Not flying tonight

I had originally planned to be spending this time at a workshop learning about things rhythmical and folk-related with the splendid people of Folk Active but instead find myself in front of the keyboard, full of cold.   Having a cold was not, of itself, enough to keep me from learning the arcane secrets of the spoons and the jig-doll but this morning, while my body’s doughty defenders attempted to fight off their undead (and unalive) viral assailants, I slumbered on.  By the time I awoke, it was too late – lacking both breakfast and a working teleport – to make it to the workshop in time.

Having fixed one of these lacks – and starting at the bottom of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs (so, I remain without a working teleport) – I have decided to work on the principle that ‘misery loves company’ and share a new post with the uncaring world.  I should point out, lest any of you are worried, that I am not miserable.  The sun is actually shining outside and whilst I may have missed one rendezvous with the spoons, the battlefield of my body has delivered a full night of unbroken sleep – something it is generally incapable of achieving during peacetime.  This sleep may also owe something to a couple of glasses of mulled cider and some Night Nurse taken just before bedtime to provide a little +1 Armour for the home team.

As the regular reader will know, I am a frequent commuter across the Irish Sea for work and so am intimate with the passenger experience on a FlyBe Dash 8 Q 400.  I can sing-a-long with the flight safety demonstration and perform the relevant actions better than most of the cabin crew.  I also know Southampton, Belfast City and Dublin (Terminal 1) Airports far better than would be considered to form part of the ideal life.  Despite this familiarity, I remain bemused by the exhortation – issued by the captain or first officer – to ‘sit back and enjoy the flight’.  I am basically in a glorified bus: though it lacks the free wifi, charging point or anything like the legroom or seat width of the local buses.  I suppose it does have wings and is capable of flight which is certainly helpful when crossing an open body of water and beyond the compass of most buses.

Given that the plane’s seats are not placed adjacent to the aircraft windows (if anything they seem to have a window-phobia – perhaps Microsoft related?), added to which the pod holding the engines and landing gear obscures the view from most of the windows, passengers can only obtain rather limited entertainment (usually involving some degree of neck-strain) from observing the ground and clouds unfurl beneath us.  Food is limited, not great and rather over-priced.  The ears are assailed by the constant drone of the engines.  On only a tiny fraction of the FlyBe fleet do the seats recline – enabling one to ‘sit back’ – and given the rather cramped quarters I have never felt it fair to use this functionality and further squash the poor soul travelling behind me.  My feeling is that the only enjoyment to be had on the flight will either come from conversation with the passenger sitting next to you or, more likely, you will have to bring it yourself.  Modern technology makes this straightforward but I feel I am less ‘enjoying the flight’ and more enjoying myself, as best I can, while the flight continues in the background.  All of the enjoyment I have obtained on these flights could easily have been accomplished in greater comfort without the flight!

Is there some flight-related fun to be had on a Dash 8 that I remain unaware of?  Could the low-level vibrations be used to some pleasurable (and legal in public) end?  Should we, the passengers, be playing a high-altitude version of sardines on the flight?  And if so, how would this interact with the allocated seating and the severely nose-heavy nature of the Dash 8?

This last Wednesday, I ‘sat back’ (bolt upright) and ‘enjoyed’ (endured) my last two flights of 2018.  The first was somewhat delayed by the entire check-in systems at Southampton airport crashing and the staff having to return to a hand-written, paper-based system to ensure the right passengers and luggage ended up on each aircraft.  The return took place in the 21st century and it was with a feeling of release (and relief) that I climbed down the ricketty steps for the last time until mid-January.


My final sky-chariot of 2018 (not pulled by goats, disappointingly)

It is somehow sad that an activity which would have been miraculous for most of human history and until recently would have been the reserve of a wealthy elite has been rendered so mundane and even tedious.  There is slightly more ceremony involved than catching the bus or train – but only because of security and the relative infrequency of flights and their inability to take standing passengers (though I’m sure Michael O’Leary is working on the latter) – but short-haul flying is very short of romance (unless that is what I should be doing in the air while sitting back?).

On Thursday evening, I once again found myself in ‘a space’ arts‘ Arch 04 for the latest instalment of Playlist.  This started with Karla Powell playing Luciano Berio’s Sequenza vii – the most extraordinarily virtuosic piece for the oboe I have ever seen: it must have been an exhausting 7 minutes and the sheet music looked terrifying!

The concert finished with Tom Moore and Archie Churchill-Moss giving us a modern twist on folk tunes on the violin/viola and the accordion.  As it transpires, this was almost exactly a year since I last saw the boys at the launch of their first album – Laguna – at the Harrison in London.  I rather hope they will continue to name their albums after Renaults and look forward to their sophomore effort: Megane or 19, perhaps.  It is becoming a regular event for Facebook to provide a memory of what I was doing exactly 12 months ago and for me to discover that I had done (almost) exactly the same thing last night.  It sometimes feels like I’m stuck in a time loop – destined to repeat myself until the merciful release of death – or is that just being middle-aged?

However, it is the middle piece of the concert – by Seán Clancy – that is relevant to my thesis.  He is a composer based in Dublin but working at the Birmingham Conservatoire.  As a result, he too spends a lot of time in the air over the Irish Sea – though he has the further disadvantage of using Ryanair, who I suspect make FlyBe appear the very paragon of customer service.  Rather than chanelling this experience into rather too many words, he took the main events of each flight, their typical timings and the engine noise to produce an amazing 35(ish) minute drone piece called Ireland-England.  This he played on some astonishingly compact synths (ideal for the regular commuter to or from Hibernia and quite tempting future purchases for more than one member of the audience!) with a slideshow with various facts about what brings people from the island of Ireland to England (some of which were new to me).  It was an amazing piece and I’d love to have an extended version (which I think is doable) – Southampton to Belfast/Dublin by turboprop takes rather longer than Dublin to Birmingham by jet –  to listen to on my next flight.  I think that this, coupled with some noise-cancelling headphones to ensure that the only drones were Seán’s, would allow me to sit back and enjoy myself (though, I would – once again – be the one bringing the source of my enjoyment).


