me) is after these cheap events I then feel the need to blow many times the cost of entry on (often quite tangentially) related books (or supporting the institution so it can continue to offer such loss-leaders).

This talk of heroes led me to wonder if anyone considers the author in this context.  I would certainly hope not, I live with the fool and can assure you there is nothing heroic about him.  However, I did discover yesterday that an employee of a local tyre company (who had apparently witnessed some of my physical jerks) refers to me as “the silver fox” – not an epithet I have ever aspired to, but I think it was meant as a compliment.  I suppose he could just be referring to the fact that I am going grey and am often to be found going through other people’s bins – but I’m going to cling to a more positive interpretation.

The genie is out of the bottle

The worms have – very much – left the can.  And, as we all know, entropy – or the arrow of time – prevents freed worms being returned to the same can.  Perhaps I should explain the title: see I can hear your plaintive, beseeching cries.

I have spent three of the last four nights at the Nuffield Theatre – though none in quite the usual way.  On Sunday night I went to see a Q&A with Tom Hiddleston who spoke about his career, theatre and film.  This was very interesting and drew an overwhelmingly female audience, some from as far away as Canada and the Far East.  I fear my own public speaking or Q&A sessions have not drawn such a broad audience (and have occasioned far less whooping) – and such audience as I can draw usually has their travel funded by their employers.

On Monday night, I went to see Experiment – a night of new writing laid on by the Nuffield Laboratory.  This contained two fragments which may one day develop into full plays, the beginnings of a spoken word piece and an almost indescribable (but fun) audience participation piece.  The night was enormously entertaining – far more than can usually be achieved for £4 – and I still find myself wondering what will happen (or had already happened) to the characters in the two play fragments and musing on the ideas from the spoken word piece.

Tonight I went on a Playdate – something I normally leave to my nephew.  On these occasions (for adults…  and me) a small group read a play and chat about it.  Our play tonight was Loveplay by Moira Buffini – first performed by the RSC on my 35th birthday.  This has a whole series of brief scenes (or vignettes), set in time periods from 79AD to 2001, each looking at an aspect of “love”.  During the evening I played: a Roman soldier, a Saxon rapist, a 14th century playwright, a Victorian adulterer and a virgin schoolboy (typecasting, I know) from the 1930s.  What a range!  This was an indecent amount of fun (and was free) and I loved acting: I wanted to play all the parts and found myself just waiting for my next line.   The play is somewhat comic, so I was also trying to milk my lines for laughs – where appropriate.  If given the chance, I would also have done the foley work and given life to the stage directions.

At the end, the organiser asked if I was an actor – and an actual actor remarked on my confidence at a first reading.  I am clearly wasted on PowerPoint presentations, the time has come for me to begin my stage career.  Well, I believe it is in my blood (I think my grandparents participated in am-dram) and now it has finally been released.  A star (and/or monster) is born!  You have been warned!  If you start running now, you may just avoid the consequences of tonight’s activities – but I wouldn’t bet on it!

Theatrical lessons

Last week, I rather rashly enjoyed evenings of culture on three separate (and worse, consecutive) school nights.  This, in itself, taught me the valuable (if fairly obvious) lesson that I really don’t have the stamina for this degree of fun – however, this is not either of the two lessons I plan to bore you with this e’en (as I’m writing.  You may like to read this post during an evening yourself to reproduce some of the appropriate ambience).

The third night of culture involved some of Vivaldi’s lesser known sacred B-sides, which was enjoyable but did not generate any particular insights in this particular member of the audience.  The two earlier nights were spent at the theatre and each did generate a lesson which will help to guide me in what remains of my time on earth.

On Tuesday night, I managed to blag a free ticket to the press night of the Nuffield Theatre’s production for Christmas (not a panto).  OK, blag is probably not the right word – as a supporter of the theatre, the free ticket was one of my perks – but blagging sounds so much more exciting.  The production was a version of The Snow Queen and was very entertaining: a great success with the middle-aged man demographic (as represented by the author), but I believe the much younger folk present had fun too.   Without the free ticket, I probably would’t have gone – thinking myself too old and lacking a convenient child to provide a fig-leaf of plausibility – but that would have been my loss.