Tuning the synths… (who knew?)

It is events like these that could send me into a downward solipsistic spiral, but I think I shall continue to treasure my insignificance (even within the human realm) and put it down to coincidence.  Well, that plus the fact that if I go out often enough some things are bound to be linked eventually (and so appear in these pages)…


PS: For any readers pondering the goat reference, Odin’s chariot is pulled by two goats: Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr .  These are then eaten by the gods, before being resurrected by Mjölnir to allow the process to be repeated.  The Norse gods were surprisingly sustainable!

It’s a poor sort of memory

and does, indeed, only work backwards – though I suspect that any other form would be worse.  Still, it’s always a joy to quote the Red Queen: a woman of rare insight.

I have been thinking about memory of late, which does rather bring the god Odin to mind.  He kept quite the menagerie (rather more than à trois): in addition to two wolves and an eight-legged horse (surely a riding accident waiting to happen) he also kept two ravens named Huginn and Muninn (and mayhap other creatures as well).  The ravens’ names are normally translated into English as Thought and Memory, and I sometimes imagine myself as little more than a pair of corvids trapped in a box – with Muninn probably in the ascendant.

I have always (so far as I can recall – ha ha) had a pretty decent memory.  I am often asked how I remember so much (useless) stuff to which I have no real answer other than “how do you not?”  I certainly do not sit (or stand or lie) around trying to memorise useless facts, somehow it just happens when I’m busy doing other things.

It can be quite a useful skill as, all too often, a good memory can be mistaken for intelligence.  It also saves a lot of mental arithmetic if you can just remember what the answer was last time: one of the many beauties of mathematics is the consistency of arithmetic over time.  It has also served me quite well in both examinations and pub quizes (other quiz venues are available, but rather less fun).  However, it’s not all good news – I do frighten myself at times, for example, when I instantly know an answer with no understanding as to why.  It can also lead people to believe me when I say something about the past, even if I have (literally) just made it up – a power that can be used for both good and evil (mostly the latter).

Whilst my memory is pretty good, it is far from perfect.  I think part of the problem is the sheer volume of junk stored means that memories can become somewhat muddled – for example, when seeing people my brain tends to perform some sort of internal identikit operation enabling me to confidently ‘recognise’ complete strangers (well, he had A’s nose, B’s hair, C’s chin etc).  Repeated actions are also poorly recalled: I can remember locking the front door, but is the memory I’m accessing from today or November 2009?

I believe my visual memory is particularly poor, it seems that my brain stores visual information in a very compressed manner – like a rather extreme form of JPEG.  This can cause trouble: I nearly missed my stop travelling on the bus in Edinburgh as the bus shelter on the opposite side of the road had been changed and this was enough to confuse me.  Yes, of all the permanent landmarks around the stop that I could have chosen – stone buildings, geomorphology etc – the key one I relied upon was a temporary structure. I really need to let Huginn out of his box a little more often.

However, the real tragedy of my poor visual memory is that it impoverishes my recall of great visual art.  Storing it in a highly compressed conceptual form really does not capture the essence of great art.  Strong affect is supposed to improve memory – an important defence mechanism from our evolutionary past – but somehow this doesn’t work for me in a gallery: I just start aching.

Whilst in Edinburgh, I went to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art: Two – quite a hike on my swollen foot, so I didn’t go the few extra yards to One (I’ll save that for another time). I went there to see an exhibition of photography by Hiroshi Sugimoto which came in two parts: Lightening Fields and Photogenic Drawings.  The first were photographs of electrical discharges (400kV) and were truly extraordinary – I have never seen their like. The second were re-prints of negatives created by William Henry Fox Talbot in the very early years of Victoria’s reign – some of which were truly haunting.  I think it may have been the finest art exhibition I have ever visited – and as a member of the Art Fund, really quite cheap.  As a bonus, they also had some wonderful woodcuts by Ian Cheyne – perhaps trying to keep the Japanese vibe going?

The tragedy is that with my lousy memory for pictures, my recall of the exhibition is already fading and there were no postcards for sale and an original is likely to be beyond my budget.  But, there is some good news: in researching this blog I have found that Google images comes (slightly) to my rescue with a few actual JPEGs of both the photographs and the woodcuts.  Whilst no match for the real thing, they are significantly more faithful to the originals than my ageing neurons.

Surely, there must be a way to train your memory to be better with pictures?  Or perhaps not, as normally you are taught to remember ‘boring’ facts using pictures – a method I find utterly useless.  I can only remember the picture by first remembering the original facts, and then using them to try and re-construct the picture by adding in some recollection of how I might have converted the facts into a visual form.  This does both rather defeat the purpose and make me wonder if I am entirely normal.  Yes, I know you’ve wondered this for some time – or more likely, gone beyond wondering and drawn some pretty firm conclusions (and not just in pencil, but have mentally inked them in).

I have no great desire to be normal – always strikes me as over-rated – but I would like to remember the visual with greater fidelity.  Then again, perhaps a photographic memory is only a desirable thing if it comes with the ability to Photoshop the contents?