Talking of being too old, Southampton’s other theatre – the Mayflower – is staging a more traditional (for the 21st century) pantomime in Cinderella.  In this production, Buttons – a role based on a Victorian page-boy – is being played by Brian Conley – a man somewhat older than I am.  This means it is not too late for me to give my own Buttons, or indeed Romeo or other juvenile lead on stage.  All I need now are a few acting lessons… (and to finish – or indeed start – writing my panto).

Anyway, to pick up the narrative thread once more, I had a lovely time at the Nuffield.  As well as the play, I was invited to the pre- and post-show drinks and nibbles which were great fun.  I could talk to theatrical people about the theatre (rather than merely harangue readers of this blog) and acquired heaps of recommendations for productions to go and see (all I need now is some extra hours in the day).  However, the primary lesson came during the interval, when I discovered that it is very much more time-consuming to obtain an ice-cream when a significant portion of the audience is under 10.  I’m more used to the situation where most of the audience is over 70, when it usually takes 60 seconds-or-less (or fewer if you believe time to be discrete rather than continuous, and there is some theoretical support for a granular reading of spacetime).  As a result, I had a beer in the interval (a bottle of Flack Manor’s Flack Catcher, since you ask) as the queue at the bar was correspondingly shorter than normal.  Never let it be said that I cannot adapt to changing circumstances.  I was slightly worried that the lack of calories (though beer does, of course contain calories of the soi-disant empty kind) would leave me struggling on the cycle ride home, but luckily the post-play nibbles came to the rescue.

The following day I had to visit Woking for “the man”.  In an attempt to salvage something from the day, I decided to continue on into London after my wage-slavery was over to visit the Finborough Theatre.  Here, I discovered the importance of being au-fait with the fixture list of the Premier League.  The Finborough is (I assume) reasonably near the ground of Chelsea Football Club, and as a result the tube to Earls Court, streets around same and Finborough Arms pub (which is also the entrance and foyer to the theatre) were heaving with (mostly) men with more blue-and-white clothing than is entirely usual.  I think for a more restful pre-theatrical interlude, I will try and avoid visiting at such a time in future – which means I shall have to pay at least a little attention to the rather curious world of professional football, a modest ethnographic study (if you will).  Anyway, ascending the stairs from the heat and tumult of the pub to the cool and peace of the theatre above was most welcome.  The play, Silent Planet by Eve Leigh, was excellent – a work looking at the nature of freedom and captivity and the importance of books and stories.

I hope these hard-won lessons will be of value to at least some of the readers of GofaDM – but if not, I can’t honestly say I’ll be losing any sleep over the fact.

Who am I?

Fear not, I am not going to get all existential “on yo ass” (a much less successful restaurant concept than the superficially similar Yo! Sushi).  This is largely down to the extreme superficiality of my knowledge of the subject, not so much a veneer as a monomolecular layer laid down through some form of knowledge-based epitaxy.

Nor shall I dwell for too long on the flaws in the whole concept of identity which neuroscience seems to feel duty-bound to expose.  I have read a fair bit of neuroscience (as opposed to no Kierkegaard whatsoever), but feel they rather miss the target when attacking either the sense of self or of free will.  The seem to demolish places where I had never believed either of these things resided, as even a moment’s self-reflection should surely have made obvious (without the need for surrounding folk with incredibly powerful magnets to excite some cranial hydrogen atoms before watching them being slowly overcome by boredom once more).

No,  I shall – very much in keeping with the raison d’être of this blog (now on its 450th post) – stick to more trivial matters.

The nature of identity does seem to obsess both those who govern us (or would like to) and those who bring us the soi-disant news.  There have been two major areas of identity-based uncertainty that I have noticed in recent weeks – those of being British and being a man.  As I can personally tick both boxes, I felt at least somewhat qualified to comment – though, frankly neither of these particular areas of identity have ever caused me the slightest anxiety.

Our politicos do seem very keen to define what it means to be British – which I often feel is more of an attempt to define what isn’t so that those lacking this apparently vital essence can be blamed, disparaged or deported (preferably at enormous cost).  It does seem to be very much of a piece with the Manichean nature of so much public discourse – everything is either good or bad, left or right wing, causes or cures cancer (to name but three examples).  I’m pretty convinced life isn’t like this.  I like to think that all my qualities, both good and ill, at best exist somewhere on a scale between their best and worst possibilities – and, worse, move around on that scale over time.  Whilst I am clearly generalising from a sample of one, I suspect other people are much the same.  I’m sure we all have elements of Britishness – wheresoe’er we might happen to hale from – and elements of things not British.  This is probably true for almost any even remotely sensible definition of what it is to be British – not that a government is ever likely to produce such a definition.

The need to define being British seems to have gained additional zest with the potential departure of the Scots from the union of 1707.  So far as I know, I lack any Scottish roots and so no-one will ask me – which is just as well as I have no real idea which option is the better.  I suspect disentangling a union which has persisted for 307 years will be an extremely non-trivial (and so expensive and painful) exercise – but merely because something is tricky does not mean it should not be attempted if it is the right thing to do.  On the other hand, I suspect more local government is a good thing – if only from the frustrating experience of working for a vast multinational where the seat of “government” seems impossibly remote from my day-to-day working life.  Still, this blog is not trying to persuade folk north of the border to vote one way or the other.  Our politicians, of course, do not take this approach and campaign with some vigour either for or against divorce.  Living a long way south of the border, I tend to see significantly more of the NO campaign – which does seem to have been successfully infiltrated by the YES campaign and is basically doing their work for them.  Certainly, if I were Scottish I would find the work of the NO campaign a pretty convincing reason to leave.  I like to imagine that the YES campaign has a similar impact on boosting the desire to stay.  If so, perhaps both campaigns could agree to shut-up and save their money and allow people to make their own decisions.  Or perhaps the money could be invested in an independent body which would dispassionately lay out the pros and cons of leaving in the hope of producing a better informed electorate.  I believe flying pigs are very good at this sort of analysis.

There also seems to be a continuing debate about what it means to be a man.  Apparently, my fellow holders of a Y-chromosome are suffering an identity crisis.  It would seem that treating women slightly less disgracefully than heretofore cuts right to the heart of masculinity.  Or maybe it’s the ready availability of power steering and parking sensors?  I’ve never really felt defined by my ability to treat those of the distaff gender as second class citizens and I certainly hope I’m not defined by my ability to parallel park (as this ability, if it ever existed, has almost totally atrophied – actually, I did once do it astonishingly well but I’m pretty sure that was a fluke as it was more than 20 years ago and has never been repeated).  Then again, I may not be great example of manhood: I have very limited interest in sport, regularly cry in public (though, fortunately, usually in conditions of poor lighting) and have eaten (and enjoyed) quiche.  Still, I am pretty clearly a man – biologically speaking at least.  For example, I can count to 21 when naked (though these days I do need my glasses to make accurate use of my toes) – so I reckon how I live must be at least one representation of masculinity.  So, if any possessors of a Y-chromosome are reading this post in a state of gender crisis I am more than happy to share my tips on how to be a man in 2014.  They are also welcome to read this post’s 449 siblings for some evidence of my life as a man in the early 21st century – though this does create the worrying prospect of my mimetic clones slowly spreading through the population.

Talking of clones, on Friday night I went to the Nuffield Theatre to see A Number by Caryl Churchill.  An interesting and pleasingly brief play about cloning and what it might mean to have genetic copies of yourself wandering around.  The protagonists seemed to find this quite a disturbing prospect – but I would relish meeting a clone (of myself, obviously): (A) to see how path-dependent this version of me is and, much more importantly, (B) to find someone who would understand and laugh at my jokes.

So, send in the clones!